by Marcelino Botin and Eve Bertet
Spain has been plunged into political turmoil after Rajoy decided to deploy violence in order to stop the illegal referendum of Catalonia. Media platforms are going haywire as images of violent abuse reach their headquarters. An informative analysis of these events cannot be misguided by the unfounded intuitions that such images invoke. Spain is not governed by a fascist president who wants pro-independence activist s hanged under Madrid’s “Puerta de Alcala”, nor is it obvious that the Catalan nationalist movement has a legitimate claim for independence. To avoid making the same mistake as so many newspapers, television shows, and our angry and politically enlightened friends on f acebook, we will begin our analysis of the situation from the beginning, the modern beginning that is, when men used bayonets and women were tools for reproduction.
I. A Brief History of Catalonia:
Catalonia was an independent region of the Iberian Peninsula with its own language, laws and institutions until the 1710s , when it was defeated during The War of Spanish Succession. With Philip V, the Habsburgs’ authority was replaced by the dynasty of the Bourbons, and as a faithful grandson of Louis XIV, the new King was resolved to modernise the regions by centralising the power to one government. In the decrees of Nueva Planta , he proclaimed the end of the political autonomy of the kingdoms, resulting in the birth of the modern-day unified and sovereign Spanish state.
This unification however was met with ongoing rejection from the local population and the struggle over self-determination seemed unresolvable. But something rather promising happened during Spain’s Second Republic. In 1932, Catalonia became the first to benefit from an advanced type of federalism, which gave “extensive” autonomy to regional government insofar as it formally remain members of the Spanish state.
Unfortunately, this step toward compromise and dialogue was soon undone, when, in 1936, General Franco raised arms against the Republican government, marking the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Franco’s nationalist discourse was obsessed with the idea of identity: the Nation of Spain was called to become “Una grande, libre, y Unida!” (Great, free and united). With the Fascists in power, a centralised system of law was imposed, with the farfetched objective of creating a nation-state with a single common culture. As a consequence, any expression of Catalonian language, culture and tradition was severely repressed.
II. The end of Franco, the rise of Nationalism.
42 years after the fall of Franco’s rule and the establishment of Spanish Democracy, things have dramatically evolve d. Catalonia has regained its autonomy, especially in matters such as education and cultural preservation. It also maintains a degree of independence compared to other regional governments over the extent to which it can legislate its system of justice and public order. Although some Catalans have always been unhappy with this arrangement, the pro-independence movement had very marginal political success until recent times.
This has obviously changed, the illegal referendum that took place on the first of October is the indisputable proof that the separatist movement today has gained immense support.
Thus, we would like to talk about a much less mediatised event that happened the day before the Catalan Referendum. Namely, the encounter between the police forces, sent by the Spanish government to stop the vote from happening, and thousands of passionate Spaniards who lent them their passionate support. The video below will put our reader into context.
Let us clarify a few important things. First, Catalan people are not orcs, they are physiologically similar to orcs, but so are we. The Spanish police was not going to war to fight for the survival of humankind; and our guess is that Mariano Rajoy does not think that Puigdemont is a relative of Sauron. The video serves a purpose which is not to draw an accurate comparison between the battle of Minas Tirith and what happened 3 weeks ago on the streets of Catalonia.
What it shows is that a little bit of imagination, and perhaps better editing, can make the encounter between the Spanish citizens and the police forces a suitable scene to prelude a great battle. The reaction of thousands of civilians made it seem as if the vital interest of our country, and the lives of thousands of innocent policemen where at stake. This was certainly not the case, the state forces had the task of stoping an illegal vote, not to defeat an enemy. The humorous tone of the video will hopefully highlight the absurdity of this particular moment, not only was it absolutely unnecessary but it also contributed to creating avoidable conditions of violence.
The video’s relevance cannot be overlooked, for the fact that these images suit a context of violence tells us rather a lot about the psychological states, discourse, and rationality of the many Spanish citizens.
III. Orcs, fear and Identity.
Extrapolating conclusions from a single moment is no easy task, one that can turn into speculative nonsense. However, we would like to propose two plausible insights which will hopefully shed some light on the foundations of the conflict as a whole.
First, as discussed above, Spain is a state built upon heterogeneous identities that have been “masked” as if they constituted one single “self”. The idea of Spain as a nation is a fiction, however, 35 years of persuasion under Franco’s rule, and similar efforts carried out by Rajoy’s People’s Party have obscured this truth.
This fiction becomes evident when of men and women gather to support and celebrate the deployment of thousands of armed policemen to the street of Catalonia. To many, these events represented proudness and patriotism. However, the division between patriotism and nationalism becomes bluer when a discourse justifies the use of violence against a particular collective, when it creates a division among those who belong and those who do not.
The screams of “Go and get them” are among the key instances that make this identity division obvious. At this particular moment, pro-independence citizens were the enemy responsible for endangering the Spanish nation, and thus the support for a policy decision that infringed upon their rights against violence was justifiable.
The obsession towards negating the plurality of a “colonial state” was forced upon the citizens of Spain throughout the longest dictatorship that Europe has ever seen, and Franco’s political legacy is very much alive. (Rajoy’s People’s Party unwillingness to grant Catalonia their symbolic status of a nation is a clear example)
What a paradox it was that the opposite discourse, namely that spain is a multinational country, was made possible, not by those who precisely wants to be recognised as
The second insight is directly linked to the former, however it is much speculative for it makes a claim about the psychology of thousands of shouting Spaniards.
Spain is a country with great fear towards anything that challenges the status quo. To many active voters, conceding a greater amount of independence to regional administrations is a synonym of chaos. This fear is far from being new. Franco’s last words to the King Juan Carlos showcase this insecurity: “Majesty, the only thing I ask of you is that you secure the unity of Spain”. To Franco’s understanding, if one of the regional governments was granted too much independence, other nationalist regions would pursue the same treatment eventually leading to the decomposition of the Spanish state
Perhaps similar insecurity motivated Rajoy’s answer to the catalan referendum.
Some may have the intellectual tools to understand a discourse which deems a referendum illegal, inconsequential and irrelevant, but nevertheless sees those events as a turning point, a threat to their vital interests, and as requiring the presence of over 10.000 armed policemen . To us, this logic is best explained by fear.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the government’s choice to deploy police forces was a horrendous mistake. One that will help the independent movement enrich i ts discourse of identity by solidifying the myth of a violent and repressive other. However, the analysis above may provide an explanation as to why such a decision was embraced and supported with ridiculous enthusiasm by so many Spanish citizens. Two necessary conditions were met , a strong sense of insecurity towards change, and a division of identity which made the projection of that fear towards a particular group of subjects possible.
These two conditions can inform us about the nature of the conflict as a whole. Although thoroughly understanding their full range of effects would take much more effort than what we can afford to give, one significant consequence we are willing to point out, is that they are making compromise between the government of Spain and Catalonia unviable. Both the aversion towards starting a dialogue that could lead to greater legislative liberty of Catalonia and the strictly related obsession of maintaining the fiction of Spanish national unity have played their part in this crisis.
We would like to encourage our reader to complement our genealogy with his own investigation as there are many reasons for the uprising of Catalan nationalism that have not been discussed. Could it be that Puigdemont’s discourse, which blames the Spanish administration for the economic struggle suffered in the Catalan region, while claiming that economic bonanza will inevitably follow independence, has misinformed millions of civilians about what in reality is a very uncertain future?
Featured image: 1-0 Barcelona, by Jorge Talledo