sábado, 7 de diciembre de 2013

On the Right to Decide

If a concept has become successful in Catalonia in recent times that is, without a doubt, the "right to decide”. The reasons for such success are easy to deduce: everybody loves to have rights -duties are a more problematic issue- and it is something that seems incontestable because the person who dares question it will be immediately charged with being a poor democrat. And it is only from that position that the rights of a people can be denied.
According to supporters of the "right to decide", this must be specified by means of a consultation on something as vague as "the future of Catalonia" and, although much of the population understood it to refer to secession, the fact is that, so far, no one has ever come down to what citizens are exactly entitled to decide. For this reason, many people believe that it is just a euphemism - something which, incidentally, is not that "simple" as a euphemism created by a government often involves some abuse of power- though, to the extent of our knowledge, it is something much more complex as this article attempts to prove.
            However, the truth is that it is not particularly clear concept, as we will try to show. To do this, we shall first look at whether it really is a right, then we will consider the syntactic doubts posed by the noun phrase "right to decide" and finally we will challenge what we can decide on.

Is it a right?

This concept has more to do with political propaganda than with legal validity. The only thing that legally represents the "right to choose" is direct democracy, that is, citizens can decide on any matter directly and not through their representatives, as it is the case in our representative democracy. It seems obvious that this is not the most effective decision -making means and that, in any event, not the one pursued by Catalan politicians. For there to be a right has to be a rule, so the rule is previous to the law and, as there is no rule about it, the so-called "right to choose" is not a right and we are expected to believe. This can be challenged, obviously, by supporters of iusnaturalism but the positioning of this text is from positive law.
The fact that it is not a right proper seems to be no obstacle to the Catalan politicians that oppose legitimacy and legality too easily Again this is one of those statements people like so much because there is nothing more beautiful than the idea of ​​the will of a people against something as prosaic as laws. Well, we should not forget that if we live under the rule of law which guarantees, for example, protection of minorities, it is thanks to laws. Moreover, when one contrasts legality and legitimacy one is denying legitimacy on the other side. Why is the view of those who intend to ignore the Spanish Constitution more legitimate than that of those who wish to abide by it?

To decide what?
Here, then, the linguistic problems stemming from the expression  “right to decide" . "To Decide" is a transitive verb so it must necessarily be followed by a direct object to complete its meaning and, in this case, it does not appear anywhere.  Syntax  underlies all languages and what is a subject in Catalan is so in Lithuanian and what is an indirect object or dative in Sanskrit is so in, say , English or Swedish as, except in rare cases, the nature of a verb remains the same in all languages. In the case of Catalan and Spanish it can be argued that it is an absolute use of the verb "decide " -hence some linguists prefer to name them “transitive phrases” rather than “transitive verbs” like the ones we would find in sentences like "you always decide" but, in the example under study, it is important to identify the direct object because it is not as obvious as they would have us believe. So my first question is how this phrase can be translated into the most spoken languages ​​in Europe. If we search "right to choose" in google.co.uk, it only appears in three international media -the rest are texts produced by Catalan institutions or bodies-, one is from Scotland, another belongs to the Australian Green Party and the third from, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, which, as it implies, is an international Socialist web . In all three instances, the essential direct object is added: "its future" in the first and "future " in the other two .
Let us consider now what happens in French, a language so close to Catalan and Spanish. I asked Henry Laguérie, a French journalist based in Barcelona how the "right to choose" could translate into French and his answer was: <<There is no exact translation. It could be "le droit d'autodétermination">>. As a result I was set on to look for the word-by-word translation is, "droit de décider" and, as in the previous case, appearances are minimal. It appeared in a French Catholic newspaper, La Croix, which in an entry of November 25, 2012 put the concept in its headlines but, of course, conveniently quoted and annotating "des Catalans". It also appeared in Le Journal de Montréal, this time without inverted commas and in the opinion section.
Finally, to see how it translates into German and the German journalist named Lukas Grasberger was interviewed and his answer was : <<The "right to decide" does not exist. There is the "right to self-determination", a clear legal thing that is understood. I guess they have purposely chosen an obscure expression to avoid the consequences. With the incomplete phrase "right to decide", from a grammatical view, each speaker in Germany would wonder: to decide on what? >>. The direct object again. The nature of the verb is really stubborn.
Grasberger's opinion is logical. Having rights is very nice and everyone likes deciding on things, so who would give up such a privilege? But of course, the lack of concretion in meaning allows room for everyone to understand as they wish. While many assume that what is going to be decided upon is whether or not Catalonia will become independent, Núria de Gispert, Chair of the Catalan Parliament, said in July that the questions could be many: " Do you want to reach an economic agreement? Would you like nobody interfering ever again with our competencies? Do you wish to have a voice of our own in Europe? Do you want Catalonia to become independent? Do you want a separate state ? "http://www.elpuntavui.cat/ma/article/3-politica/17-politica/660526-de-gispert-creu-que-la-consulta-pot-tenir-moltes-possibles-preguntes.html  It is at least curious that all questions have to do with the outside and there is not even one related to Catalan policies proper.
Of course, such multiplicity is totally against the clarity of the question as it is pointed out by the Canadian "Clarity Act" from 2000 or the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (2002) by the Venice Commission. So why was such a misleading phrase chosen?
"Right to choose" came into use in 2003 in the Basque Country, in the so-called  "Ibarretxe Plan". Neither this autonomous region nor Catalonia are colonies, or suffer a dictatorship nor oppressed peoples -although one might think quite the opposite after reading the arguments put forward by certain political parties- so they can not claim their right to self-determination and hence there was the need for such neologism in the Nationalist jargon . According to official propaganda, this is a cry coming from the people, and therefore good democrats must respond to it. Yet in 2006 the Plataforma pel Dret a Decidir was started (PDD) with funds from the Generalitat. Six years later, the UNESCO Centre in Catalonia (Unescocat is more closely linked to the Catalan Government, which heavily subsidized it, than with UNESCO itself) published a report entitled Del derecho a la autodeterminación al derecho a decidir. Un posible cambio de paradigma en la reivindicación de los derechos de las naciones sin estado http://www.unescocat.org/fitxer/3373/QR4%20okxweb.pdf. This document called for the replacement of "right to self-determination" for the "right to choose." The report was signed by Jaume Lopez Hernádez, who also was one of the founding fathers and president of the PDD. So "right to choose" is a neologism created from the power-and not by the spontaneous will of the people, to ignore international law, which is not used in any other country and which is not included in any international legality. The document further puts forward some " proposals for action" to be followed by Nationalist parties and organizations. Such proposals are aimed at detaching "the right to decide"-deemed a sovereignty claim- from the "right to self-determination". Thus, according to the author, the "right to choose" is based on a principle of "democratic radicalism" rather than on a call for independence.

Do we have the right to decide?

Finally, as Artur Mas noted on June 6 this year , if the referendum – which is quite complicated under existing law , it would not be binding, so rather than "decide " we should say "to give one's opinion " . Let us recall that , according to an agreement of its advocates, the " right to decide " should materialize in a consultation which we have been talking about for over a year but without specifying any question , as illustrated by Núria de Gispert approach discussed above .

We are therefore faced with a right that is not such, before an absolutely ill-defined scope for decision. And to make matters worse, one can not actually decide on anything but just express one's opinion. And yet, for the sake of such noun phrase  commissions are created, agreements are reached and even concerts, along with other recreational events are held. Maybe it's time to start calling things by their name and change the irrelevant "right to decide" for "consultation on secession ". In fact, if there are still doubts about the nature of this invention, it is interesting to hear the words of Agustí Colomines former director of the CDC’s Catdem Foundation, "the right to decide is bullshit that we made up. It is the right to self-determination". In the video one can also see how some of the people present, among them Carme Forcadell, Chair of Assemblea Nacional Catalana, encourage him and subscribe to his words. Very enlightening. http://societat.e-noticies.cat/el-dret-a-decidir-es-una-ximpleria-que-ens-vam-inventar-79069.html

Sonia Sierra

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