As the Spanish Sunday press today takes an overwhelmingly triumphalistic view of what has happened in Catalonia in this past week, it well reflects the mood in Spain which has palpably changed over the weekend. I offer this reflection on the changing mood of Spain as I have experienced it in the ordinary routine of work and leisure. Then I will review the wider opinion in the Spanish Sunday press.
1. The horror, the horror…
On Friday afternoon, we were about to break up for the half-term holiday. It had been a fancy dress day for pupils and teachers. For sound reasons I don’t do Halloween (it wasn’t even All Souls’ Day for heaven’s sake), but I wore a Mickey Mouse tie with my usual jacket and button-down collar, so not to look entirely out of party mood.
I had been timetabled to invigilate a GCSE History exam for an external candidate at 3.30pm but he didn’t show up, so the school exam officer said I had an extra free period. I went back to my classroom computer to see where things had got to in Catalonia and Madrid.
Mariano Rajoy was finishing his set-piece Article 155 speech in the Senate in Madrid, to great applause; and Carles Puigdemont was performing his theatrical declaration of independence for the Spanish region of Catalonia, on a balcony in Barcelona.
It seemed like one more mad carnival event in the context of an unreal day in school. Earlier in a double period with Year 11, I had attempted to summarise the arguments for and against anthropogenic climate change, for GCSE Geography Paper 1, with students dressed as Frankensteins, the undead, and mad horror clowns carrying plastic axes, and I do not recommend this as the most productive learning environment. In that context, the unilateral declaration of independence seemed like one more bit of crazy carnival and I took a while until the implications properly sinked in. Then I went to see several individual teachers, dressed as witches or vampires covered in fake blood, who were still finishing off Period 6 in classrooms full of Halloween worshippers, and I gave them the news.
“They’ve done it,” I said, as I informed each teacher. “They have declared independence, the fools.” There was a look of total disbelief from each one. Nobody expected this. We thought an announcement from Puigdemont – flagged up the previous day, then cancelled – would mean a call for elections in Catalonia to de-fuse the situation. Like me, most teachers I had talked to at lunch time thought the whole nonsense had fizzled out. What we never expected on Friday was a declaration of independence.
The whole Catalan situation seemed entirely unreal. For heavens sake: we’d started the day dodging an eight foot high inflatable dinosaur costume worn by a sixth former who took up most of the corridor. But when one Spanish teacher I informed tried to respond to the news, the words stuck in her throat and I could see tears in her eyes. She looked genuinely scared, for this is a country with a history that is rarely talked about and political extremism awakes dark memories of horrors only known through whispered hints by grandparents who rarely spoke much about the time of their broken youth.
Indeed, Friday produced an atmosphere of bewilderment and fear that was palpable. It was there in the Spanish TV chat shows and political commentary, just as it was in the discussion in the bars. What was going to happen on the streets of Barcelona?
2. “No pasaran!” or “No pasa nada!” ?
All this had changed by Saturday, perhaps in part because the people on the streets of Barcelona had simply gone home, disappointed. In Madrid, they put into action the plan to implement Article 155, which had been six months in the making: it wasn’t simply something cobbled together in a week, as the Spanish press and TV had mistakenly presented it. Behind closed doors over many months, the Spanish State had prepared all the pieces of a well calibrated machine; and it went into action on Saturday morning.
Putting down a coup d’etat these days, it seems, is just a matter of signing a lot of important papers in the Senate and replacing a few key civil servants. Señor Puigdemoted was sent back to his job as a waiter in the Café Chaos in Gerona. His manner always reminded me of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Come to think of it, Mariano Rajoy is a very anal Basil Fawlty, isn’t he?
3. A review of the Spanish Sunday papers
I have not read all the Spanish press this Sunday, but thanks to www.kioskoymas.com (where you can purchase newspapers online – like a kiosk – wthout taking out a subscription) it has been possible to read more than I would normally. I made the following selection:
Between newspapers I have also been harvesting olives, grooming the donkeys and planting beans. So I am getting quite behind with reading all these newspapers. I’ll fill this space with a video of picking olives, uploading slowly now… and meanwhile finish the papers.
Unsurprisingly, the monarchist newspaper is very critical of the “tortoise-like” speed with which the state went into action against the “golpistas” (coup leaders).
ABC leader: “At the same time that the numerous lawyers of the Vice-Presidency of the Government do their work (i.e. running the Catalan parlament and Generalitat) it would be advisable to deal with a new political strategy for Catalonia, allowing PP, PSC and Citizens to present themselves as protagonists of the future of their autonomous community and not as strangers to the hopes to be invited by nationalism.” This indicates a desire to fill the seats of the Catalan parlament with politicians who can identify as Catalans and Spaniards (like Inés Arrimadas the leader of the opposition, and the leaders of the PSC and PP).
El Mundo is also very critical of the speed with which Article 155 was applied but very confident that the independistas are seriously damaged and will not form a clear majority in new elections.
Given the high probability of Puigdemont being charged with rebellion and imprisoned (for 15-20 years according to some legal experts), El Mundo reports that he is being offered asylum by Belgium. Perhaps he may get together with the Islamist extremists in that failed state of Belgium to form a break-away Islamic-Catalan enclave?
I like the image used by columnist Xavier Vidal-Folch in El Pais who says, in the end, “The ex-President’s message turned out to be painful: not an idea, not a strategy, not a proposal. Only the appeal to the Catalan citizens to act as a human shield for their failed project.” And the strap-line says it all: “Catalans were set up as a human shield for a comic opera.”
The newspapers do not seem to have any diversity of opinion on the subject of the fall of the seperatists. The word golpistas (coup leaders) seems to be commonly used everywhere. The conclusion, that the danger for Spain is over, seems complacently agreed everywhere.
Both La Vanguardia and La Razón have prominent front page photos of Puigdemont in his home town of Gerona, walking the streets and being greeted by local people. While they quote his words of encouragement to “the resistance” (!) it is very clear that they regard this as amusing rather than a threat, and everywhere the expectation is that he will be arrested if he doesn’t leave the country fast. Personally I’d rather be in prison in Spain than a free man living in exile in Belgium, but then I don’t like chocolate or lace very much, and I have no idea why anyone would want to live there. In fact, Puigdemont deserves to spend his life in Belgium…
In Valencia, the Levante regional newspaper is concerned that the contagion of Catalanismo is already a problem in this Valenciano speaking region and has several articles exploring the way that it may affect the next elections in the Pais Valenciano.
Finally I have been exploring the Catalan (but not Catalanist newpaper) El Periódico which is produced in different editions for Catalan, Castillano speakers and an edition for Aragón.
The opinion column by the prominent columnist Jordi Évole contains these words: “I do not want more serious moments. I do not want any more threats. I do not want any more ultimatums. I do not want to hold my breath anymore. I do not want fascists roaming the streets. Neither in schools. Not even in universities. Nor in front of the media. I do not want leaders who say they make decisions they do not want to take. I do not want a committee to tell you one thing and publicly do another. I do not want rulers without the stature and courage to tell their own what they do not want to hear. I do not want them to continue to deceive so many emotional people.” And this influential columnist goes on to finish on a very ambiguous note that seems also to include a pessimism about the democratic process which is perhaps quite widely shared. That is the real damage that has been done by Puigdemont, Junqueras, Forcadell et al.
“I do not want them to hide now and not tell us how they think we can get out of the mess they’ve gotten us into. I do not want to be told when to vote is good and when to vote is bad the same who made a slogan with the Votarem, the same people who said that voting was illegal.” (Jordi Évole)
So, Señor Puigdemont, it is time to put your Catalan separatist slippers on, sit back in your Catalan nationalist deck chair, settle down with señora Puigdemont and start a family. Put your child in a Catalan nationalist baby-grow suit, and indoctrinate them to your heart’s content.