In English Voices From Spain

Chapter Two: «How to Design a Revolution»

Excerpts from “El golpe posmoderno. 15 lecciones para el futuro de la democracia”, a book by Daniel Gascón, 20018, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

The Catalan process is a designer coup. Among its most admirable features are its propagandistic intensity and efficiency. It contrasted with the sluggishness of the Spanish government, which seemed to think that having the law and the states on its side was enough. Those two battles were pivotal, but there were others that the government did not seem to contend, or they were contended too late. […]

The use of the word “revolution” has been avoided, but [the process] included revolutionary elements. One unprecedented component was that it was a revolution against a liberal democracy, taking place under conditions of relative prosperity. It shared with other revolutions a classic combination: the promise of novelty, with the significance of what will change after the decisive moment, of what we could finally get rid of, of the denial of the current order and, at the same time, the recognition of a link to the past —to a hidden betrayed past. It was a forward movement, but also a comeback that would allow to seize an opportunity once lost.

Like many other nationalisms, Catalan nationalism starts out from a victim-minded narrative that reflects simultaneous feelings of superiority and inferiority —we are a little better than them but we are treated far worse than them; we are a persecuted minority, but at the same time we are the majority. As the most effective lies, it includes some elements of truth. It also distorts and magnifies many of those elements or suppresses others. It could be synthesized as follows: Catalonia is an ancient nation with a flourishing past and a long tradition of self-government, strangled during centuries by Castilian centralist authoritarianism. Catalonia has been the economic cultural driver of Spain, and a crucial contributor to its modernization, but it has collided with the incomprehension of and the disdain for its identity. The two main episodes of such strangulation were the year 1714, when Philip V suppressed the regional laws, and Franco’s dictatorship, which repressed the Catalan language and culture. The Constitution of 1978 recognised historic nationalities, but it ended up creating an auction where all regions bid for as many powers as possible, diluting the Catalan singularity. A new Catalan Statute of Autonomy —passed by three representative entities (Catalan Parliament, Congress and Senate) and approved by referendum by the citizens of Catalonia—, was aimed to improve the fitting of Catalonia in Spain, but a delegitimised, politicized Constitutional Court mutilated it, after an appeal by the People’s Party, which had launch an aggressive campaign against it. The Catalan spontaneously reacted opposing the ruling that cut off the people’s will. Artur Mas’ government tried later to fix one of the core elements of the problem: Catalonia, a wealthy industrial region integrated in Europe, is paying a disproportionate share of the taxes and financing the inefficient regions. However, the fiscal deal he offered was refused, in a moment when the central government, urged by the economic crisis, was imposing cuts to the regions. These two failures convinced many Catalans that reforming Spain was impossible. For many, the coexistence with the state became unbearable and they expressed this through massive pacific demonstrations. The People’s Party’s stubborness, in an alliance with the centralist mediatic agenda, left no other choice than going the unilateral way. […]

None of the above would have been possible without other ingredients like the Euro crisis, with its impact to Spain —which includes the People’s Party election and the impression that there was not any exhilarating project for the country— and to Catalonia, and in the nationalist arena, the fight for leadership waged by Esquerra Republicana and Convergència. The latter was one of the few European parties to win an election after imposing cuts.

Some saw their long-awaited moment. For others, the process was a tactical option rather than strategic. The attitude in some part of nationalism recalled the Maimonides’ quote: “The Messiah will come, but he could be delayed”.

Today’s patience is tomorrow’s independence. The promises of future are the more effective the vaguer they are. By placing secession in a specific time unleashed something that its promoters could not possibly handle. The result —not to mention the consequences for the state, also serious, the full extent of which is still unknown— has been an earthquake in the Catalan political system, with economic and reputational losses in Catalonia, a divided society, a diminished self-government and a discredited Catalanism. […]

There are other indispensable factors. It has been an emphatically emotional movement, hyperbolic, in a time when communication technologies enable the expansion of a polarized rhetoric and the sentimentalization of politics. It had the support of the disloyal use of state institutions, and the wily activity of groups like the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural. It has shown a remarkable ability to recycle concepts and to impose them even on the critics. Both heavily subsidized public and private media have spread their messages, and the pro-independence movement has escalated its discursive hegemony with an understanding of politics already formulated in the times of Jordi Pujol. Unlike other coups, it was not necessary to take the media: they were under their control already. […]

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