November 11, 2019

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Home » Content » Catalonia and the risks of unconscious fascism – Perversion of language, manipulation of ideas, concepts or analytical categories of politics and social and legal sciences, such as democracy, human rights, sovereignty, popular will, the right to free determination
It seems quite suspicious that this deactivation of an alternative social movement questioning the power structures in Catalonia coincided with the strengthening of civil society platforms, supported precisely by power and focused on national and identity issues.

by Crónica Popular • November 2, 2019

J. Daniel Oliva Martínez
Professor of Public International Law of the Carlos III University

One of the consequences of the procés has been the perversion of language and the manipulation of ideas, concepts or analytical categories of politics and social and legal sciences, such as democracy, human rights, sovereignty, popular will, the right to free determination … It stands out above all the manipulation of fascism and fascist, terms that are often used systematically by the pro-independence sectors to denigrate many of their political opponents. However, paradoxically, we find that it is – in part – in the Catalan nationalist-independence political movement where we can identify tics, behaviors, positions, ideas and collective attitudes that can be related precisely to fascism.

This initial finding should not lead us at all to identify the movement that politically defends the independence of Catalonia as a fascist or neo-fascist movement. To affirm such a thing would be absurd, it would entail stigmatizing an extraordinary number of people and forming a grossly skewed look towards what is a very complex and multidimensional political and social phenomenon, with very diverse components and differentiated proposals (see for example those sectors, certainly minority, which are defined only as pro-independence and say they reject nationalism). To point out that pro-independence as a whole is fascism would be as childish and unsubstantiated as defending, as the CDR or Tsunami Democràtic do and the pro-independence leaders spread throughout the world, that Spain and what it represents is a fascist state. Let’s nobody wish to see therefore in this article a simplification of that type.

After this initial clarification, the truth is that we can reiterate that sometimes from the pro-independence movement proposals arise and above all collective attitudes and behaviors that we can identify as fascists are generated. Of course, a fascism not like that of the classic Spanish ultra-right, trooper-like, open, direct, explicit, recognized and recognizable (that one already very minority that still sings the “face to the sun” or that accompanies Franco in his exhumation) nor as the reactionary neo-fascism and at the same time ultraliberal (economically) of VOX, but a more subtle, covert and largely unconscious fascism.

Very few are, although there are also (as an example we have the Moviment Identitari Catalá) the pro-independence sectors that would recognize themselves in that political category. Quite the contrary, most of the people who make up the nationalist-pro-independence movement, many of them people of good will, proudly define themselves as anti-fascists and human rights defenders.

How is it possible then that those who claim and identify themselves as anti-fascists, promoters of the common good and lovers of justice, could behave or act as fascists? The answer is found largely in the creation of one-dimensional collective imaginary and in social psychology. And it has to do with that set of codes, symbols, ideological frameworks, slogans, distorted information, mottos, biased formative contents, prejudices and stereotypes apprehended in schools and universities (the role of the educational system that I know well has been decisive), disseminated by the media and reinforced by propaganda for so long. Something that, after years of fermentation, has sprouted virulently – unconsciously and with a high emotional load – in a climate of identity contrast. A climate, let’s not forget, that has been induced and forced by the most nationalist sectors actively interested in forging disconnected and confronted communities.

All this has its origin not so much in the ruling on the Statute (as they insist on pointing out from pro-independence media), which had its share of influence of course but did not have a great social and political real significance. Rather, the turning point (nothing is by chance) needs to be placed on that day when Artur Mas and Núria de Gispert in June 2011 had to reach the Parliament by helicopter when social activists protested the austerity measures and policies announced by the Government of the Generalidad in alignment with those already beginning to be implemented from the central government. It is from that moment when the moderate nationalists transmute, in just a few months, in declared pro-independence and encourage the first really massive Diada in September 2012, diverting the focus from the social to the identity. Rajoy’s rejection of the proposed fiscal pact, certainly unsupportive (more so if we take into account the context of economic crisis) that Artur presented a few days after that Diada during his visit to Moncloa, definitely served as justification for the flight forward of the pro-independence movement. It is convenient, as when dealing with other phenomena, never to lose the historical memory of events.

And, in this way, over these seven or eight years of procés, an archetypal set of mental processes, symbolic images and unrealistic (and, therefore, frustrated) expectations shared collectively, within the framework of nationalism, has been built; and this set is not consciously perceived by the individuals who adopt; and that is what precisely leads them, at times, to act in the opposite direction of what they claim to be.

Of course, the pro-independence phenomenon in Catalonia cannot be understood outside a more general context that in Europe has led to Brexit and the rise of right-wing populism and which in other contexts has materialized in Trump’s triumph in the United States or of Bolsonaro in Brazil. All of them are reactions to the challenges of globalization betting for closed societies with identities that exclude, that call into question the pre-given meanings and that have found an ideal breeding ground in the frustration of large population sectors after the painful and upsetting management, both within countries and from international organizations, of the economic and financial crisis. These ad extra elements must also be taken into account and can explain some of the collective reactions framed in those identity folds which can sometimes result in intolerance, emotional distancing and extreme positions against the different among those who always said they were tolerant and supportive.

Given this, it is a civic duty of those who value diversity and we have always opted for intercultural coexistence, the right to difference, internationalism, the culture of the encounter and interregional solidarity (that is, the values of anti-fascism) to uncover those contradictions. And bring to light the components of that fascism that is unconsciously encrypted in an important sector of the pro-independence side, which explains (of course in part) the impossibility of dialogue and reconciliation that on the other hand are still so necessary for the solution not only political but also social and cultural of the conflict. Let us analyze next some of these manifestations of this unconscious fascism referred to.

1. One of the constitutive elements that underlie fascism, both old age and neofascism of our time, is the denial of diversity and cultural rights of differentiated groups. Something that is very present in the discourse of a sector of pro-independence and nationalism that largely rejects the multicultural and plural reality of Catalan society, associating Catalan with a homogeneous and petrified conception of collective cultural identity, with a single true and legitimate culture and a limited, essentialist and one-dimensional vision of the Catalan cultural given. All this has a lot to do with that idea of ​​Volksgeist or spirit of the people, typical of the romanticism and German nationalism of the nineteenth century (whose extreme political projection did so much damage in the twentieth century) in the sense that national identities are pure and closed. And that, to each people, of course to the Catalan one, corresponds a homogeneous intangible cultural heritage that is projected in a true language, authentic customs and an immutable essence that nationalists have the mission to preserve so that it passes to future generations. In short, a cultural fundamentalism that has come to replace the racism of other times.

2. In turn, another of the great elements characterizing fascism that is reproduced in part of the Catalan nationalist and pro-independence movement and that is a consequence of the previous one, is the lack of empathy (even Forcadell said so recently) and ultimately the lack of recognition, hatred and social rejection towards the different, as well as their stigmatizing marking. The one who does not agree with independence, those who do not defend the counsellors jailed or escaped with Puigdemont, those who do not wear the yellow tie, students who do not want to strike in protest against the Supreme Court ruling, those who agree with the current constitutional framework or those who bet on a federal model are marked. In short, those politicians, intellectuals, artists, athletes, film or theater directors, journalists, musicians, writers, trade unionists, social leaders, students or university professors who have a critical position, who identify with other symbols or defend a hybrid culture, In short, those who think and act differently, or even prefer not to position themselves or stay lukewarm and equidistant, are suspicious and branded as traitors (botiflers), “Spaniards”, bad or false Catalans.

The transition from the lack of recognition to the hatred towards the different can easily occur even more in contexts of opposition, frustration and political tension like the one in which we live. That is why it is not surprising the attitude of hatred that is projected in gestures, slogans, mottos and nonverbal behavior within the framework of many of the mobilizations, peaceful protests, sabotages, strikes … taking place these days. Let us think for a moment about the treatment that the communicators and journalists of the state-owned radio and television networks have undergone during the last weeks of mobilizations. Or the permanently insulting and contemptuous references to everything related to the idea of ​​Spain, which undoubtedly emotionally affects those who feel Spanish and reinforces, in turn, extremist positions of many of these against those who defend independence, within and outside of Catalonia. The emergence and the worrying consolidation of VOX – perhaps as the third political force in the next general elections – is undoubtedly a reactive effect, but at the same time giving feedback to these dynamics of hatred and lack of recognition.

In addition, when feelings are radicalized, the most extreme nationalist movements can even project that rejection and hatred not only towards non-independence sectors, but also towards those who are identified as “soft” within the movement itself. Probably the case of Gabriel Rufíán expelled between screams of botifler and angry and threatening gestures of a concentration called by Arran and the CDR in Arc de Triomf, serves as a paradigm to explain this phenomenon.

3. Another of the great components of fascist movements has always been the victimizing manipulation of history, the childish idealization of one’s own culture, extreme ethnocentrism (that is, the supremacist consideration of their differentiated identity as better and more valuable than the others) and the mythologizing of cultural origins. Something also very present as we know in large part of the Catalan pro-independence movement that does not hesitate to distort history or interpret it in favor of its theses and proclamations. It is painful to see how some prestigious university colleagues fold in to these distorting interests and put their teaching and research activity in the field of history, sociology or anthropology, at the service of the propaganda of an exclusive project.

4. Radical nationalisms, which are the basis of fascism, always reinforce their identity based on contrasting dynamics related to a differentiating axis We vs. the Others, from whom they distance themselves symbolically projecting negative traits and undervaluing them. It is another character of the ethnocentric attitude that not only values its own culture as superior, but, consequently, despises other cultures and especially the culture that it considers “rival” and therefore those who identify themselves with it fully or even only partially. The insulting and mocking stereotyping of the other usually serves as a contrasting element and bases that distancing.

The Nazis ridiculed the Jews by characterizing them with unpleasant physical features and despicable moral elements. In the case of Catalonia, there is a moral and aesthetic degradation of others. The others are the Spaniards, of course (and by association also the Catalans who identify themselves with a mixed identity), who often are connected, in the “humorous” TV3 programs, in the Catalunya Radio or RAC 1 talk-shows, in the articles of El Punt Avui and, in general, in the slogans of the popular culture that surrounds pro-independence, with the fascist, with the tacky, with the regressive, with the old-fashioned, with the stale, with the outdated, with the mediocre, even with the lazy … All this against moral and aesthetically appreciable and superior traits that would be represented by a true Catalan us.

5. Extreme fascists and nationalists appropriate the concept of the people and often speak on behalf of it. The ultra Bolsonaro does it, when referring to the people of Brazil, leaving out of that category or ignoring indigenous people, blacks, gays, lesbians or the “petists” [Workers’ Party followers]  (that is, more than half of the country). Trump does it when he talks about “making America great again” and refers to the American people without including liberals, voters of the Democratic party, minorities, natives, immigrants or critical journalists. And in Europe the extremist leaders of Law and Justice in Poland do the same, standing as the representatives of the Polish people, which only includes the “true patriots”.

That appropriation of the demos, which denies plurality, also occurs in Catalonia where the independence leaders constantly talk about the fact that they are the true representatives of the Catalan people and that they are called to fulfill the democratic mandate (already “without excuses”, as Torra pointed out a few weeks ago) that have been given to move towards the Catalan Republic. Overlooking – cynically – that, at best, they only have the support of – not even – half of Catalan voters.

6. The physical and symbolic occupation (massive, comprehensive, institutional and extensive) of public spaces and that eagerness to monopolize political, economic, social and cultural life is also another typical behavior of fascist movements. The Nazis did it in Germany, Franco did it in Spain. We constantly see that effort among the Catalan pro-independence groups (stellar flags and yellow ties) using the institutions under their control without shame. With this, what they want is, only from one part, to flood and monopolize the spaces that should belong to everyone. Denying diversity again and despising the different, who does not think like them, which is symbolically excluded from the public sphere.

This symbolic exclusion entails, finally, an apartheid also in practice, in everyday life, which we can relate, for example, to the fact that some non-independent politicians or associations usually have to suspend their public acts in universities or public institutions for the harassment they suffer, or that the artists, creators and musicians declared anti-nationalists are not hired by the Catalan administrations of autonomous or municipal scope in a kind of ideological and / or ethnic censorship.

Along with this, the quasi-organic presence of the pro-independence movement means that it occupies, out of that comprehensive desire, the vast majority of power spaces, and is at the forefront of the main economic, social, business, union, university, journalistic or sports influence frameworks and of academic and cultural management, despite the fact that the pro-independence sectors do not reach 50% of the population. This causes an unequal stratification in the distribution of power and the capacity for social and cultural influence, since the non-independence sectors, being a majority, are subsumed against those who are pro-independence.

7. Unilateralism, intransigence, lack of solidarity and the search for permanent confrontation against a real or imaginary enemy are some of the other major components of fascism, the old and the new. All this in the face of solidarity, cooperation, the common good, fraternity and intercultural dialogue typical of anti-fascism. And unfortunately we see it in the mottos of the majority of pro-independence groups: “First Catalonia and the interests of the Catalans” (pro-independence, of course). Without caring, for example, about the real collapse of the welfare state in Spain (currently already diminished by the effects of the crisis and austerity policies) and the consequences that for the popular sectors and for the most vulnerable territories would have an hypothetical independence of Catalonia.

Nothing seems to matter to Catalan pro-independence sectors (also, unfortunately, to those who say they are in the left) the fate of health services, education systems, scholarships, pensions, social assistance … in the rest of the territories if his project will end up being consummated, breaking up the second richest region by income levels and tax implication from the rest of the State.

We also verify day by day how the pro-independence side, in effect, seeks shock, permanent tension, in order to nourish, reinforce or maintain its social base, out of daily confrontational dynamics. All this has direct repercussions on social fracture and coexistence among Catalans, in families, in workplaces, in universities, in circles of friends, in social movements, in AMPAs, in neighboring communities, in cultural associations, in sports clubs … Areas of community relations in which a kind of symbolic and implicit violence is generated, since non-independence persons, if they are not sure that they are together with other non-independence colleagues, prefer not to speak, they remain silent, they decide not to mark themselves in the face of what they perceive to a large extent as a kind of dictatorship of the unique thought or of the only acceptable ideas and positions. The risks of becoming visible are even greater in what we call inland Catalonia, where he who does not participate in the prevailing creed is immediately separated from public and social life.

This spiral of social concealment of the non-independence dissident constitutes another manifestation and a brutal consequence of the lack of recognition and of that installed social disease that is the denial of otherness. As the most extreme manifestation of this social degradation mentioned, to unbearable limits, we find the peaceful protests, insults, contempt, the graffiti in shops or in front of houses, social marking or boycotts to which the non-independence people are subjected when they decide to become noticeable. That is no longer symbolic violence. We should not ultimately separate all of this from the recent emergence of groups who openly deny plurality and are willing to take a dark step forward through violent actions that have very little of liberating force and are more similar to brownish-grey violence so typical of Fascist movements

That the president of ANC has come to value some forms of violence as something positive to make the “conflict” visible internationally allows us to confirm, sadly and once again, which kind of persons are at the head of the pro-independence movement.

8. Finally, we must emphasize that fascism and neo-fascism, despite the fact that they have been covered up throughout history with socializing slogans with the clear objective of confusing the population and ensuring the support of the working class and popular sectors always end up giving primacy to the national-identity over the social. And, unfortunately, we find that the short but intensive history of the procés is precisely the story of how the social demands, the struggles of the most active groups acting from a class or transversal perspective, the proclamations and the positions of integral ecology and the popular demands regarding health, housing, education, gender, functional diversity or decent work have been greatly weakened in the face of the withdrawal to the identity issue. This debacle of the social versus the identity has largely meant the elimination of the “spirit” of 15-M.

Indeed, if we take the year 2011 as a reference, we see how, spurred by the beginning of the crisis and the disappointment with the political class, hundreds of thousands of young people (and not so young) formed an inclusive movement that grew and recognized itself in the diversity, a truly transversal, spontaneous, autonomous movement, not induced from institutions or political parties. With a transformative, cheerful and alternative, open and positive from the radical critique, “theory” and praxis, which overcame the dynamics of resentment that had caused so much damage to the transformative left over time. Always focused on the interest of the common and that promoted, from conscious indignation, an interesting “ethic” of recognition and care.

Just 8 years later, today, as a result of the procés driven and developed by the pro-independence leadership, there is nothing left of that “theory” and praxis. And it is no coincidence that, as the 15-M was blurring and evaporating, entities such as the ANC and the Omnium Cultural were reinforced with all the institutional support. It seems quite suspicious that this deactivation of an alternative social movement questioning the power structures in Catalonia coincided with the strengthening of civil society platforms, supported precisely by power and focused on national and identity issues.

There is currently no social mobilization in Catalonia, with some practical significance, that is no longer linked to those who defend independence and adhere to Catalan nationalism or, in any case, to those who reject it. The latter always in conditions of greater difficulty due to the social climate we have described, although also waking up, especially since the fall of 2017.

The demonstrations in opposite directions of these days October 26 and 27, 2019, thus reflect how Catalan society mobilizes in two opposite senses, always taking as reference opposed symbols and national projects. Unfortunately, this has meant that the social agenda has been relegated and that many committed social and collective movements have lost their emancipatory potential by being subsumed in these contrasting identity dynamics.

Something that is also projected in the rest of the State. Consider, for example, the marches of pensioners who after weeks of walking came to the Congress in Madrid, last Wednesday, October 16, or in the publication that same day of the Report on poverty and social exclusion of the European Network Fight against Poverty. A document that showed that almost half of the families do not make ends meet every month, that severe poverty has increased in the whole country and that all this is largely the result of the economic crisis and the policies that were applied to “fight it”. Neither one (the retired) nor the other (the publication of the report) had hardly any political or media impact that day or in the subsequent ones. The attention and interest were put in the reaction of the pro-independence movement to the Supreme Court ruling and especially in other marches, not those of the pensioners but those headed by Quim Torra cutting roads and in the violent mobilizations that had taken place the previous nights and that would have to be reproduced even more intensely in the following nights.

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In conclusion, it should be reiterated that we cannot affirm that the pro-independence movement as a whole is a fascist or neo-fascist movement. It is not our will to mark derogatorily those hundreds of thousands of people who legitimately – like those who think otherwise – are mobilized to achieve independence from Catalonia, as long as they do so peacefully. The political, social and cultural pro-independence sector is not a monolithic block. But as we have shown it seems that there is no doubt that some of the formulations, collective attitudes and approaches to the reality of independence, integrate extreme ethnocentric components, deniers of diversity, cultural rights, pluralism and intercultural coexistence.

Components that we can relate, directly or indirectly, to fascism in the different manifestations that it has had throughout history, and that have been unconsciously, emotionally and automatically integrated by many of those who militate socially or politically in the ranks of nationalism and pro-independence. Those who paradoxically identify themselves, as we pointed out at the beginning of this article, as anti-fascists and even – dishonoring them – appropriate the slogans, symbols and real memory of the fight against fascism.

I refer to those who can show their solidarity with immigrants and refugees and who apparently commit themselves to the value of the diversity they represent, but who despise their neighbor for not sharing their cultural identity, having an alternative political position or identifying themselves with some symbols and a way of feeling Catalan different from theirs. Those who encourage mobilization and promote democratic and popular participation, but exercise an active boycott against those who decide to manifest themselves from different convictions. Or those who in the university classrooms proclaim the legitimate fight against racism and discrimination, but generate an authentic apartheid on the professors (limiting in practice their freedom of professorship) or the students critical with the procés. Also those others who stand in solidarity with the peoples that suffer from hunger and underdevelopment in the world, but defend the independence of Catalonia (the second territory in income and the first in industrial GDP of the State as a whole) even knowing that if the independence would eventually be achieved it would lead to ruin or at least radical impoverishment for Andalusia, Extremadura or Murcia, among other territories. Communities and regions from which, on occasion, paradoxically – in what constitutes a dramatic turn of contempt for their own origins – they themselves, their parents or their grandparents come.

Hopefully this article that offers a critical look but that pretends to be constructive and reflective, serves to – once overcome the initial rejection that will surely generate among many of them – reveal these components for some of those who militate in the independence movement so that they can assume now, consciously, some self-criticism about part of their postulates and attitudes. I am not thinking of course of those who come from chauvinist positions from the beginning and have traditionally been insensitive to difference and solidarity, but in those who at least long ago called themselves leftist and progressive, and consistently militated in internationalist options acting as consistent with the principles they defended. For only from the self-criticism and awareness (an “s” [consciencia] that I write on purpose) of those sectors which, despite everything, I still presume, within the pro-independence side, more open and sensitive, will the rectification arrive and with it the possibility of the desired real dialogue, the necessary relaxation, reconciliation and recovery of the social agenda. Seven years lost, with so much wasted energy inside and outside Catalonia, and focused on that ridiculous and dangerous flags war, are already too many.

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