Category Archives: Spain

From the left towards Catalan independence

Fellow traveler Kate Shea Baird sums it all up quite well. I feel it’s important for those of us on the left who support Catalan independence to remember that we want independence in order to deliver a better country. Not just any country. An independent Catalonia, sí o sí, is not the aim and never should be. I don’t consider Catalans to be living under a repressive regime (unless you mean the Mossos) and so I don’t buy the liberation trope. And while I wouldn’t like to see Artur Mas behind bars for organizing the consulta, I’d crack the cava open if he and the rest of his party were sent down for corruption.

The pro-independence left (mainly the CUP and elements of Iniciativa and a handful of people at ERC) must maintain its focus through all the twists and turns in this process. We must, above all, fight for our values as the keystone of our support for independence: we want a better country. We want a country that helps the poorest, defends labor, looks after its citizens’ health, educates its young people, invests in the arts and culture, promotes sustainable living and tourism, and rejects CiU’s corruption and the neo-liberal model. And because we’re on the left, we must want all these things for Spain as well.

That’s the Catalan republic that I defend.

Catalans, that Polònia joke wasn’t funny or clever

If there was one way pro-independence Catalans could bring discredit on themselves, it was to stoop to the level of their opponents. For years, independentists have had to put up with regular accusations of being selfish, greedy, insane, stupid, terrorists, ETA, 18th century throwbacks, fascists, Nazis, Hitler.

So when last week’s ‘Polònia’ on TV3 ran a sketch comparing Mariano Rajoy to Hitler in the famous bunker scene from Downfall, I turned to Gemma and said “That’s not good”. Since then, the PP has threatened legal action and my fellow independentists have gone into overdrive defending the sketch and mocking the Spanish right’s “sense of humor failure”. Here’s why they’re wrong.

The Meme – not great comedy

The sketch was yet another version of a meme based on 2004’s German film, Downfall. It’s a great film and in context, a powerful scene. Hitler berates his generals for their failures, all the while refusing to accept the truth: that it’s all over. That the noise and the rumbling all around them is Soviet artillery already in Berlin.

The meme is first recorded in 2006, with Hitler re-dubbed in German complaining about Microsoft writing off its popular Flight Simulator game. Since then, around a thousand more parodies have been made, generally dubbing the original footage but sometimes simply imitating it.

I’ve written poorly about comedy here in the past. I watch a lot of comedy, read about comedy, listen to podcasts about comedy, read comedy scripts, think about comedy: it’s something I love and an important part of my life. And in my opinion, the Hitler Bunker Meme got pretty tired pretty quickly. Around about the time that guy used it to complain about Microsoft Flight Simulator. A thousand versions later and it’s one of the worst jokes I can think of. Dull, trite, derivative, unimaginative, OLD. Let’s face it: if you’re writing comedy in 2014 and you think the Bunker meme is right for this week’s main sketch, you need to catch up. That joke is 8 years old (and wasn’t that funny at the time).

Polònia’s Downfall

Which brings me onto Polònia itself. Since 2006 (yeah), it has been one of the best comedy shows on Spanish TV. It brought a kind of satirical irreverence which people across Catalonia (and Spain – Dan Hancox records in Ghosts of Spain that anarchists in Andalusia enjoy watching it) just drank up. Its treatment of the royal family and the main political actors in Spain and Catalonia became legendary and made it the most popular show of the week on Catalan TV. I adored some of its musical numbers, including Imagine reimagined by Artur Mas and Oriol Pujol in 2012.

But shortly after that sketch aired, something happened to Polònia. In a fairly short time frame, the show suddenly started to poke far less fun at Artur Mas, previously mocked for his vanity and his upper-class attitudes. It started to treat him with reverence, which I found pretty unpleasant. Since then, Toni Soler’s show has continued to go downhill. If I catch it, I’ll still watch. But I get few laughs out of it now. Basically only if the princess is on it.

You can be sure that the writers at Polònia wouldn’t never even consider using the Bunker meme to joke about Artur Mas, even if he were in the middle of a deep crisis. It would undo the work of the last 2 years.

Banal and self-defeating

Besides which, it was ideologically foolish. Much has been made in Catalonia of the ‘banalization of Nazism/fascism’ on the part of the PP and Ciutadans. And quite right, too. Unwilling to debate the political issues surrounding potential independence for Catalonia, both parties (now representing a combined 10% of the Catalan vote, according to recent polls) have used the most atrocious rhetoric to criticize the process. They’ve almost certainly encouraged some fence-sitters to join the pro-independence side, sick of the insults and the dismissive attitude.

And now they’ve thrown all that goodwill away.

As for the independentists who have howled like banshees over the last week, complaining that the PP lacks a sense of humor, or the intelligence to understand a joke… they should take a deep breath, read their words back and see whether they can detect any discrepancies in their attitudes. The joke wasn’t remotely funny by any real comedic standards. And calling Rajoy Hitler in the Bunker is not the way we’re going to win the argument.

I won’t be watching tonight’s Polònia. El Gran Wyoming, however, always has a place at my table.

Perfect timing for Catalan independence on #9N?

One of the recent posts I wrote on here asked at which point the Catalan government would ‘cross the Rubicon’ into potential illegality in the ‘process’ towards independence. Today, less than 48 hours from the popular consultation on independence, it seems like that moment has arrived.

The Spanish government has had the Constitutional Tribunal suspend all preparations for Sunday’s ‘participatory process’. Today, the Catalan government has made clear that it will not hand responsibility for organizing 9N over to civic associations. In other words, The Catalan government appears to be at the least very nearly in breach of the Constitutional Tribunal’s suspension order.

So why now?

There are several factors that make 9N the perfect moment for disobedience on the part of the Catalan authorities.

1 The Catalan government already backed down from the original consulta. In order to maintain the process, the government needs to stand firm now.
2 Disobedience at this point could have multiple effects but the most important aspect is how the Spanish government responds. Having already stated that it would not act “if the consulta were organized by civic associations”, it seems like the Spanish government may have nearly committed itself to instructing the police to interfere with Sunday’s vote. This might be a deciding factor in the future of the process. If the Spanish interior ministry were to order police (including Mossos) to seize the ballot boxes, it would be doing so under the gaze of hundreds of accredited foreign journalists and press agencies. For this reason, I strongly suspect that it won’t act but will try instead to dismiss the poll as meaningless.

This highlights yet another oddity in the PP’s campaign against the consulta: this ‘consulta-lite’, adopted because the full non-binding consulta was made illegal, was initially dismissed by the PP. Alicia Sanchez-Camacho urged MAdrid not to act against it because it was such a joke. Then, when the Generalitat managed to get all the volunteers it wanted in a few days, the PP changed its tune and again took the Generalitat’s plans to court. This indicates a lack of strategy on the part of the Spanish government.

3 The Spanish government seems to be weakened internationally due to the constant stream of corruption cases (which also affect Catalonia, of course). The Economist, Bloomberg and BBC have all published pieces criticizing Spain in recent days. This adds to the feeling that this might be the best time to take advantage of reasonably positive press coverage for Catalonia, and a slightly negative international attitude towards Spain.

My predictions for #9N:

Turnout – Very important. Unfortunately, I doubt that turnout will reach 50%. It may not even reach 33%. If it did exceed 50%, there would be something to celebrate.

Police – I doubt that the police will be asked to intervene. If they were, the vast majority would obey orders, including the Mossos. But it could lead to unpleasant scenes.

Results – The lower the turnout, the higher the support will be for independence. Some parties, particularly Iniciativa, are calling on supporters to vote Yes to the first question and free choice on the second.

Trouble – I doubt there will be disturbances. That would change if the police were sent in. I read today that Montblanc is setting up concrete barriers to prevent vehicular access to the old town (which strikes me as needless and potentially dangerous – what if there’s a fire?). Areas like this would become potential flashpoints in case the vote were stopped by force. The risk of the far-right trying to stir up trouble is always present but these groups have very limited support.

Outcome – Oriol Junqueras will announce his roadmap to independence on Monday. Smart of him to wait for the results of the consulta. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is that turnout well be lower than desired but will indicate growing support for independence. ERC and the CUP will push for elections soon and will try to guarantee that they take the form of a plebiscite on independence. If they succeed, and Podemos decide to stand (the feeling is that they might not: they’re trying to keep their powder dry until next year’s general elections), they would be forced to declare a position, and it will probably be in support of union with Spain. ICV, PSC, PP and Cs will oppose any kind of plebiscite and may even refuse to stand on a No platform. In short, by Monday nothing might have changed. But everything might have changed too.

Which is why I’m going to vote.

The visible hand of pillage

Yesterday’s announcement by the Spanish government that it intends to start privatising the country’s airports and railways shouldn’t come as a surprise. The PP has steadfastly operated a policy of breaking all the promises in its manifesto and doing tons of things they never mentioned (correct me if I’m wrong on this last point).

Privatisations are a favourite demand of Christine Lagarde and the other weirdoes who troll the free market line, however transparently fictitious it is. Our infrastructures were overpaid for by us, and now will be sold off cheap and no doubt in deals that bring significant personal wealth to the brokers.

These aren’t ‘free market forces’ at work – those forces don’t really exist. This is a sort of disaster capitalism lite, being rushed through before people do the numbers. There is no ‘invisible hand’. It was always a perverse Calvinist fantasy which should have been put to bed at the same time as phrenology. No invisible hand. This is the visible hand whose name is pillage.

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And lest we feel overly smug: the same will happen and has been happening in Catalonia. Independence, should it happen, will have to be very carefully managed to prevent a fire-sale, Moscow style. Unless that’s really the point of independence….

Juan Carlos I abdicates: Spain enters a new era

So Juanca has finally abdicated, official immediately. It was a ‘surprise’ announcement which shouldn’t really have surprised us at all. The timing was obvious: a week after the EU elections, so as not to get people thinking too hard  about how they want to be governed. This would have been agreed by the twin pillars of a crumbling political system: the PP and the PSOE.

This is the key gesture launching a process which will attempt to preserve the status quo against serious threats including the royal family’s declining popularity, the failure of the bipartisan political system and the Catalan independence movement. The plan is probably to have a quick succession, coronation and then a series of constitutional changes ‘proposed by the new king’ in order to reduce the increasing discontent across the country. I’m not sure that they haven’t left it too long.

Has no one told Rajoy that he should be next?

Justifying political violence in Spain and Catalonia

Two cases in the couple of weeks have resurrected the spectre of political violence in Spain. At least, they have if you’re a right-winger. Firstly, the man responsible for destroying the PSC – Pere Navarro – was insulted and ‘punched’ while attending a mystic ritual in Terrassa’s main temple. He and his party, along with the rest of the Spanish right, immediately leapt on the incident as a sign of the ‘atmosfera de crispació’ – ‘increasing social tension caused by the pro-referendum sentiment in Catalonia’ (paraphrased). Navarro himself did the rounds the next day, telling anyone who would listen that he was ‘convinced’ that the attack had something to do with the independence movement. No evidence for this link, of course, except that the woman who attacked Navarro called him “un grandíssim fill de puta”. (Turns out she was someone who had argued with Navarro for years about Terrassa’s town hall’s Catalan flag being dirty – she denies hitting Navarro).

This week the PP’s cacique in León, Isabel Carrasco was shot dead in the street, in what some English commentators referred to as an ‘assassination’ [false friend? or does any murder of a politician automatically equal assassination? I think the motive has to be political rather than personal]. This time, the right blamed the killing on the ‘atmosfera de crispación’ in Spain, whereby politicians are regularly jeered and insulted and in which anti-austerity protests have targeted politicians’ homes (‘escraches’ – a form of protest I thoroughly support). El Mundo’s editorial to this effect was published even though everyone already knew that the murder was almost certainly the result of a personal vendetta. The two suspected murderers are both also members of the PP.

Now politicians and newspapers trying to take advantage of farce or tragedy is nothing new. In fact, it’s practically chapter 1 in the politics playbook (Spain edition). In this case, however, conservative forces have responded in identical ways to two significantly different incidents. And they way they have responded tells us a lot about the way they think. There is a determination on the side of the Spanish right that any political movement which acts in opposition to its central policies is inherently a destabilising factor which is capable of violence. Multiple parties here talk about ‘tensions’ and ‘division’ in society (never along class lines, of course: always along political or ethnic lines) – as a sort of intentional self-fulfilling prophecy.

There’s a subtext to all this talk of potential and actual violence in the Catalan and Spanish political scene, and it’s not aimed at the left. When El Mundo effectively says that a murder is the natural result of anti-austerity protests, it is not just trying to win political points. There is a subtle implication behind Navarro’s words and El Mundo’s editorial. The implication is that ‘in the current climate’, political violence is inevitable. Inevitable and therefore, to be expected. Expected and therefore, to a certain degree, justified.

PP u-turn to offer Catalonia a new fiscal pact – what now?

It looks likely that next week will see Mariano Rajoy offer Catalonia a new fiscal settlement in an effort to deflate growing support for independence. This would represent a huge policy shift for the PP, which until now has refused to discuss any possibility of changes to how much tax revenue Catalonia receives from central government.

The aim behind this offer is obvious and it underlines the serious strategic mistake the Spanish government has made in dealing with Catalonia. Refusal to negotiate since 2012’s September 11th demonstration has fostered significant unity and growth in the pro-independence camp. The PP effectively killed off any chance of returning to the days of ‘la puta i la ramoneta‘ – the traditional model that CiU has used to get more cash from Madrid by pretending to be pro-independence. This shift aims to reintroduce a ‘third way’, with the intention of undermining Unió support for Artur Mas pressing on with plans for an unlikely referendum this November.

The question is, how successful will this manoeuvre turn out to be? Independentists will insist that Mas takes ‘ni un pas enrere’. Popular support for a referendum is around 80%. Can the PP really deflate this to acceptably low proportions? The fairest way to judge this would be to include any such offer as a third way in a consultative referendum which includes independence as an option. But the offer will almost certainly be linked to dropping plans for the ‘consulta’.

I’m not certain but I get the feeling that the PP has left it too long to change its mind. Artur Mas’s constituency has shifted significantly and he knows it. I say this because I don’t see Mas as the evil genius mastermind behind the independence movement which seems to be an indispensable position for anyone who seriously doubts the level of popular support for independence here. I think he’s an opportunist who has hitched his wagon to the estelada. The Spanish government is clearly hoping that Mas will see sense and unhitch that wagon. Or at the very least, that Mas won’t be able to swan around complaining that Madrid won’t talk.

As in any political decision, of key importance here is the personal ambition of those involved. I find it difficult to believe that Mas will back down now. And populist that he is, he’ll be thinking hard about his changed constituency and his legacy.

Suarez and Son

It’s sad when anyone is on their last lap. A deeply personal time which families normally spend together.

Which makes Adolfo hijo’s announcement of his dad’s impending demise feel more than a little weird to me.

But hey, I’ve never quite understood the praise for Suarez either. That he was ‘important‘ is obvious: he was the first elected PM since the 1930s. Anyone in that position would have been ‘important’. But as with Juanca, I feel he gets a bit too much praise for doing what he had to do. Had he failed to promote the democratic transition, something else would have happened. He was a weak leader and his weakness helped trigger the 1981 coup attempt / reality TV show (depending whether you could be bothered to watch the end of Salvados the other day). In a way, he is the template for poor leadership that Spain has been hobbled with ever since.

Could the PP’s luck be changing?

Some days you wake up to a glimmer of good news in the murk of crisis-hit Spain.

The investigating judge on the Bárcenas case sent police into the PP’s headquarters on calle Genova in Madrid last night. It looks as though the bill for renovating the party HQ a few years ago matches an amount in Barcenas’s ‘double accounting’, which would strongly suggest that the PP paid for this major construction project in cash. Cash it received in illegal and undocumented donations.

Now, I’ve lived here long enough to learn that a glimmer of hope can often turn into an oncoming train in the blink of an eye. But I’m also integrated enough to be able to take whatever pleasure I can from small moments such as this.

We’re doing Christmas at home this year for the first time ever. I plan to do some non-political stuff over at the other place. Unless the king abdicates, I might not be back on here until the new year. Bon nadal, merry Christmas and Nadolig llawen to all!

Where is Catalonia’s Rubicon on the road to independence?

So the gradual creep towards independence continues in Catalonia. A referendum remains highly unlikely as the only remote possibility of one being held is it being approved in the Congreso in Madrid, which won’t happen because the PP has an absolute majority (and anyway, the PSOE is in total disarray, and so can’t be relied on, except to be unreliable). Duran i Lleida – ‘king troll’ – warns frequently of the risks and possibilities of a unilateral declaration of independence. CiU is trying to slow the process, probably at least partly so it can carry on privatising everything in Catalonia, and ERC is chomping at the bit.

Legal consequences

All of this has me thinking: if we know, more or less, that a referendum cannot be legally held (the Catalan parliament will pass a law allowing it but this is understood to not be within an autonomous region’s capacities), then maybe we start to see the Spanish strategy. They want to force Catalonia into acting illegally if they want to proceed towards independence. The question is: is Artur Mas really willing to take this step? And if he is, when will it come?

For Mas, I imagine it must be tempting. If everything went according to plan, he’d be remembered by Catalans for taking a stand, not for corruption and the destruction of Catalonia’s social services. He’d be like a new Jordi Pujol! On the other hand, if there’s an expert at saving his own skin, it’s Artur Mas. We can be sure that some of the time he spends drumming up contracts on foreign visits is dedicated to establishing Artur Mas as a Reasonable Man in the eyes of foreign officials.

Where is the Rubicon?

In the end, Catalonia’s Rubicon has two potential locations: an illegal referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). If Catalonia attempts to hold a referendum without Spain’s permission, the vote will not be accepted as legal by the Spanish government. This would probably damage the potential turnout, currently reckoned to be really large. I can’t see Madrid suddenly agreeing to a referendum. But would it act to prevent one? It’s difficult to say. Spain’s already pretty unpopular in the EU, and preventing a referendum from being held, even though it would be an internal, legal issue, wouldn’t look good. But that probably wouldn’t be enough to stop Spain from intervening.

Unilateral declaration of independence

I expect that if Catalonia says it will hold a referendum, the Spanish authorities will warn that to proceed would lead to grave legal consequences. I also suspect that if Catalonia insisted, Madrid would find itself under enormous pressure to intervene. In the end, I’m not sure that a referendum will ever be held. I think it’s much more likely that fresh elections will be held with a UDI as the deciding factor. If this happens, expect ERC to win, CiU to drop, C’s to rise, ICV to remain more or less in place, and the CUP to see a rise. The PSC and PPC will both decline even further.

But a UDI is also illegal and far more so than a referendum. Surely Spain would have to act against a UDI, but how? Suspending Catalonia’s autonomy? Arresting the president and govern?

I’ve always been against UDIs because while I agree that sovereignty resides in the people, not in the Spanish crown, I feel that international support will be difficult to obtain without a clear, free and fair referendum. If Spain blocks a referendum, then, it is of prime importance for Catalonia to make clear that it has exhausted the legal possibilities open to it.

International opinion will be vital and, while not exactly popular, Spain has far more clout in that area than Catalonia does. 2014 might still be an interesting year.