The latest raft of news stories serves to confirm the dimensions of Spain's crisis. The unemployment rate dramatizes the brutal consequences of policies aimed at socializing the debts of the banks. The Bárcenas case grows in relevance day by day, casting a shadow on the party governing Spain. New judicial reports confirm the stripping of assets in the CAM bank in Valencia, showing the workings of the racket long applauded by the Popular Party (PP). All this at a time when no one else seems capable of providing any real alternative. Finally, the Catalan parliament's approval of a declaration of sovereignty culminates, for now, the process of secessionist feeling that began with the mass rally in September; while it suggests profound changes in the Catalan party system, with the confusion of the Catalan Socialists and the village vendettas within the ruling CiU.
Politicos of all stripes now shrink from defending the interests of the majority, falling back on the technocratic fatalism that denies the autonomy of politics, in the name of the determinism of economic laws. This leaves the citizen out in the cold, opening a gaping rift in society, and fostering indifference, by denying the very possibility of equity. The cult of private interest has brutal de-socializing effects, and generates a climate of impunity concerning money, which is a breeding ground for corruption. The general weakness of the institutions, the prevailing economic malaise and the immobility of both the PP and PSOE have opened a breach, which Catalan secessionism is now exploiting.
In this context it is hardly surprising that we hear talk of a new transition to democracy, as our institutional framework threatens collapse and needs an overhaul. The politicos do not seem trustworthy for such a job. While the Transition was explicitly built upon a broad-based social pact, the situation has deteriorated so far that, to be at all capable of energetic action, we seem to need a new social contract, signed by new actors, free of the accumulated caste interests. The sharp drop in the PP's popularity, the PSOE's inability to climb out of the hole of electoral defeat, and the electoral failures of the two main Catalan parties, all bear witness to the public's distrust of those who symbolize established power. The public does not feel represented, or led. The parties have failed in their function of representation, and in their selection of leaders; their mechanisms for self-renewal are rusty.
The Catalan case may be viewed in two ways: as a confrontation, or an opportunity
It is insulting to see how the government declines to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. It treats the Bárcenas case with its usual protocol; isolate the culprit, protect those who give him his orders, and elude any responsibility as a party. A strategy that intensifies distrust and demoralization, because those in power are devoid of credibility.
A crisis such as the present one requires political stature, to restore a sense of connection with the citizen. Measures must be debated and explained, not just imposed. Parliament has to have central role, but a parliament where there is debate and not vociferation. The parties, held hostage by cliques, must be opened up. And there must be mechanisms for the parliament to attend to proposals for combating corruption and clientelism, because no one believes that the parties, being beneficiaries of the system, are capable of reforming themselves.
The Catalan case may be viewed in two ways: as a confrontation, or an opportunity. Everything points toward confrontation, in so far as the parties contrary to secessionism have so far offered no other response than the threat of enforcing the letter of the law. Yet it ought to be possible to hold a political debate in which the word "prohibited" did not figure. That is, in which each side expressed itself, made proposals and set forth its reasons; afterward, the citizens would decide, as is their right. Or isn't that what democracy is about?