There is something oddly troubling about the notion that has been whipped up recently by the Catalan separatist movement, and it’s its relentless, almost vitriolic attempt to pass off as a matter of civil liberty what should only be considered as an affair that essentially pertains to the basic principle of upholding national laws.
Spain’s current Constitution is from 1978 and there are some from within the political spectrum itself – particularly those from the left – that see a need for a major reform of the laws that are upheld by the Constitution. At the heart of the debate is the pivotal point of the Constitution, that is to say, what makes Spain what it is today and how *officially* should be seen by all of its citizens. Many current politicians almost grandly claim that the ”Carta Magna” was the result of a great deal of commitment from all sides to stitch up all open wounds from its most recent past. It took a lot of effort to look ahead and try to forget all the resentment that had been building even since the outbreak of the Civil War in the mid 1930s. Many people from the political system at that time had to go across the aisle and compromise to forgo the forced-upon system that had been in place for 40 years (the time Franco’s regime lasted).
When people talk about democracy these days, they are turning the foundation of the Constitution upside down. That is, the Constitution that governs the same rules that put the current rules in Catalonia in power in the first place. The Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is perverting the idea of democracy by taking advantage of his privileged position to pass legislation on something that attacks the very core of the powers that he once swore to uphold, which is to preserve the national sovereignty and not rattle the notion that the sovereignty of Catalonia rests in the sovereignty of the sum of all of its parts – the autonomous communities. There was a timid attempt to declare the Catalan Republic in the staircase of the Catalan Parliament, with everyone in the Catalan governments and their supporters (mostly separatist mayors from all over Catalonia). Rajoy reacted quickly this time by approving and pushing forward the legal tenets that make up Article 155 of the Constitution on that same evening.
After a flurry of events that has pushed the stability of the country to come to a screeching halt, Mariano Rajoy has finally pressed the red button and did not flinch. Article 155 of the Constitution is in full effect now. There is no turning back. The Article had never been enforced before and that’s why the government, with Rajoy at the helm, was reluctant to resort to it. But, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures — or at least that’s what the People’s Party must have thought. Probably in order to soften the landing, Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy and GOP leader, Pedro Sánchez, have made a verbal agreement whereby once all the turbulent waves come to a receding intensity, a serious debate on the reform of the Constitution would need to take place to appease any initiatives that would be geared towards the separation of any regions from the rest. However, once the controversial Article 155 has been put into effect, resulting in the incarceration of some of the Catalan leaders accused of rebellion, the People’s Party – Mariano Rajoy’s party – has managed to lower any expectations of securing a compromise to reform the Constitution. The announcement of the application of Article 155 was countered by a widely spread and masterfully-orchestrated smear campaign that suggested that the gloom and doom of a not so distant past was back. Constant references made with an astonishing jackhammer-like perseverance were hurled over to the media and the public in an effort to depict ”the Spanish state” (as the Catalan separatists pointedly name it) as a downright dictatorial police state that Spanish dictator Francisco Franco would have approved of. The current mindset within the People’s Party, however, is that no reform of the Constitution should be taken lightly — and particularly, any initiative headed in that direction should not be conducted to accommodate those who have wanted to violate the law in the first place and subvert the current status quo.
Some analysts have found that Rajoy should have played his chips faster and – most importantly – he should have been more reactive and proactive in crafting and developing a counter-argument that would have helped dismantle the separatist movement’s claim that ”Spain is an authoritarian regime that deprives Catalans of their fundamental rights.” Rajoy, instead, has chosen to heighten his now well-known calmness to the detriment of a more aggressive stance that would have probably catered to or tapped into the population’s most primal instincts — at least those of one part of the population. Namely, those who defend Spain’s unity. Rajoy is hardly a man of his time — his cool demeanor is seen by many as a weakness. This is particularly true in an era where if you don’t speak up it is not necessarily as part of a calculated move or an exercise of cautiousness, but rather, a symptom of a flinching, unpredictable way of doing politics.
All in all, Rajoy has met his goal in his duty to preserve the integrity of a unified Spain. Those who rebelled against the democratic system that governs the country are in jail or on the loose while making provocative statements. If there’s one upside to the current situation is that it has brought the socialists and the conservatives together – never before had people felt compelled to display their patriotic pride by hanging Spanish flags from the balconies. Until not so long ago, only the nationalists seemed to reserve that right. However, things seem to have changed. The fact that a Catalan or a Basque could show patriotism or love for their ”tierra” (literally, ”piece of land”) and Spaniards from other parts of the country could not, speaks volumes about the frail sense of identity of many Spaniards, whose love for their country was subdued – for many years after Franco died – by a supposed historic debt with a certain type of exclusive nationalism.
Some time has passed and Rajoy’s party has been besieged by a barrage of political scandals and corruption. After an impeachment action of sorts, Rajoy’s government has been overthrown in a time record – 24 hours, which is the time that elapsed from the Congress passing his budget for the state of the union until the media broke the news that the judges in charge of ruling the Gürtel case had concluded that not only the People’s Party had been a prime example of institutional . Now, Pedro Sanchez – after a brief period of time that coincided with the highest peak of the Catalan pandemonium, and which he seemingly chose to set his disagreements with the government aside – he’s back. He is now flanked by a pretty diverse team made up of both veterans of the public service (Josep Borrell, Carmen Calvo, Nadia Calviño, Fernando Grande-Marlaska) and some fresh energy for good measure (TV personality Màxim Huerta and former astronaut Pedro Duque).
We have reasons to be optimistic, primarily for the appointment of people with so much experience in their trade like Borrell (who’s been very vocal about the anti-independence pitch) and Marlaska, who is known in certain quarters of the Basque separatist group as the ”black beast” for his relentless position with respect to the ETA movement.
As William Shakespeare said, what’s past is prologue. Today, the search for new lights marches on.