THE OBSERVER

The bridge, the river and Torra

ESTHER VERA
ESTHER VERA Directora de l'ARA

The famous saying "We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it" has been turned into a mantra by Carles Puigdemont’s inner circle in recent months. A guerrilla war has broken out in Catalan politics in response to the attack with conventional weapons by the Spanish state. Creating a political strategy is impossible in such an extremely difficult situation, with political prisoners, people in exile and court cases growing by the minute. Strategic decisions gave way to tactics well before 27 September and the subsequent judicial interference, and the brutal policies of the Article 155 bloc do not allow for more parliamentary peace. In such a climate of heightened emotions, after three attempts to invest a president blocked by Spain and without breaking the rules of Parliament, Quim Torra, the JxCat MP, addressed the House with two messages: republicanism and dialogue. Republicanism as an ideal for building a country at some time in the future and the offer of dialogue with the Spanish government, accompanied by a request for the European Union to mediate. Without the legal threats hanging over Jordi Turull, Torra’s speech was more than just a call for resistance: it showed the spirit of a republican epic, though without an impossible agenda. A speech that was epic in its form, yet more pragmatic at heart, without setting dates or mentioning unilateral actions.

During the candidate’s turn to speak following the parliamentary groups’ speeches, Torra was more explicit in calling on the CUP to abstain. In standing as candidate for the presidency of the Catalan government, he declared that the gravity of the events which occurred during the 1 October referendum represent "the country’s foundational moment" and added that his government does not intend to look to the past and a return to "autonomism" [i.e. remaining as an Autonomous community of Spain]. Torra defined himself as a "radical" if this meant "going to the heart of the matter" adding that, "to defend Catalonia, one must take the radical approach that is needed". However, Torra did not make any specific proposals beyond reopening Catalonia’s offices abroad and undertaking a constituent process, or in ERC’s words, "a great debate involving the country with a constituent objective". The river must be crossed in order to recover Catalonia’s institutions. Followed by the next river and the next bridge.

If the CUP decides to allow the investiture to go ahead by abstaining in Monday’s vote, a new, positive page will have been turned. To begin with, it will allow us to recover our institutions. Torra quoted Joan Fuster in declaring that "every policy we fail to pass will be passed against us". An indignant Xavier Domènech reminded him that regaining control of the Catalan government is a priority, while reproaching Puigdemont’s political heir for having dared to "jeopardize the institutions which all our forebears fought for".

There was a lot of Puigdemont in Torra’s speech. Speaking to King Felipe on the subject of the monarch’s 3 October address, Torra quoted his predecessor: ”Not like that, Your Majesty!", while presenting himself as an interim candidate with limited shelf life. Faced with enormous difficulties, Torra must assume the presidency with all its consequences and with a hope that his speech will have struck the right note after all these months, broadening the base so that those who are pro-sovereignty and those who are pro-independence can form an unquestionable majority. The Spanish state will not disappoint, it won’t learn from its historical mistakes. Tensions between the PP and Ciudadanos, the predictable passing of the government budget with the support of the PNB —thus throwing Rajoy a lifebelt—, the inability not to humiliate one’s opponent, the repressive brutality and the imprisonment: none of these suggest that there is a possibility of dialogue with the Spanish state in the short term. They are all reasons why the Catalan government needs to be strong and without an expiration date and, aside from loyalty to the president in Berlin, Puigdemont must allow Torra to become a legitimate interlocutor in his own right. Loyalty and the capacity for action, the same things Puigdemont asked of Mas during his presidency. The same day as the investiture debate, the list of the winners of the Sant Jordi Award [the second-highest civil distinction in Catalonia] was revealed in Berlin, and an announcement was made in an Italian newspaper that the presidential candidate might be prepared to call elections as of 27 October.

A more spontaneous Quim Torra was in evidence during the afternoon session, when he spoke of a radical defence of Catalonia. A radical approach that will be needed in order to resist and to act, but one which will also have to fight accusations of only focusing on Catalonia’s essence. Sergi Sebrià, with a brave, reflective speech, stated that "Catalonia: we are one people". Essentialism will be the independence process’ worst enemy and Quim Torra will have to be careful if he wishes to be the president of all the Catalan people. There are no shortcuts. The tools are civic-mindedness and a democratic majority; and it will only succeed by promoting a diverse, plural, inclusive idea of Catalonia that protects the Catalan language and loves Spanish, one which conveys the possibility of a better future for all its citizens. Wherever they came from.

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