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OPINION

To the Catalans

Spanish ex-PM Felipe González argues that the proposal of Junts pel sí, the odd coalition of pro-independence forces united only by its rejection of Spain, could mark the beginning of a real “dead end” for Catalonia

To the Catalans

It is almost two decades since I left office as prime minister of Spain. I have no responsibilities to any institution or any party. I have recovered the simple status of a citizen, although at all times I have remained committed to our common destiny. It is because of this commitment to Spain, the public space we have shared for centuries, that I am addressing the citizens of Catalonia so that they do not allow themselves to be dragged into an illegal and irresponsible venture that endangers coexistence among Catalans and between Catalans and other Spaniards.

I have always been thankful for Catalans' constant and majority support during my time in government, even when that support was declining in the rest of Spain. And thanks to that understanding I have always been able to represent you with pride, as I have all other Spaniards, in Europe, in Latin America, and around the world. With your trust we have moved forward together over many years, overcoming the heavy legacy of the dictatorship, consolidating freedoms, establishing the bases of the welfare state and recognizing, like never before in history, the identity of Catalonia and its right to self-government.

I have believed, and go on believing that we are much better together than opposed: recognizing diversity as a shared asset and not as a cause for rupture between us. For me, Spain would no longer be Spain without Catalonia and neither would Catalonia be what it is separated and isolated.

The idea of “breaking away” from Spain, as Catalan regional premier Artur Mas proposes, in a strange and ridiculous front rejecting and breaking the law, would have a number of consequences of which everyone should be aware:

I have believed, and go on believing that we are much better together than opposed

— They would be breaking away from a substantial part of Catalan society, fracturing it dramatically. This is already being felt, and voices rejecting those who do not have a Catalan “pedigree” are starting to be heard. These Catalan citizens are today concerned that their freedom to express their opposition to this venture is being limited, because their identity as both Catalan and Spanish, which they see as an asset rather than a contradiction, is being denied to them or restricted.

— They would be breaking away from the rest of Spain, breaking away from the Constitution and thus also the statute that guarantees them self-government and the secular coexistence that we share in this public space. On the verge of madness, they have started to offer Catalan citizenship to those in Aragon, Valencia, the Balearics, and southern France. We have gone through periods when differences, feelings of belonging, and language have been repressed, but the last four decades have seen us enter a new stage of recognizing diversity and the construction of the most complete form of self-government there has ever been in Catalonia.

— They would be breaking away from Europe, isolating Catalonia in a venture that has no purpose or advantage for anyone. Can you imagine a European Council made up of 150 or 200 members in a union that is already difficult to govern? Because that would be the result of breaking down the structure of the 28 states that make up the EU. Can you imagine France handing over part of its territory to satisfy the demands of this new irredentism? Nobody serious would go along with that in Europe, particularly not in Spain, which has fought so much to become part of and participate in the European project, such as it is, with its diversity, and —  incidentally — with the utmost support of Catalonia.

How can they want to take the Catalan people into isolation, into a kind of 21st-century version of what Albania once was?

— They would be breaking away from Ibero-America, a link that has so much value and importance for everyone, especially in Catalonia, because it is a connection made through Spain as a nation state and the language we share with 500 million people — Castilian Spanish — something of which the major publishers in this language, who are in Barcelona, are well aware.

Naturally they say the opposite: “We only want to break away from Spain.” From what Spain? The one that also includes Aragon, Valencia and the Balearics? Those responsible for the proposal know what I am telling them is the truth. In reality they are trying to take you citizens of Catalonia to the real “dead end” of which Mas once spoke in a strange Freudian slip.

We live in the most connected society in history. The technological revolution means “connection,” and “interconnection” — the complete opposite of a “disconnection” or breaking away. The interdependence between us grows greater by the day: between Spaniards of all identities, Europeans of the union of 28 nation states, Latin Americans of over 20 countries, not to mention our neighbors to the south and in the rest of the world. This is the disconnection they are asking for from their companies, the ones that create wealth and employment.

Regardless of the result of the election, the proposal being made by Junts pel sí (Together for yes), this strange coalition united only by its rejection of Spain, could be the start of a real “dead end” for Catalonia. How can they want to take the Catalan people into isolation, into a kind of 21st-century version of what Albania once was? Mas is tricking the supporters of independence and those who believed that the right to decide about the public space we share as a nation state could be arbitrarily and illegally broken up, or that that was the way to negotiate most forcefully. He is making the same mistake that former prime minister Alexis Tsipras made in Greece, but outside of the law and with more serious results.

By breaking the law, they will not manage to seat anyone round a negotiating table who has the duty to respect and uphold it

What happened after Tsipras proposed to the Greeks a referendum in order to reject the European Union’s offer and thus “negotiate with more strength”? After more than 60 percent of Greeks believed him, Tsipras ended up accepting much worse conditions than the ones rejected in the referendum, arguing that they knew in advance, that there was no other way out. They knew that there was no other way out, and they tricked the citizens?

By breaking the law, they will not manage to seat anyone round a negotiating table who has the duty to respect and uphold it. No official can permit a done-deal policy, and less by breaking the law, because it would invite others to embark on ventures in the opposing direction. We would all be risking what has already been achieved, and the possibility of moving forward through dialogue and reforms.

That is what we need: agreed reforms that guarantee the differentiating facts without breaking either basic citizen equality or the sovereignty of everyone to decide our common future. We don’t need more liquidationists in our history proposing to break coexistence and the rules of the game with falsely democratic plans

If the reform of the Catalan electoral law has not been able to be passed because the authorized majority laid out in the statute cannot be met, how can they seriously consider the liquidation of the same statute and of the Constitution in which it is legalized, if they obtain one deputy more in that unified election list of rejection? How come the regional premier is in fourth place on the list of candidates, as if he needed a Praetorian Guard in order to break the law?

The technological revolution means “interconnection” — the complete opposite of a breaking away

What it most resembles is the German and Italian ventures of the 1930s. But it is hard for us to express it in these terms out of respect for the tradition of coexistence in Catalonia. Mas knows that from the very moment he fails to fulfill his obligation as head of the regional government and as first representative of the state in Catalonia, he is violating his promise to uphold THE LAW. He places himself in a position above the law, no longer representing all Catalans and losing democratic legitimacy in the carrying out of his duties.

I do not agree with the intransigence of the national government, which is closed to dialogue and reform, nor with its unnecessary appeals to the Constitutional Court. But that conviction, which narrows the margin of manuever for those who would like to move forward along a path of understanding, cannot lead me to take a position halfway between those who abide by the law and those who try to break it.

I do not believe that Spain is going to break up, because I know that is not going to happen, regardless of the result of the September 27 regional elections in Catalonia. I think that the rift in coexistence this venture causes will affect our future and that of our children and I am trying to contribute to avoiding it. I know that taking the path of confrontation will cost us everything. By taking the path of understanding we can go on advancing and solving our problems.