Catalonia: petition for de-escalation

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 5, 2017

Philosophers from Catalonia are circulating a petition to plead for de-escalation of the current conflict. As this newspaper article reports, and as was confirmed to me by one of the original signatories, the group who took this initiative includes people in favour as well as against independence for Catalonia (and, presumable, some who think “it’s complicated” and have no firm views).

You are all invited to sign in order to call upon both the Spanish and the Catalan politicians to de-escalate and put in place a proper process through with all parties can peacefully engage with these questions, and hence replace confrontation and violence with a proper dialogue.



John Quiggin 10.05.17 at 11:32 am



Tabasco 10.06.17 at 5:27 am

It only seems like yesterday that the most serious thing about Catalonia was Vicky Christina Barcelona.


steven t johnson 10.07.17 at 2:21 pm

I don’t understand the petition.

Point 1 declares that the problem is the police attempt to prevent the referendum. The thing is, although the text asserts that the police didn’t need violence to prevent the referendum, it is not at all clear to me this is true. If a single policeman, or even better, a simple functionary of some sort, dressed in civilian clothes, had arrived on scene and politely asked for the ballots, I don’t think they would have been handed over. Nor do I think a small band of lawyers and clerks who showed up at the central location where the ballots were counted would have had their request for the counting to stop heeded. And lastly I do not think any request from the authorities to refuse to publicize the totals would have been heeded.

I do think the context of the point makes it quite clear that the referendum is not deemed a unilateral act by the authors. It seems to me quite plausible that the government of Catalunya considers the referendum to be definitive. And I can’t say that I am sure the people who conducted the referendum would have found any result other than the declaration of independence. Frankly the referendum appears to be something of a fait accompli. It strikes me as a little like the Upper South declaring for secession because of the vile way that Lincoln resorted to aggression, by calling for a massive army of 75 000 soldiers.

The most likely interpretation of point 1 is that the signatories do not believe the central government has sovereignty, either to forbid a referendum not in accordance with laws and judicial decision, or to enforce national policy.

Point 2 seems to be a call for a negotiation of the secession. Rather than calling for a disorderly affair with mobs of people of ill repute milling about, it called for a polite affair with political leaders properly advised by highly refined experts. This is not a commission to negotiate reparations for police misconduct or guarantees against further such misconduct.

Point 3 is the one which is most confusing. The explicit repudiation of Spanish law is couched as an ethical imperative to use international law. The thing is, it is not at all clear what these laws say.

“Helskinki Accord Article 1.III
The participating States regard as inviolable all one another’s frontiers as well as the
frontiers of all States in Europe and therefore they will refrain now and in the future from
assaulting these frontiers.
Accordingly, they will also refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and
usurpation of part or all of the territory of any participating State.”

If you deem the referendum to be definitive, then do you deem Catalunya to be sovereign, thus central government interference is a violation of borders? If you do not, does this not leave the commission nothing to negotiate?

“Maastricht Article 4.2
6) Article 4 shall be replaced by the following:
‘Article 4
1. The tasks entrusted to the Community shall be carried out by the following institutions:
Each institution shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty.
2. The Council and the Commission shall be assisted by an Economic and Social Committee and a
Committee of the Regions acting in an advisory capacity.”

This seems to be irrelevant, but it is all I could find online. I’ve never believed everything is online anyhow, but probably if my googlefu was better I could find what they were referring to. Sorry. not up to snuff.

“Venice Code
The substantive validity of texts submitted to a referendum
Texts submitted to a referendum must comply with all superior law (principle of the hierarchy of
They must not be contrary to international law or to the Council of Europe’s statutory principles
(democracy, human rights and the rule of law).
Texts that contradict the requirements mentioned under III.2 and III.3 may not be put to the
popular vote.

7. Quorum
It is advisable not to provide for:
a. a turn-out quorum (threshold, minimum percentage), because it assimilates voters who
abstain to those who vote no;
b. an approval quorum (approval by a minimum percentage of registered voters), since it
risks involving a difficult political situation if the draft is adopted by a simple majority lower
than the necessary threshold. ”

There is of course more to the Venice Code, but these seem to be the most pertinent clauses. The injunction to respect superior law suggests that if you accept that the central government is the de jure and de facto superior authority, the referendum was illegal. And there is nothing for the commission to negotiate. Nonetheless the signatories call for a commission, so I suspect the real interest is the clause on quorums, or rather the lack of a need to meet a quorum. It is true that a close reading suggests that the Venice Code bars supermajorities, and tends to assume referenda must attain a majority. It is not at all clear that the signatories agree. Only the votes cast count, the majority of those is clear, and the referendum is definitive for Catalunya. All that remains is to negotiate an amicable divorce.

“The principle concerning the duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.
No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind. Also, no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.

The use of force to deprive peoples of their national identity constitutes a violation of their inalienable rights and of the principle of non-intervention.

Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as reflecting the relevant provisions of the Charter relating to the maintenance of international peace and security.

The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.
Every State has the duty to promote, through joint and separate action, realization of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter, and to render assistance to the United Nations in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it by the Charter regarding the implementation of the principle, in order:

To promote friendly relations and co-operation among States; and
To bring a speedy end to colonialism, having due regard to the freely expressed will of the peoples concerned;
and bearing in mind that subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a violation of the principle, as well as a denial of fundamental human rights, and is contrary to the Charter.

Every State has the duty to promote through joint and separate action universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Charter.

The establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association or integration with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people.

Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to above in the elaboration of the present principle of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence. In their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible action in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self-determination, such peoples are entitled to seek and to receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

The territory of a colony or other Non-Self-Governing Territory has, under the Charter, a status separate and distinct from the territory of the State administering it; and such separate and distinct status under the Charter shall exist until the people of the colony or Non-Self-Governing Territory have exercised their right of self-determination in accordance with the Charter, and particularly its purposes and principles.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour.

Every State shall refrain from any action aimed at the partial or total disruption of the
national unity and territorial integrity of any other State or country.”

Resolution 2625 by one principle forbids outside interference in Spain’s domestic politics, but by another principle enjoins support for the struggle against colonialism. There is no sensible understanding of colonialism that covers Catalunya, but I think the signatories are assuming that the referendum has established that Catalunya is independent, that therefore central state repression is criminal and support from outside powers is legitimate. If they don’t, then again, there is no need for the commission.

Point 4 declares that if the law doesn’t support them, then ethics (as per the experts I suppose) should decide the case. One wonders why they cited all those items in point 3.
It seems the commission is to negotiate the independence, regardless of the legal technicalities, on grounds of, the right thing to do!

Point 5 which demands an undefined supermajority (sic!) in the commission in context reads as the advance declaration that a narrow decision against separation will not be accepted.

Point 6 calls for outside mediation between the central government and Catalunya, again treating the referendum as definitively establishing the separate Catalonian nationality. Formally it allows for the popular ratification of the secession agreement as part of a set of options, including a new autonomy agreement or “reforms” of the central government (which from the news probably means tax privileges.) It is obvious that the referendum is regarded as having voided the old law on autonomy. But it is unclear why the signatories are offering the seeming concession of a popular referendum on the secession agreement? Their call for an undefined supermajority means they reserve the right to reject any plebiscite that contradicts their preferred goal, which is evidently (I think) independence.

Point 7 is a call for EU intervention, promising all cooperation in making sure that the political costs to the EU of breaking its commitment to the inviolability of its member states should be as small as possible. Insofar as they can, this will be sui generis, a Bush v. Gore decision.

What I don’t understand is how this call for peaceful surrender by Madrid is helpful? I’m not sure leaner, meaner competition is really wanted by Germany et al. I’m not at all clear on how chopping up Spain will help the peoples of Spain. The rotten compromise of democratization of course left the Francoists in reserve, and a rump state will almost certainly see their return. And I find the likelihood of Catalan independence helping the mass of people in Catalunya to be pretty low.


Pseudo-gorgias 10.07.17 at 7:26 pm

Something like 55 percent of Catalan household speak Spanish natively, and yet virtually no schools in Catalonia teach Spanish. This is a flagrant human rights abuse. Treason and secession in the name of curtailing human rights is totally unacceptable. Dissolve the Catalan and jail their leaders, and reconstruct Catalonia into a more equitable society.


Pseudo-gorgias 10.07.17 at 7:27 pm

Read, “dissolve the Catalan government”


EWI 10.08.17 at 5:23 pm


Why hello, Spanish gov sock-puppet account.


James Wimberley 10.08.17 at 8:58 pm

#4: In this context, better to use “Castilian” as the name of the language.Basque and Galician , as well as Catalan and Castilian, are recognized in Spain as languages of the Spanish people. My local supermarket on the Costa del Sol, Eroski, is a Basque producer cooperative and prints the labels on its house brands in Castilian and Basque. This is a very alien-seeming language, possibly descended from what the Cro-Magnons spoke. Still, they find a way of expressing “baby wipe” in it.

It has never been clear to me what additional privileges the Catalan secessionists want for Catalan beyond what it enjoys already, as the main language of local and regional government, state-sponsored culture, and education. All I can think of is more discrimination against Castilian and its speakers.

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