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An exchange of monologues

Artur Mas is keeping his plan for a non-viable referendum clothed in conciliatory rhetoric

One of the pillars of the strategy of the Catalan secessionist parties is the internationalization of the conflict, broadcasting the message beyond our borders that here, in the Iberian peninsula, there is a nation that is unhappy, that feels it is being robbed, and that is prepared to break the links that join it to Spain, but only via democratic and peaceful means — that is, by voting.

The appeal to democratic principle has so far been one of the main lines of the secessionist argument, because its promoters consider that this is what will do them the most good on the international scene. This was also the line taken on Monday by the Catalan premier, Artur Mas, in his end-of-year speech.

The premier used a deliberately conciliatory and even friendly tone, both in the part of the message aimed at allaying the apprehensions that the independence plan has aroused within Catalan society itself, and in the part that was explicitly aimed at the Spanish government in Madrid, which he asked to allow the Catalans to vote, and not to see them as an adversary, much less an enemy.

But under the silk glove, and with the same intransigence as ever, his rhetoric retained the unilateral demand for the holding of a referendum in 2014 so that Catalonia can decide on its destiny. “The Catalan people prefer to govern themselves, rather than be governed,” he proclaimed. Exactly what the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, considered non-negotiable at a recent press conference held at the prime ministerial mansion of La Moncloa.

The conflict then remains just as it stood, while the public looks on with concern at an exchange of monologues couched in mutually incongruous terms, each side waiting for the other to desist. All this without losing sight of a fundamental issue: Rajoy is backed by the Constitution against the threat of an illegal referendum.

Mariano Rajoy’s government has been obliged to react in the face of the noise that the secessionists’ well-oiled propaganda machine has been making in the international press: portraying Spain as robbing Catalonia, and the Spanish government as undemocratic because it refuses to allow the Catalans to express themselves at the polls.

Intransigence prevails

There are no less than 210 pages in the text that, under the title In favor of democratic coexistence, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has sent to all the Spanish embassies and consulates so that they can deal with the Catalan issue. One of its arguments points out that it is improper to speak of democratic principle when one’s intention is to unilaterally put an end to a form of coexistence agreed upon by all within the framework of a Constitution.

This is an argument of some weight, but it would nevertheless be quite compatible with a more open strategy that would leave the separatists with little or nothing to complain about. Rajoy must not be afraid of taking the document’s words — “together we win, divided we lose” — at face value, and of seeking ways to work at clearing up a problem that, precisely due to the lack of dialogue, runs the risk of escalating to the extent that it may become irreversible.

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