Mar 11 2014

Catalan Separatism, a European Problem

By Marcus Pučnik Both Catalonia and Scotland are looking towards a referendum on independence later this year, Scotland on September 18 and Catalonia on November 9.  If independent, they both would like to join the European Union, yet the official EU stance is that Catalonia and Scotland would be “third countries” in regard to the EU and thus have to go through the full process of accession.

A demonstration for Catalan independence

This is where the similarities between Scotland and Catalonia end. While the Scottish referendum is agreed upon with London, the Catalan one is being blocked as unconstitutional by Madrid. Moreover, the Spanish government is also likely to veto Catalonia’s EU-accession in the case of a unilateral declaration of independence. “We cannot be punished,” Catalonia’s president Artur Mas said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. Some very competent European experts share this point of view and call a potential Spanish veto of Catalonia a punitive measure that would represent “an abuse of [EU] law”. These experts expect both Catalonia and Scotland to fulfill all the necessary membership requirements, so that their applications could be fast-tracked. “A simplified procedure” should be put in place for countries that have “applied the EU’s policies and legislation for 40 years”, or 28 years in the case of Spain/Catalonia. But would punishing those pesky Catalans really be Madrid’s motivation? Is Catalonia really fulfilling all EU criteria, and would it thus be that special case for which Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) cannot be interpreted literally? A closer look at the conditions on the ground gives some reason for doubt. Unlike Scotland, Catalonia does have a language conflict. It is a complex issue, one part of which is a general defense of the Catalan language. The other part is inside Catalonia itself, where the regional government refuses to heed court sentences that over the past years have consistently demanded that Spanish not be excluded as language of instruction in Catalan public schools. Treating Spanish as if it were a foreign language is not in the spirit nor the wording of TEU Article 2, to which Article 49 explicitly refers. Both Spanish and Catalan are official languages in Catalonia. Over half the Catalan population has Spanish as mother tongue. Skewing public education in favour of Catalan has been necessary to repair past injustices, something that also the courts have recognised, but the exclusion of Spanish is a clear discrimination. Furthermore, based on the present situation we can expect a Catalan state to declare Catalan as the preferred or national language, turning the Spanish speakers into a functional minority. Equality, non-discrimination and minority protection are all values mentioned in Article 2. Catalan authorities take great pride in their monolingual system, yet a committee of experts report for the Council of Europe on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Spain concluded in 2008 that “a system based on education essentially in the [regional or minority] language is supposed to be available to those who request it but not compulsory for all children”. Even though Catalonia was not the state under scrutiny, the committee found words that seem to constitute a critical remark directed at the Catalan authorities:  “The Charter does not demand compulsory education in Catalan for all pupils, only that it shall be made available so that all pupils will receive education in Catalan if parents so wish.” There are parents who have spent years immersed in legal battles to get bilingual education for their children. The opposition of the Catalan regional government, which also refuses to implement a new Spanish law that addresses this issue, might soon lead to a situation in which the principle of legal certainty is rendered ineffective. The rule of law, of which legal certainty is a part, is another value mentioned in TEU Article 2. One of the main arguments of Catalan nationalists, and also of the regional government, for monolingual education is what they call “social cohesion”. This is a euphemism for nation-building. Another difference with Scotland is that the borders of the envisaged Catalan state are all but clear. Catalan separatism is inherently expansionist, it seeks the independence of Catalonia today, so that tomorrow it can work for the “political reunification of the Catalan Lands” (in Catalan, “reunificació política dels Països Catalans”). This would mean absorbing other big chunks of Spain, and also parts of France (Roussillon) and Italy (Alghero), as well as swallowing the whole of Andorra. These are the territories where Catalan is spoken. Virtually all separatist organisations and parties have this ultimate goal in mind, including at least parts of Artur Mas’s CiU coalition, whose minority government depends on the parliamentary support of the Republican Left, or ERC. ERC quite officially defines the “Catalan nation” as the “Catalan people” which live within the boundaries of the Catalan Lands (see here, and do mind the image provided which outlines the Catalan Lands, while this is the distinctive triangular shape of Catalonia proper). Even though there is presently no threat of the use of force to achieve the aim of “reunification”, this ideology does (again) show the unwillingness of the Catalan nationalists and separatists to play by very well established rules. The pancatalanist orientation of the separatist movement might best be illustrated by the 2009-2011 mock referendum on the, as the ballot paper put it, independence of the “Catalan nation”, which took place only in Catalonia but had the Catalan Lands as reference, and in which Catalonia’s president Artur Mas participated. He made it known that he had voted yes. Any future Spanish veto of a Catalan state’s accession to the EU might therefore not be a mere punitive measure. Quite on the contrary, on the grounds of both individual rights and international law Spain might find valid arguments to refuse any assistance to a new country that would not only discriminate against Spanish speakers but also question its territorial integrity.  Greece has been giving a hard time to Macedonia (FYROM) for much less. The Catalan problem is a European one with potential ripple effects for the whole Union. Especially because the precedent of Catalonia, if accepted by the EU, would make it likely that the Basque Country follows suit.  Basque separatism, like the Catalan one, also claims territories which are presently both in Spain and in neighbouring France. _____________ Marcus Pučnik is a freelance journalist and cameraman. He comes from a mixed Slovenian and German family, he has worked in former Yugoslavia and collaborated with newspapers such as Der Standard and El Mundo. He currently lives in Barcelona and occasionally writes for Crónica Global.   Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog, nor of the London School of Economics. _____________ Related articles in Euro Crisis in the Press: On the “right to decide” Europe Says “No” to Artur Mas A Bandwagon with a Purpose: The independence of Catalonia The independence of Catalonia: jumping on a bandwagon

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Europe, Nationalism, Spain and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Catalan Separatism, a European Problem

  1. Dave says:

    Please, have a look to Spanish media: all biased. Really pathetic. Under the rule of Franco (only forty years ago), they committed uncountable crimes that Spaniards were obliged to forgive by law. Can you imagine Nazi Germany leaders’family members being celebrities nowadays? It happens in Spain. I’m proud of not being Spanish, this undeveloped s**t of country. Good luck catalans!

  2. Pingback: Is a referendum the right tool for the Catalan problem? | Euro Crisis in the Press

  3. Pingback: EUROPP – Should Catalonia hold an independence referendum? Four responses from EUROPP contributors

  4. Pingback: The Spanish government has to engage constructively with a rising Catalan secessionist movement | Euro Crisis in the Press

  5. Pingback: Time to Get Hold of the Republican Movement in Spain | Euro Crisis in the Press

  6. Pingback: Language rights in Catalonia | Euro Crisis in the Press

  7. Enric Blanes says:

    In fact, Spain does have a language conflict and this is a European issue. The Catalan-speaking territories have been under attack for three centuries, in order to hispanize them. Catalan has been forbidden for 256 years since 1714. This lack of protection is a very good reason for leaving Spain.

    Nowadays, Catalan is not official in Eastern Aragon. Valencian conservatives block Catalan –they label it as Valencian– in schools. 40,000 families asked for education in Catalan and were not allowed to achieve it: their children have to study in Spanish. Last September, nearly 10% of people in the Balearics Islands took to the streets to defend the use of Catalan language in schools.

    Forbidding languages is not wise. We do expect the Catalan Republic will not repeat Spain’s monolinguistic obsession. We do expect, too, a fair treatment in Spain for Catalan speakers in Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Eastern Aragon.

    We agree with Marcus Pučnik that the Catalan-speakers problem is a European one. Although, other European countries show us the way to solve it. You can ask Dutch speakers in Belgium how they manage the language issue, for instance.

    • Ferran says:

      Excuse me Mr. Blanes;
      I’m afraid you haven’t understood the Catalan history. It’s absolutely false Catalonia is under a repressive State, called Spain since 1714. You could read Anales de Catalunya writen for the Catalan and Austracista Narcis Feliu de la Penya in 1709, and you could see clearly Catalonia has been a part of Spain since the XV century The Spanish war Succession was a battle between Spanish and of course between catalans, cause I think you know there was catalan people fighting with Felipe V. By other hand the other catalans were fighting for Carlos de Austria as his real King, in fact they called him Carlos tercer, and their main claims were Viva Carlos tercer, Viva Carlos Rey de España. Austracistas catalans were fighting for their candidate and for the freedom of all Spain, not only Catalonia. Since 1714 in Spain there has been, Spanish first Ministers borned in Catalonia, like Pi i Margall, or Joan Prim, so How you could say this shit? Maybe are you a lier? Catalans are Spanish, they consider themselve Spanish before 1714 and after, so it was impossible try to became them in Spanish, it hasn’t any sense. Since the last years of XIX century in Catalonia we know a movement who hates all matched with Spain, and since then, they are lying at catalan people. I don’t know if you are one of this liers or maybe you have been cheated.

      You should have read more history before write here and explain all your incorrect information full of lies.

      Catalans are Spanish, this couldn’t be divided, is like Barcelone and Catalonia, are two concepts joined.

      • Enric Blanes says:

        We disagree, dear Ferran. I do not consider I am lying. I consider you are wrong, but I do respect your point of view. Please, remember this blog and this topic deserve a rational debate, not a testosteronic one.

        • Ferran says:

          Thank you very much Mr.Blanes;

          With your answer, now I know who you actually are. Please try for once to read any book from the time of Spanish Succesion War, and you maybe could understand you are wrong and in a big mistake. In that time, in Catalonia everyone felt Spanish.

        • Ferran says:

          Pi i Margall, Estanislao Figueras and Juan Prim were Spanish First Ministers….Catalonia under a Repressive State?? What?

          Salvador Dalí, Josep Pla, Manel Amat, Gaspar de Portolà, Albéniz, Victor Català, Victor Balaguer, Milà i Fontanals, Verdaguer, Rubió i Ors, Enrique Granados…there are a long unfinished list of “Spanish-Catalans” after 1714 to show you are not saying the true…Your “history” began the last years of XIX century. Please read more before give me an answer and of course before explain falsehoods. Prat de la Riba, Bofarull, Torres i Bages, etc.. they were the first catalan liars…before this people, there were nothing…Every Catalan considered himself like Spanish.

      • Jordi Margalef says:

        His Majesty Ferran, should I say?
        Does Spain love so much Catalonia that has the need to bomb Barcelona every 50 years?
        Did Catalonia cause the change of name of the invading fascist armies from “Freedom” to “Occupation” at their entry in Catalan territory?
        Were the former Spanish ex-colonies in South and Central America considered “provinces” of the Kingdom of Spain, with no right of secession?
        And I am very sorry to say that you will contemplate the disintegration yet again, of another “province” of such Kingdom.

        • Ferran says:

          You are wrong Mr Margalef;

          In Spain there was a lot of different wars since 1714, and these wars affected all Spain, not only Catalonia. Fascism, Carlism, affected Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Segovia and every m2 of Spain. Do you know Belchite? Do you know how many bombs fell in Madrid in the Spanish Civil War? A lot of catalans were part of that governements and supported even Franco and Primo de Rivera (who gaves his hit in Barcelona supported by industrial catalans). General Prim borned in Reus was who in 1843 had “need” of “gave” this bombs on Barcelona. A lot of catalans went to fight in Cuba, Filipinas and Puerto Rico and they died for Spain. I think you are not a good catalan saying this fools cause you don’t respect the memory of your ancients. Study before the Catalan history between 1714 – 1939 and try to understand something before write here. Catalonia is Spain. And I’m so sorry but Catolinia will be Spanish for ever, so relax and take a relaxing cafè amb llet leche in Plaça Reial.

    • Ferran says:

      Els herois del 1714 eren espanyolistes

      Espanya ja existia abans del 1714 i Catalunya en formava part:

    • Adrián says:

      Mr Blanes, your use of “we” is quite worrying in your pan-Catalan manifesto. Is it the royal “we”? And what is “The Catalan Republic”? On what grounds does it “expect” fair treatment for Catalan speakers in neighbouring regions? Do the Valencians, the Aragonese and Balearic folk welcome Catalan intervention? And what would “Big Brother Catalonia” do, should it ever materialize, if it considers it isn’t getting what it expects? Invade and occupy? Or export the type of thought-control its autonomous government, the Generalitat, currently advocates within its own borders?

      Let me give you an example, published in a serious, respected newspaper, “El País”, by one of your countrymen who is prepared to speak up against fanaticism when she sees it:
      A British student in a Catalan language class in Barcelona was scolded for comparing Catalan with Spanish. He left the class because he was forbidden from using Spanish as a reference language, a well-known technique when learning a foreign language, especially one from the same linguistic root – Vulgar Latin in the case of Catalan and Spanish.

      I am glad you mention the Belgian example. As a foreigner living in Flanders and learning Dutch, I have firsthand experience to share with you. Our teacher is delighted to help us make progress in the language by using French, English or German to explain Dutch grammar and the meaning of words. No Orwellian thought-control here. Sorry.

      Catalan nationalism is not the “live and let live”, democratic and peaceful movement its followers seek to portray abroad. Catalonia is no more or less a victim than other regions of Spain who suffered appallingly under Franco. Yet it blames all its woes on the modern Spanish state that has largely bent over backwards to accommodate its cultural differences since Spain became a democracy.
      It uses a combination of a) (Catalan) state restrictions to limit the teaching of Spanish in schools to 3 hours per week – less than English, which, OK, you all need to learn anyway to communicate in the world at large; b) bullying tactics to impose its language on its inhabitants, while cloaking itself in 300 years of injustice and feigning that its children are being denied their freedom if they are educated in Spanish (usually because their parents have the unreasonable desire of wanting their children to be educated in one of the world’s most widely-spoken languages, notably Spanish).
      Catalan nationalism is a European problem which will only get worse unless moderation and cooler heads prevail in this troubled north eastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

    • Michel says:

      As Enric Blanes says: “Forbidding languages is not wise”. And that happens in Catalonia. Studying in Castilian at school is forbidden. None can choose that their children can study even a single subject in Castilian. I repeat, not a single subject ( except Spanish language , whose status ,as English, is of foreign language). Marcus Piucnic refers to a European Report about Regional Languages hat can be found very easily in Internet. And , as he says, the report states clearly that “we assume tat the Catalan monolinguistic teaching is only an option available to all and not compulsory”. And thus happens all around Europe: none pretends to teach only in Irish in Ireland, forbidding English, or to teach ply in Frisian , and never in Dutch, i Frisia.The reality is nationalists complain about “attacks to catalan”, but he reality s that nowhere in Europe a language is more protected, being compulsory and expelled of the system the language of the State. Wherever people speak 2 languages in the street, there are 2 languages in the school except Catalonia. But ply in Spain is allowed that a language is used to “build a nation”.

  8. Jordi Margalef says:

    If I wasn’t born in Catalonia, I would say that what Mr Pucnik writes is true and gives an impression that Catalans would be -at least, worst than the combination of Heirich Himmler, Dr Mengele and Reinhart Heindrich. All together and at once.
    Yes, I am born in Catalonia. I consider myself a Catalan and I wish for the independence of my country. Therefore, I must be evil reincarnate, aren’t I?
    Despite Mr Pucnik’s best efforts to demonstrate otherwise, support for the independence was growing amongst Catalans.
    But Mr Pucnik talks about language immersion in Catalan, access to European membership, validity of referendums, Catalan expansionism… aren’t we just demoniac creatures? Why did not he talk about corruption among the Catalan politicians, especially thriving among all those close to the government parties? Those who have try to imitate and compete with their Spanish masters? I would have agree with Mr Pucnik in this matter.
    Does it just happen that Catalans have lived too long under the impression that under Spain would respect Catalan way of life and have realised that only becoming an independent Nation will be able to survive?

    • Josep M says:

      I think the whole article is written in a respectful tone and never used the adjectives you mention. This article deals with some problems that should be recognized, even from a separatist perspective.

  9. Carlos says:

    Many people outside Catalonia may feel tempted to have a romantic view on what’s going on here, and see it is a peaceful movement against injustices inflicted upon the Catalan people by the Spanish state.

    In fact, it’s not. Or not only. The local Catalan government has been carrying on an enormous effort of manipulation and indoctrination for years, and using taxpayer money to foster the view that Catalan citizens are oppressed. Which they are not, by any international standard.

    So it’s really a good thing to read articles like this one, which expose these lesser known aspects of the issue.

  10. anto33 says:

    Glad that someone tells the truth about what’s been happening in Catalonia in last 30 years.But I’m afraid this article will be ignored,as usual with every one that confronts catalan nationalism…

    • Joan says:

      Seem like Marcus Pucnik is not interested in document the genocide of Catalans since the New Ground Decrees – Decretos de Nueva Planta, and during Franco’s dictatorship, when Catalan was officially banned at all levels. He is neither intersted in mentioning all the democratic effort with Constitution and Estatut that was boycotted arbitrarily by Spain. Likewise he is not interested in mentioning the discrimination for being Catalan at all official levels, as well as the deficit fiscal spoliation by which 16.000 million euros each year are taken away from Catalans.

      • Carlos says:

        The claim that Catalans are being discriminated “at all official levels” is blatantly false. Catalans have exactly the same rights and duties as all their fellow countrymen in other parts of Spain.
        And, for all the injustices that the Catalan people have endured in the past, to talk about a “genocide” in this case is not only false; it’s an insult to the peoples that have suffered real genocides throughout history.

        • Joan says:

          Look for Catalan surnames in the administration of justice, tax agencies, foreign affairs and a too large ETC.

          Nevertheless, they account for a quarter of the Spanish GDP.

          Concerning genocide, “nueva planta” and prohibition of anything Catalan speaks for itself.

          • Michel says:

            It s incredible how people have myths in their minds.
            a)Cataluña is 18-19% of Spanish GDP, not “a quarter”
            b) Catalans take part in all affairs in Spain,s the rest of the Spànish. Either n politics, economics or art. In the Independence War, the catalan voice against Napoleon ad for Spain was particularly remarkable.
            ) Your third statement is the one they really let us consider you mad. We respect people and their freedom, but we cannot respect ridiculous statements. There was not any “genocide” after Nueva Planta. Look up dictionary, please.Nor any prohibition of any catalan. On the contrary, after Nueva Planta catalans started to build their prosperity, as all authors admit.Not a single complain is registered, because from then on, Catalan oligarchy started to held the spanish market as a private property, making every year the Spanish Government to protect their industry and oligarchic interests. That is why nowadays Cataluña has a superavit with the rest of Spain of 22.000 millions of euro.

  11. Ricard says:

    Mr. Pucnik’s arguments show blatant ignorance and prejudice about the real situation in Catalonia. Obviously he only reads El Mundo or other Madrid based papers. A little more fiels study would not harm him.

    • Omar Jayyam says:

      You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss his knowledge of the catalan situation. Mr Pucnik actually lives in Catalonia and keeps a well documented blog on the catalan political landscape. But, again, you wouldn’t know as you seem to be one of the thousands of crusades for catalan nationalism who watch over the net so it doesn’t remotelly criticizes your idolized leaders.

      BTW, before you stamp me as another Madrid press-reader, I’m catalan myself.

      • Joan says:

        This article is completely biased, and most of the facts are untrue or inaccurate. Catalonia provided me education in 3 languages, that as you may see I am able to use. I am also a university graduate. The Catalan educational system has received numerous recognitions, that probably the author is not even aware of. On the other hand, it should be noted that Mr. Pucnik lives in Catalonia since 1991, and worked for Spanish media before that. Likewise he is part of the political party “Ciudadanos”. I guess this fact speaks more of the article than the article itself. Which blog are you referring to? “Cataloniawatch”?

        • Pucnik says:

          Let me intervene here. I certainly live in Catalonia since 91, I studied Catalan language before I came here and I speak it fluently, as I think is normal after so many years.

          I am, however, no member of any political party, and I do keep my critical distance to all of them.

          Let me remind you that this article is about EU values, not party politics, and ask you to please speak on this issue. If there is anything you find wrong in this context, please do tell in detail.

          • Joan says:

            The core EU values are peace, human rights and democracy. Spain does not respect any of them for Catalans despite being a EU member. Not a surprise Spain ranks among in the top of States that do not comply with EU law. We will see soon Spain’s ‘democratic’ reaction to the Catalan referendum. On the other hand, I am surprised of your “standards of relevance”. Regarding sympathy for political parties, the audience should be aware of previous articles such as “Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos leader) was right”. It would be nice to have an objective account of such an important issue in the EU.

          • Pucnik says:

            Thank you, Joan, for mentioning my article “Albert Rivera tenía razón” (Albert Rivera was right).

            It was the last of a series of three articles which were necessary because two of Catalonia’s most prominent journalists in appearances on TV and radio presumed to quote the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the declaration of independence of Kosovo. They used quotes which were pure invention.

            In this last article of the series, unlike the first two an opinion piece, I mentioned Mr Rivera because he was part of that debate, having been presented on air with said false quotes by Pilar Rahola. I said that he was right because I perceived that he distinguished very well between the case of Kosovo and that of Catalonia. My arguments were quite simple, the first of them being that Kosovo (a territory I had covered extensively during and after the war) made use of the remedial right of secession, while in the case of Catalonia self-determination can only be interpreted as internal, since Catalonia is a self-governed entity of a democratic state.

            The issue was international law, and not whether or not I like Mr Rivera or his party, and my agreement with him was limited to this issue.

          • Joan says:

            Excuse me Mr. Pucnik but your explanations continue to cast shadows on this article, its purpose and its author. You say you covered Kosovo after the war, but you came to Catalonia on 1991? How is this possible? On the other hand, with your ideas of “self-determination” you define Spain as a democratic State. If it is democratic why “certain” elections are “illegal”? Is this notion of “legality” the one you advocate for in international law? Finally, if the issues here are of international law, were does your credit in this discipline come from? in your CV there is no academic or professional experience in this field…

          • Pucnik says:

            Joan, it would serve everybody best if we spoke about the issues, and not about how one can come to Barcelona in 91, and then start covering crises elsewhere in 94.

        • Michel says:

          You say: “you define Spain as a democratic State. If it is democratic why “certain” elections are “illegal”? Is this notion of “legality” the one you advocate for in international law?”

          — Exactly. The international law recognizes and protects the teritorial integrity of any country. In fact, all Constitutions of the world , except probably Ethiopia, deny the right of secession to a minority, stating that the sovereignty lays on all the citizens, whatever a part of hem may claim. This was clear in the Crimea crisis , where the internantional powers stated that secession of Crimea is not possible because the decision is on all ukrainian citizens. But the antidemocratic use of force ignored that and Crimea was taken. In Catalonia, it would be the same:Only through force and violent insurretion can be achieved the target of breaking Spain, never under the “democratic ” rhetoric. “Right to decide” and other creative expressions of the Government of Catalonia are mere propagandistic expressions,as was used in Crimea about the “people” of Crimea.

  12. Josep M says:

    This is a very interesting text which points out some problematic aspects of Catalan nationalism which most of the people are not clearly aware of. Indeed, most of the separatists think about themselves as radically democratic people. They are not clearly aware also, of deeply undemocratic control of the mass media, through public money, by the region’s administration….

  13. Enric Blanes says:

    Worth reading in The Guardian (November 23th 2012): “The Catalan language is still in danger, despite its resurgence”, by Quim Monzó

  14. Adrián says:

    At last! An authoritative account of what is really happening behind the scenes in Catalan politics, and exposes of the pan-catalanist agenda. The language war being waged on Castilian in Catalonia is particularly repugnant to those who value freedom, and should not be justified as revenge for real injustices inflicted on Catalans by past Spanish regimes. Evidence of its perversity can be found in an article published in ‘El País’ by a Catalan native language teacher entitled, “¿Quién pone en riesgo el catalán?” URL:

Comments are closed.