martes, 31 de octubre de 2017

Down from a high

I  have been writing about events in Catalunya from a mostly narrow perspective these last weeks, because I wanted to include the mood in the street in my reports, the anxiety and hopes that stem from not knowing what to expect next. I wrote from the same height as most commentators do. Now, I believe it is time to take some steps back and start from a wider perspective. For this, I would like to return to the year 1992, when Barcelona put itself on the world map thanks to its successful Olympic Games. Look at us, the city said, we are modern people in a beautiful town with a new beach, we are the stuff that tourists dream of. And, horror, those uppity Catalans claimed it all for themselves. Never did they mention the country they officially belonged to. It must have been around this time that the Madrid power structure realised they were going to lose Catalunya if they didn't stop its quick development in its tracks. It was becoming the Catalunya they had always feared, strong and independent, a blessing to the country's economy but a sting in their lust for control. Goya knew. When Jose María Aznar rose to the highest office, he started his project of recentralisation of economic and administrative power, going against the spirit and in fact the letter of the holy constitution of 1978 so many people like to refer to these days when they are looking for excuses to justify Madrid's power grab. Then Mariano Rajoy aspired to follow up Aznar, against the wishes of the inner circles as they rightly didn't view him as exceptionally gifted, so he needed a successful project to secure his ascendancy. He found it in Catalunya. First, he organised the infamous signature campaign against the Catalan statute, giving off a clear sign that in his book laws offer no protection with regards to Catalunya's position in Spain. Next, he had the constitutional court throw the agreement in the dustbin with a set of considerations which bespoke irrational hatred of Catalunya more than anything else. The groundwork was laid for an angry reaction, and indeed, he wouldn't have to wait long, only six days in all. People in the street, etcetera. The independence movement was born.

Surprisingly, the right-wing Catalan power party CiU, always in line with Partido Popular on economic affairs, was quick to embrace the idea. Did they really believe an independent state of little over 7 million inhabitants would serve the interests of la burgesia catalana, with its ties all over the country? Or were they perhaps in on Rajoy's ploy? The downside of economic success is the growth of the middle class, with lowly born people broadening their horizons and demanding to be treated with respect. This can never be in the interest of an autocratic oligarchy which means to stay in power, and it is one of the main reasons why economic crises are used to specifically hurt these step-ups in society, kick those high-minded achievers back into the class they rose from. But why go through the trouble of uplifting and empowering your population if you mean to take it all away from them one day? Who thrive on such high levels of up- and downward energy? You would be tempted to say our collective energy is being siphoned off, I am sure for benign reasons. To show how this works a simple example: in last season's Champions League FC Barcelona played Paris Saint-Germain. The wrong team tactics had them trail by 2-0 at half time in the first leg, yet instead of changing the set-up they continued in this line and finally lost 4-0, a mistake no Barça coach is ever allowed to make. Their campaign was effectively over. Then two remarkable things happened. First, the local press fought hard to work up a believe we could overcome the deficit in the return match (“if one man is capable of such a feat, it must be Leo Messi”), and on the night, with the help of the referee, we beat PSG by 6-1 with a last gap goal which sealed progress to the next round. I didn't see the match, as I was working, but when I stepped out of the metro I saw in the faces of all those euphoric people spilling onto the streets how much the match had drained them. From an all-time low to nirvana in a matter of weeks, with all the despair in between, if it wasn't planned this way then surely prospects must have been paying close attention. In Paris, meanwhile, emotions ran precisely in the opposite direction, from euphoria to nerves to dismay, creating similar levels of exhaustion. Was it all a dry run for things to come? I often think football matches are theatre, that the right players are in on the game to help the referee turn the tables. There's way too much drama in sports these days.

With CiU politicising the idea of independence and Madrid refusing to even listen to our demands, just barking threats and calling us nazis, soon enough only two outcomes seemed conceivable, success or total failure, our own republic or a new dark period of submission. It is usually not in the interest of political parties to play such high stakes games, they prefer nurturing long-term goals. Makes you wonder if they knew the end of the movie, as people say here. For us ordinary folk things moved on for many slow months, the steep decline of Rajoy's first three years at least having come to a halt, until this spring everything finally sped up. When police pummelled voters on 1-O, the between win and loss there is only an abyss idea was reinforced. And when Madrid still reneged our right to be listened to, independence became more and more like jumping from a high-rise on fire. Last Saturday was one of the weirdest, most wonderful days I have lived in Barcelona. So many happy people on the streets. They finally had their republic and they were fully embracing the idea, even if it weren't going to last beyond Monday morning. On Sunday the fatal deadline had come too close to truly enjoy the fruits of freedom, yet a sensation was growing things might pan out not quite as horrific as we had been led to believe by either side of the media divide. Were we somehow going to be rewarded for our steadfastness? Would we, with the help of outside players, perhaps get what many would always sign off on, a fair deal within the confines of the country they shared such a long, if troubled, history with? Or was it merely their happiness not being ready to turn into depression overnight? If we take all the, sometimes contradictory, signs emanating from Madrid together, it is safe to say the economic interests of Barcelona's zona alta will not be at risk. Catalan culture, its language, media and educational system, all wiped out the last time the centre took stage, equally seem to be salvaged, at least in the short run. Once foreign attention has faded, though, tougher minds may seek headlines with pleas for a scorched earth approach. As a local newspaper wrote, the weeks towards the elections of 21 December will be full of unpleasant surprises aimed at diminishing our resolve. And here we have perhaps the strangest result of Madrid's interference. There will be elections for the Catalan parliament just before Xmas and all political parties are invited to participate. But how will this create the kind of stability Madrid pretends to seek? What charm offensive will we be subjected to? Because it is absolutely clear that ERC, the social-democrat indepes, and Podemos' local offshoot In Comu will win these elections as long as the results are being honoured. This is by no means guaranteed, as last year's national elections made clear. It's an interesting little detail that Mr Rajoy, who loves to cite legal justifications for his actions, is in fact a criminal whose current position is utterly untenable in a court of law. Stealing the elections to crack down on a region in uproar, I am quite sure his holy constitution does not contain any article referring to this scenario.

We have gone up and down again, up and down once more, and currently we are cautiously optimistic, it has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Just look into Carles Puigdemont's hollowed out eyes to see what he and his people have gone through lately. A lot of energy has risen up over our heads these last few days, a great feast for whoever live on that, souls who have chosen not to come back, perhaps. And then there was the counter march on Sunday, so much anger at display. These people do not call for union, as their slogan claims, they call for Madrid to be tough on us. None of this sizable crowd, a good few hundred thousands, demanded talks and understanding. They came to claim their prize for having endured the natives. And this demo our local PSOE frontman Miquel Iceta headed in a pledge of allegiance to his immediate future as a politician. I can't see many people still voting this man.

Most people will want to take it easy, make stupid jokes again, but it's still a bit early. We must remain alert to dirty tricks. This man Rajoy and his crew have from the very beginning played dirty tricks on us, according to both sets of news writers. Can you imagine? Your own government is your greatest and most dangerous enemy. That's not a nice feeling. Now that they are all over us, we need these fools to open their eyes and see who we are. They don't have to like us, please don't bother, but they should understand we're just running our own town and it would be in everybody's best interest to keep it that way. This is our struggle now. It would be nice if smart Spain came to our rescue.

This is the latest contribution to the series I started two weeks ago on my blogspot emptyplaneta. I’ll be slowing down my frequency a bit, but do expect growing insight. I’m in it to gain wisdom. Preparing the soul for its journey, is all. By the way, my blogspot has changed from català to español. Sign of the times?
Be good.

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