Opinion: Spain must listen to Catalonia
Guest commentary by Liz Castro
Frustrated with broken promises from the Spanish government for support for their culture, infrastructure and self-government, the Catalan people have been mobilizing for the past 10 years to demand democratic representation. They have demonstrated peacefully and massively, putting more than a million people on the streets (out of total population of just 7.5 million) six times in seven years. Their demands are simple: they want to be able to decide their own political future at the ballot box. This is a demand they share with democrats across the world.
Faced with Spain's refusal to listen to literally any of Catalonia's concerns, and with a parliamentary majority won in elections with the highest turnout in Catalonia's history to date, the Catalan government accepted the demand of the people to solve the issue with an official binding referendum on independence. To listen to the people. Spain did everything in its power to stop the referendum – including police and judicial intimidation and threats, confiscation of ballot materials and information, internet and press censorship without warrants, and finally direct police brutality against non-violent voters witnessed by the whole world on October 1 – but the Catalan people stood up for themselves and massively voted anyway.
Even after 90 percent of the voters said yes to independence, the Spanish government still refused to even question why, opting instead to misuse an article in its Constitution to wrongly dissolve the democratically elected Catalan Parliament and depose its elected leaders. They won support from another ambitious unionist party in order to bolster their paltry eight percent representation of Catalan voters by improperly calling immediate snap elections in Catalonia in an effort to take over the Catalan Parliament. 
Pro-secessionist supporters react to the election results during a Catalan National Assembly (ANC) gathering in Barcelona on December 21, 2017. /VCG Photo

Pro-secessionist supporters react to the election results during a Catalan National Assembly (ANC) gathering in Barcelona on December 21, 2017. /VCG Photo

However, despite control of the Spanish media, massive funding of unionist parties, and the imprisonment and forced exile of Catalonia's principal political leaders, Spain's unionists were still unable to convince Catalan voters to give them a majority in those December 21 elections. And they have been particularly sore losers. Instead of conceding to the will of the people, they have insisted on depriving the elected members of parliament the right to participate in debates and in threatening the chosen president with arrest if he returns to Catalonia. It is telling that convicted Basque terrorists were permitted to attend their parliamentary sessions, but non-violent Catalans are not.
On January 17, as the new Catalan parliamentary session opens, Catalan pro-independence activists will continue to insist on negotiation. They will point to their consistent victories in elections, and indeed growth in number of votes over the past ten years as proof that a solution must be found in a democratic fashion. They do not wish to found their new country on bloodshed, even if it is all one-sided, coming from the state. But there is no one to negotiate with. Spain refuses to listen, and by so doing, creates and indeed exacerbates the very conflict which it says it wishes did not exist.
The question that must be answered in Catalonia is whether or not the world believes in democracy and political representation at all or if maintaining the status quo and the current distribution of power trumps all else. Spain has charged Catalonia's strictly non-violent independence leaders with sedition and rebellion – that is, the violent overthrow of the government – despite explicitly recognizing that those leaders have committed no violence nor asked others to commit any. The only violence has come from Spanish police forces.
When a people peacefully mobilizes for change, elects a majority in the Parliament, demands a referendum, and expresses its will in that referendum, this is democracy, not violence. Conversely, if a people is not allowed to democratically express its will, if it is not represented politically, if its state would rather beat its voters rather than listen to its grievances, then there is no democracy, no consent of the governed, and no possible future.
(Liz Castro is an expert on the Catalan independence movement and has written several books. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the view of CGTN.)