Just to be sure, I would vote for independence if I were a Catalan lawmaker. Spain has declared some kind of a war on the region, anyway – for example, tomorrow there may be a decree to speed up the relocation of HQs from Catalonia (probably another act that won't be seen as a confession of love in Catalonia) – so it seems silly to argue with some economic losses. At least some temporary losses are unavoidable now and the long-term outlook makes the independence a net benefit, of course, because Catalans will get rid of the duty to constantly subsidize less productive Spaniards who are clutching Catalonia and sucking its blood as if they were 39 million ticks.
A fat lady and a gay pretended to be a perfect couple at Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics – but they sounded great. This video is relevant because of Barcelona but also because much of the text below is about Summer 1992, too.
Spain should have negotiated with Catalonia because it has been clear for a long time that the thirst for independence may easily surpass the 50% threshold. Because it didn't, it could have enforced the rule of law. But the current law – which says that Spain is indivisible and local referendum aren't constitutional – simply cannot imply that people are beaten on the street or prevented from throwing ballots to boxes. At most, it can mean that this exercise will have no legal power: the outcome can't be considered the outcome of a valid referendum in the constitutional sense. So according to the European standards, the law enforcement could have only begun once someone would do something that is illegal according to the Spanish law and legal according to the idea that "the referendum has decided about the independence".
Instead, the voters were beaten preemptively, already for the manifestation of their opinion. This was a clear violation of their freedom of speech and their right of assembly.
At any rate, 90% voted in favor of the independence and there were previous commitments by the Catalan government to declare the independence if a majority votes like that, regardless of the outcome. Again, according to the Spanish laws, the declaration of independence might be considered void but the Spanish state has no right to preemptively disable pillars of democracy.
In practice, it seems that the Spanish police will either try to lock the building of the parliament; or arrest the Catalan lawmakers.
There's indeed a risk that they will discuss and approve the independence on Monday, October 9th. If the Spanish government were decent but insisted it wants to fight this battle – but in a legitimate European way – it would simply say in advance that such a declaration will be void and the Spanish enforcement forces' actions will build on the continued assumption that no declaration of independence will have taken place. In other words, the prime minister could say that "whatever the lawmakers will say about the independence will only be a theater with no legal implications". But they should still be allowed to say these things about the independence because the lawmakers should have the freedom of speech, too.
Trying to preemptively prevent the Catalan lawmakers from the entry to the building or arrest them "just to be sure" violates the basic rules of democracy – such as the right of the people to have political representatives and indeed, the presumption of innocence. These lawmakers haven't done anything wrong [yet] so they obviously cannot be arrested in a country that respects the rule of law! Just imagine if the courts could arrest anyone with similar "preemptive" excuses. The country would obviously become an authoritarian regime right away.
The courts simply don't have the right to prevent lawmakers from meeting and discussing proposals. This overreach of the courts, the judgeocracy, is often criticized by the Czech ex-president Klaus. And to some extent, the changes of the procedures affecting Polish judges recently introduced by the Polish government have very similar reasons: to protect the basic mechanisms of democracy against activist judges whose desire is to directly influence the political process. That may be the reason why the EU attacks Poland – because the EU is the clique that actually wants to cripple democracy in this way.
The obsessiveness with which the Spanish politicians try to keep Catalonia as a part of Spain is rather scary. Needless to say, Czechs were thinking differently on July 17th, 1992 – the counterpart of October 9th, 2017. On that day, The Slovak National Council – the parliament of the Slovak Republic located in Bratislava – approved the Declaration of Independence. Most Slovaks rejoiced much like most Americans on July 4th, 1776. Most Czechs were more dismissive but probably less angry than most Britons (especially the king) in 1776. ;-)
Here's the full text of that declaration:
If the Catalan lawmakers don't know how to write a declaration of independence, they may simply replace "Slovak" with "Catalan" above. ;-) Also, note that there's no comma before "that" in English so that a Czech blogger doesn't have to fix the declaration, as he had to fix the Slovak one. When I read the text today, I believe that it wasn't terribly publicized in Czechia of 1992 (well, it wasn't our big day, I still think LOL) – and the text sounds more reasonable than how we were viewing the Slovak nationalists at that time.
We, the democratically elected Slovak National Council,
that the thousand years' struggle of Slovak nation for independence ("self-standing") has been fulfilled.
In this historical moment, we declare the natural right of the Slovak nation for self-determination, as embodied by all international agreements and treaties about the right of nations for self-determination.
Recognizing the right of nations for self-determination, we declare that we also want to freely create the way and form of national and state life, while respecting the rights of everybody, all citizens, nations, national minorities, ethnic groups, the democratic and humanist legacy of Europe and of the world.
By this declaration, the Slovak National Council declares sovereignty of the Slovak Republic as a basis for a sovereign state of the Slovak nation.
Bratislava, 17 July 1992
They have declared the independent Slovak state – or the beginning of the process to build it. It doesn't really matter how you put it. I need to make this point explicit because in the morning, I was arguing with a Slovak guy who had claimed that the Slovak lawmakers wanted to build a better Czechoslovak federation! They really didn't, bro. This declaration, approved by 130+ of 140+ lawmakers, an overwhelming majority, showed that the Slovak parliament was actually more pro-secessionist than the Slovak prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. Despite the caricatures, Mečiar was relatively pragmatic, willing to consider a continued Czechoslovak state, but the circumstances suggested something else. The atmosphere in the Slovak National Council was heavily affected by the Slovak National Party which was obviously much more pro-secessionist than Mečiar.
(Aside from the Slovak guy's ignorance of basic facts and his misunderstanding that the independence and sovereignty are really the same thing, he complained about the existence of the Czechoslovak Television in 1992 – and the non-existence of the Czech Television. He reminded me of all this irrational Slovak whining we were exposed to between 1990 and 1992. For him, the non-existence of the Czech Television was a proof of "chauvinism". Holy cow. Why should the federation imply that there have to be separate television studios? Also, why should the Slovaks intervene into the Czechs' internal affairs and decide whether Czechs will build their own separate television? ;-) And yes, many things at the bottom were "asymmetric" in the federation. Slovaks had the "Slovak Television" in Bratislava because they have always loved these seceded names, and Czechs allowed these names, while Czechs were just OK with the Czechoslovak Television in Prague and felt no need to build a separate one. In fact, even the Communist Party of Slovakia had existed in Slovakia but all the commies in Czechia loved to call their party The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. All these things were simply caused by the much higher desire of the Slovaks to separate themselves in some way. It wasn't our fault. We didn't have this desire but it wasn't due to "chauvinism", as the Slovak whining loved to say. It was simply because we were OK with the federal country and its televisions. Once we saw that the Slovaks were really so allergic about so many simple things that are unified in a country – like the public television's studios – we understood that their dream was the independence or at least something that we in Czechia apparently called the independence. Some Slovaks did talk about a federation with separated ministries for everything, two televisions, two chairs in the U.N., two [everything] – what sort of a federation is it? In what sense we would be one country? So Czechs obviously wanted to dismiss and avoid all this talk that made no sense whatsoever and they did, starting with Václav Klaus.)
OK, return to this July 17th, 1992. The Declaration of Independence above clearly violated the constitution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic of that time – which hardly allowed the foundation of new sovereign nation states on our territory. In that sense, every constitution of a country – Czechoslovak or Spanish or another one – is analogous. Do you think that we sent the Czech or Czechoslovak police to suppress the Slovak parliament, before or after the declaration? Or the army? What do you think: How many Czechs were proposing such a solution?
Zero. Just zero. It was absolutely unthinkable because trying to solve such disputes – which have mostly transformed to a dispute between two nations – by the force is absolutely unwise, primitive, violent, and finally self-destructive because it's really the first step to ignite a new war. They obviously violated the laws of Czechoslovakia as we had known it for some years before the declaration. But they were not hiding it. It was a declaration of a new country, a new regime on the territory of Czechoslovakia, so how it couldn't have violated the laws of the country that was formally divided by that act? Czechoslovakia was also created in violation of the (1867-1918) constitution of Austria-Hungary. Not even the kind George Washington begged for a permission from King George III in 1776. And in July 1789, the French king could have told the people that they had to cancel their plans for a French Revolution because it was unconstitutional. Maybe, disappointed citizens would have realized their mistake and returned home. Vladimir Lenin didn't wait for the permission from the tsar and his guys (or the temporary republican government) – the Bolsheviks shot from Aurora to the Palace without an order from the constitutional court. The Velvet Revolution has violated the constitutional paragraph about the leading role of the communist party in our society. Such violations of the law are really a rule by itself. ;-) History happens, ladies and gentlemen.
Instead of ideas about the police or the army sent to Slovakia, millions of Czechs said "let them go" on that day. The Czech version of the sentence, "ať si jdou", was really pronounced millions of times on that day, slightly before that day, and also slightly after that day. Regular people as well as irregular people have been heard to say the same sentence. If the overwhelming majority of the Slovak lawmakers in their parliament (there was also a federal parliament which had two chambers, the Chamber of the People with proportional representation, and the Chamber of the Nations which was 50% and 50% Slovak) is willing to violate the Czechoslovak laws in that obvious way, it just means that Czechoslovakia has hit a roadblock on 1/3 of its territory.
There's no way to fix the problem while preserving Czechoslovakia. The same Czechoslovak constitution assumes that a new Slovak parliament may be elected but it will be equally secessionist. The problem is clearly unsolvable within the Czechoslovak laws. A split Czechoslovakia contradicted the constitution but so did a Czechoslovakia with a permanent martial law in Slovakia (or concentration camps for Slovaks). Could we, the Czechs, have elected a better Slovak nation than the Slovak nation we weren't quite satisfied with? Maybe. Maybe we could have elected Slovenes as our new Slovaks. They would probably be more loyal – they were more loyal in Austria-Hungary, in Yugoslavia, and are currently climbing the Italian and Austrian rectums intensely, too. They would have fairly and happily cooperated with us. But Czechoslovenia wouldn't be a full-blown Czechoslovakia anymore. Americans wouldn't notice any difference but maybe a Czechoslovak constitutional judge would notice the difference between Czechoslovakia and Czechoslovenia and a new constitutional crisis would begin, anyway. ;-)
And it's simply cheaper to accept the fact and join them in the deconstruction of Czechoslovakia. Rationality and pragmatism are two of the reasons it was so simple for Czechs. Another one was that we really didn't "exploit" the Slovaks or didn't dramatically "benefit" from having them in the same country. They had the appropriate proportional influence on the power – even if they increasingly loved the paranoiac beliefs to the contrary by 1992 – and Slovakia was almost certainly subsidized around 1992 although some flows could have been a bit complicated so there may be "some way to count the flows" that could end up with the opposite conclusion. At any rate, most Czechs surely didn't think and don't think that we were milking Slovakia in some way and this perception was arguably more relevant than the actual numbers.
So the dissolution is just a rearrangement of things, a zero-sum game for both sides. We shared 3 rooms in a house before the declaration and could move in between all the rooms. After the declaration, 2 rooms were supposed to be reserved for Czechs, and 1 room – a nice big toilet extended to a fancy living room with the posters of High Tatras on the wall – was suddenly reserved for Slovaks. We didn't think it was a big improvement but we knew that co-habitation requires some consensus. They thought it was a vital improvement so we had to enable it.
On that day, hours after the Slovak Declaration of Independence, the Czechoslovak president Václav Havel resigned. He saw that the fate of his federal country was going in a completely different direction than what he wanted, what he expected, and what he could swallow. He made some bitter comments – and they were enough for him to be hated by most Slovaks – but he didn't consider any violence against Slovakia for a second, either. His comments that the separate countries are a terrible idea soon turned out to be rather hypocritical when he was elected by the Czech Parliament to become the first Czech president. But of course, almost everyone forgave him this hypocrisy. (Maybe, he faced some risk of not becoming the Czech president if he had failed to resign as the Czechoslovak one.) He had a good enough name abroad and we didn't want to sacrifice it in 1993.
OK, my main point is that the laws of a country – and countries themselves – can't be assumed to be completely eternal. Countries and their laws are not holy or fundamental laws of physics, either. They're temporary conventions created by the people in order to make the people's lives sufficiently good, safe, and just. Sometimes big forces collide and apparent conflicts between various principles, several parliaments, or several laws may emerge. It's wrong to dogmatically pick some of the laws or legal authority and promote them at any cost. A wise politician and a wise nation knows that at the end, the laws aren't the ultimate goal. The laws are just a tool to achieve something that is good for the people.
When a decisive part (a majority) of the people on a territory believes that certain laws and their blind enforcement causes a big trouble for them and they're ready to give up a lots of things, to resist, or to fight, it's simply a good idea for the others to let them go and create somewhat different laws. When one blindly enforces the laws even against millions of sane people with a clean criminal record, he may keep these laws valid again. But he erodes the legitimacy and authority of the laws and the whole system in the future. And this erosion may lead to the need to enforce the laws even more brutally in the future. And when it becomes clear that this dynamics is going to spiral out of control – and in the Catalan case, it was clear to me already before the referendum – it's better to stop this spiraling process as soon as possible.
Alternatively, you may let Mother Nature to stop this spiraling dynamics. When a war is on for several years and most of the men and boys who are capable of fight have been killed, the exponentially growing dynamics reverses as well. It's mostly the Spanish politicians who are deciding whether they want to be in charge of the regulation of this dynamics, like the Czechs who had still "somewhat bigger influence" on the progress in the Velvet Divorce, or whether they leave it to Mother Nature.
And that's the memo.
All center right iDNES.cz upvoted comments (EN) have denounced the ban on the parliament session and other democratic procedures. Many of them comments were really funny, explaining what is legal and what is illegal according to the "Western democracies". In particular, a microagression against the Crimean Tatars and the voting in Catalonia were loudly denounced by the EU authorities but the shooting into the peaceful Catalans inside the EU is OK.