A PRECARIOUS AUTONOMY
In 1983 the American Institute for Catalan Studies published the interesting study by Philip B. Taylor Jr. «Public Power in Catalunya» with a disturbing subtitle: «Incomplete Power under Ambiguous Constraints.» The book will soon be twenty years old. The Statute of Autonomy wasapproved more than twenty years ago, and it was exactly twenty years ago that this exceptional Catalan who is Jordi Pujol began to administer it as President of the Gencralitat, a winner of all the elections that have taken place since then. And this is the outcome: if just a minimum of observation power showed that from its beginning it was a limping Autonomy –it was in fact a pseudoautonomy– after this rather long period of time it shows to have been and still is a precarious Autonomy, with a lot of eleventh hour aggravating circumstances. It is precarious in many respects. It is so in its form, from the moment of its origin, and it is so in its application, as shown in an alarming and recidivist way. It is positive in everything relating to decentralization in management, butwery thin and progressively thinner in everything that is and could be power and sovereignty over the territory and over everything referring to the Catalan Nation.
In 1980 it was perhaps possible to think that we were at the beginning of a process, and that the same dynamics created by the end of Francoism and the resolute immersion in a new democratic life would bring a. full autonomy. Real enough to disperse the independentist stream of opinion, and strong enough to leave behind the traditional Spanish uniforming centralism.
There was also the reconstruction of Europe that might offer some guarantees, not perhaps to reach soon the Europe of the Peoples –or let us say of the Nations– but yes to initiate the way, a certainly healthy one, that for the time being could be defined as the Europe of Regions. However, now that we are in the year 2000 and in the full euphoria of generational and technological changes, of globalization and of a growing level of quality of life, the autonomous balance is highly negative, and the Europe of States –denying both Peoples and Regions– imposes itself without any possibility of change. It does not get stronger because the crisis of the States is very deep, and time will make them disappear, but at the moment it imposes itself and creates confusion. With France in the first place, with its chronic sickness of Jacobinism, and Spain giving support with her usual role: raising to category level things that really are substitutes and supplantations. And this is done through autonomic acknowledgement made with a compulsory generalization, being therefore negative in essence. Badly defined autonomies, always being cut of, always being questioned.
It would be absurd to deny the benefits obtained by Catalonia through the existing Autonomy. Even with the substantial limitations and the economic extortion this Autonomy has suffered, the country has notably advanced. And the change was evident at once. From the prostrated and slum-filled Catalonia resulting from the civil War and the endless Francoism, it went to an objectively good reality. Many things could be due to the dynamics of time itself, but it is very true that the Autonomy has had a principal role in it.
In any. case, a word of advice: some of the achievements have only been possible by getting deeply into debt, and this brings a lack of solidity and stability. And that means a weakening in the effort to reach possible levels of sovereignty. Or real Autonomy. The present Autonomy is already inferior to the one foreseen by the Statute approved by the main Spanish political forces. It is inferior because it still lacks some agreed transferences and because of restrictive interpretations. If we add to this the chronic budgetary shortcomings that we must suffer, the effectiveness of the Autonomy in real terms of power is even lower. Another important handicap is that the Autonomy began with outrageous deficits in the country.
The Catalan Autonomy has had to use its own resources in order to obtain the necessary real estate patrimony for setting up the various services. The outstanding example has been the need to buy the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of government, and the adjacent Casa dels Canonges, the official residence of the President. Only the building of the Parliament has been recovered after many years without having to pay for it. And let’s not mention hospitals, schools, universities. The tax agency arid Justice Department are above the Autonomy, with some rather negligible marginal touches.
The presence of the central administration, that is to say of the State or central government, is still present in some of the more important aspects of daily life; in harbors, coasts, communications… The great network of communications that covers the country leaves completely aside the Autonomy, condemning at the same time Catalonia to the historical drawback of not having available the European railway gauge, clogged at the border as in the worst times of non-communication with Europe. There is nothing to show that this state of things will be over soon, because all priority is given to the reinforcement of the radial system over the connection with Europe.
And we cannot forget the symbols. The military authorities have kept in their headquarters the escutcheon of Francoist Spain, while emblematic fascist and Spanish nationalist denominations are still found in the cities’ toponym. Something even more important is the fact that the Catalan language not only has not been yet able to recover its natural place as the language of Catalonia and therefore majority language there, but also it has been constantly reduced, with pressure from the central government itself, even though the Spanish government has the constitutional duty to protect it.
We are far from having an Autonomy strong enough to consolidate what was lost during forty years of Spanish dictatorship. Our Autonomy is unable to face with enough agility and creativity the problems brought by the Europeanization and globalization of the modern world, two very welcome processes in any case. Catalonia does not have the necessary tools to completely develop its ideals of opening itself to this new world that is coming. Tools that would also strengthen its own personality and provide the free hands of liberty of cosmopolitanism. That is to say, tools that may provide independence or, at least, a real Autonomy. Not a precarious Autonomy.
per Victor Castells dins:
Catalonia Today, Vol. 13, Núm. l
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