Murder or suicide? At the present crossroads, Catalonia’s pro-independence movement must choose between allowing itself to be murdered, a hero’s suicide, or an unpleasant reality-check that acknowledges the existing correlation of forces and has no qualms about discussing how it can survive the current catastrophe.
Today’s reality is a far cry from the promised transformation of Catalonia into an independent country by means of a political process whereby the Spanish legal framework would be smoothly replaced with a new one. The much-anticipated bilateral negotiation with the Spanish authorities has not happened either, while the forces that drive the Spain’s new nationalism are immersed in a competition with one another: the traditional right that attends Catholic Easter processions with parading legionaries is competing against its alleged revamped version, one that was built on the back of the sort of anti-Catalan sentiment that has politically benefitted so many in Spain.
The deep state’s political reaction when faced against a movement which it opposes —but has no desire to understand— has led to a repressive race between the Spanish police’s “Go get ’em!” motto and a justice system that aims to make an example of the Catalan leaders and is actually looking for retribution. As a result, nearly the entire Catalan government has been deposed and the leaders of the grassroots pro-independence groups (Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly) are in a Spanish jail awaiting trial. Meanwhile, Carles Puigdemont is in a German prison cell, many officials are in exile and Catalonia’s Generalitat has been taken over completely by the Spanish authorities. Despite this reality, some political actors are still afraid to explain to the general public that their strategy has failed and that a new focus is needed. Those who are blatantly responsible have no excuse not to be clear and should stop justifying themselves. The fear of being called a traitor has become the independence movement’s worst enemy because it condemns it to act with the senseless gung-ho spirit that followed its earlier harmful motto: “We’re in a hurry”.
A choice must be made between digging in or bringing in new actors and a fresh strategy
With the main Catalan leaders now in jail, a choice must be made between digging in or bringing in new actors and a fresh strategy. Sticking to their guns would lead to increased social tension because the gap left by the lack of a political leadership would be filled by unpredictable direct action from the CDRs (1), which are ripe for infiltrators who seek to justify Madrid’s claim that Catalonia’s pro-independence movement is a violent one. If such violent claims take hold, they will impact the defence strategy of those who are in prison and they will ruin the reputation built in recent years by means of massive, peaceful, exemplary demonstrations.
In contrast, new leaders would mean getting back our institutions and, for now, protecting key areas such as the school system, security and Catalonia’s police force, as well as the Catalan broadcasting corporation. Their survival is far from guaranteed in the current onslaught. Regaining our institutions is not akin to trivialising the situation of the prisoners, but it will provide a means to denounce their situation at home and abroad. In fact, any sympathy which the Catalan cause might earn abroad could be detrimental to Spain as a brand name and to Rajoy’s position, but it would not automatically guarantee support for an imposed solution to the Catalan issue. Countries still avoid meddling with what they regard as each other’s internal affairs.
Headless and without a free leadership, the separatist political parties and grassroots groups are finding their bearings with greater or lesser realism. Following the CUP’s clarification of their own position, the move by the Comuns —edging closer to ERC and JxCat— should help to form a government, but so far talks have failed to produce a presidential candidate that is acceptable to all. Òmnium Cultural —true to its own history— has shown off its well-honed survival skills and its ability to retain a central position amid the most adverse of political situations. In contrast, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) will need to redefine its role. Its newly-elected president’s first interview cannot be regarded as good news. By stating that “If we cannot run the risk of further arrests because of the crackdown, we might as well go home”, Elisenda Paluzie is upping the ante to add new acts of heroism at an extraordinary human cost. And when she adds that “we need to implement the Catalan Republic”, she is in denial of the actual chances of that happening in the current state of affairs. Furthermore, her rhetoric in favour of tension gets worse when she argues that “this deadlock is to our benefit”. It isn’t: the current deadlock takes a toll on Catalonia due to the economic uncertainty it causes; it jeopardises the broad-based support of the independence movement, it gets in the way of regaining our institutions and, therefore, it risks our school system, police and public media.
So far Catalonia’s independence process has proven that the theory whereby things must get worse before they can get better is untrue: whenever things have got worse, they have stayed that way. First of all we need a government that governs with a president who leads whilst being aware of the actual majorities and whose main goals are the release of the prisoners, recovering our institutions and strengthening the denunciation front abroad.
(1) Catalonia’s Comitès de Defensa de la República (Committees for the Defence of the Republic, CDRs) are loosely-organised local groups of pro-independence activists who advocate non-violent resistance.