Joan Coscubiela (Barcelona, 1954) was secretary general of CCOO (comment: largest workers union in Spain) in Catalonia between 1995 and 2008; having become a national celebrity after his speech at the Parliament of Catalonia on September 7, 2017, when as spokesman for ‘Catalunya Si Que es Pot’ (Comment: “Catalonia Yes We Can”, Comment: Left-wing coalition) he denounced the performance of the pro-independence parties (watch and read the speech below within this page).
Coscubiela received a standing applause by members of the Catalan parliament belonging to the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party), “Ciudadanos” (Center), the Popular Party (Conservative) and the majority of members of his own coalition. He was a representative in the Spanish Congress for ‘Iniciativa per Catalunya’ (Comment: Catalan left-wing and green Coalition) between 2011 and 2015. Coscubiela has just published “Empantanados” (comment: “Stuck”) by Editorial Peninsula, a book that picks up his most recent political experiences in Catalonia.
We are still stuck, trapped in a huge political quagmire from which we are unable to leave.
The sooner we assume the fact that in the medium term there is no solution to the conflict and we start looking for a way out -which is not the same- the sooner we will begin to emerge from the quagmire.
There is no solution through an agreement. The proposal for a non-binding and accorded referendum, under the terms defended by Francisco Rubio Llorente (Comment: Spanish constitutional law professor, judge and writer) has by now been spoiled, no matter how much the pro-independence movement, which had despised the proposal as a screen already watched, would now try to resuscitate it. The same is true about a federalist reform of the constitution, a proposal that never left federalist fraternities. As of today, we are much further away from a solution than in September 2017.
For years there have been many who have underestimated the depth of the conflict and the seriousness of its consequences, neglecting the adversary, believing their own deceptions and ignoring reality.
The pro-independence movement, drunk with the success of its own mobilizations, came to believe in the fiction with which they fed the illusion of its followers, keeping at it against all evidence. They belittled half of the citizens of Catalonia, ignored the power of the State and generated the fiction of an “express” and low-cost UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) enjoying international recognition. Read now, it sounds like a joke in bad taste, but in those past moments of ecstasy, any simple reminder of such evidence, led to being stoned in the public forum of social networks.
On the other side, the Popular Party (PP) fed and nourished itself politically out of the conflict with the pro-independence movement, repeatedly denying its strength and betting everything on the imminent descent of the “soufflé”, and when it found itself overwhelmed by it, it delegated its political responsibilities on the Courts of Justice.
If I remember these events it is not just for the sake of looking back, but because such behavior weighs like a slab and even today influences the performance of its protagonists.
The pro-independence movement, which has not yet been able to publicly assume the unfeasibility of its project nor its serious mistakes, is discredited and half united only by its solidarity with the prisoners. They continue anchored in the mandate of October 1st, Comment: Oct. 1st , 2017, date of the failed secessionist referendum) , ignoring that there is not such a democratic mandate since it is based on alleged laws (those of September 6 and 7 ,2017), which were clearly unconstitutional and illegitimate because they were passed illegally by trampling on the rights of half of the citizens of Catalonia. Maybe that’s the reason why in their storyline they pay such little attention to those days, as if they never existed.
In addition, important sectors of the pro-independence movement maintain the flame of unilateralism which, in its new fictional storyline, awaits renewed momentum to light up again.
On the opposite camp, the most holy trinity of the rightwing, in its aim of defeating the independence movement, is betting on an exemplary sentence which as expressed in words, sometimes appears more as revenge than justice. At the same time it continues to not present any political proposals and boycotts each one of those presented by other political actors.
Under such a scenario, in which there is no solution in sight, it is urgent to find a way out, if we do not want the conflict to become chronic nor social and political degradation to increase.
It is not easy, we are immersed in a perfect storm, in which the trial of the independence leaders and the May elections move together. But we should not throw in the towel for that.
In order to find a way out, the first thing to do is to reverse the trend, going from conflict escalation to de-escalation, a process which has already begun even if it doesn’t seem like it. In the pro-independence world grandiloquent declarations continue to be made, but in the realm of facts, acts of disobedience are a thing of the past. Instead, the constitutional framework is abided by.
On the other side, we have a government led by Pedro Sánchez (comment: Socialist) which, with the support of Unidos Podemos and the PNV (comment: Basque nationalists), has created a strong discontinuity in relation to Rajoy’s executive (comment: Popular Party) and has assumed the political risk of seeking a way out.
It seems evident that the above will be not possible before the summer. The results of the voting polls will be decisive, which at this point we do not know yet whether or not they will include the general elections. The sentence issued by the Supreme Court will also be very important, in turn having broad legal margin at its disposal, between acquittal and sentencing for a crime of rebellion.
At this very moment it is not possible, but the way we get to the elections and the way we come out of the polls will be decisive in order to continue with these efforts or to abort them for a long time. That is the reason why the battle for approving the 2019 budget was and is so important and also explains the ultramontane reaction of the Spanish right, more terribly archaic than ever.
Given the impossibility of an agreed solution, the time has come to look for a way out, by concluding an agreement on the disagreement.
What does the conclusion of an agreement on a disagreement actually mean? It is what we do every day, even if we are not aware of it, in our personal and professional relationships. It is very common in politics, an example being those tiresome statements coming out of European summits, when they are not able to reach an agreement. In collective bargaining it is common to close a conflict in which an agreement is impossible, by agreeing on a disagreement, leaving the way open to further dialogue.
No doubt the so-called Catalan conflict is a much more complicated terrain because it has its roots in the swampy territory of identities feeding on emotions, closer to anger and hatred than to outrage. In this scenario, in which aggressiveness, intolerance and fundamentalism proliferate, it is not easy to mobilize the moderate and sensible segments within each camp, or the “plague contaminated” equidistant.
Concluding an agreement on disagreement has to do with cooling down the temperature, parking the underlying conflict, limiting and not exaggerating the field and scope of disagreements, seeking a common ground within the rules of the democratic game that we have provided to ourselves collectively. It is about avoiding an uncontrolled fall through the slide of degradation, about gaining time, so that if the solution is not viable now, the door of dialogue is not closed forever.
I warn purists, among others those who raised their voices against the figurehead of the “rapporteur”, that concluding an agreement on disagreement does pose a problem. The outcomes will always be technically imperfect and politically ugly, although having the beauty of addressing impossible challenges and making useful bets.
Concluding an agreement on disagreement is not a task that should fall only on the backs of daring politicians, unless we want to fill the cemetery of politics with courageous politicians.
The involvement of the majority of the people is essential; of the citizens who, with their vote, will decide on the way forward in the next elections, whenever they take place. And of the media, professionals, analysts and talk-show guests. If we continue to feed what Jordi Évole (comment: Catalan TV journalist), in a brilliant definition, called the “fast food of controversy”, concluding an agreement on disagreement in order to find a way out, will be an impossible task.
In the next few hours we will know where we are bound for. The reactionary right moved its chip this weekend and, although it has failed in mobilizing, it has managed to block the way to an exit for now on. Now, with the voting of the amendments to the totality of the Spanish budget, it is up to the pro-independence parties to play their cards since they have the opportunity to keep alive the hope for a way out.
I admit that it is not so easy for them; their margin is very narrow because they will have to make a complicated and risky decision in the same week when the trial of their leaders begins with requests for serious prison sentences.
I do not dare to ask them for the courage they demand from others, only to calibrate well the strength and consequences of all their actions, if only they could learn from the lessons derived from the fall of 2017. They would face less difficulties if they decided to socialize the political costs of their decisions, just the opposite of what they have always done; litigate between themselves just to see who will be branded as traitor and Judas.
The pro-independence leaders face the complex challenge of striking a balance between the ethics of their convictions and the ethics of their responsibilities. Both are legitimate, of course, but the dose of each of the two used in coming to their decision will result in very important consequences, including keeping the door open to try to find a way out or closing it for a long time.