Lluís Bassets 02/08/2020
A woman is facing protesters who cut the C-58 in Terrassa last October. CRISTÓBAL CASTRO
We can all repeat the exercise that the prestigious journalist and conservative historian Anne Applebaum has done. Let’s remember the family parties and gatherings of friends from 20 years ago, in the golden age of happy globalization. We go over the names of the attendees, try to recover their voices and rebuild the conversations. We can follow the guideline that the evening of democracy offers us. The Failure of Politics and the Farewell of Friends’, a recently published book in which the writer, American by birth and Polish by adoption, tells us with surprise the evolution of many of her old friendships from liberalism, mostly conservative , which triumphed over communism in the cold war, until the populist and nationalist illiberalism with which our democracies have begun to enter a risk zone.
Applebaum talks to us especially about Poland, a country where the authoritarian cavalcade is especially intense and in any case painful for herself and her family. But there are also the American friends who have later become trumpis, the Hungarian supporters of Orban, the now unleashed British conservatives like Boris Johnson, and even some singular Spanish, better known and greeted than a friend, who has evolved from an already apparent centrism , although Appelbaum did not realize it, to the extreme xenophobic and ultra-nationalist Vox.
Like any political essay, this book also allows local translations. Catalan pro-government bona fide maintains that coexistence has not deteriorated or broken in recent years, not even when political polarization has been most acute, conflict has moved to the streets, institutions and public media have acted partisan and a handful of its leaders have been tried and imprisoned. Puigdemont exhibits in the memories of his vicissitudes the anger with which he received Pedro Sánchez in their first meeting forcing him to retract his diagnosis of the deterioration of coexistence in Catalonia.
In addition to being a good player, the Catalan national populism is exceptional. According to its vision, Catalonia is always a separate case, an oasis and an exception to which the rules for use that serve the whole of humanity, especially for the rest of the Spanish, are not worth it. Against this exceptionalism, the first and most elementary conclusion of Applebaum’s book is the general deterioration of coexistence in western societies, encouraged everywhere by populism and its divisive techniques. It makes perfect sense that life has driven many old friends and family down different paths, but it has less that this separation has turned into loathing, and even, as Applebaum points out, into violent hatred.
Attributing and focusing everything on social networks is not enough, despite the undoubted influence in the specific case of the Catalan independence process and, above all, its personally most unpleasant manifestations. It is a consolation that the worst instincts express a tweet in a country that years ago expressed them with the rifle. If exceptionalism does not work, generalization does not work either, the pain of all that covers our miseries. More useful, also from the hand of Applebaum, is to delve into the specific responsibilities of the elites, not only the policies, in this lousy evolution of our society.
The path of division has been an option consciously decided by the political leaders and submissively accepted by the intellectuals. Faced with a window of opportunity that was considered unique -economic crisis, absolute majority of the PP, difficulties of the monarchy, in addition to Brexit and the Scottish referendum-, direct democracy was decided on the right to decide to the detriment of the deliberative democracy necessary to constitutional reforms and even for a hypothetical constitutional process. Now there are many who criticize the rush, the peremptory deadlines and the maddened road maps, but then they were absolutely necessary to take advantage of the window and make all the divisive pressure on Catalan society to culminate the decantation of opinion towards independence.
This was done in Catalonia as it has been done everywhere, organizing uncivil hatred, instead of civil friendship, destroying representative democracy, instead of enriching it with deliberation. It has been done by a right that Applebaum considers “more Bolshevik than Burkean”, but it has even more sophisticatedly done a transversal conglomerate in which the original Bolshevism of some has been mixed with that of recent adherence by the others. Naturally, with the necessary help from the intellectual elites that Julien Benda has already denounced in ‘La Trahison December Clercs’, the book almost a century ago that Applebaum now successfully evokes. Although in the Catalan case, adherence or mutism follow the unanimity rule that was also denounced by Vicens Vives, especially harmful to pluralism. There is nothing more distressing than these letters of accession that all sign, as if the independence movement had exclusive property titles on language, culture, literature and, ultimately, of all Catalonia.
Applebaum’s approach to the Spanish case is not the most accurate in the book. Everything that can explain us about the evolution of the right is concretized in the drift of Rafael Bardají, once an intellectual advisor to Aznar, now a Vox activist. Catalan secessionism, to which she attributes notable provocative effects of this evolution, appears as a kind of meteorological phenomenon about which she can say little. It is a pity but she also explains the difficult international visibility of independence, a kind of punishment just for such a strong feeling of exceptionalism and narcissism, inspiring that priceless slogan – ‘The world is watching us’ – with which the division that involved the loss of so many friends.