Nico Krisch (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin & IBEI, Barcelona)
Joseph Weiler’s polemic on Catalan independence has certainly stirred up debate (see the comments on the piece), which is always helpful. But as much as I admire much of Weiler’s academic work, I find this intervention heavily misguided in substance, in part because of a misunderstanding of the reasons behind the Catalan drive, in part because of a misreading of the nature of independence claims in general. I write this having spent a significant part of the last decade in Barcelona, with a growing appreciation for the concerns of Catalans and of sub-state nationalism in general, which has certainly toned down my earlier, perhaps rather naïve cosmopolitanism that had little time for nations and borders.
Weiler laments a return of Catalans to ‘an early 20th-century post-World War I mentality, when the notion that a single state could encompass more than one nationality seemed impossible’, and he finds it ‘laughable and impossible to take seriously Catalan arguments for independence’ when they have a statute of autonomy. He thinks that all Catalans could possibly complain about dates back to the Franco period and before, and that today they should leave this behind, drop talk of independence and work out their differences with the rest of Spain. But the latter is precisely what they have tried for several decades, and with limited success. Spain’s 1978 constitution is an awkward compromise, born out of a transition from dictatorship. It stops well short of establishing a federal state and, despite Spain’s enormous cultural diversity, has many centralist elements. Catalans are a structural minority in that setting – and less protected than the Basques who achieved a more favourable position in and after the constitution. While it is true that they don’t face persecution or any kind of grave human rights violations, discrimination can also take more subtle forms and result in systematic disadvantages when it comes to appointments to public office, investment in infrastructure or the distribution of resources in general. And even achievements in linguistic rights are called into question when the Spanish government can declare – as it has recently done – that it intends to ‘hispanicise’ Catalan school children.
All this does not reach the threshold for remedial secession under international law. But is international law, state-centric and state-made as it is, a good guide for our normative approach here? Probably not. Read the rest of this entry…