ÀNGEL FERRERO BARCELONA 21/02/2021
Vicenç Fisas Armengol – 1952
Director of the School for a Culture of Peace and holder of the UNESCO Chair on Peace and Human Rights at the UAB. He holds a PhD in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford and is the winner of the National Human Rights Prize. Author of more than 30 books, including El lobby feroz, ¡Alto el fuego, Llegó la hora and los Anuarios de procesos de paz.
“Catalonia”, “procés” and “dialogue” are some of the most repeated words in recent years in relation to the political conflict in our country. They also form the backbone of the latest book by conflict and peace process analyst Vicenç Fisas, Repensar el ‘procés’ a través del diálogo (Icaria ed.), which brings together his reflections on the issue over more than five years.
Fisas, author of more than fifty books on international politics, not only exhaustively reviews the roots and development of the pro-independence process, but above all, he proposes ways out through dialogue. He does so on the basis of numerous data, statistics and international comparisons that accompany the text throughout its more than 200 pages. “How to combine analysis and possible action, even if only by means of suggestions, is one of the dilemmas of those who deal with conflicts”, says the author.
“How to manage the inevitable passions in such a lively and changing process that affects even your daily life,” Fisas asks. “A simple pacifist can perhaps be satisfied with appeals to dialogue between the opposing parties, but the analyst must go further,” he stresses.
For Fisas, the Catalan case cannot be compared with those of Quebec or Scotland, because there the procedural agreements “were agreed”.
“As an analyst of conflicts, whether armed or socio-political crises, I can affirm that the Catalan case linked to the ‘procés’ is unprecedented in the world,” Fisas writes in the book’s foreword. “You can’t even compare it with the cases of Quebec or Scotland”, he continues, “because there the procedural agreements were agreed and were never dealt unilaterally”. The author considers the “Catalan crisis” to be “unique” for several reasons, and “its difficult management is linked to a large extent to this singularity”, which makes it, in his opinion, a real “political challenge” for rulers and analysts alike.
The temptation to compare
One of the things Fisas advises against are comparisons of the Catalan case with other historical secessions. He devotes an entire chapter, the eighth, in which he details the cases of Kosovo, Slovenia and Montenegro, and why they cannot be extrapolated to Catalonia, and debates the use of the expression “right to self-determination”, particularly in the framework of UN doctrine – which he went so far as to consult directly via email -, which, according to Fisas’ interpretation, is limited to “decolonisation, not to a region of a recognised state becoming unilaterally independent” and also, “to a lesser extent, as a derivation of the dissolution of federations or the partition of a country after a war”. “Another thing, of course, is for a state to agree on a consensual territorial division and then submit it to an agreed referendum,” he adds.
“Declaring itself to be a State does not imply being recognised as such, since it needs recognition by others in order to truly be a state”.
Further on, the author recalls how “in mid-2017, and in the face of the constant conviction of many sectors that, after the referendum, international recognition would rain down on us and we would immediately be a Republic, I saw myself obliged to contradict this false allusion illustration”. Declaring oneself a State, Fisas explains, “does not imply being recognised as such, since it needs recognition from others to be one” and, in fact, “the body that at the international level is the United Nations by decision of the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council (article 4 of the founding Charter). “If you want to and cannot join the United Nations”, he observes, “you do not exist as a state and you remain in legal limbo, as is the case with Kosovo, despite the fact that many states have recognised it”. It can always be said, however, that Catalonia could create a precedent, but for the moment it would be “speculation”.
Table manners (negotiation)
Evidently, the marrow of this book is dialogue and negotiation. Fisas describes the latter as “an art”, but hastens to say that it is not “for clever pretenders already predisposed to deceit, but for people who use their emotional intelligence and their proposals to establish a debate with the contradictor, by means of good arguments, using good communication, understanding the reasons and limitations of the other party, and seeking consensus at the highest possible level. “
At every negotiating table, the author warns, there are red lines, “a classic issue in the world of negotiations”. In the Catalan case, he points out, “it was not a new issue, since in recent years, the political discourse of both sides has continuously appealed not to set red lines for dialogue”, a request that “at first sight may seem to be the most correct and a basic principle for establishing talks, but I have to say that normally things do not work like that” because “states, when they have to negotiate, always set them, either permanently or, sometimes, temporarily, so that the conditions do not exist to deal with certain issues without the world collapsing”.
Faced with this, the author recommends “the path of patience”: “If one is patient, perhaps the day will come when objective conditions will have changed – or maybe not, one never knows – and what were once red lines will no longer be red lines, albeit with variants and conditionalities. “Nothing is easy, but the worst thing is to start off on the wrong track”, Fisas says.
Less poetic rhetoric, more practical politics
“Years of less poetic rhetoric for part of Catalan society and more practical politics for all of it are coming”, predicts the author of Rethinking the ‘procés’ through dialogue towards the end of his book. This “does not exclude having feelings and yearnings in mind”, but “without creating expectations that are impossible to assume”. In this sense, Fisas thinks that “to the grassroots Catalan independence movement, these two million people who are constantly mobilised, unwaveringly steadfast, extremely tenacious and convinced that they are leading a genuine historic process, some of their leaders should probably ‘explain clearly that the way in which the process was approached in the early years suffered from miscalculations, that mistakes were made and that the time has come to rethink basic questions, even if it produces disillusionment, anxiety and discontent'”.
Fisas closes his book with a wish: “I remain with the hope that, sooner or later, the voices of those who think that perhaps the time has come to rethink the ‘procés’, to do things more sensibly, gradually, with more time, more alliances, new ways out, and seeking very broad majorities. “