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Home » Content » A lamb slaughtered in Waterloo: the Eurosceptic turn of independence
Catalan independence movement has been closely linked to victimhood. The Eurosceptic turn in which it now enters is just a new phase of it

Nacho Alarcón. Brussels

11/13/2019 05:00

The path that separates the messages from “Help us, Europe” to “Shame on you, Europe” in Catalan independentism has been very short. In a matter of two years, it has gone from a message in which the EU was the solution, to an openly Eurosceptic message. Before, to every tweet from the European Commission account there came thousands of messages asking for help. Now they are authentic tsunamis of insults and europhobic messages. What happened along the way?

What has happened in the middle is known to all: impossible promises, crazy theories that ensured that Angela Merkel would call Mariano Rajoy and demand recognition for the Catalan Republic, that the EU would flock to celebrate the creation of the new State that, of course, and despite all the factual evidence that indicated otherwise, it would be recognized immediately.

All was a lie. All was but a cover with which the independence leaders deceived an entire population, inspiring them with totally unfounded aspirations and hopes.

More than a decade ago Charles Prince, then CEO and president of Citigroup, said one of the most representative phrases of the crisis that ended up taking the financial sector ahead: “When music stops […] things are going to be complicated . But in the meantime, you have to keep dancing”. The pro-independence side has done just that, keep dancing. At least while there is a music thread. The flight forward of that pro-independence cohort, denying any reality of the international context, has taken it to the next phase, entering fully into Euroscepticism.

Because it is fundamentally in Europe where the two paths of the ‘procés’ intersect: fiction created to deceive the people, a fundamental element, and victimhood, which is, by far, the centerpiece of the independence process. Without victimhood, without the creation of a narrative in which the Catalan people have suffered vexatious treatment for centuries, and that this continues in an oppressive state, the ‘procés’ would have had no way.


Although at no time does it mention or deals with the independence process, “Critique of the victim” (Herder, 2017), by David Giglioli, makes a portrait of the usefulness of being a victim, the dream of every powerful, and serves as a guide to analyze the turn of the pro-independence side. From Matteo Salvini, showing the Italian middle-class white man, a privileged, as a victim, to the independence leaders, showing Catalonia, the most prosperous region of Spain, with a political autonomy and benefits hardly comparable, as an area under control of a regressive and Francoist country.

Just a few days ago, Julio Llamazares used the same work to address how to abandon that vicious circle that is being generated based on independentist victimhood. In this case, the interjection between victimhood and the Eurosceptic turn is of interest.

Why be a victim? Because “it gives prestige, demands listening, promises and encourages recognition” and, most importantly, “immunizes against any criticism, guarantees innocence beyond all reasonable doubt. How could the victim be guilty or responsible for something?, writes Giglioli as soon as he begins his essay.

“Spain steals us” was already victimhood, showing a working Catalan society that was deprived of its wealth earned with sweat to end up in the hands of “the lazy people in the south”. But that articulation has ended up being the basis of a non-economic, but political and identity victimhood. It does not matter if a Catalan elite has agreed on general state budgets and has been at the center of power in Spain. It was possible to generate the false illusion that Catalonia and the Catalan people were “the oppressed”.

Victimhood is not something that only affects the Catalan pro-independence segment. It is a virus spread in all directions of the block. Those voters who are increasingly aggrieved by the euro-orders blocked against the independence leaders and charge against Brussels for an alleged disrespect for Spain are an example of Euroscepticism born of the victimhood present among some Spanish citizens. Brexit was, in the end, a huge machinery of lies that found its place in a feeling of widespread victimhood in the United Kingdom.

The inherited pain

The myth of 1714, that of the supposed mutilation of the Statute and a series of bulletproof fallacies ended up underpinning the victimhood discourse that served as a perfect protection for the independence leaders and completely silenced the real criticism, and much more the constructive self-criticism . Even if there have been victims in Catalonia because of their will for independence throughout their history, the author of the essay censures the attempt to establish a whole group as victims or the supposed “heirs” of those victims, as if the pain or suffering directly afflicted was something they could inherit.

October 1 was the highest point. From the statement with which Giglioli begins his essay, all of it can be considered the objective of internationalization: being a victim, images of people beaten by the police appearing in all television channels, vaccinating the independence movement towards the outside (and inside) against the serious days of September 6 and 7 in the Parliament, having carried out an independence process until the end although half of the population was against, and even against the fact that the leaders themselves later claimed that everything had been a huge hoax , that the unilateral declaration of independence was just playing with lights.

There is no doubt that there were people beaten in the 1-O (although much less than they wanted to make believe), but they really do not care for this narrative. Neither Carles Puigdemont nor any of the independence leaders were beaten. But they, self-erected as representatives of the people, take the role of the beaten “usurping the role of the real victims”, as Giglioli points out in his book when he addresses the leaders’ attempt to appropriate pain.

The ultimate goal is, in the author’s words, “to maintain a privilege, to exempt oneself from common obligations, to congregate a whole community of clappers around him”. Through the victimhood narrative, the leaders try to get rid of their responsibilities, if not legal (although Puigdemont and the rest of the fugitives from justice do), at least the moral ones. Behind closed doors: as a victim, you cannot accuse me of having played with your illusions by creating a fiction. And publicly: as I am a victim, you have to support my independence process, even though I have been lying to you (and continue doing so) as well as to my voters.

In addition, a victim is supposedly not subjected to the same rules as the others, and that is the key for which the pro-independence side is interested in this idea. Giglioli makes the following statement: “The world is for you to enjoy it: do not submit to the law of the other; believe in your imaginary as the most true and just thing there can be. You have the right to it, and if you are denied it, you are a victim”. Does it sound like something?

Where it intersects with Europe

The pro-independence leaders sought in Europe a recognition, a support, a weapon for its clash with the State, although it was clear that it would not obtain the objectives set. Giglioli finds the key to what could be the germ of the independence turn: “It is not, therefore, a ‘be good and give me the reason’, but rather a ‘give me reason and you will be good’”. And of course, the EU did not agree.

That is when independence begins to turn. A good thermometer is the attitude of social media activists. Although in 2017 thousands of messages flooded the social networks of the European Commission asking for international intermediation, showing themselves as victims of Spain, after the sentence thousands of messages returned, but this time with insults, showing that they are now also victims of Europe.

According to the pro-independence tradition, Catalan society has always been more pro-European than the rest of Spain. The reality, according to the data of the pre-election surveys of the CIS in the European elections between 2009 and 2014, is that the support for the European project has been slightly greater in the rest of the country than in the Catalan territory until 2009. That trend is reversed in 2014, when the process has already begun.

An analysis of the Elcano Royal Institute indicates that “this could be a sign of the emergence of an expectation – subsequently frustrated – that the EU might play a role in the demands for self-determination of secessionists”. This analysis also recalls that in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Navarra the lowest level of support for the European Constitution was given in 2005 (below 70%, while in the rest of Spain it was 81.65%).

The Eurosceptic turn is, therefore, a new phase of victimhood that props up the flight forward. A new narrative to inject courage, to maintain the tension and the goal of the independence leaders.

The generation of false expectations has taken its toll. Nobody’s recognition came, and then, after the participation in the 2019 European elections of some of the defendants and escaped, the European Parliament has also not opened up to participate in its attempt to assume the seat. This refusal is being the spearhead of the new independence message in which it is stated that the votes of the Catalans do not count.

This whole process, which is consuming high levels of energy from the political class and Spanish society, is at least serving to demonstrate the theories of Giglioli and the rest of the essayists and philosophers who have theorized about victimhood. It is a flexible glue: it allows you to ensure with some arrogance one day that Merkel will pick up the phone to order Madrid to recognize the independence of Catalonia because, literally, Spain does not matter to anyone in the EU, and the next day to denounce that the EU and its institutions are straw dolls in the hands of the Spanish Government. And to continue tweeting.



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