THE OBSERVER

Fighting with cudgels, knee-deep in mud

The election scheduled for April 28 will be decisive for our democracy in the coming decade

Snap elections have now been called in Spain. The political climate is strained and murky, reality is getting muddier, slurs are accumulating, and testosterone politics always demands one more superlative adjective, an extra gesture of contempt towards your opponent. Honest political debate is impossible when one lies without scruples, the agenda is hijacked by propaganda, and the institutions and pillars of the State are besieged by partisan or personal interests. This is the situation in Spain, where shouting and bludgeoning prevail, as has happened so many times at a crossroads throughout the country’s history. It is like in the black murals that Goya, the Francophile artist, painted in his home. They were inspired by the cudgelings of liberals and absolutists, which the liberals have lost historically.

Pedro Sánchez came to office following a no-confidence vote precipitated by the guilty verdicts against the PP for corruption and thanks to the support of political parties that Madrid’s centralistic minds would describe as “peripheral”. The move indirectly signaled a vote of confidence by the PNB, ERC and the PDECat for PM Pedro Sánchez, who had to present his idea of Spain and show how far he was willing to go to defend it. Eight months later, Sánchez is calling it a day after his government implemented a politics gestures on social policies and the definitive burial of Franco’s remains, but lacking a clear, brave proposal for the architecture of Spain and, above all, for the future of its relationship with Catalonia, which affects everything.

In this political climate, PM Pedro Sánchez has decided to put an end to the agony that trying to survive without a budget would have entailed, and has called for general elections to settle a battle that is not between conservatives and progressives, but rather between reactionaries and conservatives. Between the Spanish right that threatens to bring back Madrid’s direct rule in Catalonia —that is, the indefinite suspension of home rule beginning with the Catalan police, school system, public media, and prisons— and the PSOE, a party strained from within that proposes maintaining a situation that the majority of the population in Catalonia considers unsustainable and inadequate. Once again, those who support dialogue have lost and those who helped bring about the motion of no-confidence have hit a low, despite having shown their ability to influence the direction of Spanish politics.

May you live in interesting times, goes the Chinese proverb, thereby wishing you a complicated life. The coming months guarantee everyone a great deal of entertainment, watching whether Spain will edge one step closer to the abyss. The trial of pro-independence prisoners has shown that the Catalan political leaders remain strong in spite of their unfair pre-trial imprisonment. The prosecutor's office will struggle to prove violence or collusion by the Mossos d’Esquadra without twisting the rule of law in the eyes of Europe; it hopes to take advantage of the fact that the EU has shown that it is not willing to do anything to uphold democratic standards within the club, only to close ranks between states pressured by the fear of the centrifuge force that comes with Brexit.

Spain is at a crossroads akin to that of the Transition [following General Franco’s death], and the elections scheduled for April 28 —a month before the municipal, regional and European polls— will be decisive for our model of democracy in the coming decades.

Catalonia remains the main factor of instability, and Spanish voters will have to decide whether they want a government that will maintain its repression of the will of a large majority of Catalans by suffocating their institutions and the nation, jailing, winning, but hardly convincing anyone either in this 21st century. The sovereignty movement remains alive thanks to its grassroots support despite the difficulties and the lack of a shared strategy. With the trial under way, it is difficult for the public opinion to ask for explanations and responsibilities of those who are imprisoned or exiled, but the future demands a gesture of honesty to assess reality as it is.

Crossroads between fear and cooperation

They say that Obama and Merkel had a curious relationship. The president of the United States respected the German chancellor for her "reverse charisma", as Ben Rhodes defines her personality in his memoir The World As It Is, (Random House). Rhodes explains that Obama admired Merkel’s pragmatism, imperturbability, and stubbornness. The German leader was his most reliable partner and had put her political future at risk by hosting a million Syrian refugees in Germany. In their last official dinner, when Obama said farewell at the door of his armored car ("the Beast"), "a solitary tear appeared in the Chancellor's eye." The commentary from Obama to his colleagues was: "Angela is completely alone."

The current thrust towards retreat is historic and widespread in the West. Spain will have to decide whether to return to the country’s dark age, now that the Pact for the Transition has expired. In Catalonia, the pro-sovereignty movement is still alive, but it also has to ask itself many questions, demand accountability, and hold the course of non-violence and the movement's blessed impurity, diversity, and inclusion if it wants to live on and have massive influence. It will need leaders capable of always asking themselves if they are wrong, even though the ongoing crackdown is pushing them in the opposite direction.