The State and Rufino

It is Carles Puigdemont who must make the most difficult decision

Footing the bill. It is not true that the PP government has not engaged in political action to deal with the Catalan issue. It has, indeed, and by means of the State’s every entity. They have closed ranks and are willing to foot the bill of Spain’s democratic regression. A democracy that was once perceived as an international success story, thanks to the political Transition [following General Franco’s death] and the growth of its economy, is now watching as the Spain brand name is degraded, and that is not good news. The Spanish government has outsourced its political decisions to the judiciary and the most immobilist elements in every stratum of the State have sided with them. In Spain you can always rely on the elites having a mandarin in the ministries, someone by the name of Rufino, who will ensure that nothing changes. You could say that Rufino is Madrid’s equivalent of Sir Humphrey, the Prime Minister’s Permanent Secretary [on Yes, Prime Minister] who made sure that no deep core changes were ever made, even in the off-chance that his own political master might entertain such a notion.

The Catalan movement, with all its mistakes and recklessness rather than courage, with its lack of a strategy, actually poses a far-reaching challenge for Spain’s deep structure. It is an intolerable challenge for Spain’s army of Rufinos, who hold a unitary, homogenous view of how public affairs should be conducted. This time they are led by the justice system and the Crown. Its core is composed of journalists who are willing to protect Spain’s unity at the expense of the truth, judges willing to hand down preventive rulings by twisting the law, ministers whose shoddy performance record is masked by patriotic rhetoric, and a stilted monarchy that has missed a historic opportunity to modernise Spain. Sitting at the other end are the Spanish citizens who feel uncomfortable but remain quiet. They choose not to point out that the quality of Spain’s democracy is deteriorating, for fear of having the establishment’s media storm point fingers at them. This reactionary, chauvinistic Spain, the one that hides behind the flag, impervious to any external influx, sits side by side with another Spain that is economically active and keen to turn Madrid into the Latin American bridgehead in Europe.

Regret. In order to justify keeping former Interior Minister Joaquim Forn in custody pending trial, the judge claims that “Forn’s ideology coexists with a political context in Catalonia where there is no certainty that the intention to achieve independence no longer exists”. He goes on to say that “clearer indications” beyond stepping down as MP are needed before he will consider Forn’s release. The atmosphere is ideologically asphyxiating and the persecution of political views is being normalised by a State which believes that it can resolve the problem through repression. But those Catalans who have concluded that a respectful, diverse relationship with Spain is impossible (the 47.5 per cent of the electorate who voted for a secessionist party on December 21) are not going away. They are not going to vanish. Catalan citizens might put their activism on hold if Madrid’s crackdown tires them out rather than humiliates them, but they will never be the same again. The political events of recent years have transformed a society that won’t be the same after the independence referendum on October 1. The perception of power abuse cannot be forgotten and Spain will fail to prevent it from being voiced at the ballots.

The pressure is on. “They decided not to elect Puigdemont weeks ago”. “They want to liquidate him like they did with Artur Mas. If so, they should speak out. The truth is useful”. These are the words of a “legitimist” Puigdemont supporter who is outraged by the Speaker’s decision to postpone the parliamentary session where Carles Puigdemont was due to be voted president. The secessionist camp is split between pragmatists and legitimists. The former believe that Puigdemont should merely receive symbolic recognition whilst reclaiming the Catalan institutions, whereas the latter think that a full restitution is in order, as a matter of “dignity”. This divide exists across the board and does not quite match the party boundaries between ERC and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat).

Catalonia’s institutions have been completely taken over. Information does not flow from the ministries in Barcelona to the outside world and the PP government keeps making constant demands for information amid opaque decisions. We are seeing a full-on attempt to take apart Spain’s system of autonomous regions.

The final decision as to how this parliamentary term will pan out and how long it will last is in the hands of president Puigdemont. He commands over half the JxCat lawmakers, who joined him out of sheer loyalty despite their diverse —even antagonistic— political views. Puigdemont’s catch-all slate and the notion that the president should be reinstated meant that Junts per Catalunya was the most voted pro-independence ticket. ERC would rather avoid another snap election, as would the PP and the PDECat, even if the latter will not stand in the way of Puigdemont’s intentions.

It is Carles Puigdemont who must make the most difficult decision. Like Artur Mas did in January 2016, Puigdemont will decide whether to go to a snap election or to form an ideologically contradictory government whose priority will be to regain the institutions and build a new strategy for Catalonia’s sovereignty movement.

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