In English Voices From Spain

You will make a foreigner out of me

Originally published in Spanish. Juan Claudio de Ramón. The Objective.

In democracy secession is the worst of sins. 

Michael Ignatieff

I have –we have- difficulties to make many people understand the severity of what is going on in Catalonia. The difficulty is already high with Spaniards from other parts of the country, who does not suspect that a coup is in the works to remove from them a large portion of the geographic domain in which his citizenship rights are effective. But it is much worse when trying to convince independentists, in many cases our own acquaintances, friends or family, of the true meaning of the enterprise they are supporting. This is no other than to make foreigners out of the rest of Spaniards. Certainly, if us, their friends, family, acquaintances, were that occupation or colonization force that sometimes is being talked about, getting rid of us might be justified. But we are not; no sane mind can say that we are. We are fellow citizens, equals in rights and obligations. Whoever demands the independence referendum is asking for no less than the right to decide who of his neighbors is to be kept and who will become a foreigner. That is, a vote to remove rights to others, which doesn’t look very democratic.

We have mentioned this before. The democracy is not just the act of voting. The democracy is the universal extension of the full statute of citizenship, and I apologize for the self-citation: «The democratic agenda through history has been this: to remove situations of subalternity –women, the poor and slaves- thus enlarging the group of citizens invested in full civil and political rights. The abolition of slavery, the universal masculine and feminine suffrage and the creation of the mechanisms of welfare provision are milestones in this agenda. Democracy, I insist, is to say: in our city there are no first-and second-class citizens; the language, gender, race or income level do not justify differences in the catalogue of rights. That this ideal is often not fulfilled in practice has not invalidated it as the ideal we have bound ourselves to».

I think this can be understood better through some examples. In democracy, rich people do not have the right of self-determination to secede from the poor. Men cannot secede from women. White people cannot secede from black people. Heterosexuals cannot secede from gays. Catholics or Muslims cannot secede from atheists. Any attempt of political segregation of these groups would be met with astonishment and anger. That so many thinking heads are unable to apply the same logic to the possibility that Catalonians or Basques could secede from the rest of the Spaniards is because while nobody believes any longer that there should be segregation due to race, income, gender, skin color or faith, it is still common to believe that populations can be divided along nationalities or ethno-linguistic groups. Because a group is “a people”, it has right for self-determination. But it is not correct. It is not clear at all which could be the meaning in the 21st century of such an ectoplasmic concept as “a people”, but whatever it is, if we live in democracy, above it must be the common citizenship, which nobody has the right to destroy.

Naturally, this reasoning will not be accepted by those who believe that that common citizenship does not exist, that Catalonians and Spaniards belong to different citizenships. It is not the case: the citizenship is the same. We elect the same institutions, and I could vote in Catalonia if I registered there in the same way a Catalonian could vote in Madrid, as any other resident in Madrid, just by settling there. None of us would require a passport to do it, as it would happen in France or the United States. This shared citizenship also extends to the realm of obligations. Part of my wealth, which the state has redistributed in my behalf while collecting taxes, has also served to finance significant infrastructures in Catalonia, and I’m happy that it was so. Wealth has also been transferred in the opposite direction, and so Spain has become, through the years, a fairer and more prosperous country for a larger number of people. This is about people, and relationships between people. The “state” is just that: people. Those who believe that it is possible to tear down the institution of a shared citizenship without also causing the destruction of the dense network of personal relationships that has grown with time in that common ground are wrong. They are really wrong.

I beg you. Don’t make foreigners out of us. Don’t throw us out of “we”.

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