Even if Madrid is in denial
A country’s social life is constructed and arranged by mass media. As I look for information in Spanish —that is, Madrid-based— and Catalan news outlets, every day I can attest that they paint and report on two different countries.
Spanish media are concerned mostly about America, Trump and Venezuela and, at home, about princess Cristina, even though they never question the Spanish monarchy, much in the same way as cold weather is unquestionable in winter time. The main topic for Catalan media —particularly for the Catalan language ones— is the state of the political conflict between Madrid and Barcelona. For future reference, if one wishes to accept reality, then one must start from the evidence painted and constructed by news outlets on a daily basis: they are two different nations with conflicting interests.
The media are, themselves, part of the conflict. Several years ago, Basque politicians referred to Madrid’s newspapers as the “paper cavalry” because of their partisan role in politics, the same one they are playing in the current Catalan conflict. Both public and privately-owned media in Spain share the same agenda and guidelines, competing among themselves to be the most belligerent while they deservedly lose all credibility as news outlets.
By refusing to report both sides of the story regarding the Catalan conflict, by denying the bulk of Catalan society a chance to be heard and, instead, attacking it on a daily basis and from every angle, they positively show themselves as what they have always been: the defenders and instruments of Madrid’s Court. Whatever might become of Spain in the future, it will lack truthful mass media. Those who show the other side of this imposed reality are in a minority.
Spanish media are the mouthpiece of a strategy directed by the Spanish right (the ruling Partido Popular), which the Socialist Party embraced owing to its historic crisis, the personal interests of its current leadership, as well as its own Spanish nationalistic streak. Besides concealing the reasons and arguments of the Catalan Parliament, this strategy drives the Spanish population to view the rallying Catalan population as outcasts.
Every day they choose to ignore that millions demand their right to decide their future as a nation, and present it, instead, as a feud between some Catalan politicians and the State. The next step is to play a part in the “dirty war” to undermine the reputation of Catalan leaders. Out of the State’s sewers crops up a Swiss bank account allegedly belonging to Barcelona’s pro-independence Mayor. Failing that, some other dirt —or whatever it takes— will be fabricated when necessary. Worst of all, Madrid’s media have joined in the smear campaign against Catalonia’s institutions. To that effect, they have previously tainted their leaders and denied them any recognition. That is precisely what Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, is doing when he talks about “getting back the Catalan institutions”. He is responsible for and the executor of this strategy at all levels. He is talking about replacing the current democratically elected leaders with others who will pursue his strategy.
In order to ignore the legitimacy of Catalonia’s home rule, the Generalitat, one must hide from the Spanish population the fact that it predates the holy Spanish Constitution currently in place and does not stem from it. This concealment allows Madrid to shrink Catalonia’s powers down to a mere administrative decentralisation and, as a result, to persuade the citizenry that the Spanish government —with the assistance of a Constitutional Court tailored to be its master’s voice— is entitled to suspend Catalan self-rule entirely.
As with any conflict, there are enemies at home and outside, naturally, and the smear campaign against the Generalitat has been aided by the political and economic forces —on the right and the left— who loath the notion of a status quo change in Spain. While the State’s institutions have deservedly lost all their credibility —from the executive branch right down to Spain’s sectarian judiciary—, this does not mean that they are powerless: the State itself is not being put into question, whereas the Catalan Parliament and Generalitat’s very existence are being threatened on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, nothing will ever be the same and the conflict is showing everyone’s true colours. A conflict that concerns the Sate is one that concerns its population, too. That is why the centralist Spanish State, with all its might, aims to pit the Spanish public opinion against Catalonia’s, all the while debasing us all. That is why the response to this democratic dilemma by Spain’s intellectuals is truly worrying and sad. Except for a small minority of them, Spain’s intellectuals as a whole have either kept quiet or agreed with Madrid’s stance. A convenient reference to disgraced former Catalan president Jordi Pujol —and his party’s corruption scandals— will suffice to justify their complicity in the State’s upcoming action against Catalonia. It has taken Spain’s intellectuals ages to understand that what is at stake is not whether Catalans may be allowed to decide or not, but the very existence of democracy in Spain. And they fail to see how they abet the stigmatising of most Catalans by invoking the infamous argument that “they want separation to live better”, as a Spanish socialist leader argued recently. Never mind if Catalan home rule cannot subsidise new furniture for Catalan families (unlike in Andalusia) or purchasing a computer for all schoolchildren.
From a democratic standpoint, at the level of both feelings and convictions, Spain has lost Catalonia. It can only rule it by force. I do not know how the process currently in progress will pan out, but it is obvious that Spanish society lacks civic energy and will continue to be a kingdom tightly held by the Court without any true ability to regenerate itself. And I do not know what political and legal embodiment Catalonia will adopt in the future, not what its relation with the State will be (inside or not). But I do know that Catalonia is no longer Spain, it is another country to nearly all effects and purposes, out of its own free will, and there is no turning back.
The Kingdom of Spain may continue to believe that it can remain as it was seven years ago, but Catalonia has not been the same since a new political subject emerged out of millions and millions of people. Even if Spain is in denial, Catalonia is empowered and it is a nation. And of that, I am certain.