The word independence is evoked in Catalonia. But what is more intriguing is the notion of identity that arises in these recent scenes pervading Spanish political life. Only a decade ago, the Catalan independence movement drew the support of a barely significant ten percent of the population. Until yesterday, as a result of a vague referendum.
The Spanish Civil War, the Franco dictatorship, and the democratic transition’s conciliatory challenge: suddenly, all of these ghosts resurfaced in the Spanish collective memory. They were summoned in the memory of those who actually witnessed these periods, and as well as of those who only have experienced disputes through the F. C. Barcelona and Real Madrid football rivalry.
Although it can be argued that many of these conflicts remained unresolved in the social sphere, in looking at it today and in examining the years before the 2008 crisis, it is difficult to conclude that Catalan independence is a clear question of identity, or a process originating in cultural rearrangement or pursuit of redemption.
There are no surprises. Instead, there is a rein of kleptocracy established by governments democratically elected, an anachronistic monarchy that does little to represent the public interest and an opportunism seized by regional leaders who recognize their last chance to utilize an identity rhetoric before the next generational replacement abandons the independence cause. Many in this generation will be studiedly wondering to themselves whether they feel more Catalan, Spanish, European or none of them. Effects of an outdated Westphalian arrangement, the erosion of Welfare States and the increase of varied mobilities around the globe…
While the initial effects of public outrage have produced two mayors, in Madrid and Barcelona, committed to change and renovation (by instance, two women!), the continued status quo in national politics has inevitably yielded absolute and negative effects: a social fragmentation that overwhelmed by conflict between fury and suspicion and reaching a déjà vu level.
In the city of Barcelona, with 1.6 million inhabitants, less than 400,000 went to vote for independence this past October 1st. Although this amount totals almost 90% of the registered vote, according to the Generalitat (the Catalan government), two facts remain notable: 1) a fourth of the population will end up deciding the future of the entire population; 2) 400,000 votes is the same number of votes that the Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy won in the past national elections, out of 7.5 million inhabitants in Catalonia!
Sadly, all of this has turned into a theatre of vampires and zombies, where the only legitimate element is the anger of a disillusioned public towards its leaders. A government that was attuned to the aspirations and needs of its people would have been able to accommodate the right to a referendum, preventing it from being championed as a banner of independence.
The aggressive reaction of the national police, and cruise ships serving as a sort of barracks, have perhaps been one of the final blows in a series of unrestrained management practices, and this has exhausted the patience of Brussels.
For Mariano Rajoy, resignation could be a hard departure, but he has a more elegant choice of advancing the elections if pressure persists. While Spanish democracy doesn’t deliver other results on general elections, the nationalistic simulacrum will keep on: like coffee without caffeine and sugar-free sweets, offering independence without independence.