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THE OBSERVER

The darkest Spain

[…] Always remember this, Sepharad.
Make the bridges of dialogue secure
and try to understand and love
the reasons and diverse tongues of your children.
May the rain fall gently onto the sown fields
and may the air pass like a soft, very benign hand
that stretches out over the wide fields.
May Sepharad live eternally
in order and in peace, in work,
in the hard, well-deserved freedom.

Salvador Espriu La pell de brau (“The bull hide”, 1960)

Forty years after Catalonia’s Generalitat was restored, the last few hours have sent us decades back in time with sad, unfortunate insistence. One might think that it is Spain’s fate, but —despite the validity of many of the demonstrators’ chants, the revival of songs from the 1970s and the persistence of a poem written fifty-seven years ago— we know that we are not inevitably stuck in a fatal time loop. Just like it was not obvious for president Tarradellas to agree to restoring the Generalitat with Adolfo Suárez, a bright young man that had risen through the ranks of Franco’s regime, it was not inevitable to order a cavalry charge on Catalonia’s institutions and terminate them.

The darkest Spain is a political choice. Spain could have learnt to coexist with Catalonia without the urge to flatten it, but it is not able to. Many people and many decisions have brought us to this situation, but on Saturday the Spanish PM announced —perhaps unbeknownst to him— his great historic defeat. Who knows if he will manage to keep Spain united for some time, but there is a limit to the use of force and a substantial portion of Catalonia has become dissident. With every day that goes by, more people are distancing themselves from Spain and Mariano Rajoy is becoming more authoritarian and, deep down, ever more powerless. Even Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, seemed to understand better than Rajoy the aspirations of many Catalans when he addressed the Spanish PM and King Felipe on the subject of freedom and truth at the Princesa de Asturias awards ceremony. Once again, the Spanish regime has shown that it is sick and a Catalonia deprived of self-rule is, inevitably, the final nail in the coffin of the political system of the last decades.

By triggering Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, Spain’s Partido Popular government intends to obliterate Catalonia’s institutions and free speech. But the Spanish government and their acolytes cannot begin to imagine how widespread the indignation caused by this move will be and the difficulties they will encounter to rule Catalonia from Madrid. It might fuel Spanish nationalism, but it will not weaken the resolve of a people that is used to starting anew.

The PP’s abuse of power means it is solely responsible —with its accessories in the PSOE and Ciudadanos— for what might be coming. Despite the pervasive civic-mindedness and democratic feeling that drives Catalonia’s independence bid, this is the time to emphasise that the main protest instrument is —and has been— civic-mindedness and that the level of Madrid’s provocations against our institutions and elected officials seems limitless.

Today a new political phase begins in Catalonia. A new period with duties and opportunities for all. We cannot hand over our institutions and, from now on, the rage and frustration of independence supporters should not prevent them from asking themselves what progress they will attain every time they are faced with a decision. Those who believe that a democratic longing can be contained make us sick to the stomach. Only a very solid social majority can stand up to someone who thinks they can jail the leaders of a peaceful movement, and smear and humiliate a loyal servant of law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office and the courts of law, such as the Commissioner of the Mossos d’Esquadra. They believe that they can shut down a democratically elected parliament and threaten the Catalan president and his cabinet with a thirty-year jail sentence. The list of powers which Madrid wants to strip of the Generalitat is so brutal that it deserves to be read twice. Few could have imagined how enraged Spanish nationalists would become, much in the same way as few could have anticipated the police crackdown on October 1, for no other reason than taking primitive revenge on peaceful members of the public. When the ballot boxes turned up, the humiliation prompted an abusive, violent response (“I killed her because she was mine”). It was the blind, authoritarian persuasion of those who believe that free will does not exist and freedom has a landlord.

In this day and age, the thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets on Saturday are not prepared to negotiate the existence of Catalonia’s institutions, as aren’t those who feel represented by Núria Parlón’s resignation in the PSOE and Xavier Domènech’s despair.

Rajoy will fail to prevent Catalans from voting. The challenge at hand is huge and no bombs will rain on Catalonia, but they will continue to rattle our economy and they will prolong the uncertainty that can be so potentially harmful to an economy that has only recovered with blood, sweat and tears. This is a time to stay firm, but also prudent and united. Unless we all row in the same direction, we can find ourselves leaping forty years back in time. Neither our grandparents nor our children deserve a regression like that.