Catalan Independence: When Self-Determination and Human Rights Go Hand in Hand

Protestors march for Catalan Independence

Despite a court injunction barring a referendum, Catalan pro-independence leaders are forging ahead with a November 9th vote that could fracture the Spanish state. At this same time in 2010, support for Catalan independence was at 19%. Currently, support has climbed to a staggering 51% within Catalonia. How could so much have changed in 4 years? On September 30th, 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court inspired anger in Catalonia with the decision that the results of any upcoming referendum would be unconstitutional. In a similar situation, the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down a 2006 charter in which Catalonia purported to be a “nation.” Support for independence has since grown alongside increasingly vocal discontent with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey. According to the World Affairs Journal, “If the vote were held today, a referendum to secede from Spain would narrowly pass—fifty-one percent for independence.” In Scotland, a well-orchestrated and highly visible “Better Together” campaign, as well the “Let’s Stay Together- Scotland, you’re my best friend!” YouTube campaign showed that a vocal part of the Scottish population was intent on remaining in the union. In Catalonia, if there is a portion of the population that wishes to remain with Spain, their presence is an almost silent one. There is no current political campaign for union with Spain from the Spanish government. Intense campaigning on the part of independence seekers, including a 2 million person protest that took place on September 11th, 2014, drowns any pro-union Catalonian voices out.

Prime Minister Rajoy is playing a dangerous game. By unequivocally refusing to give the Catalan people a legal recourse to independence, Rajoy is only pushing them further towards the very result he is dreading. Catalonia accounts for 19% of Spain’s economy and 16% of the country’s population. Yet, instead of giving Catalonia reasons why it should remain in the Spanish state, Rajoy has simply stated that “the law and dialogue, these are the ways out of the situation in Catalonia… I want us to stay together.” It’s too little, too late. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Catalan politician Carles Castillo expressed his dissatisfaction with Rajoy. Previously a supporter of more autonomy for Catalonia, Castillo is being swayed by the little action taken by Rajoy to convince the Catalan people to stay: “Every time [prime minister] Mariano Rajoy opens his mouth, 200 Catalans convert to the separatist cause. If things carry on this way, even I can imagine becoming pro-independence myself.” On October 3rd, Catalan’s leader Arthur Mas presented a united front with the rest of his government, declaring that they would continue forwards with the vote despite its’ apparent illegality. Mas was quoted as saying that “We are facing a state that is acting with hostility and all types of impediments so that the people can’t vote.” Leaders of the nationally governing political party, the Popular Party, have said that Mas’ comments are to hide the fact that the independence alliance between Catalonia’s main political parties is falling apart. Despite these claims, there are no signs that the November 9th vote will be cancelled.

Article 15 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, Article 15 was used as a support for the creation of many previously colonized nations, including Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and numerous countries in Africa. The bill officially became law in 1976. Spain, as a member of the United Nations, must uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By blocking the Catalan peoples’ vote for independence, Spain has deprived the Catalan people the right of nationality and the right to change their nationality. In the recent Scottish referendum, Westminster acknowledged that if the Scottish vote for independence succeeded, Scotland would be allowed to leave the UK. The British government was willing to uphold the right of the Scottish people to self-determination; the Spanish government’s actions are wholly at odds with their stated commitment to human rights.

Catalonia has long been distinguishable from Spain with its unique culture and language. Famous for its literature and distinctive music, Catalonia remained a somewhat independent state up until the Spanish War of Succession which ended in 1714. Catalonia has suffered at the hands of Hispanicization before. During Franco’s regime, the Catalan language was banned and Catalan institutions were destroyed in an effort to create a uniform Spanish culture. Viewing today’s independence struggle through the lens of history makes Spain’s human rights violation all the more obvious. If Scotland had a claim to independence, Catalonia, with its’ entirely separate language, certainly has the right to at least vote. Should Spain deny the results of a Catalonian vote for independence, international diplomatic intervention could become necessary. Surely Prime Minister Rajoy has more sense than to push the situation to a point where other states will have to intervene. Speaking about the results of the Scottish referendum, Rajoy said ominously “Yesterday they chose between segregation and integration. Between isolation and being open. Between stability and uncertainty. And they chose the best option for everyone – for themselves and for Europe.” Here’s hoping Prime Minister Rajoy will accept the results with the same grace that Westminster would have had Scotland voted for independence.

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