Lluis Rabell, June 2 2021
Alea jacta est. Pedro Sánchez puts the top gear for the release of the leaders of the “procés”. The decision seems, therefore, irreversible. Naturally, the announcement of the pardons has unleashed a political-media storm. The right and the extreme right, aware that the measure of grace goes against the current of the majority sentiment of the Spanish public opinion, they hope to deal a definitive blow to a government declared “illegitimate” from minute zero of the legislature. For their part, the most radicalized sectors of the independence movement have not been slow to denounce the pardons as a state trap. Sánchez, however, is convinced of the urgent need to move a tab on the Catalan board. In that case, the public is clearly in favor of a dialogue … which could not prosper with a part of the interlocutors behind bars. In such circumstances, the best thing the government can do is act quickly. Whoever has the initiative determines the conditions and pace of the game. It is convenient that the prisoners are in the street before the PP deploys its petitioning tables against the pardon throughout the country, in a remake of that ill-fated campaign against the Statute.
However, the luck of the bet made by the left will depend on what happens “the day after”. Nothing is as random as political forecasts. But to govern is to foresee. At least try. How will the Generalitat react to the risky gesture of the Spanish government? Will Pere Aragonés be brave enough to assume the role of “traitor to the national cause”? If there is not full correspondence, if the pardon is not accepted as proof of a sincere will to redirect the conflict to the field of politics – excluding, therefore, institutional confrontation and unilateral overflows -, everything can be ruined. It goes without saying what such a failure would mean for the left in Spain. Nor is it necessary to be very imaginative to glimpse what the return to power of a right wing excited and spurred by Vox would mean for the Catalan self-government.
For now, ERC, called to play a decisive role, is sending out contradictory signals. They speak to Sánchez, eager not to miss the train of history … and speak to the independentist world, fearful of being destabilized by the sectors that dispute its hegemony. On the one hand, Aragonés recognizes the appeasing role of pardons; he even he has made his concession the sine qua non of any collaboration with Congress. On the other, he proclaims that his objective is to “complete” the establishment of the Catalan Republic and declares amnesty and a self-determination referendum as inalienable objectives. Maybe that doesn’t exactly make things easier. The slogans are carried by the devil and the CUP will not fail to remind ERC of the commitment signed during the inauguration. But it is also not surprising that, in the preliminaries of a negotiation, the parties express their highest aspirations. However, a successful negotiation must reach a meeting point. And the interlocutors must know. Another thing is that the independence movement is divided and comes from a long phase of inflammation. The landing of those who want to get out of the quagmire will not be easy, despite the unappealable failure of the “onslaught” of 2017. In any negotiation it is necessary that each party have the intelligence to understand the limits and needs of the other.
But the pardon is not a preamble to the amnesty. Rather, it removes it from the equation. The remission of jail sentences does not question the action of justice, creditor of the most diverse opinions regarding its success and fairness. Both are framed in the current legislation. The amnesty, on the contrary, tells us that there was no behavior on the part of the pro-independence movement worthy of any criminal reproach. The rule of law cannot deny itself. And Catalonia is not, nor has it ever been, a colony. No subjugated nation has self-government in charge of health, education and public order, and even the management of prisons. Nor could the “Scottish model” be invoked, undoubtedly tempting for independence. The Brexit experience should be conclusive when it comes to binary binding consultations: they do not allow to solve complex issues, which require deliberation and agreement rather than plebiscite. Resorting to them produces deep tears in society and only generates new conflicts. (As if that were not enough, the formula tested in Scotland did not contemplate the need for qualified majorities. Thus, if a tight majority opted for secession, an irreversible process would begin. Otherwise, the nationalists could always try again, which does not exactly represent the summum of democracy).
If any referendum or consultation in Catalonia is to intervene, it should refer to citizen ratification of the agreements reached, perhaps in the form of a new statutory pact, after a calm negotiation process. In a way, the independentists are right when they say that they already held a referendum on October 1. It was illegal, on the other hand, lacking democratic guarantees, impossible to homologate according to international standards… But it took place. And it showed a country dramatically split in two. A serious negotiation cannot lead to the chronification of such a caesura, but rather to a new pact of coexistence. In this sense, those who insist that the conversations between the Spanish government and the Generalitat must be accompanied by a dialogue between the representative forces of Catalan society are right. The independence movement only embodies the aspirations of a part of it. It should not be forgotten that the unilateral adventure of 2017 was experienced by the rest of the citizenry as a true aggression against their rights. Catalonia must dialogue with itself if it wants to reestablish civil unity.
But is there room for an agreement? It is very reasonable to think so. (Not, of course, from the ultramontane positions of those who reject the cultural and national diversity that Spain encompasses, or those who abhor that reality as a denial of their particular identity). There is a long way to go in improving financing that is at the level of the services that an autonomous community must provide. And there is also it in terms of their participation in the governance of the State and the projection of their voice in Europe. There are aspects of the Statute, contested by the 2010 ruling of the Constitutional Court, that could see the light through organic laws. A satisfactory recognition of the uniqueness of Catalonia is possible that does not require the difficult majorities required for an in-depth reform of the Magna Carta… We will have to use imagination and generosity. It is not about ending a problem – embedded in the unfinished history of Spain and that only the course of history itself may settle one day – but about reaching a coexistence pact, between Catalans and with the rest of Spaniards, That it can last another thirty years, to say the least. No one should give up their ideals. But it is necessary to establish a framework, accepted by a large majority, that allows a diverse and complex society like ours to face the tremendous global challenges that lie ahead. Those who on either side of the Ebro are committed to dialogue, will have to make an effort to promote it, accompany it and protect it from all areas of civil society: from unions, entities and associations to universities and the world of culture. It is urgent to start thinking about the disputed scenario that the pardons will leave us.