Speaking at Madrid’s Ritz Hotel on a now-distant November 7 2007 —nearly a decade ago—, then-president José Montilla warned about the “disaffection” with Spain and its institutions that was brewing among Catalan society. At the time Catalonia was experiencing a crisis brought about by the disruption of Barcelona’s metropolitan railway service as a result of construction work for the Barcelona-Madrid fast train line, which caused the ground to collapse in several spots. Public outrage was voiced at a massive march in Barcelona city on December 1, 2007, under the slogan “We have the right to decide on our infrastructure”. Unfortunately, Montilla’s warning went totally unheeded in Madrid. They thought the Catalan president was exaggerating or, worse still, that it was a ploy to gain leverage in the negotiations to review the funding of the Catalan administration.
In today’s issue we compare our socio-economic reality with that of 2007. At the time we had not been hit by the recession yet and independence support was only beginning to grow. Society remained relatively confident about the future of our economy and pleased with the work of its institutions. But all that was about to change. The exhausting process followed by the new Catalan Statute and the Spanish PM’s refusal to hand over the management of El Prat airport (the consequences of which can be felt today), against the wishes of Catalan society at large and social agents, was paving the way for a far-reaching social shift that would occur faster than anticipated.
The public’s initial reaction was negative (it became popular to refer to Catalans as “shirty”), but once the Constitutional Court handed down its ruling against the Statute, the disaffection that Montilla hard warned about was channelled into a positive project, one in support of Catalan independence. One could say, then, that in ten years Catalans went from feeling shirty to feeling activated.
When examining Catalonia’s secession process, hindsight’s greatest value is that it allows us to understand how it arose from a number of specific circumstances and decisions (the PP’s petition of signatures against the Statute, the PSOE’s reluctance to improve Catalonia’s funding, etc), rather than being the spurious brainchild of the nation’s political elite. Whatever happens on October 1, Catalan society has changed greatly since 2007 and nothing will ever be the same. That is as true as the fact that it all began in 2007.