THE OBSERVER

At the cosmic centre of the Universe

Salvador Dalí used to say that Perpignan railway station was "the cosmic centre of the Universe", and it is where last Saturday the Catalan independence movement showed — to quote president Carles Puigdemont — its “persistence”, with the exiled leader looking to the past and citing Rovira and Virgili. Over one hundred thousand people gathered for a rally staged by the Council for the Republic. Though it may originally have been conceived as a cross-party affair, its timing and the presence of Puigdemont —flanked by Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí— served to make it the inaugural event in JxCat‘s election campaign. While initially the decision to hold the rally in Perpignan was a non-partisan attempt to bring together the various factions who are sympathetic to the independence cause, the mass rally in Perpignan’s Exhibition Park became a pro-Puigdemont event. The president’s presence once again demonstrated the attraction of his leadership for a section of the pro-independence movement. They heard his call to "prepare for independence", though he did not go into details aside from urging civil society to organize itself. Clara Ponsatí went further, however, by branding the talks with the Spanish government a "lie" and defending the decision to take to the streets, including the riots which took place following the trial of the political prisoners.

President Torra provided the surrealist touch, since he had taken his place opposite PM Pedro Sánchez at the negotiating table in Madrid only the week before.

Salvador Dalí said that Perpignan railway station was "the cosmic centre of the Universe", and his painting which bears its name contains certain symbolic elements which make for some unsettling comparisons. The picture features a freight train on a track suspended in space, characteristic of surrealism, and two figures, one on the left and one on the right of the canvas. The figures are drawn from one of Dalí’s favourite works, The Angelus, Jean-François Millet's depiction of two pious peasants.

In his work El mito trágico del Ángelus de Millet [ The Tragic Myth of the Angelus by Millet], Dalí wrote why The Angelus had become such a disturbing work. What for Millet was the depiction of a man and a woman praying in a field, for Dalí it was a religious mantis. For Dalí and his paranoiac-critical method, the position of the figures is that of a woman as a religious mantis together with a male engaged in intercourse, prior to the moment in which the female devours the man. The train on a track suspended in the air and the protagonists' engulfing one another are crying out for parallels to be drawn. Puigdemontism and ERC will stand in the election in a fight to the death, while the path to independence is currently on standby. The path to dialogue began this week full of uncertainty and Perpignan was apparently preparing for the day after its failure.

Puigdemont’s battle plan is to keep up the pressure and to connect with a part of the independence movement which is hoping for a new opportunity after 27 October 2017 and the push that some hoped it would get after the Supreme Court’s verdict. A push which never came. In his next book and during the election campaign Puigdemont will have to explain the how to his voters, who do exist and who are clearly willing to follow him, as shown by the crowd gathered in Perpignan.

The negotiating table

The week ended with the partly therapeutic, partly electoral rally held by the Puigdemontists in Perpignan, and began with the first meeting at the negotiating table in Madrid, which also serves as a form of group therapy for both sides in the conflict.
According to all sources, the meeting was a success, undoubtedly due to the low expectations following years of contempt, judicialization, and repression.

The Spanish side was surprised by the fluidity of the pro-independence positions. In fact, the representatives of the Catalan government had held a preparatory meeting at a lunch in the Catalan government’s headquarters in Madrid, in order to agree upon their respective roles. They decided to reach an agreement on their interpretation of the situation as a means to resolve it.

It was made clear at the meeting that while the Spanish government wished to discuss the 44 grievances, the Catalan government wanted to talk about self-determination and amnesty. Spain’s Minister of Finance spoke about financial arrangements and population weighting before the Catalan government made it clear that there would be two tables with different items on the agenda. All the participants are well aware that it will be hard to reach an agreement and that there is no alternative to dialogue. They are also aware that their final positions are irreconcilable. The question is whether they will end up bogged down in a swamp with no way out.

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