Other faces of November 9

How can you explain the contradiction between wanting to break with Spain and not having a government to do it, or even a leader who can lead the process?

1. THE PRO-INDEPENDENCE BACKGROUND. The second 9-N was a historic day, so predictable that nothing has changed as a result, unless we meet an unexpected pitfall in the next few days. The Catalan Parliament approved the announcement of a split from Spain, but remains unable to appoint a president. Mas went out of his way to make it clear that, as acting President, he won’t address any of the urgent issues that the declaration proclaims. The Spanish Constitutional Court will suspend the pronouncement. The Spanish government will struggle to have judges intervene, at least not until Catalonia has a new government. And it could have to wait until the spring.

How can you explain the contradiction between wanting to break with Spain and not having a government to do it, or even a leader who can lead the process? Deep down, Monday’s declaration appears more destined to become part of the list of referential documents for Catalan independence, than to go down in history as a direct path to independence, as nearly everyone accepts that an independent state is still far away. Indeed, what the beginning of this term --crammed with contradictions-- really ushers in is a stage of reconstruction of the Catalan political party system. All the players are following this line of reasoning, beginning with Artur Mas and his reluctance to take a step backward, despite having to endure the successive humiliations that the CUP has in stall for him.

Everyone says that they don’t want to repeat elections, but everybody is already thinking about it: the balance of power in the pro-independence camp is at stake. And Esquerra Republicana (ERC) has the upper hand for the moment. Before 27-S they made two mistakes: they didn’t want to postpone the elections until after the Spanish general elections, and the accepted a joint candidacy. This concession now gives them authority ... and they are making the most of it. While Artur Mas and the CUP are facing off against each other, ERC --with a reputation that they have always chosen to sacrifice for common goals-- is watching with the objectivity of someone who knows that if anyone makes a mistake, it won’t be them. If Mas is not voted in, it will be the CUP’s fault. If Mas is reelected, ERC will benefit from it. And if Mas goes home, he himself will be the main culprit of his own downfall. ERC is not to blame either for Convergència’s history or for the delayed blasts from the Pujol years, nor even for the fact that Artur Mas has never managed to lead the independence process. While the others are fighting amongst themselves, ERC has been building relationships and broadening its base of relations and influence. With or without new elections, this is their opportunity to achieve hegemony within the pro-independence movement. And this is the current underground political battle in Catalonia, while the process generates all the noise and Madrid gets nervous.

2. THE WEAKNESS OF MARIANO RAJOY. Suspension, impeachment, dismissal, punishment, coup d’état, insurrection: these are some of the words that we have heard in recent days. It is not appropriate language for a political crisis in a democratic country. As a businessman who travels back and forth to Madrid told me, they are more nervous there than here in Catalonia; it’s as if the Spanish elites believe in the process more than we do. President Artur Mas was right when, during his pre-inaugural speech, he spoke of arrogance, political myopia, and the imperial pride of the Spanish political leaders. The mere fact that someone would want to break away from Spain wounds them deeply; for them, it is unthinkable. We are also in the midst of an election campaign, and overreactions are the order of the day. Mariano Rajoy wants to show that he is not a big chicken, as FAES (1) members would have you believe. "My hands will not tremble", he says. And he adds: I will act "only within the law, but with all of the law". "Only with the law". Is it that he has, at some point, considered acting outside the law? "With all of the law". Is it that he has sometimes considered using only part of the law? Whatever happens, he has deployed an arsenal of threats to confront a political problem presented in peaceful and democratic terms. Seen from Europe, there can only be one question: how did things get to this point? Or, if you want to put it another way: how could they possibly have managed this so badly? The image of the Spanish powers has not come out of this situation untarnished.

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(1) N.T. Spain’s FAES is a conservative think-tank with close ties to Partido Popular.