Confused Spain

Last Sunday this newspaper published a story according to which the Spanish government does not regard President Mas as a suitable interlocutor to "resolve" the ongoing process in Catalonia. "Rajoy rules out Mas as an interlocutor" was the headline on the front page. And the news item reported on the Spanish government's persuasion that "President Mas' fate is now bound to the referendum, be it as a result of his own conviction or through sheer inertia, and he is past the point of no return".

The report, which is entirely consistent with what I had heard a few days earlier from someone familiar with Madrid's goings-on, reminded me of a conversation I had a few months ago with a veteran Basque politician. This Basque leader, who is still active in politics, made some interesting remarks about certain differences which, in his view, exist between Catalonia's society and the Basque Country or Madrid's, nowadays. He said that it had not been easy for him to realise what has really been happening in Catalonia in recent years. That the social movement driving the process is wide and all-embracing. And that it is not the brainchild of the Catalan government.

The reason that would explain such a difficulty is that people -and, in principle, he included himself- tend to form opinions based on the reality they know. And, according to him, "a movement widely supported by most citizens is only conceivable in the Basque country if it is driven by its political institutions". I would argue that a grass-roots social reaction may appeal to, say, up to 20 per cent of the population there. But never to 50 per cent.

He added that he only became convinced of the all-embracing, genuine nature of the Catalan movement when he himself witnessed, on the ground, the events of last September 11th in Catalonia.

But here is the best bit: "You should be aware that, in this particular regard, the Basque and Castilian societies are very similar. It is for this very reason that in Spain some actors believe that if they attack, weaken or get President Mas out of the way, the process will lose momentum. In the Castillian reality, therefore, what is happening in Catalonia can only be understood if it is driven by the Catalan government.

I am no expert in Castilian or Basque sociology and, as a result, I simply do not know for sure whether such observations are accurate or not. But, should they be true (as I suspect they are), they might explain, together with other motives, the obsession to move past the Catalan President. Or, at least, the notion that he is no longer a valid interlocutor.

It seems obvious to me that Catalan President Artur Mas has made a key contribution to the process politically and in terms of leadership. But it is equally obvious that the process is a grass-roots, all-embracing one, and certainly not the result of an engineered political strategy.

It must be hard for some to admit that a particular society within Spain (Catalonia) operates with a dynamic or logic that differs from the apparently shared, predominant one in the rest of Spain. Yet that is precisely what is happening in Catalonia. And for this very reason, eventually Catalans will get to vote on their future.

In order to see how little some things change over time, it is useful to read what Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrote in 1922 in La España Invertebrada (Invertebrate Spain), where he criticised the simplistic view that most Spaniards had of Basque and Catalan nationalism: "Most people believe that the Catalan and Basque nationalist movements are a cunning invention which, emerging out of nowhere, without a cause or a profound reason, came to be all of a sudden, just a few years ago. They believe that a few men, driven by greed and individual arrogance, by some measure of personal jealousy, are deliberately carrying out the task of chopping up the Nation and that, without them and their whimsical endeavours, none of it would be happening. Those who regard the separatists in such a way think, quite logically, that the only way to fight them is to choke them by sheer strangulation: persecuting their ideas, organisations and leaders".

It appears that, in more than one way, Spanish politicians have not moved on much since 1922.