In English Voices From Spain

Standing up to the abhorrent

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: «Hacer frente a lo aborrecible». Soledad Gallego-Díaz. El País.

20th May 2018

Putting the rules of democracy in peril, constantly blurring them, is a risky game being played eagerly in all too many places in the European Union. The political propaganda that attempts to control collective attitudes by manipulating symbols (of which few are as powerful as the nation) is slowly taking over public debate, seeking to normalize messages and ideas until recently considered ill-suited to democracies. For instance, the theory placing certain groups above others by virtue of their birthplace, language, culture or race is taking advantage of an upsurge in national passions to reemerge, more or less veiled. History has shown over and over that contemptuous indifference is the worst possible attitude towards supremacism. The public claim that “Barcelona can’t have a Spanish mayor; it’s just that simple” (in reference to Ada Colau) shouldn’t be shrugged off by democratic political forces, but met with the utmost determination to stand up to such abhorrent reasoning.

That’s why it’s so shameful to witness the attempts to whitewash the writings of the new Catalan president, Joaquim Torra, as minor texts deserving only a bit of a telling-off. Quim Torra isn’t an angry teen–he’s 55, with a large literary production. The problem is that Torra believes exactly what he’s written, and that he’s nonetheless been chosen to preside over a democratic institution, supported by political groups with a spotless record who have decided to turn a blind eye. What’s serious for Spain, but especially for Catalonia, is that this has happened and there hasn’t been an immediate secessionist reaction saying, “not this way”. It’s painful that we haven’t seen more top-tier Catalan nationalist politicians reject Torra’s candidacy. Sooner or later, the supremacist discourses spreading all over Europe and America will come together: for Trump, Salvadorians are animals; for Torra, Spaniards are hyenas; for Orban, not all Hungarians are “genuine”; for Kaczynski, non-Poles carry parasites into the country…

So, pending a furious reaction to these messages from Catalan nationalists themselves, a reminder of the rational elements in the political conflict in Catalonia may be of use. First: the secessionists don’t represent a social majority, and they never have, and this fact lies at the heart of the conflict. Their leaders’ knack for concealing this truth is astonishing, as is the ease with which other circles dismiss the fact as unimportant, as if democracy didn’t require that votes be counted and social majorities defined (and, of course, that minorities be taken into account). Second: although there’s no reason why this would necessarily be the case,  the truth is that current secessionist program flies in the face of the Constitution and entails the destruction of Spanish democracy, a fact that should be fundamental in any analysis of the conflict undertaken in Europe. Third: Mariano Rajoy’s strategy of delegating to the judiciary has failed, and it is of the utmost urgency that we recover the initiative, rebuild dialogue among Catalans and even promote the language of symbolic gestures. Couldn’t the Senate hold a quick vote to move its own seat to Catalonia? In a situation with two diametrically opposed “national” political factions, experience shows that the most irrational usually prevail. “It’s easy”, said a German leader in World War II, “all you have to do is tell them they’re under attack and their country is in danger. It works the same everywhere.” We have to keep this from happening.

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