Monday, June 19, 2006

ON THE CATALAN AUTONOMY VOTE: I don't have much time, but can't let pass without commenting briefly. As you know, yesterday the law giving more power to Catalonia -the region whose capital is Barcelona- passed its final process after it was approved in a referendum:
About 74 percent of the voters who cast ballots in Catalonia, a region of about 7 million people centered on the cosmopolitan Mediterranean city of Barcelona, approved the autonomy measure, according to a tally of almost 99 percent of the vote that was posted on the Internet by the region's government. About 21 percent voted no.
There's something that doesn't change the legitimacy of the result but it's key to put things in perspective: the fact that turnout was extremely low for such a historic event: just below 50 percent. All parties, pro and con, were expecting a much higher figure: the previous statute of autonomy (1979) passed with more nearly 70 percent. This time the turnout was similar to a referendum few people gave a damn about: the so-called European constitution.

That data gives a hint of the disconnect between the political class on the one side and ordinary citizens on the other, and shows that people are not so ready to participate in a campaign that has been quite ugly, with nasty slogans and assaults against those who dared to oppose the new statute. Rethoric was charged on both sides all along.

Austin Bay notes that critics say that the new statute is a threat to Spanish unity, and he's right on the fact that this was one of the arguments used against it, maybe a little too histerically. On the other side, this is not a merely 'technical' devolution scheme, as it would be in the US when devolution is discussed. Here there's a nationalistic factor into it which makes the issue a little more, say, charged.

To begin with, it's a statute that doesn't fully respect the linguistic rights by Spanish-speaking people (about 50% of the population): the affirmative action in favor of Catalan, which made sense right after the Franco dictatorship (during which the language was removed from the official sphere, though not forbidden, as Kaleboel reminds a propos a lousy article in the Guardian), has been dramatically expanded (if shops and business were now fined for not using Catalan with their customers and internal paperwork, just wait when the new laws are enforced; and there's not a single public school where non-Catalan speaking parents -people coming in from the rest of Spain, or foreign immigrant- can send their child to so that they're taught in Spanish). One can argue that it doesn't make that much sense after 27 years of policies favoring it. In fact, this is probably why the statue won't be effective immediately, if opponents go through what they announced: that they'd appeal to the Constitutional Court, which can only be done after the referendum.

But besides what the defenders of Spain's unity were saying, there were other arguments for opposition: first, by secessionists who think that this new statute, and the new powers it grants, are still not enough. They want the whole independence from Spain. And there were also people -like yours truly- concerned not by the fact that Spanish regions have more powers (I've always thought that the closer they are to the governed, the better), but by the fact that this new statute is extremely interventionist, much more than the current one. It was developed by a coalition of center-left and leftist parties who, in the immortal words of the Gipper, "believe every day is April 15" (well, actually here it's June 30, but you get the point); who are proponents of the nanny state and who want to regulate anything that moves.

For someone in favor of small government, this is not exactly the best that we could get.

UPDATE. If you can read French, don't miss this piece about what I said above with Spanish language and Catalan schools. It comes from Libération, that no one can accuse of being a foe of Zapatero and the left. It shows how, even before the new automic powers are enforced, Spanish is treated as a foreign language: it starts with an immigrant from Ecuador, whose own little children refuse to speak their native Spanish with her following instructions from their teacher.

UPDATE II. John Rosenthal at Transatlantic Intelligencer has translated into English most of the article in Libération.

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