Pro-Indy Parties Fail to Form Single Election List as Catalonia Goes on General Strike
It’s been a few days since I gave a report on what’s happening here in Catalonia basically because I’m working pretty hard on trying to tell the story of what happened here in October. The central story comprises the events of October, starting with the referendum on October 1st and ending with exile of Puigdemont and the imprisonment of the rest of the Catalan Government on the 1st and 3rd of this month. Everything that happens between now and the elections on December 21st is the epilogue to an amazing adventure.
Today a General Strike is planned across Catalonia and last night the deadline was reached for presenting coalitions for the elections and the pro-independence parties haven’t managed to reach an agreement and stand together on a single list. The two issues are intimately connected but let’s deal with the General Strike and the state of the independence movement as a popular grassroots street movement first.
Obviously, I’m writing this on the morning of the strike so I may well be proven wrong but I’m doubtful whether the General Strike is going to be a great success. The ANC and Òmnium have also got a mass rally planned for Saturday, which they want to be a repetition of La Diada, the National Day of Catalonia on September 11th. Both events are an attempt to keep the independence movement’s enthusiasm alive and are also designed to mark the start of the election campaign but are likely to fail for a number of reasons.
I’m sure quite a lot of people will be outside the government buildings in Plaça de Sant Jaume and Plaça de la Universitat will be full of students this lunchtime but the mood is very different from the General Strike that was held on Tuesday October 3rd, just two days after the referendum. To begin with, this strike doesn’t have the backing of the major unions, UGT and Comisions Obreres, so it will be observed by fewer people but even those who do take the day off are less likely to take to the streets however angry they are about the incarceration of the majority of the Catalan government.
The mood for the strike on October 3rd was completely different. In theory, people were demonstrating against the police violence on referendum day but people were flushed by the success of the referendum not only in terms of the turnout here but also because of the effect it had had on the international media. They were consequently quite optimistic about the chances of a declaration of independence being made and of the fledgling republic succeeding.
It’s much more difficult to feel optimistic in the current situation, particularly as now everyone knows that the pro-independence parties won’t be standing as a united front so there’s bound to be a lot of political infighting and backbiting. ERC, probably with the aid of the CUP and the Comuns, will try and lay the blame for the failure at PDeCat’s door while PDeCat will claim that at least they tried and that the legitimate government is in exile in Brussels.
The Revolution of Smiles is Over
The rally on Saturday will be a disappointment for similar reasons. I’m sure a few hundred thousand people will attend but the turnout will be in no way comparable to the million people, who came out onto the streets of Barcelona on September 11th as the campaign for the referendum kicked off. In both cases, the rallies are more likely to be demonstrations than celebrations and I suspect they will be dominated by more radical left-wing elements, which means there is more chance of violence.
The fact that the independence movement might well be turning sour can be seen by the growth of the Comitès per la Defensa de la República of which there are now over 200. These embryonic militia groups have a reasonably broad-based support at the moment but have emerged out of the CUP so will end up being controlled by the far left if they aren’t already.
I fully understand that people want to defend Catalonia and fight against the repressive Spanish state but the moment to do this was when there was something tangible to defend just after the Republic had been declared. If Carles Puigdemont had called on the Catalan people to defend government buildings and key institutions on the night the Declaration of Independence had been made, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, including probably me and my wife, would have been out on the streets.
This was the power of the so-called Revolution of Smiles. It really was a broad-based grassroots movement without any particular political affiliation. It was motivated by a love of Catalonia and people, perhaps naively, believed they could win peacefully. If they had succeeded, the future of politics would have been changed forever.
Tough radical groups like the CDRs are completely different even though they might be justified. They will eventually be controlled by far left and criminal elements and could develop into armed terrorist groups. This is the antithesis of political Catalanism and although Terra Lliure never developed into a Catalan ETA in the eighties, there’s every reason to think that this one might.
In fact, the violence of the left divided Catalanism on at least two occasions in the 20th century. After a period of strikes and left-wing violence in the second decade of the 20th century, the Catalan middle-classes gave their tacit support to Miguel Primo de Rivera. He managed to quash the left but at the same time became Spain’s first dictator of the 20th century and ended up abolishing Catalonia’s semi-autonomous government known as the Mancomunitat.
Similarly, the Catalan middle-classes had been so terrorised by elements of the left at the end of the Second Spanish Republic that they ended up supporting the Nationalists. Many either went underground or were forced to flee to escape anarcho-syndicalist violence at the start of the Civil War and were able to return and resume relatively normal lives when Franco came to power. To paraphrase Catalan writer, Josep Pla, the problem with the Catalan conservatives of the Lliga Regionalista is that they sold their soul to the devil.
This conservative element in Catalanism, which prefers security to freedom, is still very present in PDeCat. I’m not sure whether Santi Vila is the new Francesc Cambó but a similar figure will appear in the coming months.
The Election Campaign Begins
This is the reason why I like people like Carles Puigdemont and the more pro-independence elements of PDeCat, such as Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull or Lluís Corominas. They are motivated by a strong sense of Catalan identity but realise that the purpose of independence is not to have a revolution but rather to create a prosperous sovereign country with a high level of freedom for all.
In fact, it was listening to Artur Mas’s view of an independent Catalonia, that first turned me away from my long-held socialist views towards a more libertarian form of classical liberalism. I came to the conclusion that even if an independent Catalonia began its existence with left-wing parties in power, in the big government with its inefficient bureaucracy and unwieldy welfare system would be impractical in such a small country.
The bigger the state, the easier it is to hide corruption and inefficiency. What’s more, despite the independence movement being left-dominated, more socially conservative unionists would also be voters in an independent Catalonia and once the issue of nationalism was removed, Catalan politics would shift to centre-right.
Unfortunately then, as the election campaign begins, ERC look like the party who are likely to win the most seats. Having spent most of the last year doing a radio show with a very committed ERC activist, who serves on various committes, I have very little faith in them. Their obsession always seemed more concerned with forming alliances with other left-wing groups, such as the CUP and the Comuns, than with Catalan independence.
If they become the majority party in the upcoming elections, I fear that they will try to form a left-wing government with the CUP and the Comuns rather than a pro-independence government with PDeCat. This will suit the Partido Popular very nicely because there will be a noisy opposition in Catalonia playing at being revolutionaries without really challenging the status quo.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong but without a single list, I fear the moent for Catalan independence has passed for this generation at least.
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