Catalan separatists besmirched democracy on Sunday. Now that the sad election spectacle is over, it's time the region came to its senses again, says DW's Carlos Delgado.
It was meant to be a process allowing Catalan citizens to participate in determining what they wanted. At least that's how the instigators of the independence project presented the '9-N 'referendum on November 9. What was intended to be an exercise in the freedom of opinion turned into a flash mob orchestrated by the separatists, a collective role play in which everyone pretended they were voting.
Suspended by the Constitutional Court, the referendum had lost all democratic legitimacy. The lack of legal guarantees and voters' lists and the fact that Fred Flintstone and SpongeBob could have registered to vote once, twice or as often as they wanted, shows that the symbolic ballot didn't even fulfill the most basic requirements allowing it to guarantee a representative result - all the more so because those Catalans who adhered to the law, including the majority of non-nationalists, didn't vote in the first place.
Don't toy with elections
What appeared to be a joke was ultimately no laughing matter. It's clear that elections are a pillar of every democracy, and pantomiming elections perverts them. The fervor with which regional government head Artur Mas and the Catalan nationalists pushed to hold a referendum contrary to democratic laws turned out to be a great mistake that has harmed the reputation of Catalonia and all of Spain - presenting a pitiful picture abroad.
At this point, the supporters of independence knew that the 9-N was no longer a referendum but a militant act in the public eye. Would the Spanish state dare prevent the 'great democratic festival' in Catalonia by force? Recently Joan Rigol, the coordinator of the separatists' platform, warned in an interview with "El Pais" newspaper: "They know that everything can turn against them if they go too far. A police officer confiscating a ballot box would make a bad impression."
In the end, the state didn't play along. No one acted recklessly, and no one fueled the flames. The flash mob simply dissolved and everyone went home.
November 10 is the date to begin considering the Catalan question rationally. Now that the separatists have had their spectacle and the Rajoy government's image hasn't suffered, the moment has come to negotiate in peace and quiet. Spain's prime minister has already expressed a desire to speak to Artur Mas, who, in turn, indicated he would write Rajoy a letter in order to kickstart a political dialogue stalled for months. If the two don't hide behind their positions once again, they might be able to explore the possibilities, such as constitutional reform aiming at a federal model and a reform of Catalonia's autonomous status.
Mas' letter to Rajoy, however, might just contain more of the same: namely, demands for a binding referendum on independence. Mas shouldn't make the same mistake twice and try to negotiate maximum demands with the state. If you confront a state with "all or nothing," the answer will be: "nothing."