Speaking cannot be a problem, Mr Sánchez

The Spanish PM does not wish to speak to the Catalan president but refusing to engage in dialogue is always a mistake

ARA has always supported words and ballots. These days we have also insisted, and will continue to do so, on non-violence, resisting the temptation to be provoked by police excesses or anger in the face of the harsh sentences. We say this both for strategic reasons (violence only benefits the Spanish right, tarnishes Catalonia’s international reputation and pushes away the majority who are in favour of independence) and out of a moral conviction. Non-violence is ultimately based on the strength of one’s words. Only through the use of words can there be a future. And it becomes all the more necessary in the darkest times. Which makes it all the more surprising that following the extremely serious events that took place on the streets of Catalonia, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, should decline the Catalan President Quim Torra’s requests for dialogue. It is unacceptable. The exchange of letters and unheeded phone calls borders on the ridiculous. All it does is to discredit politics further.

Talking is never wrong, even if it serves to reveal profound differences. The simple fact of engaging in dialogue sends a message of respect and normality, and given the general deterioration of the situation brought about by the verdict in the trial of the independence leaders, it is more necessary than ever. To try to redirect the situation. To lower the tensions on the street. To come to Barcelona and to explicitly avoid any contact with the Catalan government is unbecoming of a responsible leader: it shows disdain for the government of all Catalans and the state’s representative in Catalonia. It is no longer about Torra, who, in taking his time to distance himself from the riots, has not made things easier. It is about showing respect for the office of the president of the Catalan government. Sánchez criticises Torra for only representing part of the Catalan people while doing the very same. Only visiting injured police officers in hospital doesn’t help either. What about the members of the public who were injured, too? Are they not also citizens of the state? Or does President Sánchez automatically assume they are all criminals? It seems as if the leader of the PSOE has come to Barcelona to draw a line between "us" and "them". Indeed, he employed such binary terms during his visit to the Policia Nacional, aimed at encouraging them to persevere. He urged them to exercise a degree of "moderation" which he himself is incapable of.

In the midst of a growing unrest, this confrontational style is inappropriate from a leader who wishes to claim a modicum of moral ground. After the brutal judicial blow, the state’s strategy is to turn the conflict with Catalonia into a public order problem, as interior minister Grande-Marlaska has referred to it on numerous occasions. The independence movement mustn’t fall into this trap. It seems that, as far as the state is concerned, anything is better than engaging in politics —in other words, talking and discussing and, ultimately, negotiating. With a general election looming on 10 November, and with the right wing bloc (the PP, Cs and Vox) constantly pressurising the PSOE to take a harder line, the socialists are not exactly helping to calm people’s nerves. Coming to Catalonia and snubbing its government and half of those who are injured only serves to cause more outrage. Spain continues to refuse to engage in either politics or dialogue.

EDICIÓ PAPER 19/09/2020

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