It escapes nobody that if the current political process ends up with the birth of a new state it will be, without a doubt, an unprecedented case. Completely unique. It will be the first process of secession in post-WW2 Europe if we take into account that, from a strict view of international law, the new independent states of Eastern Europe were the product of the dissolution of their respective mother states, with the collapse of their communist regimes. We could say that the original state melted away like a lump of sugar, even in the case of Czechoslovakia where the negotiated creation of the new states also meant the dissolution of the old republic. This will not be the case with Spain for, in spite of the alteration of its territory and inhabitants (and everything deriving from that), its basic nature will remain, without substantial legal change.
This fact could make the Catalan case unique, but what is truly unique is that it will be achieved against the state and through strictly democratic procedures. This is the true Catalan uniqueness. A democratic call for change has been the protagonist, like nowhere else in the world, from the first day, of what we could call the last chapter in the emancipation of the Catalan people. It’s only necessary to remember that the most important concept in these past few years has been that of the right to self-determination, which has served as a true mental and political framework.
Many place the beginning of the chronology of significant events of this process in the huge demonstration against the Constitutional Court ruling in June 2010. Undoubtedly, this was a turning point with powerful ingredients: the leadership of civil society, highlighting its prominent role; participation of all the living presidents of the Generalitat and democratic parliament, showing the connection between the institutions; the Catalan "estelades" (pro-independence flags) outnumbering the traditional Catalan regional flag. But the starting point of both the call for change (remember: "We are a nation. We decide") and the social movement that produced it, must be placed a few years earlier; specifically, in 2006, with the birth of Catalonia’s Platform for the Right to Decide and its surprisingly well-attended initial demonstrations. The Platform meant a beginning of the democratic call for change (which would later lead to the unofficial consultations for independence) and a gathering space for like-minded people to weave together the broad-based political and social fabric that was so hard to accomplish in the context of political parties.
The right to decide. Certainly this concept was not invented by Catalans. It was used in Quebec, in the Basque Country --even in the Ibarretxe Plan (1)--, and also in Scotland. But in none of those places did it have the leading role and the popular and political reception that --with the initial push from the Platform-- it has had in Catalonia. Nor did it have the theoretical and academic development that has allowed it to be further refined. A right to decide understood as a right of the members of a political community to express and carry out, by means of a democratic process, the will of a people to redefine its political status and fundamental institutional framework, including the possibility of building a new state. In short, the improvement of the democratic principle, foundational in western democracies, so as to be able to also propose, within its framework, the possibility of creating new states.
And why shouldn’t we be able to focus on this possibility in the 21st century? Countries have always been the result of wars, or dynastic pacts, or negotiations between powers-- that is, they have not had a democratic origin. How should we create countries today? To ignore this question and the need for a response that is consistent with democratic principles is the same as saying that the State is morally unquestionable, or that violence is the only response to this question.
These two ways do not seem defensible in the 21st century, but at the same time it must be noted that the majority of western citizens have probably not asked themselves this question. The improvement of the democratic principle, in this sense, will be logically driven by those who, by being part of a territorial minority, have preferences regarding decisions on the governance of their state that are permanently excluded. The application of majority rule becomes in practice an exercise in domination by the majority.
Once again, political progress will not be driven by those in power (in this case by the State), but rather by those in peripheral or minority positions. By those who want to transcend current democracies so as to be able to propose everything democratically, including the creation of new states. This call for change is nothing less than an improvement in the democratic principle, in a new chapter of its progressive evolution. We in Catalonia call for, and will exercise, a right to self-determination that should be able to be generally applied in the 21st century. For this reason, it is in this corner of the world where we are promoting and exercising a truly democratic revolution that should be, after all, an example for defenders of democracy throughout the world.
(1) N.T. In 2003 then Basque president Ibarretxe announced a plan whereby the Basque Country would demand a status within Spain akin to that of Puerto Rico in the US.