(Note: This article was originally published in February, 2013.)
Catalonia is at a historic crossroads, our most exciting and significant moment in many years. There is a lot of excitement around building our country. A country that in part will be new. It is an immense, collective project that involves us all. It won’t be an easy road, it’ll be steep, and the process will be full of difficulties and obstacles, but, if we stick together and if we persevere, we can make it.
Catalonia, our country, is a nation. A nation that, in order to maintain its identity and to move forward, needs tools of state. This nation has existed for many centuries. It has its own identity, culture, and language, and its own institutions. Catalonia wants to follow, and indeed must be allowed to follow, its own path.
It has been thirty years since we in Catalonia have been doing our best to collaborate with the Spanish State in order to build a democratic, modern, European Spain. We have repeatedly tried to help transform the State to make it ours. We had hoped that Spain would be understanding, tolerant, and above all, respectful of Catalonia’s personality, of its culture and its language, and of the hopes for progress and well-being of the Catalan people.
But what do we find has been the answer from the State over these past three decades? We find that we contribute a huge amount, too much even, and that though we help as much as we can, we are neither understood nor respected for who we are. We find ourselves with an immutable annual fiscal deficit of 16 billion euros between what we bring to the State each year and what we receive. We find that our jurisdiction is continually violated, that some debts are recognized but never paid, while other debts are not even recognized. We find a ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court that is contrary to the Statute of Autonomy approved by the Parliament of Catalonia in 2006. And we find, finally, a categorical NO in response to our proposal of a fiscal pact, approved by our Parliament, in a last attempt to seek a fairer agreement, more fitting of equal partners, on the difference between our monetary contribution to the State and what it gives back. That proposal neither broke nor lessened our commitment to solidarity with the other territories of the State, but nevertheless we were told that there was no margin for negotiation.
In that context, on September 11, 2012, on Catalonia’s National Day, there was a massive demonstration, in which 1.5 million people—that is, a fifth of our population—demanded that Catalonia become a new State in Europe. This huge demonstration came on the heels of the march that took place on July 10, 2010, with the slogan, “We are a nation. We decide.” shortly after the Constitutional Court’s ruling against Catalonia’s Statute of 2006.
What’s up with Catalonia, then? What is up is that this hope of making Spain our State and having them respect our personality, our aspirations, our culture, and our language has been frustrated and a significant majority of the people of Catalonia have said that they wish to begin a new path. We have realized that in the same way that Spain went through its transition thirty years ago, it is now time for Catalonia to go through its own national transition. This is the only path open to us that will allow us to achieve a collective well–being that is commensurate with our productive capacity; social justice that relies more on the autonomous decisions of Catalan institutions and the shared values of the Catalan people; and a cultural identity that we can project around the world.
In concrete terms, national transition means giving the people a voice so that they can freely decide their own future. We want to center our national transition on the right to self-determination—based on sovereignty and democracy—which we have to face with a peaceful spirit, with a solid majority, and at the same time, with abundant respect for the minority.
Catalonia is living exceptional moments and it needs exceptional decisions. For that reason, I decided to hold snap elections in order to let the people have their say. I proposed that in this legislature we would hold a referendum where the Catalan people can freely and peacefully decide their future as a nation.
This is the new central issue in Catalonia. A Catalonia that suffers, like the rest of the countries in Europe, the harsh consequences of the financial crisis, that suffers the consequences of having to drastically reduce its public spending to meet the deficit objectives that are disproportionately, unjustly, and disloyally imposed by Spain, and that suffers the consequences of having to shoulder the return of a debt of massive dimensions. It faces this difficult and complex situation without any of the tools that states have at their disposal, and with the growing sensation that the state that we helped to construct neither protects us, nor defends us, nor respects us.
The lack of instruments and tools keeps us from being able to respond satisfactorily to our people’s problems, despite the fact that we have the necessary capacity and resources to meet the current challenges. We must have the power to decide if we want to be responsible for our own decisions and if we want to continue within a state that wants to minimize our nationhood, stymie our economic growth, and interfere with the maintenance of our well-being.
Therefore, during the legislature that has just begun in Catalonia, we Catalans will be called to the polls to be consulted on our political and national future. This referendum will be held within a legal framework and with the explicit desire of arriving at the widest consensus possible among all the political and social forces in the country. At the same time as we prepare the referendum, the Government of Catalonia will work to define and develop the structures of state that we must have at the ready for this new scenario. We will also dedicate our efforts to explaining to Europe and the world the democratic process that we have begun and to make very clear that what we aspire to is simply to be a normal country in the European Union.
In Catalonia, we are facing crucial, momentous, and vital turning points in our history and we do so convinced that it will lead us to a better country. It is our duty and our responsibility to leave to future generations a country of which they can feel very proud.