“Here is the issue that holds the key to our age-old discussion: how come nobody tells the truth in Catalonia?” I am borrowing the citation from Catalan writer Josep Pla, who is quoted at the start of Jordi Amat’s El hijo del chófer [The Driver’s Son]. Pla posed the question in a letter to his friend Jaume Vicens Vives, [a prestigious 20th century Catalan historian] and it remains a disturbingly contemporary one. Jordi Amat, whose interview with Àlex Gutiérrez you will find in today’s issue, drew inspiration for his book from the best of Emmanuel Carrère, an author who researches events to produce a non-fiction novel telling a story that chronicles a period in history, a time that is about to pass on.
El hijo del chófer is a biography of a Catalan murderer, Alfons Quintà, and it appears to be inspired by Carrère’s The Adversary, the story of another murderer who also seemed to lead an ordinary life under the guise of a provincial doctor, all the while he was consumed by the hellish family life which the fiction he had woven for decades had trapped him into. Amat paints a somewhat accurate picture of an inadequate paranoid whose reporting career was built on blackmail, a man who managed to murder his wife before having the good sense of taking his own life. Yet Amat’s book also provides an insight into a period when Catalonia’s economy, institutions and culture flourished, while corruption and a certain feeling of suffocation became systemic .
Catalan president Jordi Pujol was a political animal who was able to rebuild Catalonia. But he and his successors —and obviously Catalonia’s society— have all failed to produce an elite imbued with republican, meritocratic values that will tell the truth to the Catalan public opinion.
The heritage of the political transition [following General Franco’s regime] has run its course in Spain and Catalonia alike. The prospect of an alternative new country that independence might have brought is in a dead end, awaiting the political reshuffling of the pro-independence space, one that remains directionless and led by individuals who will even question the usefulness of Catalan institutions. Doubting the purpose of running Catalonia’s public affairs during the worst recession we have seen since democracy was restored is so irresponsible that it can only be explained by the sort of ideological blindness that ignores the needs of a complex, diverse society in a real crisis that might bring an end to the businesses, dreams, studies and future of so many.
When politics is not useful, you cannot expect institutional respect or a joint capacity to rebuild what we all share. Today the Catalan government runs the risk of disenfranchising thousands in Catalonia. When public affairs are not run competently, when there is no clear leadership and politics seems to be merely showy footwork between partners who disrespect and distrust one another, you cannot expect the general public to behave more responsibly.
The February elections in Catalonia will be a chance to speak clearly and end the self-deception of those who behave as if reality didn’t prevail or as if people had to be sheltered from the truth. In fact, president Carles Puigdemont appears to have taken that path, now that he has openly told his potential voters what he already knew in 2017. Puigdemont cannot come back to Catalonia unless there is an amnesty first and that is what the Catalan parliament ought to be discussing. We will only be able to effectively move on once the political prisoners have been released and the exiles have returned. The Pedro Sánchez government will not grant an amnesty, but demanding one and putting pressure on them is doing politics. At present, the amendment of the crime of sedition which Spain’s Justice Minister has hinted he might unveil in the coming weeks casts more doubt than it offers certainty. It remains to be seen whether Catalonia’s pro-independence parties will be in a position to endorse it.
ERC has taken steps and has decided to use its influence in the Spanish parliament to foster left-wing policies, even though their spokesperson (Gabriel Rufián) can’t seem to find his footing. JxCat must decide what they hope to represent politically speaking and they must clarify their strategy. Carles Puigdemont is their greatest asset, but voters realise he won’t be running for the presidency in February and the snap election will be their litmus test as a political proposition.
Obviously, any future agreements —as well as any prospect of independence— will hang on the balance between the pro-independence parties, and so will the future of Puigdemont and his political space. While the PDECat is burdened by its past and is attempting to take stock of its Pujol-era assets (it is not without any), JxCat must prove that it can become a long-term political proposition, despite being a slate improvised in an emotionally-charged climate following the rage caused by the failed independence bid and the suspension of home rule in 2017. The political climate has shifted since then and every actor should accept that, nowadays, society demands the truth and governance.