viernes, 10 de noviembre de 2017

How the Catalan psyop unfolded

With another general strike just behind us and preparing for a large turn-out on this weekend's march against the imprisonment of political leaders, it is time to put everything that is happening in Catalunya these days in perspective once again. A lot of non-truths have been told over the past couple weeks, both in the national and Catalan press, while the international media tend to simplify matters beyond the point where the deeper meanings of the struggle can be appreciated. Yes, it's about money, and it's about pride, but there is so much more going on. In fact, what we are seeing now has been cooking for many years, laid upon earlier episodes which have never wanted to go out of collective memory.

Let us start in 1978. A constitution was approved for the new Spain, establishing the autonomous regions, each region bound to Madrid through a statute regulating the balance of competence between the centre and the outland. This formed the basis of the successful cohabitation of Spain's two main population centres, Madrid and Barcelona. Competition was friendly, not in small part thanks to Jordi Pujol, a Catalan banker and politician who for many years headed the Generalitat, with close friendships in the inner circles of Spanish power. From Madrid, Felipe González healed the country's wounds and brought a modicum of prosperity. After a long dark period, Spain was going up. Then Barcelona got the Olympics of '92 and turned it into a showcase for itself. It's safe to come back to our city, it said, we've even got a new beach. Nowhere was Spain mentioned in all the euphoria, though the chairman of the comity was a good old Franco fascist. I've always believed this was a turning point. Madrid realised it would have to reign in those pesky Catalans or it might lose them completely someday. The idea to strike up a deal, by the way, never came to mind.

What followed is a long story, leading all the way to the current troubles and what is meant to come next, the complete reinstallation of Madrid's direct rule over the whole country, something very close to what seniors still remember from last time round. It all began with José Maria Aznar and his recentralisation programme, investing almost exclusively in Madrid. Catalunya suffered it for eight years, and then came, with the seemingly superfluous help of the Madrid train bombings of 2004, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a nice guy from León, not belonging to any power structure. He modernised the face of Spain and we all thought we looked pretty smart. His were the easy years, until he hit upon the Wall Street crash, which he attacked in Keynesian fashion, quickly eating away at the reserves before the banks took over. It postponed the bang for another year, at least, though it made the crisis only worse. Regions also got to update their statutes. Catalunya's, after its formal approbation by national parliament, was challenged by then opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, who in a televised campaign brought 4 million signatures against parliament's decision. Though it wouldn't bear fruit, it hurt a lot of Catalans who had half-heartedly consented with the somewhat maltreated original proposal and now felt their willingness wasn't appreciated. I heard about it, but new in the country as I was I didn't take it for much.

Next on is 2010, when the whole spectacle really got going. The constitutional court, strongly influenced by Rajoy's partido popular, dealt at his request the statute a final blow. So many ordinary rules were deemed unconstitutional, that the document became basically unworkable and Catalunya had to continue with the old one. Within a week the streets of Barcelona filled up with indignant people, many, though not all by far, shouting for independence. Soon after, Artur Mas, a right wing upper class politician with close friendships in USA and Israel, gathered the nascent independence movement around his party, CiU. This was a strange decision, to say the least, because the burgesia catalana has business contacts all over Spain. Surely, they wouldn't want to risk all that by promoting a rather whimsical independence adventure? Yet it makes sense when we realise the process must have been the result of negotiations between Rajoy and Mas. Simply put: Madrid wanted to kill off the Catalan spirit, take the Cat out so to say, and bring Barcelona back in line behind the capital. Mas were to keep his business interests if he played along. To this end they chose a high-risk strategy which even at this point in time may still backfire: Mas would grow the movement and then just before it got too big Rajoy would crack down and dump Catalanism in such a deep depression it could never recuperate. Let it have its fun, let the rauxa (Catalan desire) run its course, and then take it all away, back to the early seventies. That was the plan, and had been the plan for a while. Mas was in on it, not out of conviction, but because he had no choice. He needed to save the business. This may seem rather cynical from Madrid, but that's how Spanish power brokering works, from the work floor to the highest office. You rob and steal. Luckily, there are decent people as well. It is the core expression of what is called clientelism, you totally depend on the person in front of you as the law offers no protection. We see this in the way the judicial system has been politicised by partido popular. Catalan leaders are sent to jail on totally fabricated allegations, just as in the last couple years the functioning of Catalan parliament was basically paralysed by challenging every single law it emitted. Rajoy asks and the tribunals deliver. Yes, Mr Rajoy is utterly corrupt, but we knew that already.

Unaware of what was going on behind the scenes, the movement happily grew and people started honestly believing it could be done, their own republic, politically away from Madrid though economically still fully tied. Why not? It sounded reasonable and we would of course pay our dues as we had always done. We were simply free to do what was best for us. If Madrid couldn't provide us a minimum of trust, then we should create it ourselves. That not everybody agreed, certainly among the population with Spanish ties, with foreigners mostly keeping a low profile, was never seen as problematic. We were going to get a good deal which would benefit the malcontents as well. Who cares about borders? Though wary of the role politics played in all this, I fell for the naïve enthusiasm of the many families that filled the streets of my town every eleventh of September, waving their flags and singing old Catalan songs. If they really wanted it, then why not give it a try? I never believed big countries to be particularly democratic. And so we walked open-eyed into the trap set up for us by Mr Rajoy and the ruling families hiding behind his unseemly figure. Then came October 2017, our revolution month. It culminated in the pro forma proclamation of the Catalan republic while the Senate was already glorifying the crackdown, followed by one of the strangest weekends I have ever lived in my twelve years here. I was in town with a student of mine and we were surrounded by happy faces, Mercè included. Everybody loved their little republic, knowing full-well it would be gone by Monday morning. But it just felt so good. For two glorious days we were freed from a Madrid which over the years had been a growing nuisance and then became a full-on threat. Sunday afternoon was already smeared with a counter demonstration which not so much asked for union, as their slogans had it, but rather begged Mr Rajoy to give those Catalans a good old beating up. The new era was descending upon us.

You get the feeling the European Union were in on the game. They can only be too happy with centralised rule in their constituencies, if only to keep things simple. They may have counselled dear friend Mariano to take it easy on the economy, as too much flight of companies out of Barcelona is not really helpful to Spain's payments to the northern masters. It would be nice if the Commission also understood we can't let the fabric of society get torn apart by brute, vengeful intervention. We need to stay Catalans to a certain extent to maintain our position, and I can't see how hurting our economy would be to anybody's benefit. So, if you want us to stop dreaming of independence, may we suggest a good surgeon to delicately take out the unwanted feelings? We might even do it ourselves, as our health care ranks among the finest this country has to offer. We shall forget, if that's what it takes. No, that is not true. We won't forget, never. But we will accept the terms.

As their influence is strongest in the early stages, psyops drive you towards a certain situation, but once there, the rising pressure can take proceedings in unforeseen directions. I kept a daily blog of the struggle, writing from the mood I felt around me. 1-O with its police brutality against voters wasn't particularly nice for many people, but it was the price we had to pay to appear on worldwide tv, and at least nobody was killed. Then Puigdemont missed his chance at gaining worldwide notoriety, preferring to offer Madrid a last opportunity to negotiate. In today's seconds only attention span era, our little struggle was suddenly not heroic enough. Game of Thrones apparently is more exciting. We were losing the battle for sympathy. Only the Anglo-Saxon press showed some consideration, with European media following the official line that not much was going on and Madrid should restore order as it deemed fit. Now, with Puigdemont up in his attic somewhere in Brussels, trying not to become Yasser Arafat, all we have left is our fight to stay on the screens. A lot of nasty things are still bound to happen, so we should be able to provide content for a while longer. Particularly the angry reaction of some of our non-aligned neighbours may be cause for attention.

For a long time to come, the vast majority of Catalans will never know how they were set up. They will rightly blame Mariano Rajoy, but not look much further. Soon, they will be concentrating on how to keep society together. I fear Madrid has done a lot of harm here already, with its exaggerated and dishonest portrayal of the troubles. But we shall overcome. We will get back to understanding with our neighbours. That is one thing I like about this town: in the end the class struggle will always be more important than any nationalist or religious movement. We were done in by power and we shall have to bounce back. And we will.

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