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“Como Amigos”: Alfred Bosch and Rosa Díez Debate Catalonia’s Future


I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a debate on the subject of Catalonia’s future held in the Spanish Parliament building. The occasion for this exposition of views was the presentation of a new book on the subject of Catalan independence by Alfred Bosch, member of Parliament for Barcelona and spokesman for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)[1], the most independence-minded of the various Catalan parties. The book is titled “Como Amigos” (Like Friends) and argues that Catalan independence, far from ruining both countries, would provide numerous benefits to Spain as well as Catalonia. He had invited fellow parliamentarian and leader of the Unión, Progreso y Democracia party[2], Rosa Díez, to share her reflections on the book and the subject it treats.

The following is a summary of the main arguments and rebuttals made by each participant, not a verbatim transcription. The opinions expressed in this article are not mine. The informal debate was held entirely in Spanish and any errors or misrepresentations of the statements of the speakers are entirely my own responsibility.



Jesús Posadas, Moderator: President of the Congress of Deputies, MP for the Partido Popular (PP)[3]
Rosa Díez: MP and spokeswoman for the Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD)
Alfred Bosch: MP and spokesman for the Ezquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)

Jesús Posadas, the President of the Congress of Deputies and member of the governing Partido Popular, acted as moderator of the session. He first presented the book, explaining that he had read it with great interest despite being in profound disagreement with most of its contents. Mr. Posadas then introduced Ms. Díez, to whom he ceded the floor.

Rosa Díez – Opening Statement

Ms. Díez began by agreeing with Mr. Posadas that no one would be surprised by the differences between herself and Mr. Bosch, and between their respective parties. What she did find admirable about Mr. Bosch and the ERC in general, beyond the personal esteem in which she held her colleague, was their frank and open support for independence. Mr. Bosch did not attempt to mislead with talk of “consultations” and “non-binding votes” only to “gather information on the will of the people”. He wants a vote and he wants only the Catalans to vote on the issue; and he wants independence, which would have to be declared unilaterally – despite this being impossible democratically. And Mr. Bosch has stated that he will pursue any means – amiable means – that would achieve this end.

As much as she disagrees with these propositions, Ms. Díez nevertheless thanks Mr. Bosch for this forthrightness. Her disagreements with the ERC proposals take two forms, one which is open to discussion and another which is not.

The first area of disagreement is around the method. Even if a goal is legitimate, if the only means by which that goal can be achieved are illegitimate, then the goal itself must be questioned and revisited. Ms. Díez expressed her absolute opposition to anything that would mean ignoring or violating the Constitution; that much is not negotiable.

If Mr. Bosch and the ERC were able to convince the majority of the Spanish people that they accept the independence of Catalonia, that raising frontiers between Spaniards was a good thing, then she would have no choice but to accept that decision. She would use all her abilities and efforts to argue against the proposition, but she would accept the result.

However, if the ERC intends on acting unilaterally, and imposing upon all Spaniards something that only some of them desire and have voted upon, then they are violating the laws of the land. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that a minority cannot impose its will upon the majority. No one is above the law, and the obligation of every citizen is to obey the laws and the judgments of the courts. If anyone willfully broke the laws and ignored the orders of the courts, she would use every means necessary to enforce the rule of law. Ms. Díez here stressed that when she said every means, she meant EVERY means (speaker’s emphasis).

If the ERC, or anyone else, called for an illegal referendum on a certain day and put ballot boxes out on the street, she would ask the government to order the Mossos d’Escuadra[4] to seize those boxes. If the Mossos refused to obey, she would ask to send the Guardias Civiles[5], and if that were not sufficient, then to send whoever was required for the task.

The second area of disagreement is ideological. Ms. Díez does not expect to convince Mr. Bosch, nor is that her intention. Political viewpoints are open to discussion and her intention is to put arguments on the table so that people may reflect on them. Ms. Díez began by quoting Albert Camus when he wrote: “I love my country too much to be a nationalist.” Mr. Bosch was proud to be a nationalist, had said so many times; and he had called many other people, including Ms. Díez, Spanish nationalists. She rejected this label: one can be a citizen without being a nationalist; one can hold different political views or simply live their life without being a nationalist.

She reflect that, as Spain was still a young democracy, perhaps too little effort in educating people about democratic concepts had been undertaken; but patriotism should never be confused with nationalism. Patriotism is a positive concept: it seeks to promote the interests of the whole people, of the citizenry. It was inclusive and pluralistic. Nationalism was the opposite: negative, exclusive, collectivist rather than individualist, promoting the interests of a uniform minority to the detriment of “the others”. It was tribal.

Nationalism belonged to the past, to a wholly injurious past. François Mitterand once said: “nationalism is war” and the whole history of Europe is shaped by the wars of nationalism. All wars throughout history have been caused by nationalism, or religion, or both. Modern Europe, the European Union, the Europe that they are all trying to construct is a rejection of nationalism. If Mr. Bosch and the ERC were to succeed in their goal, they would be raising new frontiers in a Europe that was trying to dismantle them.

Ms. Díez recommended reading the book; it had obliged her to clarify and organize her own thinking if only to muster arguments against it. While the book was full of arguments, she found these to be very emotional, based on sentiment. It was not possible, of course, to refute anyone’s feelings on a subject, nor was that her intention; but she felt that it did not sufficiently address practicalities and the impacts on people’s lives. Nor was Ms. Díez happy with the title “Como Amigos”; these were the words a boy always used before breaking up with a girl. Though it spoke of “friendship”, the words actually implied the deterioration of a relationship and the replacement of a strong link by a weaker one.

Ms. Díez had often heard the simile of the dysfunctional marriage used for Catalonia and Spain: “if two people are married and no longer love each other, why should they stay together? Let them divorce.” She found this argument deceptive: one can divorce a husband or wife, but one cannot divorce a mother or a father, a sister or brother. Family ties cannot be dissolved, and Catalans and Spaniards were all of the same family.

In a democracy, no one calls their compatriots “strangers”. Democracy is inclusive, it is pluralistic; and the more so, the stronger is the democracy. No one gains by raising frontiers inside of a democracy, and that was not the type of society they were trying to build. Spain was better off by including the diversity of Catalonia; but Catalonia was also better off by being part of the diversity of Spain. Ms. Díez called upon Mr. Bosch to reflect on this and to contemplate the consequences for Catalans of their actions, and what they stood to lose.

Ms. Díez closed with the following reflection: if we accept that the nation-state has the legitimate monopoly of force in society, then what did the Catalans expect to gain by transferring that monopoly to local elites? For that, in the end, was their goal: to establish a new state with its own monopoly of violence, which would be run by local elites. Ms. Díez said there was a considerable body of evidence that the elites in small states were less pleasant, less amiable, than in large states. Better a large, diverse, pluralistic state where there are many elites – political, economic, religious and cultural – and the diverse interests of these elites are often in conflict with each other, which protects the interests of the average citizen. In small states, with little or no diversity, it is far easier for elites to collude and to promote their own interests to the detriment of everyone else.

Alfred Bosch – Opening Statement

Mr.Bosch began by thanking Mr. Posadas and Ms. Díez for their participation in the premiere of his book. He also thanked Ms. Díez for her comments, some of which he disagreed with, but by no means all.

He knew that both of them had undoubtedly been rebuked by their colleagues and supporters for agreeing to meet with him at all: “why are you talking to him? There is nothing to discuss!” He had heard the same thing himself. But he disagreed with this sentiment and he quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “let us talk, for when people talk they do not hit.” Talking doesn’t always produce results, but it is far better than the other things that people might be doing to each other. Bravery is not fighting with your enemies; bravery is stopping people from fighting with each other. To stop them from fighting, they must get people to talk.

When people criticize them for talk with each other, with whom would they have them talk? With the people of their own party? Mr. Bosch talks to them every day, of course, but it is to be supposed that people of the same party generally agree on most issues. It is precisely with one’s rivals with which one must establish a dialogue and the greater the distance between them, the more important the dialogue becomes. Mr. Bosch stressed his commitment to maintaining an open dialogue, because the most important thing is that they all remain friends, whatever happens.

Ms. Díez criticized the expression “let’s be friends” because of its connotation of a deteriorating relationship, and ending; but Mr. Bosch felt that it also implied rescuing what was left of a relationship rather than letting it continue to spoil. This is the legacy that will be passed on to their children.

Mr. Bosch disagreed with Ms.Díez’s characterization of nationalism; for him, the definition Ms. Díez gave of patriotism was what he felt. Arguing semantics was a futile exercise, he added, as each individual could have their own interpretation of what those words meant to them.

Nor did Mr. Bosch find it strange that he should be “unilateralist”. Independence is by definition a unilateral action by one party that wants to exit an association with another party. Mr. Bosch was not aware of any historical precedent for an independence vote which had included everyone.When a young person decides to become independent of their parents, it is an assumption of individual responsibility, a coming of age, of finding their own voice: but it is an individual decision, a unilateral decision.

What he did find strange was that Ms. Díez should express herself opposed to any discussion on the laws. After all, they were parliamentarians: debating laws was the essence of their work, what they did every day. They were not attending a class on constitutional law in a university; they were in the Congress of Deputies and it was their responsibility to show some flexibility and creativity in order to best meet the demands of their constituents.

Mr. Bosch said there were two fundamental issues around Catalan independence: how and what. The “how” was simple: like friends, without fury or bitterness. It was of the utmost importance to be civil, to be democratic. Democracy should not be the problem, voting should not be the problem. Nor should discussing a political issue, like Catalan independence, be a problem. Accepting that the Catalans have the right to vote on their own future would be a great help to Spanish democracy. Or to put it contrariwise: forcibly impeding this democratic exercise would be highly injurious to Spanish democracy.

The legalistic obstructionism, of using the Constitution as a yoke to prevent the expression of the Catalan people’s will was dangerous. Today, UPyD – and others – were using it to deny the Catalans the right to hold a referendum. But in the future, UPyD and ERC might wish to join forces and hold a referendum on the monarchy – it was possible – and the same arguments could then rebound upon UPyD: “it is against the Constitution, we won’t let you.” UPyD would find itself in the same position, without any other recourse: and this is not democratic at all.

Ms. Díez says that all Spaniards should be allowed to vote on Catalan independence: very well, replied Mr. Bosch. In that case, Ms. Díez at least accepts that Catalan independence is something that can be voted upon. The rest is a question of political negotiation, as ERC has maintained. If Ms. Díez – or UPyD – feel that way, they should make a proposal on how to carry it out; after all, they are the ones who wish to submit the question to the whole country. Mr. Bosch and ERC don’t plan to make it because they don’t agree with it; it is a Catalan decision to make. But if UPyD or anyone else were to make a serious proposal, of course ERC would be willing to negotiate seriously. Unfortunately, there has never been any serious proposal made, and there has never been any intention of making one, in Mr. Bosch’s opinion.

Denying someone the right to decide their own future is not an act of neighborly affection; it is not done because they love each other so much. No one says: “We are staying together in spite of you,” and then claims it is done for love. That is sentimentality of the worst kind. Mr. Bosch declared that if Spain loved Catalonia so much, they would let them vote. After all, the “no” vote might win. Mr. Bosch has presented his arguments in a book, and Ms. Díez has presented her own counter-arguments. The people should be allowed to weigh these arguments, and the debate should end with ballots. That is democracy.

As for the “what”, Mr. Bosch expressed his puzzlement over the daily outpouring of catastrophic predictions for Catalonia should it become independent. For one thing, he disliked these tactics of fear and thought them unworthy. For another, he disagreed with them completely. Independence would bring many benefits, to both Catalonia and to Spain. For one thing, the Congress of Deputies would no longer have to put up with its Catalan delegates, he joked. Mr. Posadas would no longer be forced to expel them from the chamber when they began to speak in Catalan.

Joking aside, Mr. Bosch felt that the Catalans had, since the restoration of democracy, been engaged in an effort to convert Spain into a more pluralistic, a more multi-lingual society. Unfortunately they had failed; it seemed to Mr. Bosch that the majority of Spaniards simply didn’t want that and did not share this vision with the Catalans. Very well, if that’s the case, then perhaps the independence of Catalonia would allow Spain to become more Spanish, to the greater happiness of her citizens. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, he asserted.

Some argued that it was ludicrous for Catalonia to leave Spain, to leave the “Hispanic World”. Mr. Bosch responded that though they might be Catalans, and they might be separatists, but they weren’t stupid. No one in Catalonia was the least bit interested in abandoning the Spanish language or the “Hispanic world”.  That would be folly. Nor did Catalan independence imply any abandonment or loss for Spain. Did the independence of Argentina or Mexico imply a loss for the Hispanic world or a gain? Did people like Jorge Luís Borges or Gabriel García Márquez enrich the culture of Hispanic world and Spain or not? It is possible that they might have developed even if these countries had not become independent, but the fact is that they did not develop until after independence. Mr. Bosch speculated that perhaps there was something in independence itself that spurred the genius of the people. If so, then Catalan independence could only result in the greater enrichment of the Hispanic world and of Spain.

Regarding economics, Mr. Bosch cited Adam Smith. Economic development rests on two pillars: liberty in all order of society – economic, political and cultural; and on the specialization of production. It is possible that the further specialization of their already distinct economies, through independent development, would greatly benefit both Catalonia and Spain. As an example, Mr. Bosch cites the potential of a “Mediterranean corridor” stretching over the Pyrenees into France and down the whole coast. Such a corridor has long been recognized as a vital priority for Catalonia, but the Spanish state has not shared nor funded that vision, favoring as always a radial model of development. Does anyone doubt, asked Mr. Bosch, that one of the first things that an independent Catalan Republic would do is to build that corridor, at least within their own territory? And in building it, not only would Catalonia be benefitting its own economy, industry and tourism; it would greatly benefit Valencia, Murcia and other regions of Spain.

Where, he asks, does this pessimism come from? Why is everyone so sure that we will ruin ourselves and each other? Catalonia is full of hard-working, talented, capable people. So is Spain. It is inconceivable to Mr. Bosch that such people should fail to be successful. These arguments are in error and a fear tactic used by some in very bad faith.

This process is a great opportunity. Mr. Bosch challenges Spaniards to see it as such, and to grasp it. Why must the Spanish view it as a sentence and cry out “why I should live in these times?” Here is the whole Catalan people mobilized, excited, living a democratic tsunami. It is a wonderful experience. Mr. Bosch is confident that, sooner or later, the Spanish people will – need to – start living a similar democratic tsunami, and shake off their political apathy.

Ms. Díez doesn’t like the analogy of the unhappy marriage? Very well, says Mr. Bosch: imagine Catalonia as the beautiful young daughter, full of life and ready to strike out on her own. She comes to her parents and tells them she has decided to leave home: do they refuse her? Do they insult her or beat her? Is this how they show their love? Or do they support her decision and wish her well?

Mr. Bosch closed by telling an anecdote from the life of Santiago Ramón y Cajal[6]. When Ramón y Cajal was awarded the Nobel prize and travelled to Stockholm to accept the award, Norway had just become independent of Sweden through a plebiscite. Ramón y Cajal questioned his hosts, wondering how they could have let Norway go without a fight, and contrasting this with Spain’s defense of Cuba[7] to the last measure. At last, after their guest had finished speaking, one of the Swedes answered: “Dear Doctor, we let them go, because that is what the Norwegians wanted.”

For Mr. Bosch, this is the heart of the matter. If the Catalan people desire independence, they will achieve it. Others may place obstacles in their path, they might succeed in delaying things; they may even attempt to subdue Catalans by force. But in the end, the Catalan people will still gain their independence.

Rosa Díez – Rebuttal

Ms. Díez promised Mr. Posadas to be brief; he would not have to apply any time limits to her reply. She only wished to emphasize two points: firstly, regarding her refusal to discuss the application of the law. Of course the Congress debated laws and even amended or revoked laws; but until such time, the existing laws had to be obeyed. That was the key point: the laws must be obeyed, until they are changed. No one is above the law; if today you bend one law, tomorrow it will be another and then you are no longer living in a democracy, but in anarchy. The rule of law is at the heart of democracy, and on that point, she had nothing to negotiate.

Is Catalan independence negotiable? Certainly it is. But first, you must convince the entire population of Spain to vote in favor of amending the Constitution and ditching Articles 1 and 2 regarding the indissolubility of the nation. If such a vote were held, she would do all in her power to argue against it; but if it were passed by a majority of Spaniards, she would have to live with it. That too is part of living in a democracy.

But so long as the Constitution is not amended, if anyone puts a ballot box out on the street for an illegal referendum, Ms. Díez will request that the government do all in its power to remove it.

As for Catalonia attempting to change Spain, and make it a more pluralistic society, Ms. Díez replied that so too Catalonia is a diverse and pluralistic society. Not everyone there wishes for independence from Spain, and their voices also should be heard and respected – something which Ms. Díez said was not being done in Catalonia. If Catalans were leaving Spain so that it could be more Spanish, they needn’t trouble themselves: Ms. Díez was perfectly satisfied with the way Spain was now, with Catalonia as part of it.

Alfred Bosch – Rebuttal

Mr. Bosch said that he had talked enough, that all had already been said and he did not want to rehash it. He asked that Spain not play the part of the sheriff, merely repeating what the law does not allow. He asked for greater imagination on their part, to understand and accept the democratic path upon which the Catalan people had decided to embark and which the great majority of them supported.

Mr. Bosch concluded by once again thanking Ms. Díez and Mr. Posadas for their participation, as well as that of the audience for their interested attendance.


Sources and Notes:


[1] Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) is a Catalan socialist and anti-monarchical party. It also openly advocates for the independence of Catalonia, which separates it from ideologically similar parties such as the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) which is pro-union. ERC is currently the second largest party in the Catalan regional parliament with 21 seats, and forms a governing coalition with the Convergencia I Unió party (CiU) of Artur Mas.

[2] Unión, Progreso y Democracia (Union, Progress and Democracy) is a left-of-center party founded in 2007 by Rosa Díez when she broke with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

[3] The Partido Popular is the principal center-right party in Spain and holds an absolute majority in the Spanish legislature. The head of the party and the head of government is Mariano Rajoy.

[4] The Catalan regional police; not the same as the metropolitan police force in each municipality.

[5] The Guardias Civiles (Civil Guard) are a national police force with quasi-military responsibilities. There is no direct US equivalent, and they encompass the role of State troopers, FBI, DEA, Coast Guard and to a limited extent, National Guard.

[6] Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 – 1934) was a famous Spanish physician, investigator and Nobel laureate. His investigations into the microscopic structure of the human brain have led to him being called the father of modern neuroscience.

[7] Prior to 1898 and Cuban Independence in the wake of the Spanish-American War,  the island was not considered to be a colony, but rather an integral part of metropolitan Spain.

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