A discreet authoritarian regime

One fine day, unexpectedly, Pereira realizes he is living in a dictatorship

FERRAN SÁEZ MATEU Escriptor i professor a la Universitat Ramon Llull

It is July of 1938 and we are in Lisbon. An apathetic man, peaceful by nature, lives a life of routine. His name is Pereira. He spends his days going back and forth between his home and the newspaper where he works; nothing changes, day in and day out. He is unconcerned about the political situation in neighboring Spain, which finds itself at a critical moment of the Civil War, nor by that of Portugal, where Salazar has been ruling since 1932. Pereira just goes on with his life. He drinks lemonade, eats omelettes with fine herbs, reads the French writers of the 19th century, writes his reviews for the newspaper, and recites monologues in front of the portrait of his deceased wife. This is enough for him. In any case, he's no idiot: as much as he would like to avoid it, reality is getting in his way. One fine day, unexpectedly, he realizes that he is living under a dictatorship. It's an unobtrusive, discreet, authoritarian regime, like many other things that the Portuguese have accomplished, including a great empire. This realization, of course, changes his life. This is a short summary of Pereira Maintains, a novel by the Italian author Antonio Tabucchi, which was an enormous literary success in the mid-1990s.

I am convinced that a good number of Catalans -and also many Spaniards- are "pereirizing", if you will allow me the neologism. Right now, the three powers of the State -the executive, legislative and, in particular, the judicial- are entering into an inertia that is inevitably giving way to a denaturalization of our democracy. It should be emphasized that there are abundant examples of authoritarian democracies. France under De Gaulle was, at certain times, an inarguably authoritarian democracy. Today, Turkey and the Russian Federation are fully within this category. There are political parties, there are periodic elections, etc., but within a tense and always insecure situation, in which aspects such as freedom of speech and peaceful political disagreement are under threat.

If it helps to wilfully neglect one's public duty, then one does so. It is especially interesting, though, when the violation of certain constitutional precepts is committed... in the name of the Constitution

I am not pointing out anything new -many people have said as much before me- when I say that basic rights in Spain are not fully guaranteed at the moment. The tacit -or sometimes, blatantly explicit- argument is the situation in Catalonia. Anything goes if it serves to neutralize the peaceful desire, democratically expressed, of treacherous Catalan separatism. If forging a document is needed, then it is forged without any qualms. If it helps to wilfully neglect one's public duty, then one does so. It is especially interesting, though, when the violation of certain constitutional precepts is committed... in the name of the Constitution.

Under so-called "normal" circumstances, a liberal democracy has resources to correct this inertia. On a parliamentary level, there is a figure legally typified as the opposition, which checks and balances governmental decision. But there is no opposition in Spain, only three parties -the PP, PSOE, and C's- who, barely holding back their laughter, feign imaginary disagreements only to keep on the good side of their respective voters. Effectively, there is no opposition. Neither is there any substantial difference between the policies espoused by Minister Catalá and the judicial decisions that match them in a suspiciously perfect manner. With some extremely honorable exceptions -in general, from digital media- the Spanish press doesn't seem at all interested in the constitutional rights spelled out clearly in Article 20. Rather, they content themselves with getting out of the way of deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

Within Spanish society, and especially among certain intellectuals and artists who call themselves progressives, a significant misunderstanding has taken root. They believe that what the Article 155 bloc -PP, PSOE, and C's- is doing with regards to Catalonia will not affect them at all. They are convinced, even, that the obvious disproportionality of the provisional measures, or the openly vindictive attitude towards everything represented today by Catalonia’s Parliamentary majority, will strengthen Spain. The most lucid among them, however, are already getting suspicious: "And what if this climate of exceptionality turns against us?" "The screwed-up thing about the Catalan conflict, the downside, is three cabinet ministers singing “The Bridegroom of Death", said Madrid-based actor José Sacristán in a recent interview with Publico, a Madrid newspaper. Jackpot! You've seen them coming, friend, but this is only the beginning. Here is a textbook case of "pereirization". But make no mistake: singing "The Bridegroom of Death" [the Spanish foreign legion’s unofficial anthem] is an anecdote compared to actions that actually jeopardize fundamental rights, including free speech. They will realize, yes, but by then it will be too late.

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