In English Voices From Spain

Coups, «pronunciamentos» and cheap labels

Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. “Golpes, pronunciamientos y etiquetas fáciles”. Ricardo Dudda. Letras Libres.

2nd May 2018

A few weeks ago, the historian Santos Juliá wrote an op-ed in El País entitled “Subduing the State”, where he says that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence proclaimed by the Catalan Parliament on 6th and 7th of September and on 27th of October of 2017 were a “civil pronunciamiento”: “The dictionary definition of pronunciamento provided by the Royal Spanish Academy talks about ‘a military uprising against the government.’ But as of October 2017, the word will also mean the civilian liturgy that was followed by Catalan nationalists who, as legitimate holders of state power, rose not against the government but against the very State whose power they held”. In CTXT, the political scientist Ignacio Sánchez Cuenca replies by saying that there was no such coup or pronunciamento, and adds: “using these categories to understand the Catalan crisis lacks of any rigour and, worse, it condemns us to settle the problem trough criminal justice, since nothing can be negotiated nor politically agreed with those who engage in an attempted coup”. Sánchez Cuenca employs a tone of someone who has been disappointed. He thinks that Juliá, who isn’t a paleo conservative but a classic liberal, is using “the lens of a bigoted Spanish nationalism that seemed to be done and dusted”. To the political scientist, what has happened is a “deep constitutional crisis provoked by a clash of legitimacies. In a constitutional crisis, rules are disobeyed, the legal system is put into question and challenged, but there is no violence”. It is an interesting analysis tarnished by his efforts to blame the ghost of Spanish nationalism of being behind a manipulative use of the concept.

Juliá replies in a conclusive article, where he criticises Sánchez Cuenca’s ad-hominem accusations (to which the political scientist is accustomed, he is the self-proclaimed scourge of the “1978 regime’s intelligentsia” and author of a book full of personal attacks), and notes that a pronunciamento or uprising do not require violence (if there was violence enough to speak of “rebellion”, as the Supreme Court claims, is a different debate), explaining that

“‘Subduing the State’ was about the pronunciamento, which is, as its very name suggests, a speech act including all the ingredients of the performative utterance: 71 MPs headed by their president of the Catalan government gather in a room in the Catalan Parliament, they make a pronunciamiento, and declare “the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state of law and democratic and social rights” —from within the Catalan institutions of the Spanish state and violating the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy which are the direct sources of their power, legitimate by principle, but illegitimate, unlawful and allegedly criminal in this specific exercise, and its background and implications”.  

The entire process has been a simulation, and a massive waste of force. But that does not imply that it should not be judged as it never happened. Sánchez Cuenca is analysing the response to a challenge which is, in his view, non-existent. In other words, he focuses in the response (Article 155, the awakened Spanish nationalism) as if there was no challenge in the first place. When one reads the following: “Due to the Catalan constitutional crisis, the Spanish nationalism is vigorously revived and has presented his most sinister character —the disdain for the democratic principle” can conclude that what has happened in Catalonia is just a clash of legitimacies and not a coup planned over months and years. In his view, the process, even at this point, has much more to do with a demand of the people and a legitimate challenge to the “demos” than with a populist process of nation-building. The process is more similar to Brexit than to a people’s revolution of democratic radicalization (although Sánchez Cuenca shares somehow the Leaver’s desire for a recovery of sovereignty, he accuses the Remainers of being an elitist minority, following the classic anti-cosmopolitan trope, putting labels before reasoning).    

In another essay on Catalonia he writes that “a democracy should be able to process difficult and disturbing demands including the secession of a territory”. It is surprising that someone who is a progressive to hold such naive views about the state, as if the splitting up of sovereignty were something perfectly assumable by the state and it did not imply the breakdown of democratic legitimacy: how is it possible to protect rights and freedoms if the legal space where they are represented, and where they make sense, is subjected to the arbitrariness of a minority who also impose their postulates by force?

Sánchez Cuenca believes that the Spanish intellectuals are obsessed with the idea of Spain (he better not read the French because he could go into shock), and thinks that behind constitutional patriotism lies in fact a dangerous nationalism with complexes. It is true that behind any civic nationalism is the seed of ethnical nationalism: what seems strange is that Sánchez Cuenca is able to foresee the danger of a latent Spanish nationalism while an explicit, populist and authoritarian Catalan nationalism is transparent about his supremacist intentions. He is trapped in the idea that one nationalism feeds the other (he always sees clearly who feeds whom, and it is not the one of the un sol poble, “a one people”), and he considers that most of the criticism to the process come from Spanish nationalist positions. He is an expert at the caricature, the essentialism and the cherry-picking, and he is unable to avoid the biases that the new political scientists (of whom he is the “godfather”) tried to denounce when they entered the public debate in recent years. Being a serious and rigorous analyst, both qualities that he frequently demands from the others, we should expect something more than the cheap label to imaginary enemies.

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