Tuesday 2 October 2012
Some of you, reading this around the world, will have seen news reports of a massive demonstration in Barcelona, in favour of independence for Catalonia. This is significant news because it could point towards a fragmentation of Spain as a nation, and would pose difficult decisions for the European Union - would it admit Catalonia as a newly created nation, especially if the secession had been, in some sense, 'illegal' ? This is not the place to go into the issue of Catalan nationalism in any detail, vastly complicated as it is, but I have been rivetted by the use and abuse of two ringing slogans - 'el derecho de decidir' (the right to decide) and 'autodeterminación' (self-determination). Let me delve into these terms a little, using their English equivalents.
Both have been central to the discourse of Artur Mas, the President of the Generalitat (the local government of Catalonia), as he surfs on this wave of popular enthusiasm. I've mentioned Mas before ( Image & language ) - he of the suave smile and skilful salesmanship. By endless repetition, he has made these two terms into Magic Words ® which will open the door to the glories of the future Nation of Catalonia.
The problem for me is that it is not at all clear what these Magic Words ® actually mean. Like 'abracadabra', they mean anything and nothing and everything. Surely no-one could be against 'the right to decide'? We all cherish the idea that we can make decisions and choose how we want to lead our lives. Such decisions give us dignity, make us feel whole and significant - and of course we always assume that, by and large, the decisions we take are going to be good decisions that will make us happier and more successful and fulfilled. But let's apply a little critical thinking here ...
A number of questions flash into my mind every time I hear the ritual repetition of the Magic Words ® 'the right to decide'. For instance ...
? If you're claiming the right to decide, are you saying that one doesn't have the right to decide now? In the Constitutionally established democracy that is Spain?
? Or is this particular 'right to decide' only for Catalans, about this particular issue of independence?
? And is it only really for Catalans who wish to decide 'Yes to Independence' ?
? If one decides 'Yes to Independence', what then? Will the 'right to decide' then be different or better in an independent Catalonia? If so, how, exactly?
? And anyway, fundamentally, is the 'right to decide' ever absolute and free? Would an independent Catalonia, within the context of an ever more powerful European Union, have more or less 'right to decide' than the allegedly repressed Catalonia within the nation of Spain?
El derecho de decidir is just a particularly glowing example of how politicians love to choose and use Magic Words ®. The wonderful power of these is that they are seen as indisputably Good Things (who doesn't want the 'right to decide' or 'freedom'?), and so they open doors into many voters' minds - especially the doors to the head-nodding controls, and to the 'Brain - OFF' switch. They come larger than life size, with stars around them and in a lovely range of attractive colours - right to decide
See what I mean?
** [And by the way, it has been noticed that Mas scrupulously avoids the actual word 'independence'. This is probably because, curiously, 'independence' is a Boo!Word ® - a term that might frighten voters because it is too serious and ...er... precise. More about Boo!Words ® later ... ]