Spain thinks it is lumbago

Suso de Toro
4 min

A few months ago I was asked about the independence referendum and Catalonia’s secession process and —I cannot say whether it was out of responsibility or adventurous audacity— I replied that, as weeks go by and it becomes increasingly apparent that the vote is an unstoppable reality, that it will be held and Catalans will turn out in droves, Germany will force Rajoy to reconsider his stance on the matter. I argued that, when they see that the referendum is imminent, the powers in Madrid will have to up the ante and make Catalans an offer to persuade a majority of them that they would be better off remaining in Spain and to encourage them to vote No. I anticipated that Rajoy, who has created this state problem and has pushed it to the limit, will be an impossible interlocutor as he will not be able to backtrack on everything he has said and done for months and years and, therefore, the time of this PP government will have passed and a snap election will be needed in Spain.

I also pointed out how the fact that Spain is a Kingdom and not a republic further compounds the crisis because, as commander in chief of the armed forces (no mean feat!), the king of Spain lacks the political clout that would otherwise allow the president of a republic to intervene in the conflict. At the time I was well aware that my words struck my interlocutors as unreal, but I insisted on my position based on the fair knowledge I have of Catalonia’s reality, as well as of Madrid’s courtiers. There is a decisive factor in this process that is often overlooked: the sheer ignorance of Spain’s political leadership and how it has been trained by Spanish nationalism’s two strands, both as ancient as they are active today: the imperial Spanish nationalism of the absolutists and the pathetically jacobinical nationalism of the liberals.

The obsolete, stale thinking of Spain’s rulers, and —to some extent— of the entire political class on the right and the left, is astonishing. They dwell in the outer social and cultural boundaries of the Court, with branches and mirror-images in the provinces’ capitals.

With no prior knowledge of the history and culture of Catalan society, their ignorance and hubris prevented them from taking a moment to consider what was going on in Catalonia. It is hardly surprising that the Spanish PM and his deputy believed that subjugating and humiliating Catalonia was an actual possibility: “to beat them ten to nil”. This explains Rajoy’s landing in Barcelona, only a couple of months ago, accompanied by construction tycoon Florentino Pérez and their entourage, to offend anyone with a modicum of dignity. Only now are they beginning to wake from their comfortable stupor to a nightmare.

I mentioned ignorance, but the authoritarian culture that permeates every fibre of the State (and of those political leaders, in particular) is even more worrisome. Not long ago, they were still contemplating the use of force. Their pride had been hurt by a rebellious citizenry, which prompted them to envision another military occupation of Catalonia, with its leaders thrown in jail. In the 21st century, in Europe and in the EU. You might not believe me or prefer to take it with a pinch of salt, but if you do, it is because you do not know the world that these individuals come from. When their fever subsided, and in order to maintain “the principle of authority and the unity of Spain” (a sacrosanct idea for “normal people”), they pushed the limits of a process that had begun seven years earlier when they deliberately blocked the appointment of new judges to the Constitutional Court to ensure that its ruling on the Catalan Statute would not disappoint: they occupied Spain’s justice system politically to turn it into a partisan weapon against Catalonia’s civic demands, at the expense of denying its democratic nature. Creating an unofficial political police unit was second nature for the political heirs of Franco’s exceptional courts. The result of the strategy followed all these years, first by the Spanish government and later by the entire State, is brutal: Catalan society has already split from Spain as a state and a country. Most of Catalonia’s adult population stopped recognising Rajoy at their prime minister years ago. Furthermore, they no longer recognise the monarch, the justice system, the various Spanish police forces and the army, as well as Madrid-based and Spanish media in general. Likewise, there are no names in Spanish society and culture that Catalans share and recognised as their own.

When Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says that he will not abide by a hypothetical ban from holding office imposed by the Constitutional Court, he is merely putting into words the reality which his fellow citizens inhabit today. Madrid refused to sit down, they would not even listen; but now they will have to negotiate. The palatial Spain of the royals, Rajoy’s Spain, nurses its sore loin and thinks it is having a bout of lumbago. But if it went for an MRI, it would learn that the condition it has brought upon itself is far more serious and requires hospitalisation.

There will be a referendum. They have known that for weeks now. The PSOE and the PP will make vague promises which they cannot carry through. The former carries the weight of Susana Díaz around its neck; the latter is the main culprit of it all. Podemos will follow suit with their usual rhetoric to conceal that they are closing ranks with Rajoy’s state strategy. Bank-owned news outlets, which have soiled and slandered Catalan society among Spain’s public opinion, will shift from offending and denying the democratic nature of the Catalan vote to heralding the incoming cascade of promises, provided that Catalan voters behave like “normal people”, as “common sense” dictates.

Only the European Union —here lies Angela Merkel’s political onus— will play a role in this conflict which concerns an important member state in the post-Brexit Union. Spain is unable to change. It has always failed to resolve its own problems by itself. If General Franco had not died, we would still be living under his regime and we would not have moved on to a restored post-Franco monarchy. The US took action at the time and endorsed the operation. Now it is Germany’s turn to do so.

The only way all of us will make it through by democratic means will be thanks to a Catalonia that —beyond the post-Franco era— will not allow its democratically elected leaders and their families to be persecuted. The State’s indignity and its criminal actions against Catalonia have crossed every red line and if any political leaders should face a court of law for their actions, you will find them in Madrid, not Barcelona. Catalonia has no interlocutor in Madrid’s court and is waiting for Merkel. Does anyone believe that the Catalans will beg Rajoy to pardon Mas, Ortega and Rigau?