A temporary lull

If a society’s temperature can be measured at all, then Catalonia is burning up at the start of this month of August. It seems that the economy is ticking along, unemployment keeps dropping, exports are holding steady and our economy’s greatest problem —productivity— isn’t sending any distress signals yet because growth and job creation are on an upward trend. Politically speaking, the turmoil that we experienced from October to December last year has also subsided, but there is some underlying tension that threatens this apparent calm which might not live beyond the hot summer lull.

- Catalan president Quim Torra strives to emphasise, at every opportunity, that his presidency is interim and subservient to the goal of “building a Republic” and “seizing a new opportunity when it arises”, a formula which every listener interprets one way or another depending on their interests. Above all, it is a way of avoiding a public discussion about the future with the sort of clarity that the hardcore pro-independence minority would interpret as an unacceptable surrender. Paradoxically, this would be a surrender by those who have put themselves in jeopardy judicially, financially and politically speaking.

- President Torra is genuinely focused on the Catalan leaders held in prison and exiled. Because of his temperament and the way he came to office, he is deeply troubled by the situation of the Catalan prisoners and the exiles in Brussels. Torra himself has warned Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez that he stands to lose absolutely nothing in their trial of strength. The day-to-day running of Torra’s administration is managed by VP Pere Aragonès and Elsa Artadi, the minister for the presidency. Bilateral relations with the Spanish government are handled by Ernest Maragall, one of the few pro-independence politicians with the authority and enough expertise to shun magical euphemisms. Torra has admitted that he feels “emotional” about the prisoners now held in Catalan facilities and “impotent” because he cannot secure their immediate release. He has no qualms about discussing his predisposition to self-sacrifice, as well as his willingness to find a window of opportunity, which might arise following a landslide win in the 2019 local elections or perhaps as a result of rising tensions in the wake of a guilty verdict that might carry hefty penalties. Amid the ensuing outrage we might see some outside the pro-independence camp join the republican ranks, as Torra has publicly warned that he expects the sentences to be unjust and aimed at “making an example” of the imprisoned leaders.

- Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez is busy selling his idea of a Spain under a PSOE administration by means of a meticulous marketing campaign. In other words, he is using his office to prepare for an election, just as a timely opinion poll (CIS) suggests that he might do well at the ballot box. On the Catalan issue, Sánchez is trying to open up an uncertain third way that could push back PP leader Pablo Casado and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos) on the political right, whilst offering Catalans “a vote on something that is allowed by the Constitution”. In other words, Sánchez is trying to square the circle and find the philosopher’s stone that might lead the Catalan people to forget their grievances, the insults, the violence and the arrests of the last eight years. Sánchez will have to take a chance if he wishes to gain any credibility with the pro-independence majority or, at the very least, to split them up.

- President Puigdemont’s Crida (“Call”) is effectively a further attempt to lure ERC and CUP voters for the sake of the pro-independence bloc’s unity. Puigdemont’s party, the PDECat, has a new leader, David Bonvehí, who shares this strategy and claims that they have been “more consistent than ERC since October 27” last year [when Parliament declared independence]. Bonvehí conveniently forgets that his party’s antics are public and the changes they have undergone are in response to the graft charges they will be facing in court, and to the strategy of challenging the Spanish State in a European court of law, hoping for a victory. It won’t be long before we find out whether their “greater consistency” is just cheap talk or a sustainable internal strategy.

- ERC’s internal reflection, driven by the legitimacy afforded by its prisoners, must face up to the maximalists who forget that a strategy based on violent clashes is not an option in Catalonia. From their pedestal, hard-liners preach to the political prisoners who are paying a high price for the October events: they are held in prison and they have taken a huge toll on their families and careers. This week we have witnessed how we sink to a political low whenever accusations of treason are thrown about.

- Summertime represents a lull in Catalan politics, ahead of the very real threat of a hot autumn, which had traditionally been reserved for trade unions. The mercury might rise due to the CDR’s maximalist pressure; or the lack of progress by the PSOE, a party which still needs to show whether it is actually willing to solve the Catalan problem, or it will keep playing down the gravity of the situation and avoid acknowledging the strength of the pro-independence movement. But, above all, it is the trial against the political prisoners that will bring on the heat. They admit that they are facing long prison sentences. Any chance of a fair trial vanished a long time ago and making a public example of them, resulting in hefty penalties, might bring back that unpredictable, unbreathable atmosphere.