Misc 11/09/2019

The upcoming phase

After a two-year hiatus, you could be led to believe that the problem has been assimilated

Josep Ramoneda
3 min

1. The end of a phase. Only hours ahead of September 11th, Catalonia’s National Holiday, Spain’s Supreme Court has announced that it is making good progress in drafting the verdict on the case of the jailed Catalan leaders, which will likely be announced to the defendants within the first two weeks of October. The news came just as Spain’s judicial year was being solemnly inaugurated. Judges and prosecutors have emphasised the legitimacy of court rulings and the obligation to abide by them. Under normal circumstances, that should go without saying. However, if there is some doubt about it, it is because there are grounds for it: when a political problem has to be resolved in a court of law because a government —incapable of addressing the issue— has passed the buck, the reputation of the justice system is unlikely to emerge unscathed.

At any rate, the period of time between September 11th and the announcement of the verdict will put the lid on the time that began with the symbolic declaration of independence and direct rule. It will also mark the beginning of a new phase when, to quote Francesc-Marc Álvaro, we will have to “take the uncomfortable complexity in our stride”. That is precisely what the various conflicting sides are refusing to do —and there are more than just two, although oversimplification in politics is always tempting because it gives strenuous thinking a break and fosters a dynamic of good vs bad where, instead of arguments, all that matters is accusations and snubs. This two-year hiatus between the moment when Catalonia’s independence bid crashed into the wall of the State and the verdict in the first case against its leaders is a process where reality has been slowly taken in and has created a lull that some outside Catalonia could mistake for a sort of assimilation of the problem.

2. Denial. In Madrid —and to a greater or lesser extent, in Spain at large— the events of October 2017 elicited widespread condemnation, caused deep irritation and —at one point— instilled some fear. But starting in the spring of 2018, when it became apparent that the independence bid had been thwarted and the threat was not real, the public opinion put the issue to rest. Obviously the political class —in particular, the right— has tried to use it for electioneering purposes, but they have mostly failed; among other reasons, because the fear had passed and, with it, so had the worry. Some are still wounded in their pride, but the feeling of danger is gone. This has encouraged a certain denial of the problem. Without acknowledging what is going on, it is impossible to deal with it politically.

It is here where PM Pedro Sánchez’s fears come into play. Time has proven that the incumbent Spanish leader has a sense of timing that is lacking in the authority required under certain circumstances. Sánchez is too afraid: he is forever watchful the right as well as certain media and economic powers, which has led to his inaction both in the talks with Podemos [to secure a majority in parliament] and the turn of a new leaf in Catalonia. It is complicated when you lack auctoritas and a broad majority. His solution is a denial that swings between claiming that there is nothing to worry about, the constant brandishing of the Constitution and an attempt to boil the conflict down to a problem between Catalans.

The awareness of the situation’s complexity is growing on the pro-independence camp. That is why the conflict of interests between the various sectors is raging. Amid the in-fighting, it is paradoxical that the traditionally moderate faction —presently in confusion— should embrace radicalisation as a means to ensure the survival of their group. Is there a possible scenario for the day after, besides ongoing stagnation? Once the verdict has been handed down, denial will be untenable provided the pro-independence forces make a show of strength in the only way that is unquestionable and verifiable: at the polls. Whomever is in charge in Madrid will need to understand that they must find a way to come up with something. By repeatedly appealing to basic and universal rights —or the rule of law and the holy Constitution—, both sides are merely leading us to noise, degradation and stagnation.