When in 1972 Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution, he replied: “Too early to say.”
Although history is happening all around us all the time, it’s not often we realise it. We are naturally caught up in our day-to-day existences, and we can feel we have no choice but to leave a lot of the big issues to others. In fact, that is the basis of our political system, in which we actively participate every few years by turning out to vote, and the rest of the time we have representatives (supposedly) taking care of our political interests for us.
However, sometimes things happen that are so momentous that we cannot just remain on the sidelines. An example is last year’s bid for independence, which began with the referendum on October 1 (see our remembrance of that day on pages 20 and 21), which was followed by those days of hope, expectation and uncertainty that ended in the Catalan parliament making a declaration of independence, the imposition of direct rule from Madrid, and then political leaders going into exile or being sent to prison.
It is now a year since that momentous autumn and it could be a good time to take stock of where we stand now. Or maybe not. To me it feels like we will only really be able to do that much later, when the historical events that began last year have run their course. It reminds me of that quote attributed to Chinese premier Zhou Enlai who when asked in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution, replied: “Too early to say.” It feels as if we are still in the middle of it, that this story is not yet over, and how things might turn out is anybody’s guess.
When I started this column, the temptation was to give my take on the independence process and perhaps make some sort of prediction about how I see things going in the future. But a couple of sentences in, I realised that would not be a good idea, because while I can make something up, I really have no idea how this is going to play out.
And to be honest, I’m quite happy with that. The whole thing has been a fascinating experience to both watch and participate in, and I somehow just feel privileged in a way to feel history unfolding around all of us.
In this issue of the magazine, we also have an interview with international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson (pages 42 and 43). The man who is leading the defence of political leaders before the UN’s human rights court shares his thoughts on how he sees the process developing, and he is in a good position to make an educated guess. His take is interesting, but it is just that, an educated guess.
I could make a guess here, too, and you could either accept it or reject it. But I’ve changed my mind, I’ll make no guesses, no predictions, I’ll just encourage you to keep watching this space, as it were, because we are in for a rollercoaster ride as history carries us along. Where it will deposit us, we don’t yet know, but that is one of the best things about life .