"Catalonia is what Catalans want it to be." This is not a sentence by any Catalan independence proponent in 2014, but by Spain's Prince Felipe to the Parliament of Catalonia in 1990. A referendum on Catalan independence was not then an immediate possibility. Barcelona was then heading to the 1992 Olympic Games, which were set to become the best showcase of Catalonia's progress within a post-Franco, democratic Spain before the world. Felipe's speech instilled optimism regarding Spain's autonomous communities ("they have unlocked and raised energies and imagination, initiative and participation"), the Catalan people ("which for a thousand years has been and will be. We are and we will be"), and even the Western world ("world history reaches with Occident its highest degree of development and welfare").
Two decades later, and with the process of the right to decide on independence having started long ago in Catalonia, good democratic omens have vanished from the Prince's words, or at least have become very nuanced. When mayor of Girona Carles Puigdemont told one year ago to Felipe de Borbón about the "need" for the referendum on Catalan independence to be held, the Prince made it clear that his 1990 sentence was not an absolute one: Felipe said that "the rules of the game" (i.e. the Spanish Constitution) should be respected, and that they could not be "unilaterally" changed. That is to say that Catalonia "is what Catalans want it to be," but only with the permission and approval from the Constitution and the Spanish people.
A few days later, Catalan President Artur Mas replied that the obstacle was not so much the Constitution but the Spanish government's refusal to accept the referendum.
Less than two months ago, Felipe de Borbón (in one of his frequent visits to Catalonia) said that "Catalonia and Spain as a whole" want to "forge" together a "bright and promising future." His father, King Juan Carlos I, announced his abdication earlier today. After this, Felipe will have the power to excert pressure in order to "fix" (sic) the Catalan issue through the "responsibility" of politicians, just as he said one year and a half ago, while marking Spain's national day. Speaking of the Catalan sovereignty process, he opposed "the real Catalonia" to the "foam we are seeing." Felipe did not specify whether his "real Catalonia" is the same as the one usually referred to by Spanish nationalist Catalonia's Popular Party President Alicia Sanchez Camacho or, conversely, whether he was referring to the fact that parties in favour of holding a referendum on independence have gathered more than 50% of the votes in the last two elections in Catalonia.
Spain is a "great nation" vs Catalonia's "collective aspirations"
In a TV message, Juan Carlos I today said that there exists the need to give way to a "younger generation, with new energy, determined to undertake changes and reforms that the current situation is asking for." The King did not specify what those challenges are, but in terms of present time, he only referred to the "long and deep economic crisis," before saying that the awareness of being "a great nation" has strengthened among Spaniards.
Shortly after, and in an official statement, Catalan President Mas said that Catalonia's "firm, sincere commitment to the constitutional arrangement" in 1978 has not been adequately met by the Spanish state since. Mas further said that "there will be a change of king, but there will be no change of course for the process that should lead us to to freely decide our own future on November 9th", the date in which the Catalan government has said it will hold the referendum on independence from Spain. Furthermore, Mas asked "all state institutions to act with the utmost respect and sensitivity towards these collective aspirations, shown by the majority of Catalan people."
There is little doubt that the Catalan process will indeed be the big issue on Felipe's desk when he "soon" -in the words of Spanish President Mariano Rajoy- becomes Spain's newest Head of State. Some Catalan media (such as VilaWeb and Ara) are already pointing out that the abdication of Juan Carlos I (who became King of Spain in 1975, after dictator Francisco Franco had appointed him as his own successor in 1969) should be understood as a part of an enormous political manoeuver aimed at favoring a territorial reform in Spain that grants Catalonia more self-government in exchange for shelving the referendum.
Such a scenario would bring the moment of truth and definition for everyone: for political parties, for civil society organizations, but also for more than one million pro-independence Catalans who demonstrated in 2012 and 2013, if any would-be agreement was signed without taking them into account.
(Image: Felipe de Borbón / picture by the Senate of the Republic of Poland.)