This week, Catalonia's determination to do the impossible has finally reached parliament, with a vote by a majority of the MPs in favour of a resolution which marks the "start of the process to create an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic".
The resolution declares its democratic mandate, initiates drafting of a Catalan Constitution whilst calling on the future Catalan Government to implement the resolution. It calls for relevant laws to be issued within 30 days and declares it is not subject to decisions of institutions of the Spanish State, including the Constitutional Court. It also underscores it will continue to act democratically and peacefully while it urges future Catalan governments to follow only dictates from Catalan Parliament. It also declares its intention to begin negotiations with the Spanish State, EU and international community.
Normally such a resolution might be considered the hard part. Catalans are defying a powerful Spanish state which responded by summoning all the major parties in Spain to Madrid except those in favour of independence, not to find a solution, but rather to form a bunker around "sacred" Spanish unity.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy quickly consulted his Council of State (whose president was a minister under Franco) which surprised no one when it recommended challenging the resolution in Spain's Constitutional Court. The court, which took four years to rule on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy suspended the resolution in less than 24 hours and threatened to remove and jail any political leader who attempted to put it into practice.
Taking the reins of one's political sovereignty politically and democratically is a 21st century revolution that will have huge ramifications throughout the world. But in fact, the hardest part is yet to come. The two pro-independence groups in the Catalan parliament have agreed on the objective and the methods but not yet on the government to implement each of its points. While this may make some sense to those within the 'yolk of the egg' as they say here, it is incomprehensible to anyone outside. It looks like chaos. It is not.
Let me explain. Catalans are terrified of disunity. The spectre of the Spanish Civil War, in which the left and pro-Catalonia parties splintered into warring factions so eloquently described in George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia, is ever present. "If you have three Catalans, you'll get four opinions," I'm often told, with a wistful sigh. This fear sometimes translates to despondency. "We're going to lose again, we can never get our act together, we always back down." And it sometimes leads to shrill calls for brash actions. "We have to put on the pressure, we have to apply force."
But we have to remember that the other side of the coin of 'disunity' is 'diversity'. This is no monolithic movement with a single voice silencing all others. It is multi-faceted, broad, and inclusive. This is where it gets its strength and its legitimacy and where it disproves accusations of lock-step nationalism. And this is what makes it so powerful but it is also what makes it so slow.
Managing that multiplicity is the tricky part. We have an 'establishment' coalition (Junts pel sí) of seasoned bureaucrats and politicians who want to move forward toward an incredibly difficult objective without rocking the boat, and up until Monday, without even breaking Spanish law, and a popular movement (CUP) that wants to give voice to the people in order to challenge the entrenched system and root out the corruption embedded within in order to represent everyone, not just the elites.
The former, insist on maintaining their candidate, the latter on refusing him. And there are larger differences. The CUP does not want to govern, has refused to become part of the government and indeed, does not have governing as part of its objective. It makes decisions by assembly, which sometimes take weeks to organise. Consensus building takes time and patience.
One of the reasons that independence was able to gain such a broad following was because the grass roots independence movements insisted on being non-partisan. They knew, and continue to know, that the parties have their own interests, and that it is complicated to balance those interests with creating a new country. The major parties have a responsibility to keep the government running. And how do you keep the government running if you're trying to change tracks, engineers, and wagons? Especially when your fuel supply is controlled by Madrid?
But in any entrenched conflict, the answer is not to push harder, but to step back, if for just a moment. If you are trying to unravel a ball of yarn, it is gently opening the knots, not tugging on them, that will yield results. If you must convince a recalcitrant teenager, it is leaving a space and not imposing a parent's will that often brings success. Forcing the situation is more likely to break it. By passing Resolution I/XI as the first order of business in the newly-elected parliament, both coalitions have made clear that independence is their first priority. They know that they have a democratic mandate from the people to move forward. Now it is time for them to work out how to get there. Do not be surprised if it takes a couple of weeks.
It might be that the best advice circulating in Catalan political groups these days comes from World War II era Great Britain. In 2013, after the Spanish Education Minister confessed his wish to "hispanicize Catalan schoolchildren", internet guru Josep Maria Ganyet replied on Twitter with the now famous: "Keep Calm and Speak Catalan", whose abbreviated hashtag "#KeepCalm" is now the slogan for Catalan independence. Never more so than today.