Thursday, 27 September 2012

Reality Shock

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into attack.”

 Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 4 March 1933 [Listen to it here]

"There will be insults, provocations, and threats of all kinds… language and geographic origin will be manipulated in order to pit people against each other”.

Artur Mas, Catalan Parliament, 25 September 2012 [Source]

In recent days in Catalonia there’s been a general comedown from the euphoric highs of the massive rally on 11 September. I have spoken to many people who attended the march – all with their own ideas of what they were demanding, from more respect, through fiscal autonomy, to full independence – who are now feeling a little depressed.

This feeling is reflected in the figure of Jordi Pujol, who throughout his political career, including more than two decades as Catalan president, defended the existing structure of the Spanish state. In 2010, following the Tribunal Constitucional ruling which stripped the new Statute of Catalonia of key clauses, Pujol changed his mind. By the time the unofficial referendum on independence rolled round to Barcelona in April 2011 he publicly stated that he would vote in favour of independence, and attended the September 11 rally this year in support of the same cause. But just days afterwards he declared that, while the existing Spanish state made coexistence of Catalonia within Spain “unfeasible”, achieving independence would be “almost impossible”.

What’s happening here is Reality Shock: for decades the idea of Catalan independence was a fantasy, a romantic concept that didn’t have to be detailed because it simply wasn’t going to happen. Now, in a relatively short time, it has moved into the realm of political reality.

The Catalan public has woken up to find that the heroic ideal has arrived in the centre of the political agenda, and that now it has to exist, no longer in the world of flags and slogans, but rather in the prosaic world of institutional, economic and diplomatic praxis. Unused to thinking in these pragmatic terms and inexperienced in the ways of the world outside the Barcelona-Madrid dialectic, for many Catalans the heroic has become a headache.

Reality shock could be compared to that moment we all come to in our youth when we realise that we are not going to become an astronaut, a ballerina, a rock star or a princess. Following a period of painful adjustment, we learn to live a life in accord with our talents and possibilities, and with luck we come to feel satisfied with that life.

Well, my Catalan friends, I’m here to reassure you. I have been to Scotland, Quebec, Czecho/slovakia, Croatia, yes, even Massachussets and Ithaca, and I am a citizen of the Republic of Ireland as well as a subject of Her Britannic Majesty. In my experience in all these real-world places I have seen both tremendous achievements in self-determination and embarrassing failures. For me this debate has always been a reality. Take my hand and together we’ll look at a pragmatic vision of the struggle ahead.

 “Independence” is in fact possible, but it won’t be the kind of independence you have in mind if you imagine a sovereign nation-state completely at liberty to decide its own destiny. That kind of state doesn’t even exist any more. Update your software.

Some of the states that exist, and have existed, in the real world, have been categorized in the following ways:
  • An associated state is the minor partner in a formal, free relationship between a political territory with a degree of statehood and a (usually larger) nation
  • A free state is a term occasionally used in the official titles of some states. In principle the title asserts and emphasises the freedom of the state in question, but what this actually means varies greatly in different contexts: Sometimes it asserts sovereignty or independence (and with that, lack of foreign domination). Sometimes it asserts autonomy within a larger nation-state.
  • federacy is a form of government where one or several substate units enjoy considerably more independence than the majority of the substate units.
  • Dominions were autonomous polities that were nominally under British sovereignty, constituting the British Empire, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century
  • Devolved State (known as "Devomax" in Scotland) -  Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level, such as a regionallocal, or state level. 

As we go on, I intend to explore in much more depth what kind of state can result from the process of self-determination currently under way.

The question to be addressed next will be: How do you translate “Estat Propi” into English?

Believe me, this is much more than an obscure linguistic issue. There have been surprising results from the translation of a political term into another language throughout history, and much depends on how the term is understood in Catalonia, Spain and the world outside.


  1. "I have spoken to many people who attended the march – all with their own ideas of what they were demanding, from more respect, through fiscal autonomy, to full independence..."

    Hmm, that strikes me as strange. I was there and heard only one chant, over and over again: IN-INDE-INDEPENDENCIA!

    So you reckon Mas is going to let 'la puta' (or is she 'la Ramoneta'?) back into the game?

  2. Hi Tom, welcome. You da man, da first commenting man...

    Of course in the march INDEPENDENCIA was the only chant you heard. There were also many there, yours truly included, who weren't chanting that (in my case because I no longer know what "independence" means in this world). We'll see who wants what when the votes are counted at the end of November. Though of course you and I won't get to vote...

    Reports of the death of La Puta and La Ramoneta were greatly exaggerated. At least one of them is still alive and well.

    But actually I think Mas is talking straight - he talks "Estat Propi" and he means... devomax. Just that nobody else has got that clear yet. Look out for the English translation of Estat Propi as it comes out of his office and you'll see something like "self-gverning state".

    We'll catch up to this master politician and his cunning ways soon and then we'll see that it's not time to rush to the barricades, but rather to man that parliamentary subcommittee on transfer of rail infrastructures.

    As a revolution, this is gonna be the most boring evaaah!