A Referendum in Catalonia

The call this coming October 1st for a referendum in Catalonia is a transcendent event that manifests the need to debate the political relationship of the citizens of Catalonia with the Spanish State. The signatories of this document, professors and university researchers engaged in Catalan, Spanish or Iberian studies, believe that it is important not to remain on the sidelines of this discussion, and to try and contribute to it. We have decided to express our view because we are convinced that the exceptionality and transcendence of the events merit public and open reflection from the greatest range of opinions and contentions.

Following the Franco dictatorship, the reestablishment of democracy in Spain included an effort to find a new position for Catalonia in Spain. But the restrictions imposed by the process of transition upon the development of democratic structures (such as the institutional continuity of important components of the Francoist regime or the reformulation of the system of autonomies after the February 23, 1981 attempt at a coup d’état), and the increasingly regressive interpretations of the 1978 Constitution, have frustrated the hope for a democratic recognition of cultural and national differences within the current political system. In fact, in the past few years a recentralizing involution has taken place.

The unity of a political community cannot rest exclusively on the law, as those who deny the legitimacy of the vindications of a considerable part of Catalan society would have it: it must include the freely expressed will of its citizens. From 2010 on, following the sentence of the Constitutional Court regarding the Statute of Catalonia, the governments of Spain (both socialist and popular), with the active support of other parliamentary groups, have preferred repeatedly to ignore, or indeed deprecate, all attempts to find a satisfactory solution. The dominant tendency (though not the only one) in Spanish political culture has been to impose unity and disparage demands for recognition of the linguistic, cultural, and national plurality of Spain.

We are convinced that there can be no solution without a direct and binding consultation with the citizens of Catalonia. The future not only of Catalonia, but also of Spain, depends upon this consultation. Several polls have demonstrated that more than 70% of the Catalan population wishes to express its opinion in a referendum. Despite this fact, both the current Spanish government and the majority of the parties that operate statewide (with the exception of the group formed by Unidos Podemos and their counterparts) have repeatedly affirmed that a consultation of this type is impossible and illegal, and that they will do anything necessary to keep it from happening.

What is even more serious and of greater concern: this insistence on delegitimizing demands for sovereignty and independence becomes an endorsement of the abusive and deeply antidemocratic practices of the judicial and police services, which—under the leadership of an Attorney General censured by the Congress of Deputies itself—have gone so far as to prohibit events meant to inform and debate ideas in several parts of the Spanish State, thus violating citizens’ freedom of expression and assembly. The denial of the right to decide is undermining the legitimacy of the Spanish political system.

At present, the only proposal for consultation is the October 1st referendum called for by the Government of Catalonia. We understand that it is an imperfect proposal, and that it faces many obstacles, but for now it is the only proposal on the table. Other scenarios for decision-making might be possible and desirable, but the political will to construct them has been lacking. So long as the Spanish State refuses to consider the viability of consultations, we believe that the most democratic response is to defend the right of the Catalan people freely to express their political will regarding the future of Catalonia and, hence, to call for the participation of the citizenry in the October 1st referendum.


(September 20th, 2017)