Ramón Cotarelo: “The spiral of silence is in Madrid, not Catalonia”

Why do so few intellectuals support Catalonia’s referendum on independence?

Self-determination is an unquestionable right and they endorse it when it concerns the Sahara or Tibet. But when it’s close to home, their lack of courage prevails because otherwise they would lose the columns they write in Spanish papers but, first and foremost, because they can see that they might lose their country. Their Spanish nationalism is stronger than with Spaniards and foreign intellectuals. They dislike the idea. They can’t tolerate the right to decide by one section of what they regard as Spain precisely because they regard it as Spanish. But that is tantamount to endorsing the right’s old views and so the left stays quiet. They are literally hiding.

They claim that democracy should be subservient to the law.

I can understand that some people might use that argument, but I would struggle to call them intellectuals. I can understand that the commissars and the Spanish government brandish the law not unlike the way a weapon was brandished in the Paleolithic, but an intellectual cannot abide by this because anyone can understand that any law is a matter of convenience. Otherwise, is there a legality that may be invoked above and beyond the people’s will?

They also mention the argument of corruption: independence is a smokescreen to hide the PDECat’s sins.

That’s a tactical argument used by part-time demagogues. There is a discourse, even endorsed by some in academia, that describes Catalan nationalism as elitist and bourgeois. But, like individual people, societies change and what we are witnessing in Catalonia is the breakdown of that class-based discourse. The secessionist camp is inter-class and broad-based. Proof of that is the joint political efforts by political parties that are like chalk and cheese, such as the PDECat and the CUP.

What is the impact of that on politics? Are political parties unable to embrace self-determination unless they have ideological references?

The distinction you seem to draw between political leaders and intellectual references is blurry. Many political leaders boast about being intellectuals. Having said that, cause and effect occur at the same time. Action is dialectic and cause and effect go hand in hand. On the subject of the public opinion, things are far from clear. The latest data from Spain’s government pollster indicates that only 2.6 per cent of the Spanish people are worried about independence. In other words, they couldn’t care less. We can interpret this in two ways: either they do not oppose independence or they are so sure that Madrid will eventually take military action that they do not care.

What about the role of Spanish media, where the Catalan referendum is always branded illegal? Does that tend to corner any dissidents?

It builds an opinion climate. The spiral of silence is called upon to characterise what is going on in Catalonia, but it is actually in Madrid. If there is one social group that is prone to fear, it is intellectuals. It takes us back to the cultural policy of General Franco’s regime and is a remnant of that period.

Translator’s note:

Ramón Cotarelo is a Spanish political scientist and a university professor with Spain’s distance learning university (UNED).

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