Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: catalonia

The wind is a gentle breeze

A landmark election takes place in Catalonia today. I have written an article on the topic for Unimondo a few days ago. But there is something else you might want to read. Guillem, who is also a Ph.D. researcher at the European University Institute, has recently shared some thoughts on the matter. I asked him if I could publish this on my blog and, well, here you go.

Over the past weeks a few curious people have asked me about the situation in Catalonia in view of tomorrow’s elections. For as long as my rational side has been in control, I have tried to give a balanced opinion on the matter, often playing the devil’s advocate when the argument required so. Allow me to share my thoughts before the big day tomorrow.

Ok. Forget about arguments concerning the costs, advantages or even legitimacy of independence. Surely that can be a fascinating debate that touches upon the pillars of democracy and modern nations-states, if discussed coherently. The consuming frustration over the situation that I’d like to discuss here —and that I share with at least a handful of people— comes from elsewhere.

For the past few years we have seen an economic, social and political quake that has exposed the unsustainable model that Spain —amongst many other countries— was pursuing. I am not exaggerating when I say that 16-year old construction workers earned double than secondary high school teachers back in 2005. The causes for the end of this delusionary model were many and overlapped: problems with institutional design of the EU, the role of domestic elites, the lack of financial regulation, the contagion effect from the financial crash in the U.S., and so on. The consequences are painfully well-known: massive unemployment, increased poverty, growing inequality, etc.

What most strikes me is that despite such an exceptional situation the political debate in Catalonia, especially during the campaign, has been almost exclusively (if not entirely) centered around identity issues on an emotional level. The recurrent analogy has been that of a love affair with difficulties: “We don’t love you anymore”. “It’s not you, its me.” “Oh, baby, let me go my way”. The imaginary of national identity has nullified any relevant policy debate.

Let me give you a delirious example. Only yesterday, during the annual festival of Barcelona (La Mercè), pro and anti independence parties staged an embarrassing spectacle in which there was literally a “flag war” from the balcony of the town hall. Some were hanging the Spanish flag. Others were hanging the Catalan independence flag. People screamed and cheered. I cannot think of a better way to describe what is happening. No discussion on welfare. No discussion on health care. No discussion on redistribution. No discussion on public transport. No discussion on environment. No discussion. Populism.

I wonder, how banal can politics be?

Addendum #1: the title of this post comes from here.
Addendum #2: an excellent overview on today’s elections has been provided by my Scottish-based friend Dani on the LSE blog. There is one particularly important excerpt: What is significantly different from the Scottish referendum debate is the extent to which the implications of independence are being discussed. There is a complete lack of any informed debate about the issue, and the campaign is more focused on mobilising the voters from each respective side than on contrasting views about the benefits and costs of independence. Read the rest of his article here.

What’s happening in Catalonia

On 19 September 2014, the Catalan parliament approved a call for a referendum on independence. On 27 September, the Catalan President Artur Mas signed a decree authorizing the vote; the same day, however, the Spanish government announced that that it would block the effort by appealing to the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Spanish Constitutional Court decided to provisionally suspend the vote. The Catalan Government subsequently announced they would push forward with the vote, in defiance of the Constitutional Court of Spain, as a public consultation instead. As things are very confusing and hard to follow, I wrote a mail to Dani Cetrà, my half Catalan half Scottish friend and colleague working at the University of Edinburgh. Here is our exchange of ideas (mostly his ideas, to be fair) turned into a short conversation.

Will there be a referendum in Catalonia?

There will be something on 9 November. It won’t be a referendum. It won’t be the “consultation” that has been discussed during the past few months. It will be “an alternative consultation” or “a form of citizenship participation” based on article 3 of the Catalan Law on Consultative Votes, which was passed by the Catalan Parliament on Friday 19 September. So Catalans who want to cast a vote on independence will have the chance to do so. On 9 November they will go to some buildings owned by the Catalan government, they will register there, and they will immediately cast their vote. The question that they will be posed is one agreed between four Catalan parties in December 2013: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and “In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?”.

What will be the outcome of the referendum?

It will be another big mobilisation of pro-independence Catalans rather than a proper consultation. Unionists and supporters of ‘third ways’ are not expected to participate, so the result won’t be very surprising… The key issue will be the turnout. The government expects a turnout of some 2 million, which is possible but ambitious. Only three months after the huge V in the streets of Barcelona, supporters of independence are asked to mobilise again in huge numbers.

Is the referendum going to be a game-changer for the pro-independence movement?

Probably not. It’s a watered-down voting, but it will permit Catalan President Artur Mas to say: “I’ve fulfilled my electoral compromise of calling for a vote on independence despite Rajoy’s undemocratic attitude”. The pro-independence movement hasn’t much to win (the best-case scenario this will be another spectacular social mobilisation), but it has much to lose (a low turnout will probably create doubts and insecurities).

The Spanish government is now considering impeding this watered-down voting too. This would be a political mistake, as it would give added strength to the pro-independence side. “They don’t even let us do this? Let’s get out of here as soon as possible!”‘. But Rajoy has his reasons. He faces pressures from the more radical pro-Spanish factions of the party, and strategically it is in his interest to shift public opinion’s attention from the corruption scandals of his party to the “Catalan threat” and the need “to respect the constitution and to keep Spain united”. After the “alternative consultation” on 9 November Mas will probably call for an early, “plebiscitary” election, which would not be without problems either.

What are the differences between the Scottish referendum on independence and the Catalan on-going process?

The main difference is that in Scotland the referendum was the result of an agreement between the two governments (Edinburgh Agreement, October 2012) and carried out though domestic constitutional law. The UK government considered that the SNP obtained a strong electoral mandate for a referendum on independence in the 2011 Scottish election and negotiated the terms and conditions for a “legal, fair and decisive” referendum with the Scottish government. A similar demand in Catalonia met the opposite reaction from the Spanish central government. This reflects different strategic considerations and different conceptions of the political union in London and Madrid. In face of the opposition of the central government, the Catalan process cannot aspire to an agreement with the central government and focuses instead on finding alternative ways of voting on independence.

Follow Dani on Twitter @DaniCetra and read his articles on The Future of the UK and Scotland website

Territorial distinctiveness

I am very much in favour of territorial distinctiveness. I found a surprising essay where John Stuart Mill forcefully attacks it.

Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed in another: and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race, the absorption is greatly to its advantage. Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilised and cultivated people — to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection and the dignity and prestige of French power — than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world. The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander, as members of the British nation.” (Mill 1861: 294-5).

We have come a long way since 1861. Let us do not fall in the same evolutionist trap when thinking about Scotland and other small nations today.

Nation-building and the social world

About a couple of weeks ago I was reading the Ph.D thesis of Jean Thomas Arrighi, which is the most similar work to what I am trying to do, up to date. At page 30 I found a compelling critique of the current social understanding of nation states.

But if nation-building still requires today as much collective amnesia as remembrance, it also relies heavily on a highly questionable sociological understanding of the present, neglecting the inherent complexity of the social world and the plurality of experiences of individuals who together make up a political community.

Then, at page 56, the author points at the necessity to shift the focus on the unit of analysis from the state to the regions. His example is on immigration policies.

For Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP), Britain should urgently “close the door to more because this is the most overcrowded country in Europe and is way beyond its proper carrying capacity in population terms.” Likewise, the French Minister of Immigration and National Identity [sic] legitimized the need to introduce stricter border control on the grounds that “France’s hosting capacity is simply limited”, which requires putting an end to the “migratory chaos which consists in accepting migrants without restrictions.” Comparable arguments have regularly been deployed in Germany, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, and many other countries where the supposedly uncontrollable influx of immigrants has been presented as exceeding the nation’s capacity to cope with the consequences. But does the BNP leader refer to the London conurbation, where inward flows have indeed been considerable since 1945, or to the English Midlands, Scotland or Cornwall, where the main concern has been protracted emigration? Is Brice Hortefeux solely concerned with the situation in the Ile- de-France and the Bouches-du-Rhône, or with the notorious diagonale du vide stretching from the Meuse to the Landes, where the population density barely exceeds 30 inhabitants per km2, a heritage of the nineteenth and twentieth century rural exodus? Does the right-wing slogan ‘America is full’ encompass the empty lands of the Midwest, or is it meant to halt the ongoing inflow to the five greater metropolitan areas concentrating 60% of all immigrants in the country? By shifting the unit of analysis from state to regional level, migration trends can shift dramatically, not only in quantitative terms, but also in regard to the cultural and socio- economic composition of migrant stocks.

These issues, in a nutshell, are what interest me and what I have been studying for the last two years. Just so you know. I thought these two quotes were an excellent way to provide you a basic understanding.

Europe 2.0: Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders

Is national citizenship still a valid organizational factor in the context of the crisis? A radical re-thinking of political citizenship, based on smaller entities such as Catalonia, Scotland or Flanders, may emerge as a reaction to growing imbalances.

This is the incipit of an article I wrote, which was published yesterday on openDemocracy, “a website for debate about international politics and culture, offering news and opinion articles from established academics, journalists and policymakers”. A big thanks goes to Mita, who helped me with the language review.

Una sintesi delle mie ricerche recenti

Il mio primo articolo da Bruxelles per Unimondo é stato pubblicato una decina di giorni fa, ma mi ero dimenticato di linkarlo. Lo faccio adesso: si tratta di un articolo più personale dei precedenti e credo, spero, che possa interessarvi.

Dall’inizio della crisi abbiamo assistito a una costante ricerca di un nuovo equilibrio nei tradizionali meccanismi di rappresentanza nazionale. Uno dei principali effetti, fino ad ora, è stato il drammatico crollo di fiducia nei tradizionali meccanismi democratici, che ha avuto effetti diversi nel continente. In molti stati europei i candidati uscenti sono stati spesso sconfitti alle urne, mentre a vincere sono stati soprattutto i partiti nazionalisti e fascisti capaci di trasformare la disaffezione in odio: il Fronte Nazionale in Francia e Alba Dorata in Grecia, per esempio. Leggi tutto.

Intanto, in questi sette giorni Unimondo pubblicherà due miei approfondimenti sull’economia e la politica estera del Canada.

Calls for independence gain momentum in Europe

My last article on secessionist movements around Europe has been published yesterday on the IPF.

Early in 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised everybody by agreeing to hold a referendum for Scottish independence before the end of his mandate. A few weeks ago, Alexander Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and a long-standing Prime Minister of the nation, confirmed that the vote will take place in 2014. The referendum will mark an historic moment for the country: it will be the first time Scottish voters will be presented with the possibility of breaking the political union between England and Scotland that dates back to the 18th century.

Time weekly

This week’s Time Magazine contains at least three interesting articles worth reading.

It begins with a piece on Catalonia’s secessionist movement, my old-time passion. Two professors I am familiar with are quoted in the article. It appears that those who thought that Catalonia’s rows with Spain had been overcome were wrong.

It continues with an article on smokers around the world, from which I learn that “Indonesian men smoke more than anyone else in the world. Nearly 70% of of all Indonesian males over age 15 light up cigarettes”. Well, well.

Finally, there is a reflection on the true story of Saturday April 15, 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans died in Sheffield, Yorkshire, while watching the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The article sheds a light on the irresponsible behaviour of the Sun, that, incidentally, is one of the worst newspapers I have ever read.

No easy game to play

My article on small nations, nationalism and the Olympics has been published today on The International Political Forum.

Nationalism still plays a fundamental role in several fields of international relations, from war to politics – it is not by chance that “war made the state and the state made war”[1]; and then, war was substituted by politics, which were merely “its continuation by other means”[2]. Looking back at the last 50 years, however, I would dare to add a third field where the essence of nationalist feelings have tended to emerge quite clearly: sport. In 1945 already, George Orwell (certainly not the kind of academic one would expect to join Charles Tilly and Carl Von Clausewitz in their debates) put it very simply: sport is “war minus the shooting: […] At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare”[3].