While the priority for Spain right now is, as King Felipe VI clearly stated, to defend its Constitution, its democracy, and its national unity from assault by Catalan separatists, this does not mean that the Constitution should be exempt from scrutiny and reconsideration. Indeed, it’s important to recognize that the very Constitution that enshrines Spain’s national unity and democratic form of government also contains within it a fatal flaw. This flaw is the seed of the grave existential crisis Spain is currently facing.
The problem is not the fact that the Constitution significantly decentralized Spain. Rather, the flaw is in how the Constitution decentralized Spain — particularly, in one specific term it employed: nationalities.
Article 2 of the Constitution states,
“The Constitution is founded upon the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible fatherland of all Spaniards, and recognizes and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that make it up and the solidarity among all of them.”
At least one man foresaw the future problems this presented for Spain: José Utrera Molina, whom we’ve discussed on this blog before. What follows is my translation of an article Utrera Molina wrote for the Spanish newspaper ABC in 1978, as the Constitution was being debated. Recently, Utrera’s son — Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina Gómez — reprinted this article on his blog Arriba — a blog that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in Francisco Franco, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the Falange, and their legacy. That is how I learned of the article. I was so impressed with the article that, with Luis Felipe’s permission, I have translated it into English and posted it here.
Before we get to the article itself, however, allow me to translate Luis Felipe’s brief introduction to his father’s prescient article:
“In the face of the grave hour Spain is facing, with its national unity at risk, I recover the article my father published on June 22, 1978, in ABC. The Constitution — specifically, Title VIII of the Constitution — was being drafted. Read today, the article — which was criticized as alarmist and was the first article in ABC to carry a disclaimer from the editors disassociating themselves from its content — is chillingly prophetic. In 1978, my father warned his countrymen about the flaws of the Constitution, and he continued to do so for as long as God gave him life. One did not need to be a visionary to see what my father saw. One needed only to be decent and honorable, which the vast majority of politicians during the transition to democracy were not.
Culpable Silence, by José Utrera Molina
There are clean, serene, and honorable silences, and there are, on the other hand, devious, dark, and servile silences. There are clear silences, such as the silence Maragall imparted to the souls of his shepherds. Respectful, emotional silences. But there are also somber and culpable silences, silences of the soul, scandalous silences that are capable — in and of themselves — of destroying the purpose of an entire lifetime and of disproving the sincerity of many loyalties that only yesterday — in pleasant comfort, without the presence of menacing adversaries — were proclaimed loudly.
Silence at a time like this constitutes not only completely disassociating oneself from a past that, in some sense, honorably places obligations upon us, but also fleeing from the demands of the present and turning one’s back on the challenges of the future. The old philosopher Lao Tse is credited with a saying as significant as it is piercing: “The gravest ailments of man’s heart, he wrote, are the pain of indifference and the silence of cowardice.”
I believe there are many Spaniards who, while lacking the inclination to prognosticate catastrophe, agree that the moments our nation lives today are grave and fateful.
The Spanish Constitution is currently being drafted. Within the Parliamentary Commission constituted for this purpose, its provisions have been passed amid thunderous silences, rather than the great national debate that was predicted and hoped for. The consequence is that not only does the Constitution arouse no enthusiasm — which would, perhaps, be a good thing, the era of romantic constitutionalism being fortunately over — but it is actually drowning our people in confusion and perplexity, for the Constitution contains within it shady ambiguities, which, in exchange for opportunistic consensuses today, announce latent clashes of tomorrow.
Many grave questions have been deferred for a more or less audacious interpretation by future Governments and legislators. I will not discuss here such issues as divorce, freedom of education, the structure of judicial power, and others that have been enunciated. At this time, though, there is one matter that particularly hurts, worries, angers, and unnerves me as a Spaniard: The suspicion that this Constitution might prove to be the instrument by which something as substantive as our very national identity could be liquidated. To attack our national identity is an unpardonable crime. It constitutes treason against our very historical nature. I believe that Spanish essentiality should always remain apart from, and above, partisan and ideological differences.
A Constitution can only be justified as an attempt to secure concord among a people. A Constitution must not be the source of antagonisms and confrontations. A Constitution must be endowed with a true synchronism and, in its current draft, I do not see an authentically conciliatory confluence. The existing juridical norm [Ed., the Fundamental Laws of the Realm, the basic laws of Spain from 1938 until 1978] has nothing to do with the “consensus” represented by the Constitution currently being drafted. While the former is founded upon those principles — few, perhaps, but indispensable — that necessarily define our national character and desire for a common project for the future, beyond the opinions of political parties, the latter is founded upon ambiguity and on the political transvestism of words that are capable, with their equivocal garb, of encompassing the most scandalous sex changes. The proposed Constitution does not exalt diversity, but rather a puzzle. It does not seek necessary decentralization, but rather a cheap mosaic. We are witnessing an embezzlement of our historical patrimony.
Such is the case of the term “nationalities” — a veritable time bomb, planted, consciously or unconsciously, under the waterline of our national unity by the peddlers of false consensus.
It is not my intention to enter into semantic or historical disquisitions. This has been done, and I trust will continue to be done, by people much more qualified to do so than I. My point is simply that as a politician — and, indeed, as a Spaniard — I cannot see in that term anything other than a hidden opportunity for future mischief, which will be legally protected by the term’s constitutional recognition.
Those who claim that the issue of whether the term “nationalities” belongs in the constitution is a mere terminological question either do not have a keen political sensibility, lack a sense of History, or are not acting in good faith. In politics there are no innocuous words. Words are used to mobilize feelings. The term “nationality” implies a nation or a State. Someone recently claimed that “Catalonia is the stateless nation in Europe that has best managed to preserve its identity.” It is very difficult, if not impossible, not to see in this statement a critique of a “deprivation of essence,” which needs to “be filled so that it can achieve its perfection.” This statement, then, epitomizes a subtle persuasion campaign aimed at one day generating a mass demand for an independent state — an eventuality to which the unstoppable dynamic of the concept of nationality will lead, if ably managed. The proposed cantonalism [Ed., a word play on the various cantons, or states, of Switzerland] will generate hostility among neighbors, provincial stife, and the dissipation of our common heritage. The artificial breakup of Spain is being engineered — and, what’s more, without explaining to the people what the taifas [Ed., a reference to the various kingdoms into which the Caliphate of Córdoba splintered in 1031] will cost them. Some seek to balkanize what is united, bargaining away centuries of history. While others are working hard to join together the diverse, some here are trying to break up what has already been joined together. In an age in which we dream of a united Europe, here in Spain it seems as if some people would like to introduce interior passports that we would have to show each time we entered a different region.
In the face of this dangerous ambiguity, we must affirm — once and a thousand times — that the Spanish nation is one and cannot, therefore, be subdivided into nationalities. Centuries ago, Spain forged a new form of human community, based on a geographical, cultural, and historical reality. It was a modern discovery, with a sense of universality. To change the course of history by embedding in the new Constitution stimuli for fragmentation is much more than a colossal blunder. It is to encourage today the treason of tomorrow, and I move to deny my act of faith in a Constitution that begins with this threat.
I believe that we should strengthen our regions, that we should decentralize the state to the hilt, and that we should harmonize unity and diversity. But I also believe that nobody has the right to shatter our national unity, because that would mean the hijacking of Spain’s freedom and the painful mortgaging of its destiny.
In closing, let me say that I think there are those who are entitled to their silence; there are those who cannot, in any way, be offended by their mutism; there are those who are able to be quiet with humility and composure, and there are, also, those whose silences are frozen because death took them before they could have learned of this latest possible misadventure. But I believe those who yesterday repeated unto aphonia, from notorious public tribunes, invocations of the indivisibility of Spain, those who made use of a cheap rhetoric of unity, those who explained their heroic deeds to those of us who, by reason of age, never knew wars or trenches, are not entitled to silence. They might, perhaps, suffer the pain of indifference, in which case they are worthy of compassion and of pity, but if they choose to remain silent out of fear or if they hide themselves in the interest of convenience and personal gain, they will not find in others any possible justification and, of course, they themselves will not be able to redeem themselves from the intimate drama of their self-deprecation.
To remain silent when the unity of Spain is in danger would be the worst of cowardices. I, for one, cannot do other than add my voice to those that, with scandal and alarm, are being raised against the clear risk of losing it. Let it be known that not all Spaniards agreed to end up without a Fatherland.