Self-determination may shatter states since national movements for independence often culminate in tensions and conflicts among subgroups, Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, the founding director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at the University, argued at a Thursday roundtable discussion on the question of Catalan independence.
Catalonia has been part of Spain since it was established in the 15th century. There was a resurgence of Catalan national identity and the beginnings of a movement for separatism from the monarchy since Catalonia’s democracy was restored in the 1970s after the Franco dictatorship.
“There is the idea in Catalonia that the individual man, woman and child has the right to, in the very Wilsonian sense, find the two dimensions of self-determination,” Danspeckgruber said.
Danspeckgruber explained the “possibility for a people to determine their destiny.” He discussed the two forms of self-determination that Catalonia aspired towards, contrasting the internal issues of the form of self-governance with the external orientation, including one’s own alliance and status within the international community.
“There is an overwhelming majority in favor of a referendum to decide the political future of Catalonia,” said politics and Wilson School professor Carles Boix. “Consistently for the last years, it has been only about 25 percent of the population, or even less, who have opposed this referendum.”
Despite a majority of Catalans in favor of voting on the state of their political future, the Spanish government still denies the national character of Catalonia and denies their right to organize this referendum, according to Albert Royo, the Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia.
“The Spanish constitution is one of the few, if not the only one, that foresees a government that can act against its own people,” said Royo.
Royo explained that in 2010, the Spanish government deleted the sentence that recognized Catalonia as a nation in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. In turn, Catalan public opinion grew increasingly in favor of holding a referendum to decide whether Catalonia should become an independent state from Spain.
Francesc Vendrell, mediator-in-residence in the UN political affairs department and international relations professor at Johns Hopkins, asked whether a government could ignore the right to decide to secede.
“According to international law, it is clear that this right cannot be ignored," he said. "The question is whether at the European level, of old democracies, the demand to exercise the right to decide is something that can simply be totally ignored.”
Vendrellpointed out many European nations that have peacefully seceded from their mother country, such as Croatia and Hungary. Danspeckgruberpointed out that in the theory and application of self-determination, every nation is different, and actions always depend on the global context.
Despite these struggles, Boix said, the Catalan independence demonstration that took place in 2012, attracting over 1.5 million people, drove the Parliament of Catalonia to adopt the Declaration on the Sovereignty and Right to Decide of the Catalan People.Boix noted that the Catalan government announced a referendum on independence would take place in November 2013. Even without Spain’s approval, the Catalan government has also decided to start preparation for a possible transition to independence by establishing the Advisory Council on the National Transition.
The Spanish government has made its stance clear by blocking the referendum and declaring the declaration of sovereignty to be unconstitutional and void. With elections coming up in September of 2015, Boix noted that the members of the Catalan independence movement will be waiting in anticipation of the state of their independence movement.
“We cannot accept the use of force to resolve territorial conflicts,” Royo said at the end of the discussion. “If there is a conflict, let us use the democratic way to solve them. We are sure that in the end, democracy will prevail.”
Entitled “The Political Future of Catalonia: Views from a Global Perspective,” the discussion took place at 4:30 p.m. in Robertson Hall.