Many Catalans are realising that their own corrupt conservative and social-democrat political class is also a major hindrance to independence.
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
Llegeix en català aquí.
Catalonia’s National Day, the Diada, has been as predictably controversial this year as it has been surprisingly successful. While a stateless nation’s National Day may well escape media attention under normal circumstances, the background tussle over this year’s first 100% COVID-free Diada (at least, as regards safety measures) has led it to become a major strategic battleground with unpredictable winners. For this has been the first Diada rally since 1989 at which the currently leading independentist party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has actually been absent. As we shall see, it has been a clear case of a party inadvertedly cutting its nose to spite its face.
In the weeks prior to the traditional 11th September demonstration, the first shock wave came when President Pere Aragonès suddenly announced that he would not be present at the rally. In the days following, ERC media and social media significantly started a fierce campaign against the rally claiming it to be “partial” and designed to “undermine” the Catalan government. Despite this claim, the other government party, Junts per Catalunya, not only took no steps to follow suit, but made it clear that their rank and file would be present at a march that had over the years shown differing degrees of hostility towards the paralysis suffered by the Government. This had been especally so after the 2017 Referendum and the severe repressive crackdown on indy leaders and activists (now almost 5000 prosecuted or investigated) that followed it. Now, the famous talk shows on Catalan radios and TVs –especially those close to ERC– had whipped up an anti-rally climate. Yet, as was to become evident the moment the demonstration started off is that the anti-rally effect sought by the spin doctors had come completely unstuck.
For many independentistists, regardless of the party they vote or support, to hear their “own” radio channels churning out the message traditionally given out by the Unionist media and parties (doggedly portraying the yearly rally as “anti-unitarian”, “partial”, “anti-institutional”, “not the Catalan Day of all Catalans” etc.) ended up putting many people’s backs up. ERC leaders, in their zeal to defend the strategy of “dialogue with Madrid” –a strategy that many see as both absurd and lacking in credibility– have increasingly come across as reformist crutches for a Madrid government that shows no sign of easing up on Catalonia. For over and above the pardons offered to the nine Referendum trial ministers, Madrid has done nothing to dejudicialize the situation nor put a halt on the widespread repression applied against Catalan independentists. To make things worse for ERC, the fact that the government is seen as ineffectual even by some of its own voters, means that the tactic to slam the rally for being “antigovernment” backfired, spurring people on to attend it. Indeed, ERC’s whole strategy regarding the 2022 Diada has been seen by many as a clear case of shooting themselves in the foot. This becomes evident when observing the spectacular pictures of the rally and the official figures offered (some speak of over 600.000 demonstrators). The humbler tone now being used by hitherto fiercely “anti-rally” media is also significant. Rather than the media discouragi people from attending, it would appear to be have been a rare case of people defying the media and doing exactly the opposite.
The big question now is who the huge success of this rally may benefit. Do fellow government allies Junts per Catalunya come out of this much better than ERC? Despite the applause for some of their more popular leaders, such as Laura Borràs, it too is seen by many to form part of the government paralysis and a step back into the supposedly autonomist regime set up in the wake of Franco. But the real query lies in the future of the Catalan National Assembly itself. Will it really create a new independentist party to stand at the next elections as it threatens to do in answer to the unwillingness of the current parties to implement the results of the 2017 Referendum? These are questions that will have to be answered soon. Maybe the next hurdle facing these weak-kneed indy parties –the all-important 5th anniversary of the 1st October Referendum next month– will provide an opportunity for just that. For now, it seems that the bid for independence cannot be discarded. Despite ERC’s doubts, no one seems to have surrendered just yet.
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