Back in 2006, "Sign this petition against the Catalans" was a common refrain heard all over Spain near the stalls the PP had set up to collect signatures against the new Statute of Catalonia. The petition was the start of the political and judicial upheaval we are currently experiencing. "The Catalans" —in obligatory quotation marks— are a nebulous group who possess the sole characteristic of wishing evil to befall Spain, making them the enemy which unites Spanish nationalism. Anything goes when opposing "the Catalans", since "the Catalans" are capable of doing anything in order to hurt Spain. Generally, "the Catalans" are depicted as an ignorant, fanatical mob which is always acting on someone’s orders: Jordi Pujol, Carod-Rovira, Artur Mas, Carles Puigdemont and, now, Quim Torra. "The Catalans" have been painstakingly dehumanized as part of a time-honoured narrative: the way in which they are depicted they are not citizens; in fact, they’re barely people. They are the product of the diabolical plans of the aforementioned leaders, who have dedicated themselves to instilling in "the Catalans" a hatred of Spain by means of the school system and the publicly owned media.
Obviously, this narrative does not stand up to scrutiny, or fact-checking. But it has taken hold and it is the axis around which the majority of Catalan and Spanish politics currently revolves. This includes the Crown, which under the reign of Felipe VI has ceased to play a mainly institutional role to instead take on a shamelessly political role. The major turning point was, undoubtedly, the infamous speech of 3 October 2017 which was deplored by those who yearn for more and better democracy and celebrated by those who long for a stronger Spanish state, similar to that which existed before democracy and before and after the Republic. I am one of those who believe that the Crown as an institution is meaningless in a modern democracy governed by the rule of law. However, if it must play a role, it certainly shouldn’t be used to heighten the tensions which already exist, but instead to diffuse and dilute them.
Felipe VI, and the team that surrounds him, have chosen to build his reign as one which raises passions: specifically, patriotic passions. The easiest way to build this passionate reign was to position the monarch against "the Catalans", portrayed in the manner described above. This new tactic suggests an immature, almost adolescent mentality, which is apparent from many of Felipe VI’s public appearances: the Instagram King who is always looking for a photo opportunity. The fact is that, since 3 October, Felipe VI hasn’t stopped making gestures that consolidate his confrontational posture, and his visit to Barcelona last Monday was another example of this: and it is particularly irresponsible, given the heightened tension which everyone is all too aware of. These manoeuvres are the work of the Spanish right, which historically has opposed the monarchy but which does not hesitate to use the Crown (when it allows itself to be used, as in this instance) to satisfy its nationalist fervour. Before tossing it to one side, obviously.