The king is naked

Did King Felipe do the right thing by attending yesterday’s march in Barcelona? Much has been said about the fact that, in an unprecedented gesture, the Spanish monarch decided to join his subjects in a street demonstration. In hindsight, though, the loud boos with which the symbol of Spain’s monarchy was greeted by members of the public would seem to vindicate those who, like Pedro J. Ramírez, believed that the monarch had made a serious mistake. I am not so sure myself. At the end of the day, any authority figure who is willing to be booed is showing some courage. Still, this is a political view and King Felipe is only political in Catalonia. Elsewhere in Spain, he is a symbol.

On the other hand, with the Partido Popular at the helm of the Spanish government, the king is the best instrument for the State to show the world that it cares about what goes on across Spain. The monarch is the infallible wild card. Or so they thought: in Madrid, Barcelona’s booing and the display of anti-royal banners have wounded their Spanish pride and elicited feelings of dismay. It has become apparent that, while in Spain the monarchy is well above all political feuding, in Catalonia the Bourbon dynasty is part and parcel of the so-called status quo, the opponent that the independence movement intends to fight from today through to the day of the independence referendum (October 1).

We will see how the whole thing pans out in terms media attention. Given that a few demonstrators waved Spanish flags alongside the more numerous separatists carrying “estelades”, Madrid-based papers will not struggle to fill their front pages with the right sort of photo (if they asked me, I would pick the one showing Catalan police officers standing to attention before the king). Still, this last week we have seen how the main newspapers in Madrid have found it difficult to impose their crass, nearly slanderous narrative, which international media have not echoed but refuted.

Furthermore, the TV signal shared by Catalonia’s public broadcaster (TV3) throughout the world leaves no room for confusion: Catalonia’s pro-independence political parties, who fretted about a potential hijacking of the march by Spanish nationalists, can heave a sigh of relief; so can those who were afraid of a war of flags. In fact, all flags coexisted peacefully in the streets of Barcelona: separatist “estelades”, official Spanish flags, Spanish republican flags and even others. In an atmosphere filled with grief, anger, pent-up tension and further strain yet to come, such an example of civility within diversity afforded greater strength to the collective cry: “No tinc por!” (“I’m not afraid”). Many sectors had requested a politically neutral demonstration, exclusively focused on paying tribute to the victims and rejecting violence. But we had already had that: it was the day after the Barcelona attack, with Plaça de Catalunya packed to the brim, where silence was only broken by a spontaneous call: “No tinc por!” After such an eventful week, and once we had got over the first impact of the tragedy, it was somewhat naive to expect Catalonia’s internal political dynamic not to surface, more so when Spanish parties and media had been demanding that Catalonia’s parliamentary majority calls off the referendum, despite its massive support, with the excuse of the terrorist attacks.

It is customary to demand that terrorism does not interfere with democratic life, and that is precisely what we saw yesterday in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia. Spain’s political elite, whose media support is plentiful, intended to make political capital out of the tragedy and a misleading concept (“unity”). However, unity was only expressed as grief shared by all sides: the unanimous cry was heard side by side with the boos aimed at Rajoy, his cabinet and the king, a predictable response given the avalanche of alarming information about the Home Secretary’s intentions, the campaign to smear the Catalan police force and the hypocrisy of a State that sells arms to jihadism’s top international sponsor.

Yesterday showed us a Catalan society that knows how to voice outrage at terror collectively while fervently advocating differing political projects at the same time: a society that always expresses itself democratically, that has settled its differences with its police force and public services, one that has drastically ruled out the dangers of islamophobia and bigotry in general. It is also a society that has wiped the far-right off the Catalan political landscape, which is no mean feat considering it is raising its ugly head in other parts of Europe, ever more threateningly. Ultimately, it is not a bad picture.

Tomorrow everything will start again. I would venture that, on their flight back to Madrid, Rajoy and his ministers had plenty to think about.

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