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9.23.2014

The Right To Decide

"Civic Engagement on the Road to Self-government"

Contribution of Miquel Strubell to Conference on "The Right to Decide in the 21st Century: Scotland, Catalonia and Beyond". 25 September 2014. Conference organised by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, the European Free Alliance and the Centre Maurits Coppieters. ...


I am most grateful for this invitation, and for the opportunity to explain to this assembly what for me is a unique, unparalleled process to the road towards national independence. I am pleased to convey to you the best wishes of the president of the grassroots organisation I am representing here today, senyora Carme Forcadell. We are really pleased to be able to speak here, not least because of the bizarre things that have been said about us and the process as a whole. 

Our process is unique on a number of scores:
  • a. It has the utter, complete and evident opposition of the central government. As we shall see, this should come as no surprise, as the general perception in wide segments of Catalan society is that the governing party is anti-Catalan (in Catalonia, it came fifth in the European elections) in both attitude and policies. I shall illustrate this later.
  • b. It is the result of a vast grassroots reaction, across the country, to the feeling of powerlessness and, for many, as a fight for the survival of the Catalans as a people.
  • c. The central government, indeed the power elite as a whole in Madrid, seems to have totally misjudged the whole process. 
Let us move into a short chronicle, or calendar, of events, concentrating on the grassroots level I just referred to.

The Parliament of Catalonia has on several occasions voted Resolutions (such as R 98/III, on December 12 1989) stating that "Catalonia does not relinquish the right to its self-determination". Again, on October 1 1998, a similar Resolution was adopted.

"Catalunya és una nació", Article 1 of the Draft Statute of Autonomy, adopted on September 2005, reminded us. The Preamble was just as clear: "This Statute is moved by the aspiration, the project and the dream of a Catalonia without any kind of obstacle to the free and full interdependence that a nation needs today ("... mouen aquest Estatut l'aspiració, el projecte i el somni d'una Catalunya sense cap mena d'entrebancs a la lliure i plena interdependència que una nació necessita avui
").

However, the Spanish Parliament chopped these texts out of the Statute that it adopted in 2006 and put to the Catalan people. 

The "Right to Decide" first appeared on the scene at the end of 2005. The Plataforma pel Dret de Decidir consists of hundreds of organisations supporting the right of self-determination. Shortly after being established, it brought out into the street, beyond its wildest dreams (with hardly any support from institutions or parties), as many as a million Catalans on February 18 2006, to state clearly "We are a Nation, We Have The Right To Decide". It was a call for the September 30 2005 Draft Statute of Autonomy (which received the support of 89% of the Chamber) not to be maimed by the Spanish Parliament. Its call went unheeded, and first the Congress (in 2006) and then the Constitutional Court (in June 2010) in response to an appeal by the People's Party, severely reduced the planned increase in Catalonia's level of self-government. 

On July 10 2010 a huge demonstration, which had been planned months ahead (given that news leaked from the Constitutional Court made it clear that their judgment would be a serious cutback in the text of the Statute, which had already been sanctioned by the Catalan people in a referendum) filled the centre of Barcelona. It was organised by a cultural organisation, Omnium Cultural, though with the backing of the three-party Government coalition, which headed the demonstration. Over a million people took part in this march, which simply could not move forward for several hours. It was the last "protest" demonstration, and the following three demonstrations were completely differtent: enthusiastic, looking forward with hope, and positive in outlook.

The Pacte Nacional pel Dret de Decidir, the National Pact for the Right to Decide, consists of hundreds of civil, civic, citizen, cultural, economic, trade union, business organisations; local councils; the parliamentary groups that have given support to the right to decide, and the Government. It first met on June 13 2013. Its manifesto has been signed by over 800 organisations.

The most important grassroots initiative, however, linked up with the "Popular Referenda", following the lead of Arenys de Munt, a medium-sized town about 30 km from Barcelona. These unofficial referenda were held over 500 towns across the country (between September 2009 and April 2011), and about a million people (not a few, in tears) expressed their vote for (in most cases) or against Catalonia's independence. It was during this period that the "Assemblea Nacional Catalana" was devised. When after months of gradually widening an initially very small circle of people invited to join the project, the "Assemblea" was launched on April 30 2011, at the "Conferència Nacional per l'Estat Propi", with a view to holding its first general assembly the following year, and with its sights aimed at a "binding referendum that could be held in 2014". ("amb la mirada fixada en un referèndum vinculant que podria celebrar-se el 2014"). 



The Assemblea, whose single aim is to achieve the independence of Catalonia, has built up a network of 600 local assemblies (largely in places that had already held popular referenda), which work closely together thanks to the social networks. It has over 70 sectoral assemblies as well, working to persuade collectives close to themn of the advantages of independence. We now have over 70,000 paid-up members and volunteers. 

The huge pro-independence demonstration organised by the Assemblea on September 11 2012, just a few months after its formal establishment at the first General Assembly, had immediate political consequences.
 

The consequences were an early election, sprung by our First Minister, Artur Mas, who included his coalition's election manifesto a commitment to hold a referendum on independence, if at all possible with the consent of the Spanish govenrment. He was returned to power, with a smaller majority, but quickly reached an agrement with the second most voted party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, whose party commitment is to work towards independence. Several other parliamentary parties support the vote to be held on November 9 2014, a vote announced (with the question) in December 2013, to the surprise of the Spanish government.

However, the 2012 demonstration was surpassed by the meticulously organised "Catalan Way", a 400 km-long human chain of over a million people, from one end of Catalonia to the other (with incidents at the Valencian end, because the Spanish civil guard turned a blind eye to a last-minute court ruling). It was held on September 11 2013. Most people were dressed in yellow teashirts, specially made by the Assemblea for the occasion. They signed up on an interactive map, which made sure there was not a single break in the chain, even in the relatively sparsely inhabited Ebro delta district. The chain proved possible thanks to 1500 coaches, hundreds of thousands of cars, trains and in Barcelona, on the underground... In Barcelona, as was to be expected, the chain was overwhelmed by an uncountable number of people. The coverage by the international press was excellent, and the Wall Street Journal's top photo of the year was by Raymond Roig. 










On the political front, the Catalan Parliament voted a "Declaration of Sovereignty and the right to Decide of the People of Catalonia" ("Declaració de sobirania i el dret a decidir del poble de Catalunya", 23 January 2013) which was duly judged unconstitutuional (because the Spanish people and "nation" are indivisible) by the Constitutiional Court which, nevertheless, said it was perfectly legitimate for the authorities to ask the Catalan people's opinion on the issue. That is precisely what we are going to do on November 9th, though the Spanish government is adamant that even the law governing non-binding referenda ("consultes" in Catalan) is unconstitutional, in a desperate effort to block the vote. 

The "V for will (voluntat), voting and victory" demonstration in Barcelona on September 11 2014, organised by the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural. Well over a million people. We formed two Vs, totalling over 11 km in length, and with the nine stripes of the Catalan flag running down the middle of both avenues. We all wore either red or yellow teashirts. There were long queues at each organisation HQ to buy the shirts.

http://www.tv3.cat/videos/5237271/El-millor-de-la-Via-Catalana-2014" (1'56")

The activities of the Assemblea are wholly, and solely, funded by the members' fees and by merchandising (such as teashirts) and services such as the coaches to attend the demonstrations. Nevertheless, time and again most of the Madrid media accuse us of living off Catalan government grants. 


The current efforts are concentrated "Ara És l'Hora!" (Now is the time!) campaign for the November 9th Yes vote. It is a joint venture of Omnium Cultural and the Assemblea Nacional Catalana. A hundred thousand volunteers are being sought to go door-by-door, in the lead-up to the vote, to see what the population of Catalonia wants as a future for our country, and hopefully to share their vision. 



We are in the eye of the hurricane. The Assemblea has come to be seen as the essential element of the process, the bottom-up initiative and pressure. As such, a nationalist organisation has called for us to be outlawed and our chair person imprisoned. Our membership lists were stolen by a hacker in April. The published minutes of our Secretariat have been scrutinised in search of statements with which to accuse of of illegal activities. And a highly sophisticated and expensive operation neutralised most of the mobile phones of the Assemblea secretariat and others such as me, from September 10th to 12th. Both cases are in the hands of the police. The Catalan police.  

I will not go into a legal discussion of the right to decide, or the flimsy legal grounds that the Spanish government has to try and block our November 9th vote (as already announced, without yet having seen the text of the decree!). Catalan-readers may be interested to hear the views of professor Mercè Barceló (UAB), spokesperson of a group of legal specialists known as Col·lectiu Praga. http://www.ihmarti.cat/2014/02/conversa-amb-merce-barcelo-catedratica.html

And as to opponents of the November 9 vote, here is the shocking, very recent opinion of a Spanish political leader, Rosa Díez MP:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/106815543

Finally, here are two videos. The first is one of the many video productions the Assemblea has made in the last couple of years, aimed at inviting the Catalan people to vote on November 9th (this one is in English):



The second, "Votarem!" (We'll vote!) was made by the "Ateneu Popular La Pioixa", a small organisation run by the young people of Bordils, a village of just 1,700 inhabitants. Let's hope versions subtitled in other languages can be made!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6b7hx1i0og






In conclusion, I call on the members of this Parliament to closely monitor events in Catalonia and Spain. The situation is politically tense, and the SPanish government totally entrenched in its opposition to the Catalans' even exercising their universal right, the freedom of speech. I am sure you have many, many others issues on hand, but the Catalan issue is one of democracy, that ties into the values the defence of which you have been elected to defend and uphold. 


Thank you.


Selection of papers, mostly by M. Strubell, on Catalan independence process). http://cv.uoc.edu/~grc0_003638_web/150205_Selection.pdf 

Baròmetre de l'ús del català a Internet