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Catalan plurality

By calling elections, Mas is reducing the issue to a battle of secessionists versus centralists

In spite of the public effervescence that preceded it, the calling of elections in Catalonia represents a failure, as early elections often do. It admits the incapacity of the outgoing government, that of Artur Mas, to solve public problems, such as 821,000 unemployed and 80,000 sick people on hospital waiting lists.

It is also a political response to the high temperature of Catalan nationalism since the mass rally to mark the Diada (Catalonia’s national day, held on September 11). Mas is right in saying that any non-electoral sort of appeal to the people would be a “fraud,” in that his coalition grouping, CiU, did not run on an independence platform in the last elections.

But this linguistic nicety takes on a certain shade of duplicity as he proceeds to other explanations. Mas said on Tuesday that he was seeking to “interpret” and “transfer” the voice of the street to the ballot boxes and the institutions. So the changing and diverse voice of “the street,” which today is peaceful and on Tuesday threatened the parliament, is to be the canon of representative democracy? Worse: it was the voice of a demonstration convened by Mas’ government and its managed media, which Mas now claims to be obeying.

On the one hand, Mas denounces real problems, such as the non-existence of a high-speed train to the French border, 20 years after the first stretch was built, but wraps them in the solemn rhetoric of national grievance. On the other, he is one of many politicians who avoid mentioning their own responsibility for problems. He blames Rajoy, who in turn blames the previous Socialist government. The main novelty in Mas’ rhetoric is the succession of villains. Not long ago it was the region’s tripartite government of the Catalan left; now it is Madrid, which is said to be perpetrating a “fiscal plunder” that has yet to be demonstrated, even if we discount the Catalans’ arguments on their public infra-financing. As if no government was responsible, not just for having caused the problems, but for solving them.

Another justification he uses is that his proposal for a “fiscal pact” has been seen in Madrid “as a problem” and not “as a solution.” This is a simplistic argument, for Mas himself presented the pact, modeled on the Basque tax-sharing arrangement, as a step toward “full sovereignty” and a “state of our own,” and not as a mere agreement. His own language fairly clamored, then, for rejection by the Madrid government. Nor did he offer other formulas for dialogue until after his failed meeting with Rajoy.

The danger of the election is in its careful design, in a climate of heated emotions, with hardline secessionism and centralism pitted against each other in a system of mutual feedback. This binary focus blurs the plurality of the real Catalonia, where various ethnic and linguistic identities coexist. Meanwhile the Catalan Socialists, who claim to represent this plurality, drift in paralysis and division. The collapse of their leadership — particularly if they choose a candidate by bureaucratic means — seems a prelude to electoral failure. This would be deplorable, not only for the Socialists, but also for the Catalan political scene in general, where reductionism and monolithic ideology would then prevail.


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