Francesc-Marc Álvaro, 3 February 2022
Marta Pérez / EFE
The playwright Arthur Miller wrote that “as a general rule, as an axiom if you like, the closer you get to any kind of power, the more theatre you have to do; the question is, to what extent? The American author, a good observer of his country’s presidency, puts his finger on the sore point: how much theatre is necessary to do politics? In Catalonia, this issue is the order of the day: overacted gesticulation has become a habitual modus operandi of many of our democratic representatives. It is a widespread tendency among leaders of all hues, although it is in the pro-independence arena where the excesses of staging have been and are most clamorous.
This week, in the Parliament, we reached unsustainable levels of hyperbolic gesticulation, as a result of the situation of the CUP MP Pau Juvillà, sentenced by the TSJC to six months of disqualification and a fine for not having removed, during the election period, some yellow ribbons from the window of his office in the city council of Lleida when he was a councillor. Juvillà’s conviction is hard to understand in a society where freedom of expression is a fundamental right and where party propaganda should not be confused with a legitimate political symbol, but this should not distract us from the debate on the structural limits of a hypothetical disobedience promoted from the heart of the institutions, a tactic that already proved inapplicable during the ‘procés’. The erosion of institutional credibility produced by this symbolic theatre of disobedience is extremely high and we are all paying the bill for it. An erosion that also affects a body such as the Central Electoral Board, which has become, thanks to the use made during the process of the Basque squad against ETA, a new court of inquisition, acting at its own discretion without proportionality.
To begin with, there is conceptual confusion. Disobedience is a well-established form of collective action, a path that citizens can choose to achieve an objective. If disobedience is carried out by institutional officials, we find ourselves in a dead end, for two reasons. Firstly, our representatives manage a space of power that is not theirs, they only have a temporary usufruct of it and, therefore, cannot compromise the rules of the game. Secondly, institutions are built on a delicate architecture in which politicians and civil servants come together, and this obliges the former to respect the work of the latter, and vice versa; if the rules are forced, the chain of trust is broken and the meaning and prestige of the institution implodes.
If the disobedience is carried out by institutional officials, we find ourselves in a dead end.
Political representation has many stages: parliaments, offices, the streets and, above all, the media and networks. Finding the right dose of theatre, as Miller points out, is a fundamental challenge. Since 2012, independence has woven a dense web of over-acting aimed at mobilising its grassroots. Let us recall – for example – that poster of Mas in the style of Hollywood’s Moses. The symbolic theatre of pro-independence had a life of its own outside of any strategy, and increased what it was intended to ward off: the frustration of its supporters. The state’s police and judicial repression has half covered up this weakness.
In the post-‘Procés’ period, after the elections called by Rajoy under art. 155, the strategic bifurcation in the pro-independence bloc left the tendency to overreact, almost exclusively, in the hands of Junts, which thus distanced itself from ERC’s pragmatic turn. The period of Quim Torra exhausted the unproductive symbolism of the banners, a path that ended with the president’s disqualification. At the time, Puigdemont’s party was highly critical of Torrent, then president of the Parliament, because he avoided the abyss of disobedience. Laura Borràs, who was harsh in her accusations against her predecessor, must now prove that her epic phraseology is not pure comedy. For the moment, she has launched the idea of stopping the functioning of the Chamber for a few days, an idea that the lawyers have said is not possible and that creates an unusual chaos, as Isabel Garcia Pagan has explained.
How will this function end? Will Borràs find a way to immolate herself via Instagram to be able to say that ERC are traitors or will she assume that reality prevails over the mimicry of martyrology?