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Everything will depend on the capacity shown by the party system coming out of these elections to reverse the flight to extremes undertaken by the Catalan secessionists and the Spanish right.

Santos Juliá 28 APR 2019 – 00:00 CEST EVA VÁZQUEZ

A new ghost goes through Europe: they call it populism, although it would be better to call it by its true name, nationalism. It is not the people against the oligarchy which is most invoked, but the nation against the other, the foreigner, the emigrant, or against the traitor to the country, unique and true. Sure, this resurgence of nationalism, which seeks to build walls or raise borders, comes loaded with populism, as always, since there is no nation to build without a people to mythologize. It is evident, in any case, that the political system born during the postwar period and sustained in the great pact between left and right has been hurt by the new / old ghost without anyone being able to venture how and where Europe will come out of this political crisis, exacerbated by the English nationalists, who today speak the language proper of that higher stage of nationalism which is always fascism.

In Spain, with a history of early liberalism and late democracy, enameled by civil wars and dictatorships, what has been hurt is the system of politics consolidated by the socialist and popular parties in the 1990s, which reached its zenith 11 years ago, when in the elections of March 2008 they received 84.7% of the vote and collected 92% of seats, no less than 323, 169 for the PSOE, 154 for the PP. Nobody could imagine at that very moment that, with the Great Recession, this triumph would end up becoming the swan song of a very presidential system, with one-party governments, supported whenever necessary by nationalists from Euskadi or Catalonia, endowed with great stability at the expense of a clear predominance of the Executive over the Legislative and of the expansion of corrupt practices in collusion with private interests.

Nobody could imagine it but it happened ever since those indignant about the effects of the crisis took to the streets in marches, waves and campings proclaiming “down with the regime”, “they do not represent us”, “real democracy, now”. And if in Madrid, the ‘down with the regime’ culminated in a total disqualification of the Constitution with the call to an assault on the skies led by a new party, Podemos, which called people against the caste, in Barcelona, after the site to the Parliament and the public demonstrations against the Govern, the navigation towards Ithaca that Artur Mas decided to undertake since 2012 meant a radical turn in the political Catalanism which, from positions of power, decided to set in motion the process that was to culminate in a unilateral declaration of independence.

The assault on the skies was abandoned for a better occasion and Podemos began to behave like all lefts

Assaulting the skies is not the same as navigating towards Ithaca, but they are similar in their common recusal of the current Constitution and in their strategies to destroy it from within the system. In Podemos, by means of a brilliant and forceful incorporation to the institutions that would allow them to reach the hegemony in the political and cultural power from which to give a good kick to the board of the bipartisan and corrupt politics. In the Catalan nationalists, by launching a revolution without losing the smile: they called it the revolució dels somriures as they moved through the streets with mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of citizens and the formation of human chains marking the borders of the new State in gestation.

Up to this point the similarity; from here the difference. Because the arrival of Podemos to the institutions was neither bright nor blunt: the old PSOE, broken and dislocated, endured beyond what was planned and there was no sorpasso. The assault on the skies was abandoned for a better occasion and Podemos began to behave like all the lefts ever since that name started to designate those who break into politics wielding a maximum program – creation of the new man in a classless society – but applying in practice a minimum program: reforming the existing, reducing inequality, expanding the public; that is, what social democracy has tried since Kautsky broke with Lenin. This is the reason behind their interest in guaranteeing, by hoisting today the Constitution yesterday scorned, that the next government is a “progressive” one, a rather cheesy way of defining what was called the left coalition or, in the olden days, the unique bottom-up front.

The navigation towards Ithaca was quite another matter, and not because the political Catalanism has not maintained ever since its existence this double program, minimum and maximum, but because of the haste of its leaders -tenim pressa [we are in a hurry]- to jump from one to the other, thus provoking a political crisis and a deeper social cleavage, more difficult to solve, which the State Government did not know, did not want or could not face. The interim situation in which the PP government entered from 2015 convinced the Catalan nationalists that their revolution only had the last 100 meters of an unimpeded route. Smiling, the so-called democratic principle, interpreted to the nationalist taste, was consecrated as superior to the principle of legality. The secessionist MPs, who in 2017 represented 47.61% of voters, equivalent to 35.68% of the electoral body, declared themselves as the legitimate representatives of the poble of Catalonia, despised the majority who had not voted for them, broke in two the Catalan society and proceeded to destroy the Constitution of the State to place in its place a unilateral declaration of independence to ensure that, by culminating the constituent process, all power would fall into their hands.

The Catalan nationalists were convinced that the success of the pro-independence process was only a few meters away

Among the moral and political havoc caused by this action in the coexistence of citizens within Catalonia, and in the political coexistence between Catalans and Spaniards within the same State, the stepping in of a new state-level party that has dynamited the political framework in which the Spanish right moved since the 1990s cannot be said to be the least. Today, its leaders are fighting for the hegemony in the battleground marked by Vox -a ground of the extreme right-, as well as for the recourse to the politics of the thirties, with the radical exclusion of the adversary as a felon, traitor, anti-patriot and Spain-breaker and other niceties of the type, thus replacing the promise of reformist and liberal center that once represented Citizens with several rights, worse than fragmented, faced against each other in an exchange of reproaches with an ultranationalist language which gives the impression of having come to stay.

So that, at this point of the political and institutional crisis that the Spanish State is going through since 2011, the future of our democracy will depend on the capacity shown by the party system that comes out of these elections to reverse the flight to extremes undertaken by the Catalan secessionists and the Spanish rights. That capacity is never a given, nor does it fall from the heavens; that capacity is built, and not in any way, but by means of negotiation and the agreement in which all the powers constituted today must be involved. The fact that the essential political conditions to begin treading that road are missing, in Catalonia and in the whole of Spain, after the painful electoral confrontation that we have just suffered, apart from being an augury of uncertainty, would have to serve as an incentive for everybody to deposit their vote today at the polls.

Santos Juliá is a historian.


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