Oct 03, 2017

In light of Catalan Referendum, UNPO Remembers Speech Delivered by Jose-Maria Terricabras MEP at UNPO’s XIIII General Assembly

On 18 July 2017, on the occasion of UNPO’s XIII General Assembly, MEP Josep Maria Terricabras delivered a passionate speech on the nations’ right to self- determination. Leaning on his experience as a philosopher and representative of Catalonia, he stressed the importance of the right of a nation to recognize its identity. 

Mr Terricabras compares the nature of a nation to that of a human to express that a nations evolvement is only natural: ”a nation changes as a particular (uniquely) as an individual changes.” As a nation changes and evolves, he argues, it should be its right to put forth any decision that reflect its identity; in this way, a referendum for Catalonia would reflect its unique identity. Mr Terricabras emphasizes that denying a nation a vote is not just to deny its identity but also to disrespect the very ideals of democracy.  He goes on to point the dangers in following such suite “ in the future, are we going to only accept new countries just after war, after a violent struggle, after we have provoked deaths, is this the only way? Or we can do it in a peaceful and even friendly way.”

As the right to self-determination continues to be a contested issue among politicians and within the international community, Mr Josep-Maria Terricabras’ ideas should enlighten the debate ahead of the historical referendum on 1 October 2017. After all, he states, “that is the importance of democracy: although we might not agree with each other, we try to live together.”


Read below the full transcription of MEP Josep-Maria Terricabras on the occasion of UNPO’s XIIII General Assembly:

Mr Boladai, dear friends thank you very much for inviting me to this very nice and fortunate meeting. As the co-chair of intergroup for transnational minorities national communities and languages, I had the honor of receiving you in the European parliament some months ago. The board came there and explained the projects, issue and realities of UNPO and that was an important meeting. Today it is again my honor and my pleasure to be with you in the opening of this general assembly.


As a Catalunya MEP and even as a former professor of philosophy at the University of Girona – I would like to refer to two important concepts, the idea of self determination and of a nation.  I will be brief; don’t be afraid, since I am not a usual philosopher. Well you see I am not a Platoist, I do not follow the great philosopher Plato – so I do not agree that there is a stipulation between individuals and the state. Plato thinks that the State is like an individual but an especially prestigious one. I don’t agree. There is a point in what Plato says, that individuals and states and other orientations are subjects. This is important because we know that we don’t except just subjects and individuals but also NGO’s and institutions and States, etc. That is the important point. 


I know and you probably know that in the EU the word nation sometimes gets looked at with negative connotation because they still think of it in the way it was used in German nationalism in the thirties. It was very nice that he (had) mentioned that a referendum is tricky. Well of course they are – they are – everything is tricky in this world. Probably mainly because language is tricky and we are language, we are language. And we do everything not just with language but in language through language and in that sense mom and dad can simultaneously be both the most difficult people and the most excellent people within the family.


Everything is tricky everything can have a very proper and nice use, nations too. If we understand nations in the sense that a nation is a group of people who feel at home when they are together and who try to identify themselves through common history, common language, and common institutions. This is what defines nation, though I would say if you allow me I would be extremely prudent when we talk about identity. I do think that many times identity is used in an essentialist way, which is very confusing and very tricky really. When some people think my country has an identity which is rigid and scheduled, well goodness no, everything changes, everything changes. What is my identity? When I look at pictures when I was 10 – I was very different I promise – I had some hair I promise. I thought differently, I spoke differently, lived differently, etc. But the important point is that now so many years after my 10th anniversary I am not identical with that guy, but I am the same person. That is extremely important. Because to be the same doesn’t means to be identical – you can recognize yourself as being aligned with that [person] as being the one who has memories who has sins who has everything connected with that past. Probably and so I hope that I will [continue to] change in the next lets say 50 years. So that in 50 years I can say –I can repeat and say that I am not identical with Terricabras when he was 60 or 65, no but nevertheless I am the same. And that’s important even more for countries and groups and nations than humans. In a nation we are not just identical - but we belong to a group.


That’s why I prefer, I don’t insist in political words – you can say we have identity if you wish to say so –  I don’t object. But I prefer to use another word and not to speak about identity and nations but about identification. We identify with ourselves [and] with others who belong to our group.  Even if they think politically that we are just in relation and think differently than I think nevertheless we have some kind of important identification. That is what constitutes a nation, a free nation an open nation which can accept new people coming from abroad and from different countries in the world and they are at home when they arrive and there is not problem [because of] the color of the skin or the religion they have. Many of our old co-citizens perhaps leave now because they don’t like or they don’t feel now that they are with us  [symbolically] –they don’t identify themselves with the group, which was their group 30 years ago. A nation changes as a particular [uniquely] as an individual changes. That’s why it is important to understand what a nation is because in a democratic society no one can prevent a nation make a decision on its own. No one. As no one can prevent a young boy or young girl when they are 18  or 16 to take decision on their own.


Well I suppose you can try to – we tried to with my children. Don’t come back after midnight [we said]… and they came, after midnight. Well [I suppose] I can say something, I can complain, I can do everything but they have the right to take their own decisions even if I don’t like them. That is the importance of democracy. That is the importance that although we don’t agree we try to live together. If we just agreed to live together when we agreed with others. In the end we would not even be able to live together with ourselves because, we have to accept differences. That is extremely important hat we are capable of identifying ourselves in very big issues with those who lives with us. This is our present struggle if you allow me in Catalonia. In defending our rights to self-determination we are defending what ever it may be be the final result of the struggle, the right to self-determination of all nations in the world. We defended the idea that people can self-determine their future.


For those who do know exactly what is happening in Europe or the European union. Our project like the Scottish project are a bit different from the past projects now in the European union we have just now countries that just came from abroad from outside – they jumped the European union and now the Scottish people and some Catalan people try to produce what’s called the internal enlargement, we are not coming through, [rather] we are inside. Sometimes those who are against us will say we won’t be accepted by the European union. Yet, the European union has already accepted us – [we] have the European union. What we have to organize is how to manage this in case of proclaiming independence but we are in. That is a different thing, which is extremely important. The point is are we going to accept in the future new countries just after war, after violent struggle, after we have provoked deaths, this is the only way? Or we can do it in a peaceful and even friendly way. Can we do that – in Catalonia we are asking for a referendum – which is tricky but it is trickier to not let people vote. It’s absolutely terrible in a democracy. We are asking the state not for independence but for a vote. We will see what happens when we vote. In Scotland they didn’t succeed, are Scottish friends with [their] independence. They tried but they didn’t succeed. This can happen to us. I know that and I understand that but what is not understandable is to not be given the right to decide our conflicts in a democratic way. That is not understandable.


A democratic way is to have a vote and yet some say a vote divides society. Well that argument is difficult because if you say a vote divides society, well then you are probably asking for an election instead because when we have an option we [rather] vote. We have not asking for privilege. No but for a right. For a most fundamental right, the right to tell to others who we are, who we want to be. And that is the right individual of each group and each nation.