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After the shouting is over

The Catalan and Spanish governments must seek a solution to the malaise over independence

As was expected, the human chain in Catalonia attracted a vast turnout, making an impressive spectacle and raising public emotion to a high pitch. All this within a festive, civic tone, which makes its components worthy of respect, regardless of their exact number. The same cannot be said of the group of individuals who broke into the offices of the Catalan regional government delegation in Madrid, waving fascist banners and manhandling several people who were present there. This serious incident must be immediately investigated by the Interior Ministry.

The celebration of the national day in Catalonia, known as the Diada, was a massive affair, involving a majority of the public — but not everyone who turned out for it is a believer in Catalan independence, as its organizers would like to have us think. Regional premier Artur Mas should not be blinded by his feelings, nor should he commit the same double mistake that he made a year ago, which somewhat eroded the solidity of his leadership. The first mistake was to confuse the massive turnout with the whole, or even a majority of Catalans. The second was to let himself be drawn into the timetable set and driven by the organizers, who are at the same time the inciters and the creatures of their own indecisive strategy.

In political terms, Wednesday’s event was, above all, a confirmation of what happened at last year’s Diada. Quite apart from the picturesque coloring of the celebration, the opinion polls show only a slight increase in the desire for secessionism (about 52 percent, in the absence of an alternative) and a more pronounced increment (up to 80 percent) in those who favor holding a referendum. This is hardly surprising after a year of continual agitation, intense official propaganda and an absence of real government action. The regional government follows in the wake of the street, and the street organizers act as loudspeakers of official slogans, in a confused feedback process with an unpredictable outcome.

The mediocre quality of governance of the so-called “process of national transition” thus takes the form of general confusion between the secessionist objective of a limited (though considerable and growing) political sector, and the majority demand for a referendum. As a result the regional government, on the sporadic occasions when it does govern, focuses the “process” not on the whole public, as a minimally decent impartiality might demand in a supposedly plural society, but slants it to one part of the public — the most visible and active part, as we saw on Wednesday, but after all, only a part. These are not the conditions that an impartial exercise of pluralism demands for a referendum.

This defective dynamic is in large measure fomented by the inaction of the central government in Madrid, which fails to offer any alternative to secession other than an encroaching curtailment of regional government powers, colored with neo-centralist ideology. If the two governments, Spanish and Catalan, go on failing to recognize the need for formal negotiation to give a political channel to these national feelings and grievances, the problem can only get worse, and its solution, ever more difficult.

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