Who is afraid of democracy?

Constitutions and laws belong to the people and not the other way round, argues Roser Clavell

News / 11.7.17

The abridged speech by Roser Clavell at What’s Going in On in Catalonia delivered in Brussels on the 8th of June 2017:

We, Catalans, want to decide. We, Catalans, want to be heard, and we, Catalans, want to make decisions about how we live our lives. We simply wish to exercise our ‘right to decide’ as the nation we are.

Around 80% of Catalans are in favor of holding a self-determination referendum: to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is by no means certain that the majority of Catalans would indeed vote for independence. We will never know until we are able to count vote by vote.

The Spanish government argues that this vote is illegal and unconstitutional. On the other hand, the Catalan government and legal experts believe that the vote is both legal and legitimate. We could be debating this for ages, as laws can be interpreted in different ways like two sides of the same coin. But the issue is not even about interpreting the law. It is about using the most powerful instrument we have in a democracy: a vote.

For far many years – too many years – and especially from 2012, the Catalan government has been trying to meet with the central government to discuss this conflict. Because it is a conflict, a political one, not a legal one.

But the central government prefers to blackmail politicians and civil servants, set-up police operations against separatists, and use the Spanish Courts as an answer; instead of dealing with the issue politically by negotiating political solutions to resolve this conflict.

Moreover, democratic discussion about independence in Catalonia’s own parliament has been banned by the politically appointed Spanish Constitutional Court in Madrid. Leading Catalan politicians such as ex-President Artur Mas and other Catalan ministers have been banned from office and heavily fined. Such draconian punishment has even been meted-out to the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament. Her crime? Allowing debate to take place by democratically elected members of the Catalan parliament! Let’s not forget that Catalan politicians are all following a parliamentary mandate.

The European Commission has remained silent in the face of such political repression.

We, the Catalans, who wish to vote, wonder why Spain wants to prevent people from voting in a peaceful and transparent way. How can this happen in a democratic country in the 21st century? Political conflicts are resolved with political solutions, through dialogue and negotiation.

So huge questions bang constantly in my mind. Who is afraid of democracy?

If Spain is deeply concerned about a vote because it fears the answer, is this a democratic position? And why isn’t Spain offering proposals about the benefits of remaining in Spain? This should be the real debate.

The lack in fulfilling the Spanish budget on Catalan investments in infrastructures, the lack of supporting the Mediterranean Rail Corridor or refusing inter-continental flights, interfering and blocking Catalan competences in education, health or language – are some examples of the regression in Catalan rights and competences. Devolution has in fact stepped backwards. Democracy should be embraced and not feared in Spain. In Spain and everywhere else. The European Commission should take steps to ensure that the democratic rights of peoples are respected throughout the European Union. This issue goes beyond “an internal issue”. It has collateral effects on Europe.

Political conflicts are resolved with political solutions, through dialogue and negotiation.

The Government of Catalonia would like to hold this referendum in agreement with Spain. But up to now it has been impossible, due to the Spanish Government’s constant and absolute refusal to discuss it.

The main argument of the Spanish government is that the Constitution does not allow a self-determination referendum. Constitutions are meant to be flexible frames that adapt its laws to the needs of the citizens – without this flexibility we would never had abolished slavery. But the Spanish government refers to the constitution as an “untouchable” document with no margin for manoeuvre, blocking any possible amendments unless the central government has an interest in a specific modification (2 occasions in the last few years in less than 48h).

The freedom to express one’s opinion or idea has more weight than the law that wants to mute it. Norms and constitutions are the result of these judgments, ideas and opinions. Is human kind so unconsciously irresponsible that we give to our own laws the power of being inflexible? Laws have to serve people, laws have to adapt to the majority of people’s demands and interests.

Constitutions and laws belong to the people and not the other way round.

I have to insist. This is a question of democracy. A word that is easy to pronounce but was so costly to achieve in Spain after our civil war. Only two generations ago. Democracy through a peaceful process is all we want. A vote, a vote that arises from the people’s will. What is there more powerful and stubborn than people’s will?

The freedom to express one’s opinion or idea has more weight than the law that wants to mute it.

Constitutions and laws belong to the people and not the other way round.

The UN is quite clear on the rights of nations. “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

As Hamlet said: “That is the question: to be or not to be.” This is what all is about. The power to express ourselves in a Spain that does not want to listen to a huge portion of its citizens, a Spain that refuses not only to negotiate but to start to dialogue. A Spain that believes that ignoring other’s opinions is the best way to make them disappear.

To end, I would like to mention what President Puigdemont recently said: “There is not enough power in a state to stop such an amount of democracy”.