In English Voices From Spain

The End of Catalanist Consensus

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Originally published in Spanish: “El fin del consenso catalán”. Daniel Gascón. El País.

17th July 2018

It’s essential to acknowledge that the balance inside Catalonia has changed

The story of Clavileño is one of the most celebrated in the second part of Quixote. In order to free some women from a supposed spell, Don Quixote and Sancho have to mount, blindfolded, on a wooden horse that will travel through air. It is all a jibe by their hosts, the dukes, that use the imagery of knighthood novels and resort to tricks to make them believe they’re flying. In the end, Sancho says he has been able to glimpse and he’s seen extraordinary things. Don Quixote appears incredulous. Sancho’s words seem so unlikely that he thinks about his own descent to the Montesinos cave: he came back from the chasm saying he had witnessed wonderful phenomena and Sancho took his account with skepticism. Don Quixote tells his squire: “Sancho, being that you want me to believe what you saw in the sky, I want you to believe what I saw in the Montesinos cave”.

This agreement between Don Quixote and Sancho is reminiscent of agreements in society: they depend on certain shared fictions, some suppositions that, more or less implicitly, are taken for granted. If those premises fall, the agreement is shattered. This is a way to analyze the end of the Catalanist consensus: some argued that theirs was an inclusive bid; others, in exchange accepted the content and myths of that bid. I defend language immersion and integration policies because they foster social mobility; you accept a homogenous view of Catalan culture spread from public institutions and from co-opted civil society entities.

This consensus, that reached it’s peak between 2003 and 2006, when all parties in Parliament were Catalanist- is one of the victims of the [so-called] procés. What is striking is that it was broken by those who benefited from it the most. It was proven during September 6th-7th, with the attempt to exclude a majority of Catalans and the disdain for their political rights, or with the ascent to power of a xenophobic politician like Torra. Also, like the man that after committing murder loses his good manners, some phenomena linked to ethnic-linguistic and class divisions have become more prominent and visible, as pointed out by authors like Pau-Marí Klose, Maria Güell and Sevi Rodríguez-Mora. Those descending from parents born elsewhere in Spain are more likely to endure economic and job adversities, explain Klose. Elites in Catalonia feature a much more significant “Catalanity” index. “They don’t even remotely reflect Catalonia as a whole. In political terms there is only one cultural group in Catalonia”, wrote Güell and Rodríguez-Mora. For decades, public media and education policies have privileged a specific orientation. There was an hegemonic vision that didn’t even correspond with an actual majority.

One of the, perhaps unintended, consequences of the procés was bringing together, visibly so during the demonstrations on October 8th and 29th, that new group: the other Catalans. Another one was the death of political Catalanism. Moderate nationalism was swept by romantic secessionism. The defense of a cultural tradition had been presented as an element of openness and integration, but it had served to cement an exclusionary adventure. There are attempts, from intellectuals and politicians, to restore that space and rescue it from an irresponsible drift. Also from the state, in its search for a party to engage in conversation with.

The procés began with Braveheart-style bluster and it may end up like that Seinfeld episode in which George Constanza leaves his job, gets cold feet and simply goes back to the office on Monday pretending that nothing ever happened. A few days ago, Pau Luque spoke of several stages of the relationship between Catalonia and Spain: a multilateral stage, at the beginning of the democratic period: a bilateral stage, the era of the Estatut; an unilateral state, corresponding with the legislative push of the procés. According to Luque, many dream of a return to the bilateral arrangement, but a return to multilateralism is more likely.

Whatever the mode, a new type of agreement is needed. This requires foregoing the unilateral approach and institutional normalization, between the regional government and the national government, between the Generalitat and the opposition. But it is also essential to acknowledge that the balance inside Catalonia has changed, and to accept an internal pluralism that had been spurned until now. That has consequences in Catalonia and in the way to address the relationship between Catalonia and the state.


Daniel Gascón is editor-at-large for Letras Libres España. He’s the author of The Postmodern Coup (Debate).

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