22.03.2020 00:00 h. Updated: 23.03.2020 10:24 h.
The Italian professor specialized in fascism points out that the ‘procés’ is “the Catalan declension of the global populist wave”
Steven Forti (Trento, 1981) is a researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and an associate professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His research focuses on fascisms, nationalisms and extreme rights in contemporary times. He already has an extensive work published, including The Weight of the Nation. Nicola Bombacci, Paul Marion and Óscar Pérez Solís in the interwar Europe (USC, 2014); with Enric Ucelay-Da Cal and Arnau Gonzàlez i Vilalta, The separatist procés in Catalonia. Analysis of a recent past (2006-2017) (Comares, 2017); with Francisco Veiga, Carlos González Villa and Alfredo Sasso, Outraged Patriots. On the new extreme right in the Post Cold War. Neofascism, post fascism and nazbols (Alianza, 2019). He has written more than thirty articles in international scientific journals and book chapters on fascisms in interwar Europe, socialism in the first post-world war, political leaders and intellectuals who moved from the left to fascism, the new extreme rights in the Cold Post-War period, the Catalan Procés and the new municipalism. And in recent months he has managed to influence certain Catalan intellectual circles, who look to him for a reference to understand how the independence movement has embraced populist causes. In this interview with Crónica Global he clearly states it: “The independence movement trivializes everything, including a pandemic”.
Question: Can you understand Torra’s reaction to the central government’s declaration of alarm?
–Answer: In another country, not much, given the emergency situation. Knowing the Catalan context, yes. On the one hand, it is not the first time that Torra has overreacted, showing that he is inadequate to occupy a relevant institutional position such as that of President of the Generalitat. On the other, and beyond his character, he needs to overreact to try to restore centrality for JxCat, to corner ERC and to continue representing the most intransigent or directly hyperventilated independence movement.
– What has the independence movement sought in recent days with this rejection of the government’s measures, with criticism even of the color of the announcement of the Executive in the media asking to exit from this situation all together?
– We return to the usual: the independence movement thinks about today or at most about tomorrow and not the day after tomorrow, so to speak. It is a short-term vision that trivializes everything – even a pandemic! – with the aim of maintaining, not losing or regaining political hegemony at the autonomous level. Don’t they realize that here we all risk a lot? The coronavirus will change everything. It has already changed everything, actually. The world will not be the same. And what is being decided in these weeks is what our societies will be like in the future: more authoritarian or more supportive. This is the theme. Doing battles over the color of the Executive’s announcement is pathetic. One of two: either they don’t realize it or they know it and they try to take advantage of any gap to put their story. I don’t know what is worse. In any case, their irresponsibility is capital.
Q: For an Italian professor, not sentimentally connected to the Catalan reality, could it be said that Catalonia is the best setting to analyze much of what is happening in the world? That it is a social and political laboratory, with many factors at stake?
A: –I can’t say if it’s the best scenario. Of course, there is no doubt that Catalonia is a laboratory, as are, for example, the United Kingdom or Italy. Does it mean that what happens in London or Rome is the same as what happens in Barcelona? Obviously not: there are many differences that depend on the political, social and cultural context of each country. At the same time, it makes no sense to say that what happens in Catalonia is incomparable with what happens in other parts of Europe: there are similar causes, as well as analogies. Catalonia is not on the moon: in a highly globalized world like ours, what happens in one place influences the others. Did we seriously think that the Pyrenees were an insurmountable barrier to prevent the world populist wave from reaching here? Or that there were democratic antibodies here that prevented populism from taking root?
Q: Then, is populism one of the most determining factors in Catalonia? Has Catalan nationalism evolved towards a particular populism?
A: –It has always surprised me that in these years in Catalonia there has been almost no talk about populism. Regarding other contexts, the Catalan peculiarity is that it is the same nationalist ruling class that holds power the one embracing the anti-elitist rhetoric of populism. Is it, then, national-populism? Those who have studied this phenomenon, like Pierre-André Taguieff, consider that racism and xenophobia are a crucial element of national-populism. And the independence movement does not show rejection of foreigners. Of course, there is a sector, increasingly visible, very hispanophobic. Personally I believe that the procés is the Catalan declension of the global populist wave and that within it there are sectors, so to call them, Trump-like. They are sectors that feel increasingly legitimate in saying what they say because nobody condemns them and because some political leaders say the same thing or, at least, they wink at them. Adapting a phrase by Ricardo Chueca about the endless debate related to whether Francoism is a case of fascism or not, we could say that each country brings to life the populism (or national-populism) it needs. For Catalonia, this populism, or national-populism, is the independence movement.
Q- One of the issues that the independence movement has defended is that, in reality, it was doing Spain a favor, because it helped to rethink the system, much eroded after the economic crisis and structural and institutional situations such as the abdication of King Juan Carlos or its problems now. What is true about it?
A: -Nothing. It is about discourse, about creating frameworks to supposedly broaden the consensus. It’s smoke, come on. Rather, this entire discourse, directly or indirectly, closely resembles what Gianfranco Viesti calls the secession of the wealthy. When things get ugly, those who are better off, financially speaking, do not want to contribute and / or want to leave. More than with the problems of the development of the autonomous state, this is a consequence of the global economic crisis that erupted in 2007-2008, of the inability to control the globalization process and, before, of the imposition of the neoliberal model. One of its main fruits has been the shrinking of the middle class throughout the West. We see it in Italy with the widening of the differences between the North and the South or in the United Kingdom with the fracture between the City and the rest of the country.
Q: In all western democracies populist parties have appeared, on the left and on the right. In Spain, is Vox a consequence of Catalan independence or does it follow other logic?
A: It is not only that new populist parties have appeared on the left and on the right: what has happened is that “traditional” parties have assumed populist traits. Look at the British Tories with Johnson or the US Republicans with Trump. What happens is that populism is not an ideology, but a style, a language, which can be assumed by everyone. For this reason, I think that rather than of populism we should speak of peoplecracy, a term coined by Marc Lazar and Ilvo Diamanti. Having said this, I believe that the procés has undoubtedly favored a Spanish nationalist reaction capitalized by Vox. However, there are also other causes: Spain is not disconnected from the rest of the world. The underlying logics are similar to those mentioned earlier in the Catalan case. We are in an epochal crisis, in a change of historical phase: the world is transforming very rapidly and this causes insecurities and fears. Others try to ride these fears by offering simple answers to complex problems. In the case of Vox, the Catalan theme has had the function of a launch ramp for something that already existed.
Q.: That is to say, as you yourself have verbalized on some occasion, does each country give life to the extreme right 2.0 that it needs, and Vox is it in the case of Spain?
A: –Exactly. We cannot lose ourselves in terminological debates or in wanting to find only the analogies between one movement or party of the new extreme right and another. All these parties are different because each country is different. We must look for the common features, the underlying logic. Otherwise we will never understand this phenomenon. And we will never know how to counter it.
Q: From another point of view, why in Portugal or Greece – except for Golden Dawn, although it has not grown more in recent years – do they have no such parties?
A: Where the left has governed, in this case Tsipras and Costa, it has been possible to a large extent to reduce inequalities, implement social policies and thus avoid an alarmist discourse that seeks scapegoats. Thus, in a certain way, that anger and resentment that is the humus from which the extreme right springs has been contained. Now, there are some things to qualify. In Greece, Golden Dawn is a directly neo-Nazi party. Now Greek Settlement has entered in the Parliament, a formation closer to Vox in some way. But the issue is that, already with Samaras and even more now with Mitsotakis, the hegemonic party of the Greek liberal right, New Democracy, has radicalized assuming extreme right-wing features: just look at how it is managing the new refugee crisis on the border with Turkey. In Portugal, on the other hand, last year Chega! has entered in the Parliament, a party very similar to Vox, and within the classical right there is a great debate whether to approach it. Let us return, then, to the great fundamental question: how do traditional, that is to say popular, rights respond to the rise of the extreme right? ¿Are they acting as Casado who legitimizes Vox or as Merkel who defends a sanitary cord towards Alternative for Germany? This is the Gordian knot. In short, the fact that there are no far-right parties does not mean that there are no far-right ideas.
Q: If we return to Catalonia, various intellectuals maintain that there is a great social division. Do you think so, and if there is a division, can it be solved in the medium term?
A–The division exists, there is no doubt about it. Beyond social networks, which have already become a dumping ground for frustrations and insults, it is enough to watch a plenary session of the Parliament. Mutual respect and recognition are lacking. The Schmittian friend / foe logic has been imposed: if you are not with me, you are an enemy. Or directly a traitor. And you end up expelled from the “people”. It is just the opposite of a democratic society where differences of opinion are resolved through a debate where the other is respected and recognized. This can only be resolved with patience, sanity and empathy. It must be understood that society is plural. But everyone must make an effort. It will take years.
Q:- What would we have to ask the independence movement to be able to redirect the situation? That they become aware that the right of self-determination does not make any sense in Catalonia today? Forget that issue?
A: — The pro-Independence sectors should stop lying and playing with post-truth and, consequently, abandon the undemocratic dreams of unilateralism and understand that Catalan society is plural. But we must also be aware that they cannot be asked to suddenly abandon the dream of self-determination. On the one hand, it is more than legitimate to defend independence: the Spanish Constitution does not in fact prohibit the existence of independence formations. On the other, there is the metaphor of toothache that Fintan O’Toole explains. Although a tooth is a small part of the body, when it hurts you do not think about anything else: we cannot think that we will heal that pain without doing anything. Now replace the word tooth with “feeling of unsatisfied identity”. Here we are. An answer must therefore be given to this pain / dissatisfaction.
Q: Returning to the question of social division, have you been surprised by the position of academics, of recognized professors, of intellectuals, who have internalized a narrative of nationalism that does not match the historical reality? Do you think that, to a large extent, the Catalan society that declares itself pro-independence-nationalist has bought false myths that are being repeated?
– We have already learnt from experience after having seen the turn of Salvini, who became an independent nationalist from Padania and has ended as an Italian nationalist. Nothing can surprise us anymore. Of course, it is sad to see people with a cultural background buying pseudo-historical hoaxes. Hoaxes, and false myths, have always existed: what happens is that new technologies greatly facilitate their diffusion. As a historian you wonder how these post-truths can be counteracted and you realize that it is not easy. Nowadays everyone speaks about everything on social networks and thinks they know more about anything than a person who dedicates his life to studying a subject. This is obviously not just for history: we see it now with countless virologist experts who know more about the coronavirus than doctors. Beyond the visceral and emotional force that nationalist myths have, all this seems to me very representative of the crisis of values that the western world is experiencing.
Q: Are we, in fact, in the same place for years, with an independence movement that is yesterday’s nationalism, and that has more or less the same electoral weight as it did a few decades ago?
A: Partly yes and partly no. The comparison of electoral results in the regional elections held between 1980 and 2017 effectively show us that the votes that went to the nationalist parties are roughly the same – or perhaps less, depending on the year – than those obtained since 2012 by the independence bloc. What has changed is that a large part of the independence electorate has already sentimentally broken with Spain. This is something new: it is a paradigm shift.
Q: Do you understand that the Catalan left is incapable of proposing another playing field in Catalonia? Is the PSC who should lead this change, or can it no longer be because it is jointly responsible for the Catalonia of today?
The national and identity debate strongly penalizes left-wing parties because social issues are left to the background. Look at what happened in the British elections in December: Labor has been crushed by Johnson’s ultra-nationalist campaign. It is a matter of frames, yes. But also of the toothache I was talking about earlier. The only solution is dialogue. The position that the Comuns and the PSC are defending now in Catalonia, as well as the coalition government in Spain, seems to me the best possible today.
Q: How could you explain what Citizens has been and is, and what will no longer be Citizens in Catalonia?
A: Citizens is a kind of political object not yet identified. It was born as a reaction to the reform of the Statute and to the “transfers” from the PSC to the Catalan nationalists. It was presented as a liberal, center option, but then it turned to the right, reaching an agreement with Vox. The break with Valls seems symptomatic to me: there they shot themselves in the foot. In Catalonia, it was affirmed as a reaction to the procés. But it has not been able to offer an alternative or a political project to those who voted for it. It has been, and continues to be, the other side of independence. It has lived from and thanks to the procés. After the bump of the 10-N, I don’t see much of a future: it will possibly be integrated little by little into the PP or it will remain as a minor leg on the flank of the Spanish right-wing.