In English Voices From Spain

Catalonia, offence and despair

Published originally in Spanish. José Andrés Rojo. El País

Taking the demands of independence outside to the streets has loaded the debate with emotion rather than clear arguments

When you don’t know what’s happening it’s hard to communicate, everything gets complicated, anxiety rises, suspicions grow. It happened a few days ago in the Catalan Parliament. President Carles Puigdemont gave a solemn speech on the tug-of-war between Catalonia and the rest of Spain and concluded that the relationship just won’t work. After summing up the events of the last few years, he explained that he was assuming ‘the mandate to make Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic’ and, immediately afterwards, suspended the effects of his own declaration, hoping to find mediators to come tidy up the mess. But that wasn’t all. A while later, the pro-independence forces, with great pomposity, stepped up one by one to sign a piece of paper establishing the Catalan republic.

Assume, declare, suspend, establish. Speeches, signatures, explanations. And a whole lot of noise among experts who pontificate, suspect, warn, suggest, reject, approve, regret, maintain. That’s politics –some might say–, that’s a man, that’s a gesture. In a matter of seconds, the group of Catalans waiting outside on the street for the signal to start celebrating went from elation to absolute shock. What really happened there? And how can we explain it?

Democracy is an artifice. A collection of institutions, procedures, norms, rules of the game. Transparency and record-keeping, as some demanded a long time ago, to make it workable out in the open and call each thing by its right name. To know where we stand. On 6 and 7 September, and also this week, the pro-independence forces turned the Catalan Parliament into something different. A big racket. A big show. Not much clarity.

The secessionists thus decided to do away with the formal framework that allows all views to be expressed, and finally took the political conflict outside to the street, where there’s no room for nuance and emotion quickly draws battle lines between my guys and the other’s. There’s no room there for the word of an individual, who might demand accountability — there’s only the authority of the crowd. And the crowd mobilizes in response to offences, not to arguments.

For the last few weeks, and with very few exceptions, Spaniards (Catalans included, whether or not they support independence) have done nothing but brood. Up and down, here and there, look at this, look at that. The horror. Because when offence prevails, it feels like there are no words capable of helping.

What we have left is despair. It’s captured well in Josep Llimona’s sculpture in front of the Catalan Parliament, which La Vanguardia put on its front page last Tuesday. There’s a copy in room 60A of the Prado museum. You see the beautiful body of the woman hiding her affliction under her mane of hair and only then do you understand how much we’ll have to rebuild. And things can still get worse.


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