jueves, 19 de octubre de 2017

Rupture



One of the early results of the Catalan independence process was that many long-term relationships came under severe strain. Friendships, business collaborations and even some marriages have fallen prey to an unevenly spread desire for adventure. It is easy to imagine how this works out. In times of peace and prosperity, being different is often the rock on which a relationship is built. Both sides complement each other’s weaknesses. I myself was a shy boy who used to enjoy the friendship of louder, bolder types, because they got me in places and situations I would otherwise not have encountered. I am not quite sure what I had to offer them, though, but they never seemed to be bothered by my presence. Perhaps I was good at saying yes. Yet when things get serious and people feel their convictions can make the difference between success and failure, opposites no longer attract. Well-meant quibbles quickly turn nasty and you would want to beat your partner’s head in for not seeing things your way.
- How stupid can you get, man! Don’t you realise we’ll all be lost if we don’t push for change now?
- And when has change ever been positive in this country? It’s a hell of a price you’re asking for that dignity of yours.
- Something which you clearly don’t possess. You always used to back off at the first opportunity, come to think of it.
Etcetera.

Political parties are no different from private get togethers. The process has come to haunt almost all of them. The first one to suffer was the Partit dels Socialistas de Catalunya, sister party of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, PSOE. Its voter base were the Spanish immigrants who populate the string of industrial towns around Barcelona. They work hard, they speak Spanish and they spend their summers in their “pueblo”, their hometown back in Andalusía or Extremadura. But after two or three generations, many of them feel at home in Catalunya and they at least understood what caused the independence movement, if they were not outright sympathising. So when PSC under pressure of PSOE declared itself not only against independence but against any serious constitutional change, they immediately lost half of their seats in the Catalan parliament and are no longer considered a force to reckon with. Quite a downturn for what not so long ago was Catalunya’s largest party. PSOE itself isn’t doing too well, either. Openly supporting government policies, as PSOE has done, is never good advice for any opposition party, of course.

Then there is, or rather was, Convergència i Unió, Catalunya’s ruling class party which used to support whichever government was in power in Madrid in exchange for certain favours, in the manner in which politics is conducted by all regional parties in Spain. It early on became clear that Convergència was more convinced of the need to go solo than its constituent partner Unió. They managed to keep themselves together as long as hard questions needn't be asked yet, but after the mock referendum of 2014 Unió decided to separate from their old partners, only to completely vanish from the public’s eye when they didn’t manage to get even one seat in parliament. Convergència renamed itself PDeCat and struck up an alliance with old adversary Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, aptly named Junts pel Sí, together for yes, as no other political vision binds these two parties.

While ERC is doing fine for the moment and actually growing in the polls, an old comrade is going through harder times. Iniciativa Catalunya Verds, always a funny mixture of left-wing and green parties in the style of Dutch GroenLinks, thought long and hard about independence, which clearly was supported by a large swath of its base, and finally teamed up with Catalunya Sí que es Pot, Catalunya yes you can, a local offshoot from national newbies Podemos. Although they strongly advertise for serious change in Spanish society, going it alone is a step too far for them. Needless to say that the old faces of ICV are less than visible in CSqeP and pulling out again will always be too late for them.

Dizzy yet from so many names? That's what you get when politics from a pleasant pastime is turned into hard business. The only party other than ERC to have profited from the process is Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, a left-wing grassroots movement with a strong following in Girona, which is pushing hard to keep its coalition partner Junts pel Sí honest. President Puigdemont's decision to put a declaration of independence on hold in order to seek negotiations with Madrid was not exactly received with warm applause from la CUP. While Junts pel Sí keeps hoping foreign mediators will step in to finally force Madrid to the table, CUP threatens to break up the coalition if a Catalan Republic is not proclaimed before Rajoy sends in the troops. This standpoint is very popular among the youths who seem forever lost to the cause of Spanish unity.

So here we are. Whatever the outcome of the current troubles, the political landscape of Catalunya will never be again what it used to be for so many years. By the way, if Rajoy should finally win, most of the parties mentioned above will be declared illegal for having sought independence, leaving the Catalan voters with a choice between parties they in their majority abhor. Long live democracy.

miércoles, 18 de octubre de 2017

Between hope and fear





I tend to have a rather negative outlook on the future of the European Union, with its tendency towards turning into a fascist super state with great leaders taking care of business and workers keeping their mouth shut. Yet hope springs eternal and is contagious, so whenever I see the thousands of elderly and young fill the streets I start believing a better future is possible after all. Beating the system to create the state you want to live in, isn't that a beautiful thought? This is what many youths used to believe until recently. But just as easily, dark clouds roll in and my optimism fades. I realise our tiny revolution is nothing but a beach ball on the waves of greater forces. Whether we will succeed or not is not ours to decide. All we can do is push, and then some. With deafening silence coming out of Brussels, I believe so far only miniscule Slovenia would be willing to recognise an independent Catalan republic, my mind goes easily back again to the type of reasoning I've grown accustomed to over the years. I mean, just think about the state we are in. If you live in the South of Europe, your income has taken a hit and you probably have lost a lot of savings, yet the underlying weaknesses in your country's economy have not been dealt with. Since everybody who claims to understand economics foresees the next crisis coming any day now, we are in for another serious downgrade of our capacity to manage our lives. Scraping by is not managing your life, it's scraping by. Likely more countries will feel the pain this time, with perhaps only Germany and Netherland escaping the chill of neoliberal power abuse. Still, if you asked them, I think a lot of those people out on the street would accept serious depression as a price for freedom.
But then one starts wondering about other events over the last couple years. There was of course the coup d’état in Ukraine and the war on Donbass which challenged Russia to interfere. Thanks to this totally contrived affair, NATO had the perfect excuse to stack the eastern half of Europe with military equipment. In the West, we had bombs and car attacks. Most of them were quickly claimed by ISIS, but ISIS being run by the CIA it makes you wonder who actually was responsible for those mass murders. Surely not the patsies who were shot before they could speak. Perhaps they thought they were in on the game, but they were totally guided for sure. Not that authorship matters much, as the results of each of these assaults have always been the same: more military grade armed police on the street and less liberties for the public. Put together, we can say that the European subcontinent, which doesn't really have a culture of private gun ownership anymore, is now drowned in state operated armaments. And since nobody in their right mind will want to attack Russia, what are they going to do with all that hardware?

A week or two ago I came to the conclusion that the Catalan uprising must in all probability be a psyop, a psychological operation aimed at selling the public a story to cover up less savoury realities. So while the Catalan people can be heroes in their romantic revolutionary tale, higher powers further their agendas with an intervention which could happen to be to our liking, at least in the short run. But with all those authoritarian regimes in power these days (anybody still think Macron was the right pick?) you have to ask yourself if our beloved, democratically chosen leaders are preparing for something which is not to be found in their election programmes.
It is not difficult to imagine how the scenario will play out. After Catalan parliament feels pressured to finally accept a declaration of independence, or Rajoy “my hands are bound by the constitution” decides to intervene anyway, political leaders are arrested, the people go out on the street and the military, thanks to a handful of Antifa inspired counter attacks, cracks down on the protestors. With many people wounded and even a few deaths, all over Spain the town squares fill in support of the Catalan brethren (the Spanish aren't half as stupid as their media try to make them) and Rajoy “don't make me apply the law” will declare a state of siege nationwide. Whether parliament will be suspended doesn't really matter, as the will of the people has no voice in this inner sanctum of the great democratic transition of 1978. What matters is that the Spanish government will be prepared to deal with whatever uproar their solutions for the next economic crisis will evoke. Finally, people will realise that voting for Partido Popular has always been a vote for Franco. Considering that more countries are in for a serious beating, as the BCE's quantative easing programme has done nothing but funnel money to the rich without addressing any structural weaknesses, how will their regimes react? Will martial law be the template for most of Europe?
The European Union not speaking out on the public outrage, which with every move by Rajoy is gaining in fury and size and will soon reach dangerous levels, is becoming a crime in itself. It is clear they don't want to see Catalunya independent, as this is not in their short term interest, but their position as rulers of Europe, those who decide our governments’ policies, should oblige them to keep things cool and send a clear message to Rajoy to stop right there and finally start negotiating, with only a Basque-like solution viable of course. If they let Rajoy finish his contra-revolution which he started back in 2010 with the derogation of Catalunya's statute and which has seen him draw up draconian laws for minor offences, steadily raise the number of police on the street and considerably outsize their equipment, steal the elections when he can't win them straight and of course play friend or foe with the state's budget, which Madrid reparts as it pleases her, not by any measure of fairness, and which has put Catalunya under a lot of strain, lately, not to mention all the messing about with Catalan pride; if all this is considered fair play by that high-minded institution which doesn't hesitate to military attack countries with lesser democratic track records, or so the papers say, then it is quite clear where we Europeans stand with our Commission. It's happening now in Spain, but it might soon come to a country near you.


martes, 17 de octubre de 2017

Catalan brinksmanship



With the streets and squares of Catalunya once again filled to the brim, this time to denounce the imprisonment of our two political prisoners, the bearded Jordi's (see last night's entry), it is time to cast a cool eye on how the fight for independence is fought. Catalans are correct when they claim Madrid is playing a dirty game, abusing its constitutional powers to wage economic warfare on one of its constituting regions. And they are also right in portraying it as a David versus Goliath struggle, where the underlying party has nothing to offer but its good looks. This doesn't mean, though, that Catalunya is playing it fair. Hell, no, they are just as mean and vulgar. The only difference lies in the amount of power both adversaries can bring to the battle field, money and guns versus mere image. So, why you may think poor Catalunya is the underdog in need of rescue, this certainly is not how the game is being conducted in Barcelona at the moment. Let me fill you in on a few details concerning the “process”.

First of all, Catalunya is in it to win it. The last time around they took on the force, they hopelessly lost, leading to one of the darkest periods in its thousand year long history. And when Partido Popular was founded and Aznar became prime-minister, they immediately knew that bad times were dangerously close again. I have no direct access to the realms of power around Plaça Sant Jaume, but it seems logical already then first plans were drafted to escape from Madrid's increasingly suffocating grasp. With Zapatero things looked much brighter, almost too bright, as he seriously intended to modernize Spanish society and even admitted to his affinity with Football Club Barcelona, unheard of for a prime-minister. Luckily, there was opposition leader Mariano Rajoy to keep us angry with his signature campaign against the recently approved Catalan statute, the one he would have his friends in the justice system throw in the dustbin a few years down the road, just before he himself rose to the highest office. As minister of the interior under Aznar, Rajoy was personally responsible for the width of the 2002 tragedy with the oil tanker Prestige, as he, against all expert advice to leave the ship where it was as it was bound to break up and have it destroy one bay rather than half the coast of Galicia, decided to have it slept to open seas, where it broke and spoiled hundreds of kilometres of beautiful coastline for years to come. Just to give you a measure of the man's incompetence and arrogance.
With the scene set for another difficult period, Catalan fears were guided towards the independence movement which filled the streets of Barcelona on their national day of 11 September, when they are commemorating their defeat in the Spanish war of succession back in 1714. For a while, 15M seemed to push the indepes aside for a nationwide uprising, but when Spaniards refused to vote Podemos in sufficient numbers, and Rajoy helped out the second time around, it was back to secession again. Why independence, you may ask? Wouldn't another solution, more liberties within the Spanish state for instance, gather wider support? Definitely so, but the independence leaders were convinced from the start they could only win. They wanted the best deal, which was total freedom. Although demographic realities made it hard to ever garner sufficient backing (lots of people with Spanish ties who oppose independence for sometimes quite childish reasons and lots of poor immigrants who prefer to keep their mouth shut) they knew they would never need full democratic endorsement as long as they played the game cleverly. What was required was high turn-outs on 11.9 and sweeping majorities in unofficial referendums which would likely see only the independence minded cast their vote. Both they got. When pro-independence parties conquered parliament in 2015 with the slightest of majorities, the stage was set for Catalunya's own infotainment show. From then on, it was the media friendly powerless democrats against the cruel, stupid, unsavoury autocrats unjustly wielding their force. So when the planned referendum of 1-O was declared illegal, they knew they would win it by votes, as every next threat emanating from Madrid refrained more no-voters from showing up at the polls. And indeed, the results showed 91% in favour of a Catalan republic, 3% against and 6% blank. If only everybody had got the chance to vote freely, we would have won it by a landslide, the indepes now were able to claim. The fact that police chose to beat up voters rather than block access to polling stations, under these circumstances was like manna from heaven. Poor, bruised democrats. See for yourself, international community, how Madrid handles people's desire to speak up. They say we are terrorists for wanting to break an unjust law, but tell us who the real terrorists are. And now the two Jordi's, every day there's a new disgrace.

It is important to understand the Catalan elites, those with vested interests in the town's well-being, personified by insider Artur Mas, have long ago concluded only independence could harness their economy against Madrid's power abuse, likely around the time Jordi Puyol stopped being a mayor player. And now they are going to get it. After many failed attempts, this time is their run in. Catalunya will be independent, whether as a separate republic or with a status aparte inside the existing borders. To get the Catalans back in line, Madrid will have no other option but to resort to violence and this will make them lose the battle of justice in the eyes of a watchful world. The only question remaining is, will the European Union step in before people are dying or rather afterwards?

I leave you with the video prepared by Òmnium Cultural in case their leader Jordi Cuixart would be sent to jail, as happened yesterday: Help Catalunya. Though the young woman's words are correct and the emotions she is acting are truly felt by many, she is not telling the whole story. Then again, who cares. It's all about saving Barcelona's economy from the idiots in Madrid. Visca Catalunya!