Interview by Óscar Benítez
PhD in philosophy and professor of moral philosophy at the University of Malaga, Manuel Toscano regularly publishes his instructive political analysis in the pages of Vozpópuli. Here, Toscano sheds light on concepts as discussed as “civil disobedience”, “own language” or “political prisoners”.
In an article he questioned that, as Quim Torra claimed, October 1 was an act of “civil disobedience.” Why was it not?
It is an idea that the spokesmen of the independence movement have been repeating, but there are reasons to refute it. The civil disobedient does not seek to overthrow or subvert the constitutional order of a democratic society, but to denounce the breach of its principles by appealing to the sense of justice of its fellow citizens. On October 1, however, it was part of an organized plan to illegally break the constitutional order in Catalonia. That was what the referendum and disconnection laws passed in the Parliament were.
Not less important, the thing changes substantially when it is not the citizens but the authorities themselves that disobey the laws and judicial mandates, as happened in Catalonia. I cannot imagine a clearer subversion of the principles of the rule of law, without which there is no constitutional democracy that deserves such a name.
He has also disagreed with Meritxell Batet, who said that “the Constitution cannot be imposed on two million Catalans.”
Batet’s words present things upside down. If we talk about taxation, those who wanted to impose an exclusive political project, breaking the law and putting the rights of their fellow citizens at risk, were the independentists. The parliamentary sessions of September 6 and 7 left little room for doubt. The constitutional order serves as protection of the rights and freedoms of all citizens, including the two million independentists. Therefore, far from being an imposition, the Constitution guarantees the indispensable conditions for the exercise of democratic participation, public discussion and the expression of political pluralism from which we all benefit. Defending it is defending everyone’s freedoms. Also those of supporters of independence, who can defend their cause provided they do so by legal means.
In a democratic regime, respect for the rules of the game – which, as I say, guarantee coexistence in freedom – cannot be subordinated to the success of a particular political project. A pluralistic democracy requires reasonably moderate our demands and learn to live with frustration. Learning deception should be part of democratic politics, as it is in adult life in general.
Both nationalists and Catalan constitutionalists often denounce that in Catalonia there is a “democratic deficit”, although in the opposite direction. Who has the reason?
It is very difficult to justify secession in a democratic society, that is why the independence strategy is to discredit Spanish democracy, denouncing to the international public opinion the lack of freedoms, the authoritarianism of the Spanish State, and so on. The facts, however, are stubborn. If we go for example to the international index of democratic quality prepared by The Economist, there are only 19 full democracies in the world and Spain is one of them.
On the other hand, the Catalan crisis must be placed in the context of a broader discussion about democracy. Those who chanted that ‘” this is about democracy, not independence “had more reason than they thought. Indeed, this goes from liberal or illiberal democracy; The spokesmen of independence do not express anything else when they oppose democracy to the Constitution or the rule of law.
Secessionists, as Daniel Gascón has pointed out, invoke a plebiscitary conception of democracy, which only respects the procedures if they agree and denies the pluralism of Catalan society. The supposed October 1 referendum is the best proof. Some see the shadow of Carl Schmitt after this plebiscitary conception of democracy, no matter how much democratic radicalism is magazine; that is, the questioning of liberal institutions and pluralism in the name of the myth of the homogeneous people.
Recently, the Association Platform for the Llengua was the subject of controversy for spying on children from more than 50 public schools to check if they spoke Catalan in the courtyard. Despite this, the Generalitat has defended the work of this entity, to which it has awarded 3.7 million in grants since 2012. In your opinion, is the language policy that is applied in Catalonia reasonable?
Catalonia is a plural society with two official languages, where the majority have Spanish as their first language. However, the linguistic policy of the autonomous authorities establishes an asymmetric bilingualism regime in favor of Catalan and to the detriment of the linguistic rights of Spanish speakers. Behind which it is easy to see the nationalist conception of the language. I have argued that the concept of one’s own language fatally vitiates that linguistic policy by raising the autonomous language as a sign of a people’s identity, regardless of the real language used by citizens in their exchanges. The consequence is clear: if the language considered proper is not the language of habitual or socially majority use, this represents an anomaly that must be corrected through social engineering. It is not, therefore, to manage the linguistic rights of citizens in a situation of social bilingualism in the most equitable way, but to use linguistic policy as a lever for national construction.
The so-called linguistic immersion in the Catalan school is good proof. We must remember how exceptional it is. As Mercè Vilarrubias points out, it is not easy to find another educational system where a child cannot be educated or develop a good part of their curriculum in an official language spoken by the majority of the population.
Both Podemos and the commons argue that imprisoned separatist politicians are “political prisoners.” They are right?
No, it’s ridiculous. The independentistas can not only freely disseminate their ideas, but also participate in the elections and in the government of the institutions without problems. To those who say these things, I would recommend that you take a look at the definition of political prisoner used by the Council of Europe.
And what do you think of the position of both parties before secessionist drift?
There are plenty of reasons to be very critical. The proposal for a referendum of self-determination in Catalonia is a symptom of the confusion in part of the Spanish left. However, it is not the worst. Well, it is one thing to defend a constitutional reform of the confederal type, certainly debatable, and quite another to make the game to those who wanted to break the constitutional order. When they talk about political prisoners, for example, they call into question that we have a regime of established freedoms and that Spain is a full democracy. Surely they saw in the Catalan crisis an opportunity to undermine the dismayed “regime of 78” and at crucial moments they have acted as traveling companions for secessionists.
Separatism has embraced conspiracy theories around the attacks on the Ramblas. To what extent have fake news been important in what happened in Catalonia?
They have been decisive. We have talked a lot about post-truth about the election of Trump or Brexit, but the process is not lagging behind. From fiscal abuse to conspiracy theories about the attacks, from the misrepresentations of history to deception about the costs of independence, the chain of falsehoods has been endless; if some were destined to influence international public opinion, others sought to maintain the fervor of the independentists, blinding them against the uncomfortable events. By the way, they have contributed with enthusiasm not only politicians and activists, but prestigious academics.
Quite simply, the process has had a lot of farce and scam, like that declaration of independence that we do not know if it occurred. Be honest with reality, as the Latin American president said, it will not be an easy task and will take time.
According to a survey by El Periódico, Ciudadanos would collapse in a Catalan election, moving from first place to fourth. Likewise, its result in general elections would also get worse. What is this game doing wrong?
I find it hard to understand the direction of Citizens in recent times. As regards Catalan politics, I did not understand the march of Arrimadas to Madrid within a few months of winning the regional elections or what happened recently in the Barcelona City Council. In national politics the party seems stuck in a form of antisanchism that reduces its capacity for political maneuver as a reformist party, which also affects the forms. I particularly did not like Rivera’s tone in the last investiture debate, with expressions such as “Sánchez’s band”. Citizens’ difficulties in adapting to the new political scenario opened after the motion of censure are notorious, as the string of internal resignations shows, and will surely be mistaken if it relies on the sorpasso to the PP.
The new slogan of secessionism is “we will do it again”. If so, what should be the response of constitutionalism?
The slogan sounds like a bluff more than anything else, because I find it difficult to try again in the near future. Law enforcement has dissuasive virtues. Whether bravado or threats, the answer should be firmness in the defense of legality. The current political scenario, however, does not allow for much hope for unity in the constitutional field.