21 de setembre, 2014

Open letter to Thomas L. Friedman from a citizen of Catalonia

Dear Mr Friedman,

As a citizen living in Catalonia I am strongly disappointed by your last article.

It is just great you praise American pluralism. You can be assured that at some point in time there will be in Europe a non-white man as president or prime minister. It is just a matter of demography. Should I mention that the current Prime Minister of France is original from Barcelona? And, by the way, you -still- haven't had a woman as president – with no demographic reasons for that.

But this is not the issue. What I would like to discuss with you is the groundless opposition you try to make between “separatism” and “pluralism”. Nobody living in Spain can seriously associate Catalan independence movement with xenophobia or lack of pluralism. Please note that it's not only democratic Spain that absorbed millions of immigrants, but also the Catalan democratic society.

I live in a city in Catalonia, Girona, with more than 30% of immigrants. You can see every day small children from many different origins playing together in playgrounds and using both Catalan and Spanish languages. Xenophobia or racism has never been an issue in this country. Please note that the only anti-immigrant party in Catalonia (“Plataforma per Catalunya”) strongly opposes “separatism”. This party hasn't obtained a single seat in our Parliament.

You say that Spain already awards a lot of autonomy to its 17 “regions” (here I should remark that even the Spanish constitution - approved with the surveillance of the old regime - mentions some “nationalities”). I think you should explain what “lot of autonomy” means. The degree of autonomy is not measured by the number of regions that enjoy it, but by the actual autonomy they have.

Unlike in the North American states or Canadian provinces, our regional parliament cannot make important decisions in economy, justice, education, health care, or even traffic. There are no separate levels of government here, meaning that any decision taken by the central government in Madrid, in the mentioned fields, has to be obeyed by the Catalan government.

For instance, Spain's government prepared an extremely regressive bill against most cases of abortion. Such a law -unparalleled in almost any democratic country in the world- will have to be obeyed in Catalonia.

Popular Party, now in power in Madrid, is the fourth party in Catalonia by number of voters. But still our schools have to introduce a mandatory subject on religion taught by Catholic priests because this party decided so.

Spanish central government decided to punish individual producers of renewable energies by approving a law that favors the big Spanish energy oligopolies. There is no action our parliament can do to prevent that.
Back in 2010 a Constitutional Tribunal in Madrid - ruled by PSOE and PP members - decided to shred several articles of our Statute of Autonomy. This law had previously been approved by the Catalan parliament, slashed by the Spanish government, and approved by the central parliament. What kind of democracy is this?

Most studies, for at least the last 20 years, consider a priority to build a railway between Valencia and the French border going through Barcelona. Instead, the Spanish government decided to create a network of high speed trains connecting Madrid with the periphery provinces. This network has had a cost of over 100 billion. And the central government still insists, against all reason, to connect Valencia with France through Madrid using a new track going through the mountains of Huesca.

Although Catalan language is an “official” language in Catalonia and it is used by seven million people, the Spanish law states that only the language of Castilla is mandatory for labeling products, dubbing movies or writing legal documents.

Our model of education, approved many years ago - and still supported by 85% of the Catalan Parliament - intended to “immerse” children in the usage of Catalan language -regardless of their origin. Recently, a Spanish court ruled that this model is illegal and that children should be segregated according to their language. Again, there is nothing our parliament can do to decide in this issue.

I am not going to insist in so many other reasonable, economic, issues that made the Catalan independence movement grow in the last years. In a nutshell, no civilized region in the world can afford to give up between 8.5 and 10% of its GDP for over two decades without doing anything against it.

You quote a “danger” of “separatism” regarding the “change the axis” of the political debate that puts one in the track of “identity politics”. Then you compare the case of “separatism” in Catalonia with the problems of Syria and Iraq. It is precisely giving up sovereignty to an European super-state what makes the idea of small states more plausible. Most of the campaign of unionists is based in spreading fear of commercial boycotts or fear to having to produce passports at state borders- something that does not occur in the European Union anymore.

Democratic tradition in Catalonia is quite old. And - unlike in the Middle East- we are fortunate to live in a pluralistic society. There is a matter of strong injustice in Spain, a state that hasn't been able to understand its own pluralism. A democratic Europe – and democratic America- should listen to our demands - similar to the ones your Founding Fathers had- and realize that they can be met in a peaceful and democratic way and -of course - preserving pluralism.