In early March, Artur Mas was found guilty of disobeying the Spanish constitutional court and barred from holding public office for two years. Mas was punished for staging an informal independence referendum in 2014, when he was the president of Catalonia. Nearly 80 percent of Catalans voted for seceding from Spain.
While facing court trial, Mas received support from Catalonia’s separatist parties, which hold a majority in the local assembly. Defying the Spanish government, the separatist leaders gained leverage from Mas’s court trial as they aggressively pushed their secessionist drive across Catalonia, demanding a formal vote for independence in September.
A News Agency spoke with Alfons Lopez Tena, a former pro-independence leader of Catalonia. Though he disassociated himself from separatist politics and retired from public life after having a stint as a member of the Catalan parliament, he says the demand for independence is out of step with reality.
Over 80 percent of Catalans voted for independence in an unofficial 2014 non-binding vote. Why do you think separation of Catalonia from Spain is “wishful thinking”?
Alfons López Tena: 2014 “unofficial vote,” as some call it, was not exactly so. Catalan parties won 2012 elections promising a “process” to have a referendum over Catalonia’s independence in two years time regardless of what Spain might do. In due time, they approved a bill in parliament and called a referendum, but when the Spanish constitutional court forbade it they complied, stepped back, and organised a mock-referendum instead, just a rally to show off and hide their breach of election promise, without any guarantee whatsoever.
They say around 40 percent of people participated (of all 5.4 million eligible voters), but it is impossible to know because there was neither an electoral roll nor a public impartial organisation and they never said how many people had the right to participate – it was just symbolic.
And since then, Catalonia’s independence aim has stalled in a quagmire of wishful thinking, a Marxian “sigh of the oppressed creature” that it’s both heart-warming and ineffectual.
Catalans are running a grass roots pro-independence movement. How does it become blackmail to garner more concessions from Spain?
ALT: This sad sand-trapping has a history.
Ten years ago, the Catalans’ unease over their hollowed out autonomy reached a tipping point as more and more of them opted for independence instead. This was a groundbreaking move since self-government inside Spain had always been Catalonia’s aim during the last five centuries.
This powerful grass roots pro-independence movement scared the mainstream Catalanist parties. It was not controlled by them and affected a large number of their voters tempted to search for political alternatives.
Catalanist parties tried then to extract some moneyed concessions from Spain but failed, so they took back control venting GONGOs [Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisations] to make people believe they had embraced independence as a project to be done, not merely to be dreamed of. They sought to remain in power by riding the back of a pro-independence tiger only to be reduced into a tamed pet, his teeth and claws torn off.
Thenceforth, those parties brushed up the Catalans’ centuries-old threat to opt for independence unless getting a better deal from Spain. Independence is for them just a threat to blackmail Spain with.
A successful bluff needs the opponent to fold but an unimpressed Spain didn’t.
And you also see Catalans consumed with what you call “narcissistic grandiosity”? What does that mean?
ALT: Let us map this on to the Catalan independence debate. Narcissistic grandiosity comes twofold.
For pro-independence camp, Catalonia is a great country and if things don’t add up that way it must be because of Spain, so no need to change and improve anything because all goodness flows from the Catalan soul, and all bad things are caused by being sullied by Spain, hence all problems must be addressed after independence, not before.
A striking example of this narcissist grandiosity is the Catalan centuries-old and never-ending threat to opt for independence unless getting a better deal from Spain, a crude blackmail never recognised as such but as a demand for concessions. The implications are clear – their very membership is a favour granted by the Catalans to Spain, and independence is not a real aim but a mere instrument of extortion.
This inflated sense of self has been always built on by the unionist camp arguing that Catalonia should stay so it can run Spain, to lead and not to leave, since its superior know-how, moral supremacy, and “mystical europeanity” since Carolingian times, make Catalonia the natural leader of a half-African, retarded Spain.
A country so hopelessly lost in itself breeds a loop where power-lacking feeds delusions, which empowers impotence-boosting fantasies, with no end in sight while slowly fading into oblivion. Expect nothing then from Catalonia – it is doomed to depend on the kindness of strangers.
Is that what made you abandon the pro-independence team? You were once an insider of the movement.
ALT: I am pro-independence, only independence can save the Catalan nation from being swallowed up by Spain as it has been already by France in the part of Catalonia that belongs to it.
Nevertheless, I don’t waste my time chasing rainbows, and after years of working to make independence real I realised that the very mindset developed by the Catalans to survive under Spain blocks them to get anything done, let alone independence.
Nirad Chaudhuri upturned Lord Acton’s remark saying “Lack of power tends to corrupt, and absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely.” Catalonia has suffered during the last five centuries a tremendous downfall in power. A once mighty nation ruling a Mediterranean empire lost independence five centuries ago, has been fragmented, and strives just to avoid assimilation and disappearance since then.
Two protective mechanisms are therefore triggered – a suffocating communitarianism to keep people tightly held together, and a superiority complex to over-compensate the grim, bleak reality – that together prevent Catalans from any clear-eyed act to get anything done, improved, or achieved. Symbolic deeds and aesthetic pantomimes are all they’re capably endowed to.
As those mechanisms have dragged on for centuries, the bulk of both Catalan political-media establishment and upstarting fringes, the whole country as well, have sunk in a morass of collective narcissism and cognitive dissonance.
That’s the reason I’ve quitted public life in Catalonia. It is soulless, worthless, brutish, and nasty — a shallow swamp.
Your relatives and friends must have been gutted at your decision. And then there were instances when the angry Catalonians heckled you…
ALT: I’ve had no problems at all with relatives and friends, even with those who disagree, but an authoritarian populist communitarianism needs the unanimity to herd people, so the “processists”, with all the might of the money, media, and GONGOs controlled by the Catalan government and institutions, define themselves as “the good people” and treat dissent as a blasphemy, launching campaigns of lies and slanders, relentless assaults against anyone who dares to disagree or try to hold them accountable.
Their aim is to bully everybody into submission, reduce everybody into silence, and expel dissenters to Spain in order to expose them as traitors.
They need hate to coalesce around, so we the dissenters have become the Orwellian Emmanuel Goldstein the processists desperately crave for, cajoled to see themselves as the sane good people, instead of what they have become: a bunch of sanctimonious swaggering brutes who blindly believe whatever their self-styled caring and loving leaders utter and refuse to hear, denounced by them as an enemy of the people, a ward-worth resentment-driven mad traitor.
The Catalan “processists” sometimes get really hectic, but I began in underground politics fighting against Franco’s dictatorship, if I am alive it’s because other freedom fighters who were arrested and tortured kept silent. When you have this experience in your teens, nothing can scare you afterwards — nobody can buy or hire you either.
Conversely, it’s also the test of the Spanish government’s democratic spirit. The Canadian or the British governments did hold a vote when they faced calls for a referendum in Quebec or Scotland. Why can’t Spain hold one too?
ALT: Does anybody say that Germany and Italy are not democratic because their constitutional courts have forbidden referendums over Bavaria’s and Venice’s independence in 2016 and 2017?
Did the United States lost its democratic spirit when the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were “absolutely null”?
There’s no way whatsoever to get Spain’s consent, and the Catalans are against “revolution” to get independence by themselves, therefore the game is over.
How do you see the legal persecution of politicians of Catalonia by Spain, especially its former president Artur Mas? Is it the first step toward curbing the upcoming referendum? And by doing this, isn’t Spain alienating Catalonians further?
ALT: Former president Mas and other officials have been indicted and condemned for contempt of court because they failed willfully to obey a court order.
Nevertheless, nobody has been indicted over speech supporting Catalonia’s independence, even if the spinned propaganda concocted by the Catalan government and its supine media feigns that they are persecuted just because of speech.
Putting “the will of the people” above the law, attacking the judiciary, sowing scorn for experts and rational arguments, and bullying dissidents – Trumpism reigns unabated in Catalonia.
Spain knows that, in order to curb a referendum by the Catalan processists, a judgment by the constitutional court is all what is needed, it already happened in 2014; and knows also that if Catalan processists try some mock-referendum instead, courts will punish them and the Council of Europe backs them doing so.
Alienating Catalans more or less is not a liability for Spain but an asset, it coheres Spaniards into unity around their government, as the last five centuries have proved again and again.
Having around half of 16 percent of the population permanently disgruntled is a nuisance, not a problem, since they are unwilling and unable to grab power by themselves.
Some people say that Catalonia cannot survive as an independent state. In fact, in one of your past interviews, you rubbished such claims, saying Catalonia’s GDP is equal to that of Israel or Denmark and imports are double those of Spain. Have you changed your views? Do you now think that Catalonia can’t really survive as an independent state?
ALT: There’s no doubt on that, it’s enough to take a look on data to conclude that Catalonia can survive and thrive as an independent State after it becomes so.
The problem is what happens to Catalonia’s economy in the transition between its actual situation and independence.
It is difficult to make predictions, especially about a hypothetical future, but the impact of independence on economics – for both the newly created state and what remains of the older – is a foreseeable outcome in the light of more than 150 secessions occurred in the last hundred years, backlashes and black swans – for better or worse – excluded.
Here are the likely scenarios of the economic impact of secession for both players, a high-stakes game for strong nerves’ people. Whoever blinks first loses.
Will the Catalonians and Spain ever settle for a win-win situation?
ALT: A senator asked me in Washington more than five years ago: “Do your people want independence, or do they just want to rally for independence?”
My conclusion is that the Catalans just want to rally for independence, get nothing, and cherish their victim-status’ moral supremacy. So be it, since it’s exactly what they’ll have. That’s the win-win situation.