“The Catalan people has showed its dignity and impeccable democratic behaviour to the whole world” Daniel Turp

News / 20.11.14

Daniel Turp is a professor in International Law, and author of works related to the right of self-determination. He also was one of the moving spirits in Quebec’s 1995 referendum on independence. Turp was  in Barcelona as an international observer for Catalonia’s non-binding vote on independence on November 9th 2014. There he shared his views with CIEMEN‘s jorunal devoted to self-determination and minority issues: Nationalia. This is the outcome of their conversation:

– At CIEMEN’s invitation, you were an international observer at the first popular, non-binding referendums on independence, starting in Arenys de Munt in 2009. Which features, according to you, distinguish the November 9 vote from the previous referendums?

– This time, the call to the polls has been a general one, targeting all the people and all those who live in Catalonia. The call was directly made by the Catalan autonomous government (the Generalitat), with the support from several political parties. So far, popular non-binding votes had been organized in many municipalities, with the participation of volunteers who organized them, and with the connivance of local councils’ representatives. This time, even though volunteers played again an essential role, the political responsibility was directly assumed by the Generalitat. These differences signal the importance and significance of what happened last Sunday in Catalonia, in the face of the Catalan people and the whole world.

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– However, the legal value of the November 9 vote has disappeared, thanks to the work of the Spanish government. The vote only had a political dimension. Does it mean the vote has been somewhat incomplete?

– Yes and no. It has been more than incomplete if we only regard it from a strictly legal point of view, because it was not what it should have been -a referendum as we had in Quebec and as they recently had in Scotland. As regards its legal scope, the Spanish government has been successful in somehow melting the Catalan vote, which has lead it not to meet international standards. However, this does not mean that this “participatory process” had no value: it was the only possible way out in order to progress towards a real option -yet to come- to freely choose Catalonia’s future. People voted while knowing that the result would not immediately change the status of their collective life. But nonetheless, they knew too that the result would be a watershed. They believed that, if they voted for independence, Catalan politicians would receive a mandate to advance that choice.

– More than 80% of votes supported secession, as pro-independence parties had wished for. But if we look at all those people who were able to cas their ballots, “yes” votes were a minority, far less than 50% of the total census. What do you think about that? Does this give less value to the result?

– In view of all voting limitations, in view of the propaganda bombardment against the vote and in view of the fears that were generated, we should understand the outcome as a very positive one, with more than 80% of votes for independence. At the same time, we must recall that, in view of those circumstances, we should understand this in polling terms. Polls are indicative of what a given society thinks. Questions asked, although aimed at everyone, are not usually answered by everyone, but only by some. And their answers are an indication of what society at large thinks. As regards the Nov 9 vote, more than 2 million people answered, so the sample size of this one is very significant. It goes far beyond the limits of usual polls! When a referendum will take place with all the guarantees, then parameters will be different.

– The Spanish government, precisely because it was not a referendum, despised it, arguing it made ​​no sense to hold it. What do you think about the fact that Madrid has turned a deaf ear?

– They did so in appearance only. Because, in fact, the Spanish government itself has taken things seriously. Otherwise it would not have repeatedly challenged the vote before the Constitutional Court, or threatened Catalan President Artur Mas and other officials with severe sanctions. The Spanish government knows very well that the percentage of those who voted is very high, taking into account the percentage of voters in official elections and the propaganda against the Nov 9 vote, which was spurred by opposition parties, including the Socialists, which discouraged many people.

– As an international observer, what is your review on what you saw and verified on Nov 9?

– The Catalan people has showed its dignity and impeccable democratic and peaceful behaviour to the whole world. Democracy has dominated everything, even the smallest details, in the long lines of voters at the time of voting and after, in the conduct of the volunteers who were responsible for the smooth running of everything. These facts have an international impact. This is a well-planted seed. The Catalan people has proved it has a democratic culture, as I understand, largely thanks to a longstanding tradition of setting up civil society organizations. Peaceful and democratic mass demonstrations in recent years, which have grown from grassroots dynamics, are a proof of that. I am sure that dozens of international observers during the Nov 9 vote agree with this view. In any case, all those with whom I had the opportunity to talk on this think so.

– What can be said about the attitude of the Spanish government?

– The behaviour of the Spanish government and the Spanish state in general is disastrous if viewed in democratic terms. It got eveything confused and distorted. This shows that it still represents a kind of Spain that lacks a democratic culture. The Spanish government speaks of democracy, but it follows policies that are typical of countries unable to meet just claims which are rooted in international law and full of desire for dialogue. The Spanish government prefers to threaten, to persistently say “no”, to give up politics, even invoking the intervention of a court that finds itself forced to take political stances instead of carrying out its duties of legal nature. The Catalan people has well realized these inconsistencies, and has been able to show that it can get by without the Spanish state by acting with an eye on the establishment of its own, Catalan state.

– What should now be done?

– In my opinion, Catalans should maintain and strengthen what they have once again proven on Nov 9: that they are a sovereign people which is aware of its right to self-determination and which has decided to exercise it. This happens in the face of a state that is illegal, in the sense that it does not accept the fundamental rights of peoples, and ignores and cancels the Catalan people by attributing the only and true sovereignty to the Spanish people.

Spain has objectively lost credibility on the international stage. Most media reporting on the Nov 9 vote show that fact. It is clear that other states react by siding with the Spanish state not because of convictions, but because it suits their convenience. What state would like to undergo a process such as Spain’s? No state wants to endanger itself, especially those where Catalan-like situations exist or could exist.

In this context, and regarding its future, the Catalan people -with its representatives at the forefront- should promote an international policy to make itself understood, to look for complicity, to build consensus in international institutions. The Catalan civil society should help this with actions targeting civil societies of other countries. It is civil society that ultimately forces changes in situations and policies. CIEMEN has now a great mission!

Read the original interview at Nationalia

Read Daniel Turp’s paper on “Self-determination and the Right To Decide” at Centre Maurits Coppieters Policy papers .