Getting the Stake Out in Catalonia

People carry a giant “estelada” flag, a symbol of Catalonian pro-independence, during a demonstration calling for the ind
People carry a giant “estelada” flag, a symbol of Catalonian pro-independence, during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Separatists who want independence for Spain’s northeastern Catalonia have launched their campaign to try to win a majority of secessionists lawmaker seats in Sept. 27 regional parliamentary elections. The campaign began Friday on the same day as the region’s Catalan National Day holiday that separatists have used for years to rally hundreds of thousands of people in Barcelona to call for the creation of a new Mediterranean nation. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)


Who doesn't know L'estaca (the Stake), composed by Lluís Llach, a song emblematic of the anti-Franco struggle? "Siset, don't you see the stake where we all are tied? If we cannot undo it we won't be able to walk!" Yes, we have walked since 1968, and we've seen plenty of political metamorphoses since then. Even Llach has become part of Junts Pel Sí (Together for Yes), the coalition behind which Artur Mas seeks to camouflage his move to repeat his presidency.

But the metaphor is still worthwhile. It has been sung, for example, in a lot of Podemos meetings, as a symbol of the union between Catalans and Spaniards who are after the same objective: the battle of the citizens against the bunkerization of the political cast. Because then, as much as now, the only way to free ourselves of the stakes is to encourage collective action from the citizenry, and to not pay any attention those who have voted in the same way, practiced the same politics, and undermined social rights that have been gained by previous generations.

Many of us remember L'estaca when Felip Puig went in to "clean" Catalonia Plaza during the 15M; L'estaca continued when CiU (Convergence and Union alliance) approved time and time again the most restrictive budgets in our democracy, and when it supported the infamous constitutional reform, or the Stability Law, which disavowed all social policies beyond the mantra of austerity.

So, after the noise of a campaign that some only want to play to the plebiscite beat, you can hear this song. It tells us how, in the middle of the disintegration of the political scene forged in the government of '78, the Catalan and the Spanish elites have gotten into a fratricidal battle. Pujol spoke explicitly about the new stake that's about to fall: "If you start cutting a tree limb, in the end the limb falls [...] they will all fall." In effect, "If I pull hard towards here, and you pull it towards there, I'm sure it falls, falls, falls, and we'll be able to be free!" But our stake today, in Catalonia and Spain, is the same. And you could fall, too.

It tends to be the oppressor's privilege to decide what he wants to be; it is this right that those who feel oppressed should demand. But the history of these types of demands has repeatedly taught us that the problem that legitimate demands for sovereignty must face is that, on occasion, the perpetuation of its identities and political loyalties also requires, paradoxically, the perpetuation of those same oppressive conditions that created them. Thus the dilemma. Catalonia should change so that Spain changes, but Spain should also change so that Catalonia changes. So the right to Catalonian self-determination deserves much more that an independence led by a group of elites against others; it also deserves a generous effort of political imagination that, far from all coerciveness, can infiltrate the fiber of Catalan society with tact, skill and seny (a Catalan word that means good sense or prudence), leading a process of real change that ends the elite's plundering of everything that belongs to the public.

In fact, this capacity for seduction is far from the norm these days, where campaigns are based on fear, especially when from the paternalism of Felipe González to the sly boastfulness of García Albiol, the messages seem to be more focused on being offensive and closing ranks than on rising to the level of common sense. It is increasingly evident that the behavior of Mariano Rajoy has only made the problem worse. The fact that during these days of campaigning the prospective successor, Artur Mas, has sought and hardened his confrontation with the candidacy Sí que es Pot (Yes We Can) led by Lluis Rabell, president of the historic Federation of Neighborhood Associations of Barcelona, is a symptom. It indicates that deep down, after reaching its ceiling for mobilization, the "Yes" is increasingly aware of the need to seduce the undecided, and that a new political force beyond this false alternative of the "Yes" and the "No" is slowly growing in Catalonia.

How do we free ourselves of this stake? Based on a real story, a recent movie, Pride, focuses on the difficulties faced in the '80s by a group of gay and lesbian Londoners who decided to support the miners on strike at the moment when Margaret Thatcher decided to apply her neoliberal roller. But the film also captures the new boundless political joy that breaks out when one finds an ally who is initially unexpected, the proud future movement that is built starting from a minimum common denominator underneath the differences of particular languages and lifestyles. This fraternity of change has recently started developing, between the city halls of Madrid and Barcelona, between Colau and Carmena. A scene from the film alludes to a symbol of the mining community center for more than a hundred years. It's a symbol, two hands. "That's what the worker's movement means or should mean," says one of the mining leaders, "you support me, I support you. Whoever you are, wherever you come from. Shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand."

In Pride, the two groups speak different languages, have different lifestyles -- friction emerges in the beginning -- but both sides end up finding a common fraternal code in their particular fights against injustice, as well as against a common enemy. All of that makes them better than they were before. This brotherhood does not fall from the sky as an internationalist duty. It is born out of pride, not focused on ethnicity, with respect to our culture, its pre-political emotional lessons, historically rooted common practices, but also -- and this is critical -- potentially possesses a dimension that searches for the universal in the particular.

It's difficult to imagine that we can take out our stake without a cultural brotherhood from below, cutting across lines, between the new Spain and the new Catalonia, as Sí que es Pot proposes. The success that Mas and his people have had when it comes to hegemonizing a sovereignty process of undeniable social and massive strength contrasts with the inability, of both the right and the left, of understanding the deep existing interdependence between the cultural and the political.

Therefore, this process can't be fought politically by attracting and seeking more allies, but always from a popular "particularism" that respects the feelings and values of the Catalan nation and does not easily limit itself to denouncing them as obstacles.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain and was translated into English.