In English Voices From Spain

State of exception

On September 6 and 7, as I was watching in amazement the sessions of the Catalan Parliament in which the attempt to legitimize a new and improvised legality was staged, I recalled a reflection by Elias Canetti in his Notes, written in London in 1942, when Great Britain was resisting Hitler’s breakthrough throughout Europe: «Whenever the English have a bad time, I feel a sense of admiration for their Parliament. It is like a shining soul and sound, a representative model in which what would otherwise remain secret developes in plain sight”. Canetti’s admiration for the undeniable survival of British parliamentary life, even in one of the darkest periods of his history, was the opposite to the shame and humiliation that I felt at that moment as a citizen of Barcelona, ​​seeing live how my rights of representation were violated in an act conducted by a president with a totalitarian vocation and in connivance with an absolutist majority.

Those two days in Parliament were the serpent’s egg of what we are experiencing in Catalonia from that moment on and we do not know how it will end, if it ever ends. There the battle was staged: the one that is being fought -not only in Catalonia but throughout Europe- between representative democracy and an alleged democracy based on plebiscites, of which we know nothing, except that it wants to establish a republic of good people. The abstraction of the people -the Volksgeist- has been placed above the legislative power and the judiciary, with an executive who acts as a visionary oracle of the demotic will. Under Article 155 of the Constitution, Rajoy has taken measures to the Senate in order to restore constitutional order. While we are yet to know exactly how these measures will be implemented, the citizens of Catalonia are living in a real state of exception, shaken between a promulgated and suspended but threatening legality, and another legality, in force and constitutional but still in process. We should remember that, immediately after coming to power, on February 28, 1933, Hitler proclaimed the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State that suspended the Weimar Constitution -a decree that was never revoked and which governed in Germany the state of exception for 12 years.

That exceptionality has now been transferred to the street, where the voices of Parliament have been replaced by the unanimous clamor of a «mass of harassment» -the phrase is again Canetti’s-, directed and spurred by the ANC and Òmnium Cultural , the two associations that are trying to stage the farce of an «oppressed people» against a «repressive state.» The operation is an absolute moral perversion. A political oligarchy that has been governing Catalonia for 40 years disguises, with the theatrical help of the CUP, as a marginalized people and, armed with a phenomenal propaganda apparatus which includes public television, radio and school, seeks to put in check the rule of law. The Nazi jurists spoke openly of a gewollte Ausnahmezustand, a deliberate state of exception, in order to establish the National Socialist state. Giorgio Agamben, the philosopher who has studied with more ambiguity and rigor the phenomenon of the state of emergency as one of the practices of contemporary states -the «provisional abolition of the distinction between legislative, executive and judicial powers»- wrote that the state of exception is presented as «a threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism,» exactly what Puigdemont is instituting in the name of democracy, freedom and human rights.

In Catalonia, nationalism remained for many years as something apparently symbolic, but in fact it was becoming real below the folklore. And we have seen it these days, in a tragic way, in schools. A friend told me that the principal of his children’s school had received a proposition to take the students -nine-year-olds- to the streets, with their hands painted white to protest against the police intervention on October 1. He called me recently to lament that at his nephews’ school children were forced to maintain five minutes of silence for the legitimate incarceration of Messrs. Sànchez and Cuixart. As Hannah Arendt put it, this is about about the unforgivable destruction of school as an intermediary statute, between family life and public life, the pause of education and thought that precedes every responsible exercise of freedom.

Barcelona is now a depressed, politically ruined city, with outbreaks of hatred of the likes we have never seen. That is why it is even more lamentable the naïvité of some politicians like Ada Colau or Pablo Iglesias, supposed renovators of the left, who have not hesitated to give their support to a totalitarian proposal that threatens to destroy our social life and our political order. It has not been enough for them to defend, without the slightest serious previous reflection, the referendum as a magic solution to our problems, ignoring that the plebiscite can never solve problems ab ovo and that, as it is exposed today, it is nothing more than the political adaptation of Facebook’s likes, a childish way of brutally simplifying the enormous complexity that surrounds democratic political systems.

Contrary to what is often said, freedom of thought is much more fragile than freedom of expression, even in a democracy. As reported in his memoirs, the editor Manuel Aguilar, imprisoned in Vallecas in the fall of 1936, made the following reflection: «Where were the order and law that should guarantee the life and activity of citizens? In asking this question I measured what we had lost, suddenly, the Spaniards. » Are the secessionists and their friends of the new left aware of all we can lose? Have independentistas stopped to think to what world they are sending their kids in to demonstrate when they have not even reached the age of conscience? What are they actually defending? Perhaps, as a Faulkner character says, «when you have a good dose of hate, you do not need hope.»

I will always remember, with emotion and gratitude, the courage shown by opposition politicians, especially Inés Arrimadas, Miquel Iceta and Joan Coscubiela, on 6 and 7 September. In their work, despite the abduction of Parliament decreed since then by the majority, remain my representation and my hopes. I hope that, after the next elections, the Catalan Parliament truly reflects on the complexity and plurality of Catalan society. Messrs. Mas, Puigdemont, Junqueras and Turull, I only wish that, at the end of this process, the shame will survive them.


Originally published in Spanish. “Estado de excepción” Andreu Jaume. El país.

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