Catalonia in the fall

It is hard to explain to faraway friends just how far the Catalan government has gone in its populist interpretation of a democracy without rules

This article is meant for an inquisitive foreign friend of mine who privately asks me the kinds of questions that we journalists do not ask ourselves in public. Are we on the threshold of Catalan independence? Will Catalonia be a new country with borders, tariffs, its own currency and army, outside the EU and NATO? Or will there be a military intervention by Spain, and even the risk of a new civil war?

None of this will happen, I tell him. But what will happen, and is in fact already happening, is that we have entered a crisis that promises to be long and confusing, one in which everyone, Catalans and Spaniards alike, will come out the losers, besides suffering and fighting among ourselves.

We have entered a crisis in which everyone, Catalans and Spaniards alike, will come out the losers

Not only will Catalonia not become independent, it will emerge from this diminished and weakened, with less strength to negotiate when the inevitable attempt to restore constitutional consensus takes place. Spain will also lose a lot, particularly with regard to its image, the prestige of its institutions and the attractiveness of its brilliant story of democratic recovery and openness to the world.

Another friend – a Catalan one, this time – rightly recommended that we should commit to memory the living conditions and the well-being that we have enjoyed to date, because they will never return: consider the companies that have left Catalonia – two major Catalan banks and 800 other businesses besides –, the old parties now undermined and destroyed, the regional institutions stripped of their prestige and their power, the media that we once shared, the joie de vivre and the social harmony within a plural society that is now saddened and divided...

In just a few weeks, starting on August 19, things have happened that we could never have imagined would ever come to pass. First, the attacks of that tragic day, perpetrated by young Muslims who had apparently been well integrated into society. Later, its pernicious effects on Catalan society, with explicit and unprecedented divisions between the different law enforcement agencies; then the rise of a strange and probably programmed show of adulation for the Catalan police force; and finally, a street demonstration that should have been against terrorism, but was instead manipulated in order to humiliate the Spanish king and government with the display of secessionist flags and slogans such as “your policies, our dead,” which placed responsibility for the attacks at the doorstep of the Spanish government.

Not only will Catalonia not become independent, it will emerge from this diminished and weakened

Later, between September 6 and 8, came the worst part: an assault against our constitutional laws and a coup against the Statute of Catalan Autonomy, perpetrated by a pro-independence parliamentary majority made up of 72 deputies out of 135, and comprised of the bourgeois coalition known as Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and the far-left CUP, with its assembly-style brand of decision-making. Ignoring the regional parliament’s own legal team, the Council of Statutory Guarantees and the Spanish Constitutional Court, the government of regional premier Carles Puigdemont went as far as to violate the regulations and rights of the opposition deputies in order to approve two bills enabling the celebration of an independence referendum on October 1, and the proclamation of an independent Catalan republic 48 hours later.

It is difficult to explain to faraway friends just how far the Catalan government has gone in its populist interpretation of a democracy without rules, one that obeys street demonstrations and organizations with no parliamentary presence but that nevertheless claim to represent the Catalan people. Nor is it easy to explain what happened on October 1, during a plebiscite that was a mobilization against the government of Mariano Rajoy – who was unable to stop the vote in a peaceful manner and ended up sending in the riot police, who were also unable to stop the vote despite their abundant and indiscriminate use of force.

Catalonia is deep into the fall, and later will come winter, when we will sorely miss the light of summer that will never return

All of a sudden, Spain’s worst face had materialized, to the astonishment of some and the deep satisfaction of others: the image of Francoist repression. It was a victory for pro-independence propaganda, and it immediately had effects on reality from at least three points of view: the businesses that voted with their feet at the prospect of impending independence; the European institutions and governments that closed ranks around Rajoy and declared themselves hostile to secession; and the non-secessionist half of Catalan society, which for the first time came out on the streets in force.

How much longer will this political breakdown last? What will be the consequences of triggering Article 155 of the Constitution and intervening Catalonia’s internal affairs? What will be the impact on Spanish democracy and on its well-performing economy? Will there be a re-centralizing, conservative reaction? These are the new questions that my friend will no doubt ask me. I still can’t provide any answers, but let me just say that Catalonia is deep into the fall, and later will come winter, when we will sorely miss the light of summer that will never return.

 English version by Susana Urra.

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