In English Voices From Spain

What kind of leadership for Catalonia?

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: «¿Qué liderazgo para Cataluña?». Juan Claudio De Ramón. El País.

1st of June 2018

Sociology literature distinguishes between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leaders manage an organizational routine that that they don’t question: Their goal is that nobody break the existing rules; when that happens, and a rule is suspended or questioned, they will attempt to restore the previous balance by transacting -by reaching agreements- with the stakeholders through a system of punishments and rewards: the old and trusted carrot-and-stick tactic. When dealing with a crisis, a transactional leader is not looking to change anything; what they want is for matters to go back to the known pattern.

The attitude of transformational leaders is remarkably different: facing an upheaval, they reckon that the lost equilibrium is irrecuperable, perhaps even detrimental, and that the crisis offers an opportunity to reach a new and better arrangement. To that end, instead of appealing to individual emotions like fear or ambition, they present an anxious society or organization with a gleaming, albeit difficult, ideal that will set the ship upright and on a sound course. The transformational leader -explains Joseph Nye in The Powers to Lead- pushes his followers to look beyond their immediate self-interest in favor o a higher purpose. Problems are overcome, not patched up. The endeavor requires courage and risk-taking: sometimes to enter a war (as Lincoln did in the United States to save the Union), sometimes to leave one (as De Gaulle did in Algeria).

It’s not written anywhere that all crises demand the same kind of leadership. Both types have advantages and disadvantages. Prudence is the virtue of the transactional leader whereas enthusiasm is that of the transformational leader. One can be prone to spiritlessness, the other to messianism. Some times, indeed, calm transactions are all that is needed. Other times, though, only the energy of transformation can overcome a persistent hurdle. Transactional leaders are, to a certain extent, interchangeable: one only need to know the recipe to apply it. Transformational leaders change the course of events with their actions and their success is linked to their personal charisma.

Doesn’t this dichotomy fit the Catalan question like a glove? A lasting equilibrium -where the central government used to buy the ambiguous loyalty of regional nationalists by giving them an ever-growing share of power- has been shattered to pieces. I have tried to term that equilibrium, present since the democratic Transition, the Ortega-Cambó paradigm, taking from Ortega the defeatist notion that the Catalan problem has no solution (it can only be endured), and taking from Cambó the thesis, shared until now by Madrid’s elites, that it’s convenient that Catalonia be ruled by Catalanists under nationalist parameters. But the disloyalty of one of the actors, unleashed in full in the coup of last October, unraveled the whole doctrine. Since then, the old, bewildered actors, try to swim back to the calm waters of the past. We have to do politics, they contend. Which means doing the same as always: reaching an agreement with the first Catalan nationalist that relieves some pressure, giving them an additional power quota – “we’ll have to give them something”, is repeatedly whispered, whether it is a constitutional guarantee for some devolved powers (those more related to identity matters) or a new budget sharing agreement- and solving the problem for -they add with a melancholic shrug- the “next twenty years”.

I view this thinking as mistaken. It carries several conceptual mistakes. First, reproaching a staleness on the part of the government that is not real, but simply bewilderment over the exhaustion of the transactional formula and the challenge of finding alternative policies to the agreement with the nationalist elites. The same lack of imagination drags down the strategy of PSOE-PSC: yes they make proposals, but they are the same old ones: the familiar arrangement by which the state gives up a little bit of the power it still has in exchange for the secessionists to postpone their plans. There’s a refusal to accept that this is a world -one of cohabitation and temporary arrangements, that, like Béquer’s swallows, will not return. This is not only because the procés has politically activated a large swath of voters that will punish any concession to nationalists. The main reason is because, as the less lazy pundits point out, the conflict is not one between Catalonia and the state but one between Catalans. And with this being the problem -one of two confronted communities-, the solution lies in a new internal power sharing scheme among them -power sharing-, and not in armoring the tools with which the secessionist half built its hegemony. What the constitutionalist faction needs is better representation within Catalonia, and this points to changes in educational and cultural policies at the regional level in a direction opposite to the one demanded by nationalists and that the state may be tempted to offer.

Does this mean that we should just settle for the current situation, the status quo, regardless of the unavoidable judicial clearance of what happened? No, if there is no transaction, there could well be transformation. The ideal of a Spain that is more just, more inclusive, proposed not only to Catalans but to all Spaniards, the ideal of a state reformation, borne not from hushed bargaining with nationalist elites but from public deliberation among citizenry. Rather than establishing guarantees for exclusionary linguistic policies, wouldn’t it be better to establish a proper federal linguistic policy, one that is inclusive and fair, by means of an official languages act? Isn’t being a pro-Europe, multilingual (and growingly multi-cultural) civic and exemplarily inclusive nation (like it already is in, for example, sexual diversity) a better, more stimulant and vanguardist project for Spain than that of being a staid plurinational state, an amalgamation of uniform self-centered ethnolinguistic communities that barely get along with each other? A Spain that do not solve the Catalan problem but transcend it. The transactional leadership that is demanded without a trace of enthusiasm is like putting a new sole on an old shoe. The transformational leadership that is needed is like buying a new pair of shoes, and not for “the next twenty years” but to optimistically look forward without an expiry date.

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