One hundred and eighty-four days after the formal declaration of the interrupted Republic and the takeover of the Catalan government under Article 155, the brutality of events has shifted the tectonic plates of Catalan and Spanish politics. In the years that lie ahead we will be able to assess the extent of a reality that is now immersed in a historically unique process which presently lacks an outcome. Indeed, can one talk about an outcome or should one instead speak of a somewhat bumpy ride towards a new relationship with Spain? Or perhaps a social contract broken by the drift of many people who feel they are no longer represented by the political and justice systems?
In Catalonia, decisions will be made in the coming weeks, but those who believe that an end will be reached, and "normality" will be restored, are sadly mistaken. Expressions of public dissatisfaction suggest underlying changes in Catalan society that call into question the socio-political status quo.
Catalonia will never be the same as it was before the 1 October referendum and the desire to decide its future is not a one off, in spite of tactical errors and fatigue, causing fluctuations in the solid support for independence. Catalonia’s party system is scrambling to regroup in the aftermath of the implosion. ERC is weaving a new ideological discourse to occupy Catalonia’s political centre, undertaking the task with its chief strategist in prison and new cadres at the party’s helm: most notably Pere Aragonès and Roger Torrent and those close to them. PDECat awaits the decisions of Carles Puigdemont, caught up in its loyalty to the president and unease over its strong disagreements with JxCat, which aspires to form "a new pujolisme" [a reference to Jordi Pujol, the disgraced former president of Catalonia and architect of the party], a cross-society movement built around the president in Berlin under the banner Junts per la República [Together for the Republic].
Against this backdrop of rebuilding, JxCat has announced that it is considering Plan D. Although Puigdemont has not formally withdrawn his candidacy for the presidency, negotiations in search of a new candidate are earnestly underway. Those who are in pre-trial detainment call for a government to be formed, repeatedly making their demands known to the president. Sources close to the jailed politicians speak of a "commitment" to form a government, while other official voices mention Puigdemont’s "unpredictability".
Meanwhile, others constantly scan the list of MPs to spot a potential presidential candidate who could fulfil the role. The names which come up include: Elsa Artadi, Ferran Mascarell and the former mayor of Cerdanyola, Toni Morral. But it will be Carles Puigdemont who decides, as Artur Mas decided in January 2016. Whoever it may be, their profile will have to convince both internal and external allies, with objectives as diverse as PDECat and JxCat, ERC, the CUP and the Comuns. Building such an alliance will require time and skill.
PNB backs down
The political landscape has also changed in Spain. On Thursday the PNB MP, Luke Uribe-Etxebarria, sporting a yellow ribbon [worn by those calling for the release of the Catalan prisoners], in an interview with Lídia Heredia on TV3 explained why the PNB [The Basque Nationalist party] has revised its position with respect to Rajoy’s budget. The PNB is considering its options, or, to put it another way, is cutting to the chase and has informed its Catalan colleagues that its patience is running out and, as always, perfectly legitimately, their political interests take precedence. The PNB has decided to give Rajoy some breathing space, faced by a state in a fin de régime climate that may crystallise the combined interests of the judiciary, industry and the deep state to bring victory to the Ciudadanos party in the next Spanish general elections. An outcome the PNB knows will mean an end to the privileges of its finance system.
In Madrid’s political circles, Ciudadanos are perceived very differently from here, in Catalonia. Here they are seen as a Spanish nationalist party whose inception and the objectives behind its creation are obvious. In contrast, a left-leaning Madrid journalist stated that "we see them as the modern right". By coming to the rescue of Rajoy’s budget, the PNB has decided to form a bulwark against Ciudadanos. Uribe-Etxebarria described Ciudadanos’ position as a "joseantoniana y falangista" vision of Spain [in reference to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange Española, a political organization of fascist inspiration]. While insisting that the PNB will "always stand with Catalonia”, he justified their support for Rajoy, aware that things can always get worse and that the Basque Economic Agreement is the jewel in the crown of the Basques’ privileged status within Spain. Logic would suggest that now is the time for the PP to make a move to face the onslaught, by facilitating the formation of a government in Catalonia, lifting the application of Article 155 and easing the strain. However, in politics logic cannot always be counted on.
The feeling that Spain has reached the end of an era is exacerbated by the role of its judges and their distance from the general public. The feeling of the abuse of power that many Catalans share for political reasons has now spread on a massive scale, with barely-contained outrage following the ruling handed down to the criminals known as La Manada [The Wolfpack] (1). The ruling and the individual vote by one of the judges show a contempt for the dignity of women that we have all experienced first-hand or close by at one time or another. The judicial power has clearly forgotten that power and authority are not the same thing. This was illustrated by the letter from the President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes who was shocked by society and politicians’ criticisms of the judiciary he presides over. Mr Lesmes has forgotten than power and authority are two different things. The latter requires recognition and respect from a society that considers the social contract that has been in force up until now to have been broken.
(1) A group of young men who called themselves la Manada (“the Wolfpack”) have been recently found guilty of sexually abusing a young woman, but rape charges were dismissed by the court, which has outraged many in Spain. One of the three judges failed to see any sexual misconduct at all in the group’s actions.