IÑAKI PARDO TORREGROSA 05/09/2020
Josep Burgaya has been a professor at the University of Vic since 1986 (LVD)
Josep Burgaya: “Pujol set the starting point for the full development of independence”
The historian and university professor defines the ‘process’ as “seemingly new language and horizons to reinforce old pulses and hegemony”
Josep Burgaya (1960) is a historian and university professor author of several essays. He was also a socialist-PSC councillor at Vic, although he disassociated himself from the party in 2012. And he says that he lives in the “Catalan Goierri” (core of the country) but that he has an “obvious inability to stimulate his patriotic sense, or any fervor of religious sign”.
He has just published Populism and independence story in Catalonia. A middle-class Peronism? (El Viejo Topo) and summarizes, among many other formulas, the process as “apparently new language and horizons to reinforce old pulses and hegemonies”.
Is the process over yet?
It seemed numb and that some sectors of pro-independence had certified that the subject had no way out. But I have a feeling that it is strengthening and that we have an autumn of the process ahead of us again. It’s little more than speech, it’s language. Therefore it can be reproduced almost to infinity.
If so, it will be a key issue in the upcoming autonomic elections.
The center axle, whether you like it or not, is fixed by Carles Puigdemont. And the central axis is going to be the logic of prisoners, exiles, to retake the independence impulse, although they know that this is much more fallacious right now than it was three years ago. That’s going to be its key speech and it’s going to focus the political debate. Therefore, republican ERC, despite its efforts to resituate itself politically and to leave this brutal dichotomy of the past year and a half, will end up a victim or prisoner of JxCat’s speech and the discourse of “who is not with us, who does not want independence, is a traitor to the cause”. On the other front Cs, PP and Vox will reinforce it and show anti-independentism as a great political argument.
To get out of all this one needs a cross-sectional pact and get out of the trenches”
Your are pessimistic.
The fundamental thing is that the discourse of those who want to get out of this situation, who are not independentist but who know that one must respond politically to the malaise – PSC and Comuns – are made themselves heard enough and get the great support they need to force the trenches out. We can think that independentism has been a tragedy, but to get out of all this you need a cross-cutting pact and get out of the trenches and to do so is only possible if groups that do not practice anti-independentism and denial of problems come out of the trenches and gather strength . But it’s complicated, the dialectic independentism versus anti-independentism is going to be fundamental and it catches everything.
What is the origin of the process from your perspective?
I think it’s a conjunction of elements that have little to do with the historical issue. Starting in 2010 and especially since 2012 there were perfect storm conditions. The effects of the 2008 crisis coincide, the various political unrest, the loss of power and capacity of the middle classes, and the frustration of some regarding their expectations. Some parties in this context raise an account of redemption and guilt. There they lay the foundations of the process, it is the Catalan version of the populisms that are imposed in much of Europe, which generally have in common the unrest of the middle classes, which distrust the political system and are greatly affected by the economic crisis. Somehow it has been raised as a great propaganda system and as the available utopia. It is the concreteness in Catalonia of what elsewhere is populism the new uncomplexed right.
But in the book you say that more than a material affectation is an affectation of its expectations and prospects.
This is where the unrest arises and that is where the project of redemption and emancipation comes from, in which the approach of the pro-independence parties is to create a new framework, a full state in which the economic and social possibilities for this group will prove immense. That is the fundamental leitmotiv to incorporate into politics with the pro-independence movement a large number of people who were very weakly politicized until then, who probably voted for nationalist parties but did not have an active participation in politics. These social groups, middle classes, see the opportunity to play an important role and in reality what exists is a great propaganda system that promises them a republic in which their frustrations will end. The 2012 dynamic of “Spain robs us” was fundamental to reach these people through economic interest, economic selfishness. We are talking about affluent sectors that want to get rid of other poorer ones, other territories. These affluent sectors see independence as an opportunity.
Federalism can be a good meeting point and the articulation of Catalonia in the whole of Spain could be more comfortable for all”
Is there a way out? You say it’s an emotional conflict and that’s why it’s very difficult.
The fundamental difficulty is that we are talking about emotions, not reasons. In the world of reasons everything can find some intermediate way out. But here we talk about emotions and people who have been propagated in the whole or nothing. It’s very difficult to get out of this situation. In addition, in the independence world there is a real auction among the three large groups about who is the administrator of essences and radicalism. Therefore, it is difficult to get out of that situation.
Then you see it very complicated.
Beyond the process being a bubble of language, a deception and promises that cannot be fulfilled, it is clear that it has seduced a significant part of Catalan society. Therefore, we must find a way out in which independence should probably abandon positions of highs, the “ho tornarem a fer” (we will do it again), the break with Spain and seek a meeting point. There federalism can be a good meeting point and the articulation of Catalonia in the whole of Spain could be more comfortable for everyone. Each could have its own sense of relevance and identity. I think it would be a suitable framework for everyone.
Is it possible for independentism to reduce its claims?
For that it is essential that the blocks are broken. It seemed that republican ERC was turning and evolving into realpolitik these last few months and that from independentism it could take the hand that socialism of the PSC and Comuns held out to them, but it is clear that the one who sets the agenda and sets the goals is Puigdemont. I doubt ERC will maintain that attitude of exiting the trench and looking for meeting points before the election. But it is an essential party because without it the future of Catalonia is dark.
ERC is essential because otherwise the future of Catalonia is dark
And do you think there is room for moderate, non-unilateral right-center sovereignism that contributes to that scenario?
No, I really don’t. It would be good if that space existed because it would help to get out of the situation of absolute maximalisms of the pro-independence world, but it seems to me that the Catalanism that flirted and gave himself to pro-independence and all its radicalism for years, no longer exists. In fact, moderate Catalanism no longer exists. There are politicians who have come out of nationalism and independence and want to build such a political project to maintain their activity. But I doubt there’s that political space in the electorate. The former Convergency i Unió (CiU) has been dynamited by the process and by corruption. That moderate Catalanism is fine to raise in the lab, but I think hard and strong pulses are going to be imposed right now, not moderation.
You propose in your book that Pujol laid the groundwork for independence to flourish.
It’s still an evolution of pujolism. Pujol raised a scenario of continuous negotiation and a scenario with national structures, state structures. Public media, Mossos d’Esquadra, school system…. All this is the basis and starting point for creating the conditions for the full development of the independence approach after 2012. Independence is therefore the culmination of pujolism. Without pujolism you can’t understand the subject of now. His policy was based on continued vindication and constant disappointment with respect to the State. Covenant and at the same time an approach to new demands. This has paid for years a victimism and a culture of difference and complaint. In some cases also of supremacism over what Spain stands for. Therefore, pujolism is the starting point.
It also suggests that there was a change of skin of Catalan elites in the face of a global crisis that threatened their hegemony.
The convergent world with Artur Mas was dedicated to the decline of the welfare state in Catalonia, to reducing public spending quite evidently. He managed the crisis in the neoliberal way Angela Merkel marked in Europe. These policies could provoke the wrath of a section of the population lacking public resources and a welfare state. With the process Artur Mas was able to surf the independence wave and found a way out of all this and not have to face responsibilities for the management of the crisis and the country. Independence prevented him from being accountable for all of it. The funny thing is that we find some classes that have been leaders, upper middle classes, who at the moment have become “revolutionary”. From being people of order they have become people of disorder, especially since 2015. I find the role of civil society, the business world, large communication groups, etc. rather sad. Everyone has been silent in response to an absolutely suicidal dynamic of the people who ran the country. The problem with Catalonia is that the elites, both intellectual and business, have looked the other way with a sad role and even pulled the process, which was evident that it had no way out if you have a little sanity. It’s not because you can’t be an independentist. In today’s Europe, within a rule of law, a space of sovereignty can hardly be broken frivolously, cheerfully and on demand.
One of his thesis is that the process is radicalized from the rise of Podemos and the triumph of the Comuns in Barcelona.
Podemos’s appearance forced the independence machinery. It was a movement that could take root among the young and partly rooted. But there was a possibility that it would take root very strongly. Pro-independence and moderate sectors, centre-right, believed that the accelerator had to be stepped on and the CUP was given a big prominence, which could compete with the appeal of that new left, which although respectful of multi-nationality is not in support of independence. The appearance of this new left had an answer. It is not the explanation, but it is one more element that explains why independence is trying to become utopia for young people rather than change and social transformation.
You say we are not facing a sovereignty problem. But some argue that it is the great crisis of our time. You say it’s a cohabitation problem. Why?
Catalonia is notably divided even though the media space is mostly filled by pro-independentism, which does not have the political majority. That is evident in many respects. It is not a problem of Catalonia in the face of Spain, but within Catalonia. There is a remarkable section of citizenship that believes it is a conflict, but it has been something driven by political parties with a very agile propaganda system that implements this narrative. There are actually many Catalonias and they are very diverse. Not everyone agrees to break a framework of political sovereignty, the Spanish framework, which is conditioned by its membership of the European Union. To think that this can be easily broken… Besides, I don’t see it necessary. Today the sovereignty of states is weak. Apple is already the eighth largest economy in the world ahead of Italy. There is more sovereignty in large platforms and technology companies than in most nation-states. In this context, to raise the rupture of a constituted State is like raising something old, out of step. A different articulation of Catalonia and Spain can be proposed: a federal model or a constitutional reform and regime of ’78. All of this is logical and plausible, but to make changes in the current structures in today’s Europe without a war in between or without the implosion of the system as happened with the URSS seems to me to lead nowhere.
There is more sovereignty in large platforms and technology companies than in most nation-states”
You also point out that in pro-independentism there are common traits with the populism of Brexit, Donald Trump and the left-wing of Latin America.
They are united above all by one thing, the predominance of emotion over reason and their way of raising politics as an emotional and spiritual thing in the face of reasoning, to raise political objectives as a desire and not as an agreement between free citizens, to raise democracy as a pure single-grade plebiscite rather than to raise it as a culture and behavior that seeks agreement and pact between different social groups and different approaches. With the populism of Donald Trump, the right-wing or far-right European parties, or left-wing Latin Americans, pro-independentism also coincides on the issue of creating an external enemy. Each group must create tribe and unanimity from an enemy. The definition of the outside enemy is fundamental to cohesive the group. There is agreement in the use of narrative elements allowed by the digital world, in relation to the role of leadership, in the extreme simplification of messages or in relation to the promise of a promised land. They have many elements in common, especially with right-wing populism, but also some with left-wing populism derived from the theories of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, which are the theoretical basis of Latin American populisms.
All parties in Spain are populist or use populist techniques on one level or another
But is there a party that doesn’t use populist logic in Spain?
Populism is not ideology, it is a strategy of political action that can be used from all spectrums. Faced with the weakening of strong political discourse, all parties are populist or use populist techniques at one level or another. Clearly, the entire political arc does, but some parties have settled into populist strategy and do not have a political project or a definite agenda. Instead, they have a beautiful narrative to tell and a project of spiritual emancipation for citizens. The difference is in the degrees to which they use populism in their political action. And social media and the internet world have made things a lot easier. Technology tends to the emotional, the superficial, to isolate individuals by en enabled by an apparent prominence that they don’t actually have. There’s a drill. WhatsApp is a great instrument of political activation, in the process it has already been seen. Networks and messaging applications have played a crucial role.
Is it possible that the party that has the populist label and defends that logic, Podemos, has ended up being more institutional than other traditional parties?
We can recognize at the outset the influence of left-wing Latin American populism. Its ideologues are debtors of Laclau and Mouffe and have been related to Kirchnerism and chavism. They have used these strategies to define an opponent (people versus caste) and have employed dichotomies that work in populist discourse. But it is true that the party has made a rather important path towards political realism and institutional politics. With its program it has ended up representing a left-wing social democracy, even if it is redundant. It has made much more institutional and formal policy and its project has much more formalized content than Vox, PP, ERC, JxCat and other spaces that are based solely on the story.
‘Populism and independence account in Catalonia. A middle-class Peronism?’ Josep Burgaya (El Viejo Topo)