The Catalans just want to vote. In 1773, just 59 years after Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, was taken by the Spanish army and the region’s institutions were abolished, the Sons of Liberty led the audacious Boston Tea Party. At the core of their protest was the belief that the American colonies were overtaxed while their opinions were not taken into account in London. That action ignited the revolutionary process by which the American colonies became the United States of America, having the defense of liberty, justice and democracy as the frontispiece of its new Constitution.
The angry reaction of the British crown to the Boston events only fueled the revolt and convinced many loyalist settlers that only independence would guarantee their legitimate rights. Nevertheless, today the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is still one of the closest alliances in the world, based on shared values and aspirations between mature democracies with deep respect for rights and freedom. Old quarrels are long forgotten.
This is just one of many examples where forcing one people who want to go their own way to remain united is never a guarantee of a good relationship. On the contrary, a mutually beneficial, loyal and profitable relationship is usually built on the basis of respect and cooperation. That is exactly what could happen with Spain and Catalonia. Unlike Scotland, which willingly joined the United Kingdom and was allowed to vote on whether they wanted to leave with the full agreement of London, Catalonia was conquered and lost itsliberty. Now, after centuries of trying to find the right fit for Catalonia inside Spain, we Catalans want to vote on our political future, as the Scots just did.
Between 1936 and 1939 we went through the Spanish Civil War, and then endured 40 years of dictatorship when it was illegal even to speak our language in public. After General Franco died in 1975 we thought Spain’s transition to democracy would improve Catalonia’s situation. Indeed the 1978 Spanish Constitution established some autonomy for Catalonia, new institutions were created and the Catalan language was no longer forbidden. New hope was born, but was not to last long.
Spain’s nascent democracy advanced and in 2006 more powers were devolved to Catalonia. Three-quarters of the population approved a new Statute of Autonomy by referendum. However, over time many of the devolved powers were recentralized in Madrid, and the very Statute of Autonomy that won such broad approval was eviscerated by Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010. Many believe this was the tipping point for Catalonia, the moment when many Catalans gave up hope, and popular support for independence grew from 14 percent to 50 percent, with 80 percent of the Catalan people supporting their right to decide whether Catalonia stays or leaves Spain. Ever since the 2010 ruling by the Constitutional Court cancelled many of Catalonia’s devolved powers, there have been a series of peaceful demonstrations with millions of Catalans calling for a self-determination vote. The current Catalan government is committed to this idea and also a majority of parties in the Catalan Parliament supports this project.
In pictures: Catalonia independence demonstrations in Spain
In pictures: Catalonia independence demonstrations in Spain
People wave flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, in Barcelona
An anti-independence Catalan holds an unconstitutional Spanish flag as he takes part in a demonstration for the unity of Spain in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day (Diada)
Demonstrators gather around a ballot box during a Pro-Independence demonstration as part of the celebrations of the National Day of Catalonia in Barcelona
Demonstrators march during a Pro-Independence demonstration as part of the celebrations of the National Day of Catalonia in Barcelona
People stand on a balcony decorated with Catalonia flags in Barcelona
A Catalan opposed to independence gives a fascist salute as he takes part in a demonstration for the unity of Spain in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day (Diada)
Members of right-wing party National Alliance take part in a demonstration with a banner reading 'Against the independence manipulation of the History' during the occasion of the 'Diada' or Catalonian Day, in Barcelona
A man and a girl with their faces painted with flags, that symbolizes Catalonia's independence, stand during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona
Demonstrators march holding torches during a Pro-Independence demonstration in Barcelona
An aerial view of a giant Senyera (Catalan flag) formed by several thousands of demonstrators during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona
We Catalans, along with our democratic government and institutions, want to vote so we can decide what kind of relationship we want to establish with Spain for the future. We have therefore set a day for our vote - 9 November 2014. It is not a question of secession or independence: it is a question of dignity and democracy. We Catalans want to have a say in our future, and will respect the will of the majority whatever the result, just as happened in Scotland.
The Spanish government argues that this vote is illegal and unconstitutional. The Catalan government and neutral legal experts believe that the vote is both legal andlegitimate. We have been calling for talks and negotiations with Madrid for years, but rather than talking Madrid prefers heavy-handed scare tactics and hides behind legal excuses rather than allowing a free and fair vote that the Catalan people are calling for. Constitutions are meant to be living documents, that adapt laws to the needs of the citizens via amendments. Unfortunately, the Spanish government has said it would block any amendments that would make our vote possible.
We Catalans wonder why Spain wants to prevent people from voting in a peaceful and transparent way. How could it be otherwise in a 21st century European democracy? Political issues are resolved through dialogue and negotiation in modern times. The era when a privileged few decided on behalf of the rest has ended. That is why we, a group of concerned Catalan citizens committed to democracy, decided to write this article to let the world know that Catalans just want to vote. Who can be afraid of democracy?
Mr. Josep Guardiola, former star player and coach at Barcelona FC and now coach of Bayern Munich FC
Mr. Josep Carreras, member of “The Three Tenors” with Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti and world-renowned opera star
Mr. Jordi Savall, viol player, conductor and composer, one of the major figures in the field of early music, largely responsible for bringing instruments of the viol family back to life on the stage and making medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music more widely known.
Dr. Joan Massagué, leading cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York
Dr. Pol Antràs, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Boston
Dr. Xavier Sala i Martín, Professor of Development Economics, Columbia University, New York