A Government to make things better

4 min
The exterior corridor leading to the office of the President of the Generalitat, on the Pasaje del Bisbe.
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Article by Grup Pròleg*

A few days after the Catalan elections, while the results are still being analysed and the first attempts are being made to determine the investiture of the new President of the Generalitat, media attention has shifted sharply to the riots that have occurred in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns, with replicas that have even reached Madrid. The demonstrations were led by young people, certainly a minority, and have systematically ended in destruction and violent clashes with the police, carried out by even smaller groups. However, it would be a mistake to minimise the importance of these events, not to grasp the warning they represent. The official reason for the protests was the imprisonment of the rapper Pablo Hasél. But everyone can understand that the demand for freedom of expression - in ways that rather contradict its spirit - is nothing more than a call to take to the streets. We are witnessing the symptom of a profound frustration, of a desperation that is drifting into a kind of nihilistic fury and that, beyond a doubt, affects broad sectors of society. Not so much attention has been paid to another incident that occurred this same week in Torredembarra, also charged with significance: a demonstration by hundreds of residents, irritated by the increase in theft and other criminal activities, has degenerated into an assault on a centre for minors under the tutelage of the Generalitat.

The atmosphere is becoming electric. The elections on February 14 were marked by a large abstention, which cannot be explained only by the pandemic. Pro-independence parties, despite having won a majority of seats, have lost hundreds of thousands of votes along the way. In the working-class neighbourhoods, where the PSC won cleanly, the turnout was very low. And the far right has burst in with a notable boost. There is weariness and irritation among certain sectors of the population who were excited by independence. Institutions are hugely discredited among the most disadvantaged social sectors, who feel literally helpless and are beginning to show signs of desperation, pitting poor against poor. Social shields do not succeed in reversing inequalities or counteracting the effects of the current crisis. Confinement and economic stagnation have made everything worse. The various outbreaks of violence these days speak to us of irritation, but also of a disturbing disaffection with democracy as the ideal framework for solving citizens' problems. Under these conditions, the challenges that the next government will have to face are enormous. It will not be able to do so without a forceful change of course, after years of paralysis and institutional confrontation that have impoverished and divided the country.

However, there is a window of hope for achieving this. The elections have revealed the existence of a broad current of citizens in favour of starting a new era, closing the wounds of the Independence bid and looking forward. A current that wants the Generalitat to deal with urgent health, economic, social and environmental issues; to properly manage European funds that are vital for Catalonia's transformation; to place the territorial conflict on a political plan, achieving a substantial improvement in relation to self-government and its financing, and to finally build a solution of democratic coexistence. This undercurrent has been expressed through the vote for the PSC, which, with a discourse in favour of reunion, has regained the trust of many voters who had been seduced by the belligerence of Ciutadans after the "hot autumn" of protests in 2017; and through the vote for En Comú, standard-bearers of a progressive agreement that overcomes the logic of blocs. But they have also done so through the votes for ERC, whose victory in the pro-independence camp can be read as support for a pragmatic attitude that seems to move away from unilateralism, which has facilitated the investiture of Pedro Sánchez and the approval of the general budgets of the State, as well as the formation of a negotiating table. A pardon for the pro-independence leaders would undoubtedly give a decisive boost to the work that this table has to carry out.

However, will these political forces be capable of materialising this social yearning one way or another? Will they manage to bring about the emergence of a government that "takes care of things", as Professor Antón Costas recently claimed, and that puts all five senses into "improving the lives of the population"? Acclaimed voices from the old Convergència space, such as Andreu Mas-Colell, also stress the need to return to useful politics. Even so, some are still firmly committed to "the worse the situation, the better for us" mentality. The riots of recent days have not only not been condemned by JxCat, but have elicited words of understanding and encouragement. And conversely, the Catalan police, who are under JxCat's direct responsibility, have been disavowed and considered suspicious by the very Department of Home Affairs. So we have seen, on the part of those from whom one could expect a conservative attitude, a surge in verbal radicalism that sometimes goes beyond the CUP. This is how these parties are approaching the "negotiation" with ERC: calling for the formation of a pro-independence government from the burning containers, as it were. Repeating the formula of the previous legislature would further accentuate the decadence of the country. To do so under these auspices would be, for the time being, the announcement of a failure. Restoring hope to Catalan society requires fleeing from extremism, fostering dialogue, giving shape to the cross-cutting demand for understanding that began to emerge on 14 February. The warnings are multiplying. There is no time to lose. More than ever we need a government dedicated to making things better.

* Grup Pròleg was formed in February 2018, with the aim of recovering spaces for democratic dialogue in Catalonia and with the rest of the peoples of Spain. It is made up of people from the non-independentist Catalan left. Its current members are Jordi Amat, Marc Andreu, Marga Arboix, Oriol Bartomeus, Laia Bonet, Joan Botella, Victoria Camps, Joan Coscubiela, Jordi Font, Mercedes García-Aran, Oriol Nel·lo, Raimon Obiols, Lluís Rabell, Joan Subirats, Marina Subirats and Josep M. Vallès