THE OBSERVER

What is the 'momentum'?

ESTHER VERA
ESTHER VERA Directora de l'ARA

After the pace of events accelerated from October to December last year, Catalan politics entered into a paralysis from which it has not yet recovered, despite the fact that direct rule has been lifted and that, formally, Catalonia has recovered its institutions. A majority of the nation that was deeply upset by the violence on 1-O was left in a state of shock by imprisonments and exile, by the shattering of personal relations between the country's top political leaders, and the diverse opinions about how to address the future of the sovereignty movement after 27-O. Today, if there is a threat that looms like a black shadow over a recovery of the political pulse, it is the trial for charges of rebellion, which perverts any desire to look towards the future. All political actions are conditioned by the strained wait for a trial in which some of the country's leading civil and political leaders —including the vice president of the government and the president of Parliament— will be facing the prosecutor’s push for between 7 and 25 years in jail.

The image of Catalan politicians entering a hearing room from a prison day in and day out, sitting in the dock being questioned for hours before a judge or answering the questions of lawyers from the extreme right, will not be neutral at home or for the image of Spain abroad. The legal argument for the crime of rebellion must be justified by evidence of the violence allegedly exercised in Catalonia, and it is highly unlikely that the day-to-day trial will change the perception that many Catalans, even those outside of the sovereignty movement, have of the State's abuse of power and desire for retribution. One doesn't have to be psychic to anticipate that there will be great outrage during the trial and when the verdicts are handed down.

Faced with this scenario, many wonder how they should react to a new rise in tension in the country and how the indignation of a good part of public opinion should be channeled. What someone called "momentum" has a very different meaning depending on the political players analyzing it. For some, it would be a matter of using it to make a gesture of ongoing civic resistance, while for others it would be an opportunity for calling elections in an environment that could favor the growth of a pro-sovereignty parliamentary majority.

President Torra has been speaking publicly for months of "not abiding by the sentence" without revealing what that means exactly. From his words one might deduce that he is willing to step down from office, or to "face off against" [the State], but the objectives are not clear. The president of the Generalitat is carrying out his office with his eyes on the history books, and his vocation is to serve as a place-holder until the return of President Puigdemont. Going to prison, according to some sources that know him well, is not the worst of his nightmares. Other players close to the president defended the call for a strong popular reaction when the sentencing requests were announced, but now they are identifying momentum as the foreseeable wave of indignation that the verdict could bring about.

No one wants to define what the response to the trial should be, but we should keep the past in mind so as to act with political intelligence in the future. Success will depend on whether there is an ability to realistically evaluate the strengths, to remember the majorities that have been stubbornly and stably reproduced in elections, and to take into account that any sacrifice that is asked of the public has to be feasible and useful. Perhaps the only practical advantage of the October 27 independence declaration is that the temperature of the street was taken, and the Catalan government's effective capacity for pressure was measured. This did not end the attack and, wisely, did not jeopardize those who would have been willing to do so without the guarantee of a victory or an indisputable majority behind them that could turn an eventual victory into a socially sustainable democratic reality.

Imprisoned ERC leader Oriol Junqueras spoke, in an interview with ARA, of elections as "an option" to channel frustration and indignation. But the Republicans are also holding in reserve the decision depending on future events. Other players openly advocate for a peaceful resistance movement that would paralyze the country and thus challenge the State. To be able to realistically read the results of the latest struggle will determine the success of the sovereignty movement in the future. Catalan political players must make a strategic decision that will convince the October 3rd majority, the one that wants a stronger democracy and a cohesive, prosperous country. The one that is in less of a hurry.

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