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A different plan is needed for this challenge

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Originally published in Spanish. ‘Se necesita otro plan para este desafío’ Ignacio Varela. El Confidencial.

14th May 2018

Two weeks ago, we all concurred was the most desirable advance was for Catalonia to have an effective government as soon as possible, even assuming it would be one led by a secessionist to the liking of Puigdemont. After Saturday’s parliamentary session, many of us doubt if the scenario that opens up now is the the best possible one. Please raise your hands (aside from militant secessionists) those of you that, after listening to Torra’s ramblings, have not secretly wished that the CUP would block is path to the presidency, even if that meant new elections on July.

Can this be considered an effective government? We’ll see. Maybe it will be all to effective at setting Catalonia on fire again and wholly ineffective in bringing back normality, which is what was needed after seven months of regional government suspension following an institutional insurrection.

What we know for sure is that the new president was whimsically chosen by the august finger of a legal fugitive, Puigdemont. Secessionist parties like ERC and PDeCAT have been reduced to mere bit parts, without any role in the election. And the final decision has been placed, again, at the hands of an extremist and violent organization like the CUP. Rest assured that if the CUP decided to support Torra election instead of forcing new elections it’s because they consider that this is the most destabilizing option and the most harming for Spain. I concur.

We also know that the new president’s plan includes the explicit vow to create the conditions for a new coup attempt. And that Torra has openly displayed his national-populism and ultra-reactionary views, a preacher and a practitioner of supremacism and xenophobia. The things said by this man go far beyond the worst we’ve heard from Le Pen, UKIP, the neo-nazis of AfD or the Greek paleo-nazis of Golden Dawn.

Let’s not underestimate Torra as a mere puppet of Puigdemont. He is much more intellectually sophisticated than his boss, and he’s capable of creating and upholding ideological categories beyond the rudimentary political thought of the separatist caudillo. Torra is to Puigdemont what Steve Bannon was to Donald Trump. Picture Bannon sitting at the Oval Office, that is Torra in the Palau of the Generalitat (even if he’s not allowed to step into the office).

In summary, what happened during the last few months is that a coercive clause from the Constitution was invoked to rescue the regional government from Puigdemont and, seven months later, we end up giving it to two Puigdemonts, the original one and the fortified version.

Was this possible scenario foreseen when article 155 was set in motion? Obviously not. If anybody had imagined this outcome, the Senate resolution wouldn’t have established the automatic suspension of the article; rather, it would have taken the precaution of introducing some sort of protective conditional clause.

It’s hard not to acknowledge that something went awry in the government plan since October 27th to this day. In hindsight, attempting to prevent the October 1st referendum was a blunder; Perhaps elections were called too hastily while the coup leaders were still ensnared in judicial processes, because it spurred a victimhood reflex that benefitted Puigdemont on December 21st; Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to thwart the election of Turull by the swift procedure of sending him back to jail; The “Germany operation” turned out to be a botched job that politically resurrected a cornered former president; The all-too-visible central government’s anxiety to get rid of article 155 and to save the national budget project allowed Puigdemont to go all in, and so far he’s winning.

Someone should keep in mind that, in the midst of such state crisis, it is utter folly to to declare war on a party that, in addition to sustaining an exhausted government, leads the constitutional resistance in Catalonia. It is also irresponsibly opportunistic to ambush the government like Albert Rivera did last week with Rajoy, aware in advance of what would happen in Parliament, in order to demand today that article 155 be kept in place and placing the pressure of public opinion on Rajoy. Some tactical victories are not worth it.

What will the next edition of the “procés” be like? Lola García, writing in “La Vanguardia” lays out the coming months in several acts:

First act would be the bifurcation strategy. Maximum provocation in the symbolic and rhetorical realm while keeping the rope tight in the actions realm, stepping close to the law-breaking line every day, without ever clearly crossing it (that was the mistake of the first edition).

This will let them, on the one hand, maintain the separatist emotional boil in Catalonia, shoving non-secessionist Catalans back to the ghetto and sow doubt and discord within the constitutionalist ranks: is it time to act already or should we keep waiting?

Logically, such split between rhetoric and practice cannot be sustained for too long. It will last for just as long as necessary for the second act, the one announced by Puigdemont in “La Stampa”: an early election called by Torra, in an atmosphere of maximal nationalist exaltation, to secure the nationalist majority. And, from there, go on with the third act: an aggressive apartheid that breaks the deadlock in Catalan society once and for all.

When will that election take place? Puigdemont already made his thinking known: it would happen in sync with the trial of the coup leaders in the Supreme Court. Trial in Madrid, electoral campaign in Catalonia. It’s hard to imagine a better scenario for turning the election not just into a plebiscite, but into a mutiny.

Members of the government and Spanish parties, it seems the moment to sit and reflect has arrived. Rethink the whole plan and forget about opinion polls and nonsense. Two years remain until the next general election, but we are only six months away before Catalonia burns again from all sides and the state -and with it democracy itself- is kicked out from there.

I don’t know what the president is waiting for before he calls the leaders of all national parties -including Iglesias-, gets into a room with them and stay there until they have a common plan to deal with the coming challenge. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more important for Spain at this moment.

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