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Is there a way out of this crisis for the Catalan people?

Don't believe the half-truths and empty rhetoric on both sides, warns Jorge López Llorente

There is a ‘crisis’ in Catalonia. Yet it remains hazy, probably even more so from the outside, as it gurgles with manipulation, fake news and indecision. Catalans now live in a broken mirror of bitter division that sometimes slips into absurd comedy, like the minute-long declaration of independence by Carles Puigdemont, President of the regional government, who then backed down.

You may have believed the international coverage, which was mostly dreadful: nationalist lies were taken at face value, as in the Washington Post’s article signed by Puigdemont. Voices shout over each other, but dialogue fades. We must step back and realise that nationalists of both kinds, with Catalan esteladas or Spanish flags tied to their necks, are equally problematic. Their only ‘dialogue’ is to ram their heads against each other. It’s Spain at its most factious – but their fanaticisms must leave the centre-stage to real talk.

“Aren’t the Catalan people supporting nationalism just for freedom, legitimately, fairly?” Secessionism has been organised from above, from the powerful, so drop that populist idea of ‘the people’ first. Legitimately and fairly? That’s questionable. The Catalan regional government has been contaminating educational curricula with nationalist ideology for years: there are many cases in which Spanish is neglected, whilst Catalan is reinforced at schools, for example.

They have manipulated the regional television channel, TV3, as a propaganda platform without respect for the numerous Catalan anti-separatists who support it through taxes. “But the referendum they suggested is democratic, right?” Perhaps on paper. The latest poll on 1 October, organised by Puigdemont without consent and illegally defying the Constitutional Tribunal, was a joke, not a referendum, including Tupperware ballot boxes and people voting twice or more. Participation was below 50%.

“What if nationalist are a majority anyway?” I don’t know, but I doubt it. Most, if not all, secessionist supporters voted in that poll and they didn’t make it beyond 50%. In the 2015 regional elections (a de facto referendum), the secessionist parties didn’t gain the majority of votes, even if in a messy coalition featuring the radical left-wing CUP they reached a majority of seats. A reasonably reliable poll by CEO (July 2017) indicates that 49% of Catalans reject independence, although a majority want a referendum. Uncertainties remain, but that speaks for itself: their high-ground is shaky.

“Then what? Do you claim that Rajoy has acted correctly?” Far from it. All these years, the useless mannequin performing as Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has been incapable of acting on anything other than defending his inaction. Crisis exploded and (unsurprisingly) he was unready. Then he worsened the situation, swinging to the other extreme: he lashed out with unnecessary police brutality on referendum day, which should have been snubbed. All states act repressively, but open violence stings even more. It wasn’t even an effective strategy: now separatists can play ‘the only victim’.

Furthermore, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez were sent to jail, in an anti-democratic reaction. The judge spoke politically. “Some say they deserve it for breaking police cars – is that an excuse?” Legal action may be necessary, but these activists could have been fined.

It seems that Catalonia will break away. Instability has taken hold. An independent Catalonia cannot emerge though. Rajoy’s government, alongside a parliamentary majority, won’t allow it. “What if Puigdemont had his way?” Alright, devil’s advocate, if that (magically) happened, cold numbers would destroy his rhetoric: as you read this, companies are fleeing from Catalonia to other regions like CaixaBank. Also, an independent Catalonia would economically self-destruct, out of the EU and without Spain’s support to pay debt and pensions, despite Puigdemont’s decision that Spaniards would still pay Catalans’ pensions whatever the situation.

“Still, Rajoy just activated article 155 of the Constitution, which won’t help… It means that Puigdemont will be sacked, Rajoy’s cabinet will govern Catalonia…” So that there can be regional elections in some months. Inés Arrimadas, a levelheaded politician, suggested holding regional elections and that’s reasonable. “It’s a democratic option.” Exactly, but it’s only possible through article 155 or, ideally, convincing Puigdemont to call elections. Puigdemont won’t budge and Rajoy rejects referenda, so there are almost no other scenarios.

So what happens now? Who knows. Hopefully, the debate can progress from populist nationalism to actual problems too, like corruption or unemployment. Flags have covered the muck of corruption from Rajoy’s Popular Party and ‘the 3% scandal’ from Convergència i Unió (the former label of Puigdemont’s party) “Yes, while both leaders disgracefully mishandled other issues, especially public healthcare.” Indeed. Economic accountability on all sides would temper secessionism’s fantasies and direct taxes to better purposes than police violence or nationalist propaganda. Not only just the Spanish, but surely everyone, could do with less shouting, less deception and less hatred, don’t you think?

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