Ten years later all sides would be advised to do some honest stocktaking. It would be a democratically mature gesture if the representatives of the entire political spectrum were able to agree on a shared diagnostic of the events, without cheating for the sake of self-justification. Only then would Spain and Catalonia manage to make some progress in history —thus escaping a loop imposed through violence— in whichever direction the people wish to go, without trickery, illusions or blackmail, neither by one’s own ranks nor by someone else’s.
Ten years ago the people of Catalonia and their representatives were expelled from Spain’s constitutional consensus borne out of the political Transition [that followed General Franco’s death]. Catalonia’s proposed new special Charter, the Estatut, was passed in 2006 by the Catalan Parliament and subsequently approved by the Spanish lower and higher chambers, after being watered down there by the likes of Alfonso Guerra. It was then ratified by Catalan voters in a referendum. Nevertheless, the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down key aspects of the Charter, putting an end to an inclusive —or simply ambiguous but useful— interpretation of the Constitution. Aided by then-PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s naivety, the Constitutional Court became the guarantor of the political re-centralisation and homogenisation masterminded by the Partido Popular and its stuffy Spanish nationalism, which was shared by a large segment of the PSOE, Zapatero’s own party.
Ten years is enough to conclude that the court ruling that struck down Catalonia’s Charter also paved the way for the 2017 independence bid. The former Spanish PM, who sought to reform the charter, has admitted that much. The court’s political bias, its lack of touch with the political reality and the PSOE’s hang-ups in the face of the Spanish nationalists within its own ranks triggered a spiral that not only has expelled half of Catalonia’s public opinion from the Spanish project, but has also damaged tolerance towards difference and debased the quality of Spanish democracy and the State’s institutions.
Ten years later, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero talks about “going back to square one” to find, again, a stable “meeting point” with a well-meaning argument: “if we were able to reach a great understanding once, surely we can do it again?”.
Obviously an agreement is desirable and the only acceptable political tools are dialogue and the ballot. But these ten years have also had an impact on Catalan society, which is now split almost exactly down the middle, with a large number people who have stopped thinking about Spain and have given up on the historical notion of transforming it from within.
Every actor must embrace realism to come to grips with the current state of affairs. Catalonia is not an independent country, having overestimated its own strength and underestimated the strength of the Spanish State. There has been a string of political errors, but the referendum of 1 October 2017 is unforgettable, as is King Felipe’s endorsement of the repression and the fabrication of a narrative of violence that has resulted in long prison sentences for the political and grassroots separatist leaders. The State’s onslaught remains one of the few cohesive elements that hold together the pro-independence camp today.
Both sides must be honest and take a moment to think about Rodríguez Zapatero when he says that “we’re nearly back to square one”, as if Catalans had been overcome by some malaise, instead of admitting that many of them no longer feel connected to Spain, embracing instead a political project that shuns the reconstruction of Spain as a project that is either alien or untenable.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the ever-willing former Spanish PM, claims that “dialogue is the only space for hope” and insists that “we must start anew” despite the frustration of “having been personally struck by that ruling”. Zapatero argues that Spain is building a federal system and does not hesitate to resort to two platitudes: the respect for the Catalan language and reading Catalonia’s classics. A great deal of Catalonia’s public opinion remains dissatisfied with anyone who claims to speak Catalan in small circles and reads Josep Pla in summer, while holidaying on the Costa Brava.
Spanish democracy is at a crossroads, and Catalan and Spanish societies are not the same as they were ten years ago. They have drifted far away from one another and there are many grievances between them, a massive gap. Many young people do not see themselves reflected in the Constitution, the monarchy, the political party system and the lack of a proposal for Catalonia from the Partido Popular, the political party which benefitted from playing the trump card of reaction —aided by the courts of law and the nature of the deep State. As for the PSOE, the socialist party’s reforms have failed because it does not believe in a pluralistic Spain and, instead, it is increasingly drawn to recentralisation and homogenisation.
Ten years later, the Spain that espouses reform is yet to prove its worth and the 2006 Statute was the last chance of finding a meeting place for half the Catalan population.