In English Voices From Spain

Stuck between Action and Reaction

Originally published in Spanish. «Atrapados entre la acción y la reacción «. Ricardo Dudda. Letras Libres.

25 octubre 2017

It took five years for Mr Rajoy’s government to realize that the Catalan pro-independence movement matters. He neither offered dialogue nor negotiations; he did not offer alternative proposals either, when sovereignism was not yet rupturist and it was a movement more focused on demands about funding or fiscal upgrades. Its communication strategy to counter nationalist propaganda has been void. Catalonia has been a no man’s land for the Spanish government, whose party has presented discredited or extremist candidates to the polls, and has accepted with a minimum representation in Catalonia, while centre-right moderate Catalanists inclined to reach agreements disappeared trapped by the pro-independence movement.

To Mr Rajoy, government is administration. There is no persuasion or management of public opinion. Mr Rajoy reacts to events. This has a positive side, which is that his rivals may occasionally wear out. But it also has a very negative side, which is that nobody understands his more delicate or extreme decisions, because he does not explain them.

We are living times where it is difficult to discern the relevance of events. The pro-independence movement always overreacts and its constant effort to sell each step of the Catalan process, and each mild reaction by the Spanish government as well, as an exceptional historic event, makes an objective assessment difficult. We are lost in a chaos of actions-reactions. And when the hardest reaction of all arrived —the enforcement of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which implies a direct rule over the Generalitat of Catalonia—, it is difficult not to think that it is disproportionate. Because of so many years of disparagement, the Spanish government is enforcing an exceptional law, which shows that, indeed, the Catalan problem mattered.

The enforcement of Article 155 leaves wide room for interpretation. But it does not give a blank cheque to the government to do whatever it wants. As the constitutionalist Eduardo Vírgala says, “it allows the government to take all necessary measures, without the Constitution establishing more restrictions than those derived from other articles of the Constitution, like the indefinite suppression or suspension of the autonomic regime in part of Spanish territory”, which would be against the Constitution. According to Vírgala, the autonomy is not suspended, albeit “the Spanish government can suspend all activity in Catalan Parliament, which is the one that has passed the anti-Constitution laws and multiple resolutions in the secession process, declared void by the Constitution Court”.

We need to get the Article 155 out of the debate about the Unilateral Declaration of Independence; many people argue that the enforcement of the Article is disproportionate because they believe it is a response to an UDI that did not took place, when in fact the Article 155 is enforced as a response to a long series of illegal acts, including the Parliament sessions the 6th and 7th of September.

The Spanish government has explained its reasons in a document to be voted on the Senate, but as Juan Rodríguez Teruel writes in Agenda Pública, Mr Rajoy “maybe could not help, in the staging, a tone of a justice officer passing a judgment so uncomfortable as implacable”. He presented it as a “simple constitutional appeal that looks for legal effects to a legal problem, to restore the rule of law in Catalonia”.

Public opinion only hears the pro-independence reactions, which is considering active and passive disobedience, and speaks of occupation and a coup d’Etat. The frame of debate is always on the pro-independence movement’s side, either because it uses more comprehensible and epic concepts —like the “right to decide”—, or because it plays to victimhood by speaking of political prisoners. As Manuel Arias Maldonado wrote, what matters is not what happens, but how we perceive it”. Mr Maldonado makes a brilliant overview on the “pro-independence speak” in this essay.  

Mr Rajoy is not a manufacturer of independentists, as many pundits claim, but his silence does create a vacuum that is filled by professional hegemonic nationalist propaganda. It is a propaganda that always ignores the initial offense, and creates an impression of victimhood by considering that each Government’s response is not a response but an unilateral attack. The TV3’s viewer or the Ara’s reader only sees indiscriminate arbitrary attacks, and he does not realize that, frequently, they are responses to another attacks. TVE’s viewers, on the other side, must be gobsmacked: a non-existent problem, a referendum that would never happen, has lead to a direct rule over the Catalan region. The Catalan-phobia that pro-independence movement speaks about is largely a myth; what does exist is the ignorance and disdain what happens in Catalonia. And from that disdain, the Spanish government has to explain that the Catalan problem in Autumn of 2017 is one of the most serious problems in democratic Spain’s history.


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