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Home » Content » Martín Alonso Zarza, author of «El Catalanismo, del éxito al éxtasis: «The ‘procés’ is a product of political irrationality»
Political scientist and philosopher, the author of the trilogy "El Catalanismo, del éxito al éxtasis", Martín Alonso Zarza analyzes the Catalan "procés" in this interview in which he talks about Jordi Pujol, corruption, linguistic policy, and the different factors that have led to an impossible situation which he qualifies as full of redemptive fantasies and utopias.

Martín Alonso Zarza, doctor of Political Science, graduated in Sociology, Philosophy and Psychology, was part of the group of experts of the Bakeaz School of Peace (Bilbao).

Adelaide del Campo | January 13, 2019

Alonso summarizes: “Imaginary communities can blow up real communities”.

Martín Alonso Zarza, doctor of Political Science, graduated in Sociology, Philosophy and Psychology, was part of the group of experts of the Bakeaz School of Peace (Bilbao).

His interests and publications have to do with identity, nationalism, the rhetoric of violence, the uses of history and memory.

You quote Caro Baroja when he says that having illusions is legitimate but debatable because if we do something problematic we can crash and, worse, make others crash. Does this reflection summarize what has happened with the ‘procés’?

The reference to Caro Baroja -the belief in witches had the consequences we all know- is because it draws attention to the issue of irrationality.

It is the fundamental problem in politics precisely because it prevents from facing all the others.

When the imaginary is filled with redemptive fantasies, substitution utopias, cognitive bubbles, social processes adopt tortuous trajectories, often very damaging.

It is not an exclusive of the procés, it happens with populisms in its variants -from UKIP to AfD through Vox-, and it happened in more crude situations: see the news about Serbian nationalism in the last years of the last century, using the excuse of the defeat of Kosovo (1389), as the ‘procés’ did with the ‘caiguda’ [fall] (1714).

It also happened when a large proportion of Germans accepted the Nazi myths that acted as a screen preventing them from seeing reality.

The ‘proces’ is, in effect, a product of political irrationality.

Let us think, finally, and with a closer example, that radical ‘abertzales’ have justified for decades the murder, extortion and harassment in the hallucination of an ancestral conflict between Spain and Euskal Herria; in reality, of an incessant attack of the first against the second, as they put it.

These cases illustrate the destructive potential of irrationality: imaginary communities can explode real communities.

In the Pact of the Majestic began a process of discrimination of the Castilian language that has led to a homologous situation but vice versa, to that of Franco, according to Martín Alonso Zarza.

In those years from 2006 to 2010, the risk was raised of what if the Statute were not approved. President José Montilla himself said in 2007 that emotional disaffection towards Spain was growing. In 2009, twelve Catalan newspapers published a joint editorial “The dignity of Catalonia”, in the same way.

These are years in which Democratic Convergence of Catalonia is out of government, since it was displaced by a Maragall who was willing to play the identity card, overtaking that party in the nationalist track by proposing the reform of the Statute (in the line of asymmetric federalism and with that load of romantic historicism that permeates the preamble of the text).

The partisan opposition of an ideological nature (3% in that memorable session of the Parliament) is buried by the national communion (later: the hug between David Fernàndez and Artur Mas). Montilla’s position is typical of hyper-adaptation (of the ‘charnegos’ [inmigrants]), which Gabriel Rufián now represents in such an original way.

And the joint editorial is, in retrospect, the discursive milestone marking the transition from pujolism to processism; a fundamental fact for many reasons that do not fit here, but above all and again because it changes the focus of the political agenda.

The second half of 2009 sees a sequence of cases that show the structural nature of corruption in Catalonia and mainly in CDC (Palau case); as a reaction, at one point there is a negotiation between parties and shortly after the joint editorial appears, by way of an agreement between the leaders of El Periódico and La Vanguardia, making dignity the patriotic carpet that hides the filth.

Some of its promoters  -it would be useful to remember their names- have modified their positions but do not accept any charges for the responsibility derived from that flying goal and continue to pontificate from the media as then.

On the other hand, rhetorical resources such as detachment or the construction of an alleged attack on dignity (preventive, in addition, because the ruling of the TC would not come out until the following summer), are universal elements and a constant in the national-populist argument.

You quote that for Nationalism was fundamental the Law of Linguistic Policy which Pujol in 1998 included as untouchable in the Majestic Pacts with José María Aznar. What consequences did this agreement have?

It had direct and indirect consequences. Direct because there began a process of discrimination of the Castilian language that has led to a situation comparable, but vice versa, to that of Franco.

Indirect because the language served as a ram for the nationalization process of education as a whole.

And of greater scope because it was an example of the strategy of consummate facts characteristic of Pujol which went unnoticed thanks to his ability to play with two decks of cards.

One of them antithetical of his institutional function.

I want to remember, also as a tribute to a person of an exemplary intellectual and human trajectory, the words of historian Gabriel Jackson regarding the law of linguistic policy: «whose main function has been to avoid debate about the true nature of the government alliance between CiU and the PP”.

In fact, this whole exercise has been a perfect illustration of how the left (PSC, IC) falls into the trap of assuming that nationalism will bring it closer to the electorate, and how the right manages to divert attention from real problems talking about national “essences”, “differential facts”, etc.».

Banca Catalana is a masterpiece of Pujol, what we live now is unthinkable without that foundational imposture

Faced with this theory, do you think, like Carlos Jiménez Villarejo does, that we have to go back to Pujol and his economic affairs? Is the ‘proces’ an entertainment to look away from corruption?

The one from Carlos Jiménez Villarejo is the interpretative line with more solvency, the Banca Catalana case inaugurates what we could call, with less impropriety than is done with the regime of 78, the regime of Catalan 84, to return to the initial question.

The media-social marketing of Banca Catalana is the foundational fact of this sequence of false data that suggests the pirouettes of geo-centrism defenders to disavow Galileo.

As a result of the operation, Pujol / Cataluña was involved both in the flag and in the victimhood shell.

Remember that there Pujol managed to twist the arm of the law by transforming his criminal behavior into the guarantee of a moral teaching: «We will talk about ethics, morals and fair play».

He failed to add ‘and really’. From that moment the truth was also a victim of nationalization, and irrationality was the corollary.

Banca Catalana is a master move by Pujol, what we live now is unthinkable without that foundational imposture. That included, we remember, a call from the public media to surround the Parliament, which then disallowed, as now, the character ‘from below ’of the mobilization.

And he was ahead of those practices that have given rise to novel labels (post-truth, alternative facts, fake-news). Banca Catalana was also the beginning of an uninterrupted practice: the persecution of those who dared to call into question the irregular industries of the viceroy, his friends, however corrupt they were, or their dogmas.

Among those mentioned (and boycotted when he was Minister of Culture) is Jordi Solé Tura, who dared to dissent from the father of the country in those circumstances after dissenting from the official thesis on the catalanity of Josep Benet.

But his words, from that same 84 and written in the heat of the treatment of the Banca Catalana case, are premonitory: «The State of the Autonomies is being configured as a process of permanent conflict in which demons are being unleashed that in the end can overwhelm all of us”. With those demons we are dealing now.

For the interviewee, the role of the media in the «procés» has been crucial. «We will never insist enough on the importance of the role of the media in the independence procés. […] they operate as a fundamental factor in the ideological homogenization and mobilization of these social layers [middle classes]”, he says, citing the journalist from Sabadell Antonio Santamaría.

Was there a break between the end of Pujolism and the beginning of the proces? You propose the intimately linked sequence of these elements: Banca Catalana, pujolism, radicalization as “gangrene” of pujolism, denial of evidence of crime and disqualification of the Spanish State.

There is no interruption; the Proces phase is the upper phase of pujolism.

The critical point marking the transit between them is the conjunction of the emergence of corruption cases and the strong austerity measures imposed by the Mas government. And the victimhood sensitivity distilled by the joint editorial.

«There is no interruption; the proces phase is the upper phase of pujolism»

There is an irony I like very much: when you talk about the engineering created around Banca Catalana and comment: «That such a big business has been translated as a tort and an attack on Catalonia is a master move in the scale of Machiavellianism. That this version of events has persisted is a falsehood with a structural vocation». How did they get it?

To complete the above mentioned: resources are needed.

Pujol’s work can be summed up in a subtle effort of nationalization well defined through the expression “drip effect”.

And to that he devoted enormous resources giving birth to an apparatus of para-political organizations which under their explicit purposes operated in the direction of the leader.

And they served as a professional springboard -this is an important aspect, because the procés cannot be explained without sociological theory- to a handful of people who, from strategic positions, have created that cognitive greenhouse in which the species of the procés has thrived.

What role have the media played in this regard?

A fundamental one. I summarize it in a phrase by the journalist from Sabadell Antonio Santamaría, one of the most authoritative voices on the matter: «We will never insist enough on the importance of the role of the media in the independence procés. […] they operate as a fundamental factor in the ideological homogenization and mobilization of these social [middle classes] layers».

Recall that Pujol was known as «editor in chief» of Catalonia; he got to do his own interviews, chose the questions that were appropriate in the press conferences and dismissed those for which “it was not the right time”, etc.

You can also read with benefit what Sandrine Morel, correspondent of Le Monde, writes about it in her book ‘In the Catalan Hurricane’ (2018).

And I take advantage of this reference for a comment: the invisibility of mechanisms such as those indicated is a major difficulty in explaining the procés to the international public opinion which has largely bought the secessionist discourse in that they are street claims and if there is such a mobilization there must be a proportional cause, forgetting that there have been masses chanting Hitler (who ended the Weimar Republic), Ku Klux Klan or Karadzic.

Effervescence in the streets is not an unequivocal symptom of civility.

But it is not possible to explain the strategies of secessionism to a newly landed foreign correspondent. While a cocktail of Inquisition, Francoism and Bourbon monarchy satisfies that need with a minimum of effort.

You state that, contrary to what the architects of the procés say, that the basis is popular enthusiasm, until the Govern did not take the lead this cause did not “crystallise”. Were citizens really interested?

There are two fundamental principles in the explanation of social processes: first, there are no immaculate conceptions; second, the assumptions of a single-parent paternity are rare. When the subject of the reform of the Statute was being cooked, the matter did not interest almost anyone.

The social response cannot be understood without a powerful social engineering program, helped by the context of opportunity of the economic crisis.

«How has a part of the left, who rightly has no doubt about the character of Spanish nationalism, assumed the ethnic thesis of this catalanism of the rich and reactionary?”

You refer to a considerable transposition of dates by the independence politicians themselves, about in which of them the desire for sovereignty can be taken for granted. Does this disagreement enter the same line of “illusions” that I pointed out at the beginning?

It is another variant of the issue of rationality: there is no way to deal with the issue with empirical tools.

The thesis of a figure has been installed, a figure famous for his ability with the feet and the ball: “it all started with the ruling of the Constitutional Court”.

Which clearly clashes with the evidence that the 2010 and 2011 Diadas were not distinguished from the previous ones; while that of 2012 did, after the congress of CDC and the creation of ANC.

There is a part of the disagreement that is acceptable, as in other cases; and another part that is not because it is the result of a political direction that seeks to establish a kind of inverse teleology: things had to happen that way to reach the expected outcome, the magic solution.

Causality is built upside down, from back to front, following the diagnosis of historian Lewis Namier: nationalists end up reversing cognitive processes remembering the future and imagining the past. The secessionist genealogy of the procés is a case dealt with in handbooks.

You indicate the “what” of the process, which, as you say, is the ‘right to decide’. Also in the realm of the illusory? How did this concept replace the concept of the social with that of the identity?

Here we have to open another record, but not too far away. One of the features of these cognitive materials, the epistemic counterpart of populism, is opportunism, following the principle that everything is good for the cause.

Imagine that the rail faults that Extremadura has suffered this Christmas had occurred in Catalonia: we would have one more summer for the capital of the grievances. When looking for materials to give credibility to delirium, Catalan nationalism has taken advantage of the figure of the ‘right to decide’, a design product in the Euskadi of the time of Ibarretxe, in particular as a byproduct of the nationalist front represented in the Pact of Estella-Lizarra (Ibarretxe serves as a guarantee to the Catalan prophet of the ‘right to decide’, Jaume López).

A figure that is invoked precisely to avoid the pitfalls of the right of self-determination and that turns out to be a Catalan Basque political endemic.

The Catalan Eusko connection, in which religious sectors have played a fundamental role, is a little explored element and is part of another dark plot of recent Spanish history: the nationalization of anti-Francoism that washed the complicity of the respective bourgeoisie and stole the left of much of its resistance capital.

The change of focus from the social to the identity, which is what the joint editorial does, is a socially well-known exercise.

The process phagocytes the energies of the indignant Catalans and their neutralization is precisely one of the objectives, as Santi Vila explicitly acknowledged.

This item has a corollary, the question of how a part of the left, which rightly has no doubt about the character of Spanish nationalism, has assumed as its own the ethnic thesis of this Catalan of rich and reactionary, well represented by Torra or by that historian of Sabadell (ANC) who proposed to exclude Machado from the name of a street because he was a Francoist.

The combination of corruption, privatization and cuts, including those very aggressive in health carried out by Boi Ruiz, has been neutralized in the narcotic of the stelar banners.

You point out as a central objective of this populism the uncivil practices such as the persecution of critics.

The uncivil practices are part of the nationalization process as an expropriation-appropriation undertaken by Pujol. Remember the attitude towards Jordi Solé Tura.

I’ve cited McCarthy, the blacklists are on the lot; this music sounds to us.

All attempts at the public presence of organizations that opposed Pujolism and secessionist homogenization have now been stigmatized, from the Babel Forum to Catalan Civil Society (by the way, a court has just condemned several associations for linking SCC with Franco, the extreme right and Nazism).

It is a subtle and very efficient maneuver that consists in preventing critical opinions, and is a clear sign of authoritarianism and illiberalism, which I call anti-mobilization. Precisely, the negattion of that pluralism and transversalism which secessionism boast.

Uniformity is achieved with this psychological pressure on the discordant. Margarita Rivière’s magnificent novel, ‘Clave K’, was rejected by many publishers and was published only after Pujol’s confession.

How do you get that identification that the “persecution” of Pujol is the persecution against Catalonia?

Partly because of the inheritance of Franco and the late alliance of nationalists (which, we remember, were not characterized by anti-Franco resistance) and leftist forces.

In retrospect there are clear responsibilities of these sectors.

Also in the underpinning of a figure that I will not qualify but that played a fundamental role in the construction of the Pujol myth: Josep Benet.

He is the one who coined that superlative emblem of victimhood that is the thesis of cultural genocide, recently re-greened by another practicing historian and presented in a home magazine, that is, of that battery of institutions and para-political instruments that serve as a garrison to secessionism.

The excipient of romantic nationalism (Volkgeist) provided the rest: organicism, essentialism, nativism, charismatic leadership…

«Catalan nationalism aspires to validate this synecdoche equation typical of identity logics: ‘we’ (Catalan nationalists) are us (the Catalans); although the self-proclaimed holder nucleus has never exceeded the bar of 48%»

What is the perception of Catalan society that does not believe in this para-reality? In what place is it?

It is a difficult perception, because it has been reduced to a residual component (a word, becoming residual, which Pujol used to characterize the treatment Catalonia received).

The success of nationalization manifests itself in many ways, some of them very subtle, such as that seen in transliteration, the graphic modification of surnames or the alteration of order.

Catalan nationalism aspires to validate that synecdoche equation typical of identity logics: “we” (the Catalan nationalists) are us (the Catalans); although the self-proclaimed core holder has never exceeded the bar of 48%.

Those who do not fit in the equation are secondary actors, hindrances and, often, fascists.

That is why the notion of citizenship disappears from language and is replaced by the patronymic and the ‘popular mandate’; equality through difference.

The secessionist elite has played with the comparative advantage built by the pujolism that makes the ethno-catalan a prestigious identity.

You need to activate differential markers; for what you enlist language, history, football and other custom-made cultural elements. In this process of excavation of the identity pit, we must exclude the impure or hostile, the Spanish as anti-catalan by definition.

The mechanisms must be instituted so that the real community resembles the imagined community, of a pure and unmixed us; as Orwell wrote, in the fantasies of the nationalist mind “things happen as they should”.

But these dynamics trigger a saturnian logic of recursive fracture: there is always someone who is not pure enough, or who has ceased to be so if he disagrees with this or that position formulated by the identity theologian on duty.

This is the most serious aspect in social terms: the fracture that has had to create secessionism to justify itself. A multidimensional and deep fracture, of an incalculable cost.

Whose remedy cannot be faced as long as irrationality maintains its empire and prevents seeing social polychromy, the plurality of society.

The cost of the damage produced must be a stimulus for collective motivation in that direction.

Because we cannot neglect that essential task consisting, in the words of Gabriel Jackson, in “remembering, with deeds and words, that first of all we are human beings, and secondly, members of a religious or national community”.

Martín Alonso Zarza, autor de «El catalanismo, del éxito al éxtasis»: «El ‘procés’ es un producto de la irracionalidad política»

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