The Catalan Conflict in the light of the Jura Conflict

Flag DE [DE] Der Katalonien-Konflikt im Lichte des Jurakonflikts

As a historical process the conflict between Catalonia and Spain can be compared to the Jura conflict (click here). Both are about the integration and self-determination of a dissatisfied minority, with its own identity (Catalonia, Jura), in its relationship to a unitary state (Spain, Bern). What is the minority dissatisfied with? Where does this discontent originate? How much independence is needed (autonomy, federalism, secession) and how is it practiced (nationalism, patriotism, democracy)?

The answers to these questions depend essentially on the respective understanding of ones own identity (we-image) in relation to the identity of the other (they-image), and this on both sides. Do the Catalans form their own nation or are they part of an exclusive Spanish nation? Is the nation imagined as a natural community (ethnos) or as a political and democratic community (demos)? Is the state seen as mononational or as plurinational? Is the state seen as unitarian or could it be imagined as a federation or confederation? And what about democracy in this state? Is a representative electoral democracy (RD) sufficient or is there a need for a democracy, where citizens actually can exercise their sovereignty (AD)?

Chronology of the Catalan Conflict see below

The Catalan conflict is complex and has many interrelated dimensions:

Identity: Mononational – Plurinational
State: Unitarian – (Con)Federation or Secession
Nation: Ehtnos – Demos
Democracy: RD – AD
Politics: Nationalism – Class Struggle
Economy: Capitalism – Alternative to Capitalism

The Jura conflict went through three phases:

(1) 1947-1960s The conflict is unsolvable.

(2) 1970-1979 The conflict is regulated and a new state is formed: the Republic and Canton of Jura. The price to be paid for independence is the division of the Jura. The struggle of the independence movement continues, now as a struggle for reunification of the Jura. In this context, the question arises how to maintain the social and territorial integrity of Catalonia?

(3) 1980-2017 The conflicts cools off and a democratic process of conflict resolution is established which comes to a (provisional) end in 2017.

For a long time the Jura conflict was unsolvable, insofar and as long as it represented a conflict between uncompromising and irreconcilable forces with incompatible world views and political projects. In analogy, the conflict between Catalonia and Spain is at present unsolvable and blocked. There are different ways of dealing with an unsolvable conflict, but not all of them aim at conflict resolution. The example of the Jura conflict demonstrates both, strategies that make the conflict worse, and strategies to overcome blockades and to open a way for conflict resolution.

In the case of the Jura conflict direct democracy and federalism turned out to be indispensable tools of conflict regulation first, and conflict resolution thereafter. The struggles lasted seven decades (1947-2017). It was no simple and straightforward process, but a very emotional struggle full of tensions, and not without violence, yet based on a common understanding that violence only ever makes conflicts worse and never contributes to resolve them. As a tool of conflict regulation, direct democracy is much better suited than exclusive nationalism, coercion or the use of force. Direct democracy implies two things: on the one hand a constant effort to engage in dialogue, that is, to struggle with arguments not violence, and, on the other hand, decisions taken by the people concerned, not imposed from above.

Article 92. (Spanish Constitution)
1. Political decisions of special importance may be submitted to all citizens in a consultative referendum.
2. The referendum shall be called by the King at the proposal of the President of the Government, following authorisation by the Congress of Deputies.
3. An organic law shall regulate the terms and procedures for the different kinds of referendum provided for in this Constitution.
At this point it is perhaps useful to bring to mind that there is a fundamental difference between a referendum and a plebiscite. The use of the instruments of direct democracy (initiative and referendum) is decided by citizens, not government and not parliament. The referendum empowers the citizens (enables them to exercise their sovereignty), but the plebiscite empowers an authority (government, parliament, president), which controls the use of this instrument. Direct democracy decides statutory and constitutional laws, which have been debated extensively in public and in parliament. The Spanish Constitution does not know a referendum, only a plebiscite, which in fact is a popular consultation ordered by the government (Art. 92). A referendum is a procedure through which the citizens take a sovereign decision; such a decision cannot be consultative. Plebiscites or popular consultations ordered by the government have no place in a direct democracy. From this it follows that the popular consultation of October 1 in Catalonia was not a referendum, it was a plebiscite, albeit one without a legal basis, and it did not offer the option of independence within a federal Spanish state, an option which many people in Catalonia would prefer; these people want sovereignty (the right to decide) but not secession.

A series of opinion polls gives a rough picture of how support for the three options autonomy, federalism and indepence has developed over the years. If the Catalans are asked only if they want an independent state, YES or NO, the the respondents divide into two more or less equal parts.

Preferred state form of the Catalans (in percent)

Source: Centro de Estudios de Opinión / Generalidad de Catalunya

The popular vote of 1 October 2017 is a typical example of the use of a plebiscite. It was used by the Catalan government as a means of enforcing its interest in obtaining independence. It offered only the choice between independence and status quo, eliminating the option of federalism, which is known to have many followers. In a democratic process, the federal option should also be considered. For example, it would be possible to ask the following questions:

A) Do you want Catalonia to become an independent republic?

B) Do you want Catalonia to become a federal state in a Spanish federation?

Deciding question: Which option do you prefer, A) or B)?

If both proposals A) and B) gained a majority, then the deciding question would indicate which option has won.

Comparing the Jura conflict with the Catalan conflict, the following analogies result:

1 Originally, the idea of independence-secession was supported only by a small minority, and it was rejected as unacceptable by the state.

2 After a long prehistory the conflict became suddenly acute. A discriminating act by the central government triggers an uspsurge of the independence movement unseen before. Still, all the options are on the table. In the Jura this happened 1947 (see Chronology), in Catalonia in 2010 (see Chronology below).

3 Intransigence on both sides makes the conflict unsolvable. In such a situation, there are four options:

a) Crush the opponent (This seems to be part of the strategy of the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy).

b) Repression (The government of Bern tried to repress the independence movement, and the government of Spain is currently doing the same.)

c) Impose your solution on the other (The independence movement in the Jura attempted it, the Catalan movement is doing the same.)

d) Regulate the conflict, starting from acknowledging that at present the conflict is unsolvable. The conflicting parties need instruments that enable them to express themselves and to engage in a dialogue with each other. They also need tools of democratic decision-making for the people involved in the conflict, using a step-by-step approach, since as a rule express procedures are not very realistic. Certainly it will be necessary to decide and vote on several issues until the conflict is resolved, at a minimum on the dissolution of the existing order and then on the constitution of a new order, which can take several forms (autonomy, member of a federation, an independent republic).

4 Through intransigence, the central government strengthens the independence movement to a point where there is no turning back. The battlefield is polarized into advocates and opponents of independence and the scope for those who want more self-determination but no secession diminishes. In the Jura, this development went so far that in the end, the only option left was independence. In Spain, the government has so far done everything that promotes such a development.

5 The state, and official politics are lagging behind the development of society and social movements. The conflict is expanding to a higher political level.

In the 1960s Switzerland changed and so did separatism, but state institutions and established politics lagged behind. In a period of weakness, the independence movement began to instrumentalise nationalism for its ends. This pivot to ethno-nationalism was a challenge to the national self-understanding of Switzerland and the conflict became a matter of national concern. Under severe national and international pressure the Canton of Bern became able to reconsider its position and devised a proposal which opened a way to at least regulate, if not solve, the conflict. The Bernese constitution was amended, providing a legal basis for a one-off direct-democratic separation process.

6 In the Jura conflict mediation played a constructive role on several occasions. It helped to overcome blockades and to establish a dialogue between the conflicting parties. It was agreed that on the long way of conflict regulation and conflict resolution all the major decisions had to be taken by the citizens at the ballot box. The Swiss government acted as mediator. Correspondingly in the case of the Catalan conflict the EU would offer itself as a mediator.

The Catalan Conflict is Unsolvable

The example of the Jura conflict shows that the secession of a part of the country and the attainment of its independence is a long-term process that can be organized in a democratic way, but only with the consent of the central state. It also shows that a central state that stubbornly insists on its power, instead of engaging in a dialogue, strengthens the independence movement to a point where there is no turning back. After that, there is only the alternative between perpetual conflict or secession. The conflict between Spain and Catalonia is currently on this path. It is still in the first phase, in which there seems to be no solution to the conflict. The regime of 1978 and established politics are incapable, institutionally and ideologically, of responding adequately to demands for more democracy and self-determination. On the contrary, the government in Madrid is considering to reduce autonomy through recentralisation. Something similar applies to the European Union and the governments in Paris and Berlin. Attempts to engage the EU as a mediator in the Catalan conflict have failed so far. Instead, the French President Macron gave his full support to Rajoy for having found the best solutions to pacify the Catalan situation. European governments fear that independence in Catalonia could undermine the EU by inspiring independence movements in other member states.

But what is the strategy of Rajoy? What is behind his legalist and quasi-democratic rhetorics? He tries to solve a political problem with the help of the judiciary and repression. According to Javier Pérez Royo there is not the slightest sign that justice is done. Everything points to a political operation by Rajoy who uses the Attorney General as an instrument. This also explains why the Attorney General is still in office, despite his conviction by the Congress of Deputies. In addition, electoral gains and distraction from corruption scandals play a role in Rajoy’s strategy. At this point it has to be said that also the party of Pujol, Mas und Puidgemont profits from the Catalan conflict as a distraction from corruption in politics. Vincenç Navarro expresses the situation as follows: Bolivia has a Department of the Navy but no navy, Spain has a Department of Justice but no justice (see video 32:04 -32:14 “No hay justicia en España”).

The independence movement is not simply about nationalism. There is nationalism, but it should not be confounded with patriotism, which is not bigoted but inclusive and partly open for the other – be it a Spaniard or a foreigner. More importantly, nationalism is not center stage but the social and economic question, which has become worse since the financial crisis in 2008. It is caused by neoliberal austerity policies, which is carried out by both, the Spanish bourgeoisie and the Catalan bourgeoisie. Center stage is also dissatisfaction with Spain’s political system, however not only this, but beyond that dissatisfaction with representative democracy as such, and this dissatisfaction is found in (neo)liberal democracies worldwide. It should also be noted that the majority of the working class is not in favour of independence. For a long time this was also the case for the dominant bourgeois party under Jordi Pujol and his successor Artur Mas. It was Mas who decided in 2012 to jump with his party on the bandwagon of the booming independence movement. The massive participation of the population in the Diadas and protests testifies to a fundamental desire for more democracy and self-determination, which can not be satisfied within the framework of the existing institutional order. A Catalonia committed to federalism and republicanism, challenges the core of the ruling Spanish system. The problem is primarily not Catalan nationalism, it is Spanish nationalism which stands in the way of the democratization of the regime of 1978.

This country stinks everywhere of Francoism. Rafael Chirbes (quoted by Javier Pérez Royo (click here)

The Spanish crisis is a crisis of the regime of 1978, which no longer corresponds to today’s society. It is rooted in the transition from Franco’s dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy and marked by the imbalance of power under which this process took place; it is an expression of the deficiencies and contradictions embedded in the constitution of 1978.

From Dictatorship to the Regime of 1978

Fear of losing domination pushed a majority of the bourgeoisie to realize that political reform was needed. It was imperative to adapt the Francoist institutions to the changed conditions of society. The old regime’s attempt to make the reforms of its own accord was ended by a general strike of the opposition. The transition from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy was made possible by an agreement between the Francoist bourgeoisie and the democratic opposition, with the victors of the Civil War determining the red lines and setting the pace. The transition process was influenced by the international context in which it took place (fall of dictatorship in Portugal and Greece), by the interests of NATO, and by Germany that supported the socialists against the communists (Aschmann 2016).

The following limits had to be accepted by the democratic opposition: a) Preservation of the monarchical form of state, b) The state apparatuses (administration, justice, military and police …) remain untouched, c) Amnesty not only for the victims of the dictatorship but also for the perpetrators and a pact of silence, or the unwritten obligation to repress the past and to keep silent about the crimes committed during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. A republic would have meant democratizing the state apparatus. By recognizing the monarchy, the PCE renounced this demand.

It was a pact of elites, but conditioned by social mobilizations, sprinkled with blood at various times, and that walked more than once on a knife’s edge. Source: España en democracia, 1975-2011

The transition process was marked by an imbalance of power between the old elites, who concentrated overwhelming power in their own hands, and the opposition, which had recently emerged from the underground, prison and exile and had much less power resources. The Constitution was not discussed in public and the Constitutional Commission had agreed to conceal its discussions and decisions from Parliament. The left-wing parties (PCE and PSOE) supported this move and did not object. They did not mobilize their base, which they might not control. They chose parliamentary sovereignty and representative government and not popular sovereignty and real democracy. At bottom, the left leadership mistrusted the people, whose representatives they were. This distrust corresponds to the socialist tradition, which rejects direct democracy and wants to realize socialism by parliamentary means (exemplary: Karl Kautsky, 1893. Direct legislation by the people and the class struggle). Parliamentarism and representative democracy offer professional politicians career opportunities and privileges; structurally they create an interest that left and right-wing politicians have in common; and they separate the politicians as a privileged group from the so-called ordinary people. Today we can know that it is better to take the change of our society into our own hands than to hope that a privileged elite will do it for us. However, in order to do that, parliamentary democracy must be expanded into a real democracy.

The refusal to take up the struggle to weaken and to clean up the State apparatus was the fundamental error of both Socialists and Communists. Their other mistake was to identify democracy and parliament, and consciously to abandon the use of the other equally democratic means – mass pressure and the autonomous organization of social movements; in fact they held back whenever they were able any attempts at direct democracy which they did not control. Julio Aramberri 1979

Birth Defects of the Regime of 1978

For the Left the alternative between republic and monarchy turned into the alternative between democracy and dictatorship. The threat of a military coup was used to justify concessions that otherwise were hardly acceptable. No matter how big or small the real scope of the Left may have been, there is no doubt that the transition process took place under the supervision of the military and poderes fácticos. These intervened at a crucial point by changing the wording of Article 2 of the Constitution.

Article 2
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity amongst them all.
The originally proposed article understood nation and nationality as synynoms; it used the terms ‘state’ and ‘Spain’, but not the idea(l) of an “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards”, thus leaving open the possibility to define the nation not as an ethnos or natural community but as a political community and voluntary association.

As the president of the session, which was finally held, I pointed out, however, that the text suffered from poor drafting and even had syntactic problems. But the answer given to me by the UCD representatives was that they could not change a comma, because that was the literal text of the compromise reached with the sectors consulted. Obviously, it was not specified what these sectors were, but it is not difficult to guess. Jordi Solé Tura (quoted by Josu Erkoreka)

The reformulation of Article 2 did not originate among the legitimate constitutional legislators, but came from outside. In this text, not a comma could be changed. As one can easily ascertain, the constitution-making process was not very democratic, not only because it was elitist and secretive, but also because forces without any legitimacy intervened at a decisive moment and substantially changed the text of the constitution.

There are two opposing conceptions of the Spanish nation: a conservative vision of an indivisible nation and central state and an alternative vision of a plurinational Spain made of diverse peoples, historic nations and regions. The constitution of 1978 bears the imprint of both visions, but in Article 2 the one-nation concept prevails and is defined as the foundation of the constitution, whereas the historic nations are diminished to the status of nationalities, which, unlike nations, have no right to self-determination.

Article 2 plays a central role in the present conflict between Madrid and Catalonia. While the independence movement insists on the Catalan nation’s right to self-determination, the government in Madrid justifies its categorical rejection of a plebiscite on the status of Catalonia, citing the indivisibility of Spain under Article 2. In 2010, the Constitutional Court invalidated key provisions of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and found that the Catalan nation does not exist from a legal point of view. In 2014, the court ruled that the “Declaration of Sovereignty and the Right to Decide” adopted by the Catalan Parliament was largely unconstitutional, stating that Spain was itself the only sovereign nation and that the “right to decide” may be exercised only within the framework of the Constitution of 1978. Accordingly, the court ruled that the attempts in 2014 and 2017 to organize an plebiscite on Catalan independence were unconstitutional.

Article 1
2. National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom emanate the powers of the State.
3. The political form of the Spanish State is that of a parliamentary monarchy.
In the regime of 1978, the relationship between monarchy and democracy has not been clarified. Related to this, the core principle of democracy, according to which all political power is based on the consent of the citizens, contains a gap. In fact, Article 1.2 only states that “state power” emanates from the people, but it should say, as befits a democracy: ALL state power emanates from the people.

The exclusion of the term “all” is anything but innocent. It means that the constituent power renounces the decision on the monarchy, and this has happened throughout the entire course of our history, with the obvious exception of the two republics. Javier Pérez Royo (click here)

The monarchy tends to rise above democracy, which violates the constitution. The king was appointed by Franco and he swore allegiance to the old national order, but not to the new constitution. The monarchy came first and only after it came democracy. In the video below, the commentator says (8:50) “The king adopts the Spanish Constitution.” And the king says about the constitution: “… being a constitution of all and for all, it is also the constitution of the king of all Spaniards.” Why is this addition needed, the constitution is also the constitution of the king? and why does he not say: of the king and for the king?

The address to the nation of King Felipe VI on 4 October 2017 again brought to light the pre-democratic self-understanding of the monarchy. Pérez Royo calls the King’s partisanship a betrayal of popular sovereignty, and a breach of the constitutional hierarchy (Art. 1.2 comes before Art. 1.3). In a parliamentary democracy, an intervention like the one of Felipe VI would simply be unimaginable. Therefore, Pérez Royo calls for a referendum on the monarchy, saying that nothing is more important and more urgent.

Chronology of the Catalan Conflict

1469 The Principality of Catalonia was aligned with the maritime Kingdom of Aragon, with its own institutions and legal tradition. A dynastic marriage between the Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile led to a gradual ebbing of Catalan power.

11.09.1714 Spanish war of succession: The Crown of Aragon lent its support to the wrong side of the Spanish War of Succession. In retaliation, the new Bourbon monarch ended Aragon autonomy with the Nueva Planta decrees – centralising Spanish rule and banning administrative use of the Catalan language.

1830s Begin of the Renaixença, the literary and linguistic renaissance that characterized the Romantic period in Catalonia. It also revived the idea of a Catalan nation, but Catalan politics of the late 19th Century called for more regional autonomy within Spain, not for independence.

1922 The frustration of the struggle for autonomy led to the formation of the pro-independence party Estat Català under Francesc Macià. In the regime of 1978 the party had no success.

1931 In coalition with other left-wing groups, Estat Català achieved victory in municipal elections. Macià proclaimed a Catalan republic but, after negotiation with the Second Spanish Republic government, accepted autonomy within the state.

1936-39 Civil war. Under Franco’s fascist regime Catalan autonomy was abolished, Catalan language and culture were suppressed.

1975 Franco died. Catalan politicians aimed at regaining autonomy, but not full independence.

11.09.1977 Diada (National Day of Catalonia), more than 1 million people marched in the streets of Barcelona under the banner of “liberty, amnesty, statute of autonomy”.

1978 The constitution of 1978 was drafted under the combined pressure of the Catalan and Basque nationalist movements on the one hand and the Francoist military on the other hand. It contains a tension between two opposite historical trends: federalism and centralism. This tension is most visible in Article 2 of the introductory section, which defends and prioritizes “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”, while recognizing and guaranteeing “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions”. Article 2 is an expression of a fundamental problem that to this day has not been resolved: the integration of the multiple nations that constitute Spain into a common state, and at the same time it makes this problem unresolvable.

1979 A Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia was passed. The Generalitat (Catalonia’s government) gained jurisdiction over health, education, social security, and cultural policies.

1980-2010 The Catalan nationalism demands more autonomy, but not independence.

2006 In Catalonia, a new Statute of Autonomy, which had been watered-down by the Spanish Parliament, was adopted by referendum on June 18, 2006 (74% YES -votes, 49% turnout). Thereafter the People’s Party (PP) challenged the Statute before the Constitutional Court. (-> 2010)

2008 Begin of the Great Recession in Europe. Austerity policies have devastating results for society and are challenged by waves of protest. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. Trust in representative democracy, elites, and mainstream media is declining. Society is breaking up in Spain and elsewhere. The digital age is changing the way of thinking, conceiving, teaching.

2009-11 In 552 (of 947) towns and cities in Catalonia popular consultations were held. Voters supported an independent Catalan state with a YES vote of 91.7%. The overall turnout was 18.1%. These consultations were unofficial and non-binding.

2010 The decision of the Consitutional Court about the constitutionality of Catalonia’s 2006 Statute of Autonomy (STC 31/2010) scaled back the reform. The court ruled that the statute’s definition of Catalonia as a nation was legally meaningless, as the constitution recognized only one nation. Also, it declared that Catalonia had no right to set up its own tax system. The decision of the Constitutional Court marked a turning point for the independence movement, catapulting it from the periphery to the center of the political struggle for independence/autonomy. More than a million people took to the streets in protest. According to Pérez Royo the ruling is only formally a sentence, materially it is a coup d’état. Catalonia no longer exercises its right in a democratic way, it is imposed on it by the state. PM Rajoy knew what he was doing when he chose the Constitutional Court as an instrument for this coup d’état.

2011 The social movement of May 15 (15M) was born. All over Spain citizens mobilized under the slogan “Real Democracy NOW!”

11.09.2012 Diada, the National Day of Catalonia commemorates the fall of Barcelona in 1714, in the Spanish war of succession. More people than ever seen before were out on the streets of Barcelona under the slogan “Catalonia, new state of Europe”.

2012 After the Diada 2012, the independence becomes a theme for the first time. Artur Mas, president of the regional government and chairman of the Center-Right Convergence and Union (CiU) jumps to the train of independence. CiU and ERC, the center-left Republican Left of Catalonia, reach together a majority. They had pledged to work towards holding a plebiscite on secession from Spain.

11.09.2013 Diada, forming a human chain across Catalonia (copying the chain formed in 1989 in the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union, to demand independence)

2014 Foundation of Podemos. The party political landscape of Spain begins to change fundamentally.

11.09.2014 Diada, 1.8 milliion people formed a massive protest in the form of a V for “votar” (voting).

09.11.2014 A popular consultation without legal basis was carried out. Two questions were asked: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and (if yes) “Do you want this State to be independent?” 80.8% of the cast votes supported the Yes–Yes option, 10.1% the Yes–No, 4.5% the No option. Turnout was estimated at roughly 37-41 percent.

11.09.2015 Diada, a massive ralley was organized in view of the upcoming elections on 27 September.

27.09.2015 Elections of the Catalan Parliament. President Artur Mas had declared that these elections were to be a vote on independence, promising to call a plebiscite on independence. However, Junts pel Sí alone didn’t get an absolute majority and had to make an agreement with CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) to ensure an independentist government, with Carles Puigdemont, not Artur Mas, as President. The new parliament passed a resolution beginning the independence process, with a further plebiscite planned for 2017.

11.09.2016 Diada, independentists held smaller demonstrations in five cities.

06-07.09.2017 The Catalan Parliament passed the laws on the “referendum” and on the transition to independence and the foundation of the Catalan republilc. The Spanish Constitutional Court immediately suspended these laws.

11.09.2017 Diada under the slogan “La Diada del Sí”.

01.10.2017 The plebiscite takes place despite repression by the Spanish state and violent attempts of the police to prevent voting. The question asked was: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” 92 percent voted YES, the turnout was estimated at 43 percent.

27.10.2017 The Catalan Parliament votes to establish the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state. Based on Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, PM Rajoy dissolves the Catalan Parliament and calls for fresh elections on December 21, 2017.


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