I have strong connections with Spain and Catalonia since my childhood – I read, write, and speak Spanish with some Catalan too. I have many friends in Spain and talk with a lot of people there on a regular basis. I was more than happy when the days of Franco were over and Spain became a democratic country and member of the EU.

So after reading a lot of texts and articles and seeing the many pictures and videos that people shared and commented on Facebook regarding Spain and Catalonia, I am urged to say this – read the whole story before getting publicly outraged about so-called disproportionate violence from the Spanish police against the so-called peaceful voters – and most importantly, before getting moved, touched and sympathetic with an apparently democratic, liberal, beautiful and idealistic movement as the secession of Catalonia can look like at first sight. Because the reality is far from that.

So what happened ?

The illegality of the vote is irrelevant and the infinite irregularities surrounding it are irrelevant as well. Foreign media have broadcasted and written about how the vote had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, about how it was approved in the Catalan House of Representatives without regard to any of its own laws, bypassing all possible statutes and not observing any legal procedures or guarantees. We have all seen that not even half the polls were duly monitored, how countless people voted in multiple stations, how the census included minors and deceased and how ballot boxes were placed in the streets for anybody to vote without control.

We all know that already. Yet it is not important nor the point. A lot of things that are legal are immoral, and vice-versa. History does not judge events by its legality but by its legitimacy. Laws change every day, and what is illegal today can be legalised tomorrow. Even if all those irregularities had not happened, and even if all regulations had been observed, the situation would not be altered. What matters here is not whether the vote  was legal or not – what matters is that it was illegitimate because it tried to grant a few the right to decide over what belongs to all. Catalonia is not the exclusive property of the people who were born in Catalonia, the people who live in Catalonia, or of the people who call themselves Catalans.

Catalonia belongs to all Spaniards.

Catalonia is the heritage and patrimony of all – and it is so not just because the young Constitution declares it explicitly, but because all Spaniards have worked for Catalonia, fought for Catalonia, contributed, committed, and served Catalonia. Catalonia has been part of Spain for more than 500 years, never ever having been an independent state (unlike Scotland for example), and has been part of the Spanish nation for more than 1.000 years. And it has been so because Spanish ancestors, Spanish fathers and  grandfathers have fought for it. Because they worked together to build it, because they shed their sweat and blood, fought in countless wars and died for it.

Spaniards fought together to end oppression and fascism and came together as a free and democratic country.

The bridges, roads, dams, ports and cities of Catalonia were not built by Catalans only, but by all the people in Spain. The wars that freed Spain and Catalonia of foreign enemies were not fought by Catalans only, but by all Spaniards. The Reconquista that defeated and expelled the Islamic invaders from Spain and Catalonia was not fought by Catalans only, but by all Spaniards. So was the liberal revolution that brought a modern state and constitution, or the peaceful transition from a dictatorship to the current democracy. Spaniards did all that together. Catalonia is part of the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and the Euro zone because it was part of Spain when Spain joined these institutions, and Spain achieved so with the effort of all the Spanish people. Catalan banks have been rescued with Spanish money. Catalan pensions, education and health care are paid by all. All Spaniards paid for the Barcelona 1992 Olympics or the high speed train to Barcelona. All Spaniards together built what Catalonia is today and they did so because this is one nation. There is a common history and a common project for the future That entitles all Spaniards to enjoy Catalonia and to decide over its future.

Catalonia is already free and not ‘oppressed’- so why are some calling for independence?

The times of Franco oppressing Catalans and forbidding their language and culture are long gone but it seems that the wounds have never healed completely and the Spanish society still needs a lot of more time to work to overcome the nightmares of the past.

Spain is a western democracy and its Catalan citizens vote frequently to decide their future. In fact, between European, National, Regional and Municipal elections, they have voted 6 times in the last five years.

In the last Catalonian regional election, pro-secession parties decided to unite around a single issue –independence. They not only failed to win a majority of the vote, but also lost votes relative to the prior election. Polls, even those paid by the separatists, showed support for independence is a minority and in clear decline. Catalonia is not at all oppressed as the separatists try to make the world believe. It is one of the most prosperous regions in Spain and its citizens enjoy a high standard of living and one of the highest degrees of self-rule of any region in Europe. The party that traditionally ran the regional government of Catalonia has for the last 30 years, used public money to promote a separatist agenda through education and local media and has illegally funded itself with a corrupt scheme where contractors had to pay bribes of at least 3% of any public work in Catalonia. The fact is that a lot of Spaniards are nowadays afraid to fly a Spanish flag on their balcony in Catalonia or to speak Spanish instead of Catalan as they are bullied. The fact is that some schools are not accepting you if you can speak only Spanish. And the fact is that a lot of people are afraid because they feel intimidated by their separatist neighbours. Spain is a plural society and especially Barcelona has never been a home only for real, genuine or however they call themselves, Catalans.

So why the fuss?

As the economy improves in the whole of Spain and support for independence wanes in Catalonia, the Catalan separatists were afraid of “missing the train”. They wish to break Spain and have embarked on a campaign to present the central government as “evil ” while putting up a smoke screen on allegations of their own corruption and making themselves look like victims to score points in the next regional election.

Pictures of injured victims of police force  are a welcome weapon too in an effort to gain international solidarity and sympathy and to make the world forget who was responsible for the crisis in first place. This explains why the separatists kept going despite knowing that the vote was denied by a high court ruling and that the same high court ordered police forces to block polling stations, collect ballot boxes, and protect the constitution and the rule of law. Instead of using all legal possibilities like appealing to the European Court and making their case heard, they decided to send citizens on the streets knowing exactly that this will lead to trouble.

Do I like to see injured citizens, children and grandmas? Of course not and the rest of the world was disgusted too. But this was excatly what the separatists wanted and they knew it would be a huge mistake to send police to stop the so called ‘referendum’.  A lot of these pictures were meanwhile proven fakes by the way – especially created to spread outrage and anger. And some ‘victims’ even admitted later on Catalan TV it that the scuffles were not that bad – The lady who first claimed that the police broke all her fingers for example, turned out to be grossly over exaggerating her injuries. The Catalan Government said there are over 800 injured people but apparently, only two people required detailed hospital care.

And who cried outrage for the thirty three injured police men?

Meanwhile, the Spanish Government has apologised  for the use of violence and all with the European Institutions stating that violence can never be a solution, talking with each other is the only way forward.

What can the European Union do?

Reading the many comments on social media stating that the EU did not condemn the use of force by the Spanish authorities enough or did not intervene tells me only how much work there is still waiting for us at Europa United.

The EU is not the ‘superstate’ who meddles in the sovereignty of its member countries. If people in Spain are not happy about how the police handled the situation they have to appeal at the courts. The same applies to all other European countries. If they can prove that Spanish police violated their human rights, the European Court can and will take action. But the EU cant interfere when a member country only tries to uphold the rule of law on its own territory.  And the Council of Europe already called for a independent investigation. Some said that voting is a human right and keeping people away from polling stations is undemocratic and the EU should open a infringement procedure because of that. The people of Spain can vote and no one restricted this. But it needs to be a valid voting process and according to rule of law. And this means in Spain, no referendum, as the constitution doesn’t allow them. If you are not able to get a majority to change the Constitution you are simply not allowed to vote. You can appeal to the high court and if this does not work, go and bring your case to the European court.

But you simply cant declare unilateral independence of a part of a country, based on a illegal and illegitimate vote of a minority of the population and expect this will be accepted. This is not not how democracy works.

And the EU cannot mediate as well if the member country does not ask for it. Switzerland, Germany and other countries offered mediation but this can only work if the Spanish Government agrees.

The same ‘Leave’  lies

All will be better, the EU will accept us and make a deal, our economy will prosper if we leave Spain. We will get back control over our money and laws. Sound familiar? Well it is and it is not true as we all know, regarding another flawed Referendum which was held based on lies, systematical false propaganda over years and blaming someone else for all your own failures.

EU membership is not at all on the table for any independent region and with the fallout of this ‘referendum’ already visible with two major banks and some big companies leaving the region caused by political insecurity, the strong and stable Catalonia may crash out of the EU broke and friendless.

Spain is a wonderful country full of wonderful people with different languages, diverse cultural heritage and long history. Catalonia is one of my favourite parts of it and the people are a hotbed of traditions with a great language, full of life and are open minded and not full of hate. Spain is a country united in diversity and all of these fantastic people are part of our European community. Please talk with each other and don’t let some separatists with a hidden agenda divide you dear Spaniards. Don’t let old resentments of the past determine your future. We Europeans used to fight and Spain have had enough of it .  Hablamos -Parlem. Let’s talk -We are Europeans.

Martina Brinkman
German businesswoman who studied political science, history and economy in Trier. Co Founder of Europa United.

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