Sunday, 11 July 2010

A rally as a metaphor

Watching from afar, via the Catalan news channel, the massive civic demonstration in Barcelona against the ruling by the Spanish Constitutional Court on the Catalan Estatut, I could not help but draw a parallel between the organisation of the rally and the current political situation.  

This political rally was called under the banner of “We are a nation – we decide” (Som una nació; nosaltres decidim). The local police, never one for inflating numbers for pro-Catalan civic demonstrations, has estimated attendance at over 1.1m people. After watching TV, I would say that is an overly prudent lower bound by a police force mostly staffed by people who would never support anything other that Catalonia being a region of Spain.

The demonstration has been a massive, unprecedented, historic success. There were more people in attendance that it was ever anticipated or expected even by the most optimist. In fact, the rally did not advance for one hour because there were just too many people. Overwhelming popular support against an attack by the unelected high priests of Spanish nationalism against the settled wish of the Catalan people as expressed in a referendum and the Catalan Parliament. If there was any question about people being not interested, surely this settles the issue.

However, anyone has been to a few rallies and knows the city a little bit, could tell you that the design of this rally  was a mistake. It was meant to start in Pg Gracia / Diagonal, walk down and turn left at Gran Via until Pl Tetuan.
This is an inefficient way for people to congregate and make their way.
This particular rally should have started at Pl Espanya and terminate at Pl Catalunya/Pg Gracia.
Not only because this is a better alternative from a logistical point of view, and would have accommodated the hundreds of thousands of  people in attendance, but also because this would be a poignant way to symbolise the political cul-de-sac Catalonia has now arrived at.

In a way, the overwhelming success of this political demonstration in favour of Catalonia’s nationhood, is representative of the current state of affairs. People, most people, regardless of their background and national preference are fed up with being treated as second class citizens. People are fed up with the constant insults from most of the Spanish press against Catalonia. However, the political divisions, the lack of leadership and vision amongst the Catalan political class, and more than anything the lack of cojones, are holding Catalonia back. Undoubtedly, there is popular will to change the status quo, but there seems to be no political agent willing to implement this message.

Against this, there are those luminaries who claim that the “nationalists” are only a few, that this issue does not interest the majority of people, and that this is a distraction from the real issues that matter to real people. Those who say these things are, have been and will always be nothing more than duplicitous, manipulative and resentful little people, unable or unwilling to understand, to accept that Catalonia is a nation, a stateless nation, that should be allowed to choose its own future without interference and threats from the Spanish state.

Let it never be said again that “people in the street” are not interested in the Estatut, that it is only political anoraks who worry about these things. It is because the Estatut is the vehicle that enables Catalonia to look after its interests, after its hospitals, schools and public services, and it is because of this, because people are worried about things that matter, that Barcelona has witnessed today the biggest civic demonstration in living memory if not ever.


Will this historical, massive civic demonstration of national strength achieve anything?
I am afraid it won’t.
Sorry I don’t have the time to translate the article below:

Mr Alexandre, one of the brightest minds in Catalonia, nails it again.

A political problem is resolved via political decision making and policy implementation.
Civic demonstrations and rallies are noise. A cry for attention given everything else seems to have failed.

After all, this Estatut that has been decimated by the Spanish CC is an already cut-down version of the Estatut approved by the Catalan Parliament in 2005 by all parties except the Spanish PP. In a matter of days, that Estatut was watered down by CiU and PSC-PSOE in closed-door negotiations.

Therein lies one of the conundrums of Catalan politics: support for independence, overt or subtle is ever higher, growing almost by the month. Today’s rally was a rally in favour of independence. However, none of the mainstream parties, not even ERC, let alone CiU, do try to implement the policies they carry in their manifestos.

PSC-PSOE, the party in government in Catalonia and in Madrid, claims to be a federalist party. However, after being in power in Spain for many years, in the 80s and now, Spain is far from a federal state. In fact, the judges appointed by the PSOE voted jointly with the PP-appointed judges in watering down the Catalan Estatut. This ruling by the Spanish CC has killed off the idea of a federal Spain. The federalist door has been slammed down in the face of the PSC by their own Spanish colleagues of the PSOE.

CiU claims to be a moderate nationalist party but in fact they are scared of challenging the status quo. For them, steady-as-you-go of the status quo is a happy state of affairs –as long as they are in power.

ERC, the party that is, on paper, pro-independence, is propping up a coalition government in the Catalan parliament jointly with the PSC-PSOE. Against the wishes of its electorate, ERC has renewed the coalition government a second time, achieving very little in terms of safeguarding Catalonia’s interests in terms of finances, cultural development, public services delivery or economic growth.

IC-V are the PSC-PSOE poodle and they will slavishly follow whatever direction is set by PSC.

On the sidelines, a number of pro-independence parties and movements appear to carry more support than ever but have yet to make an impact on the political scene.

The political cul-de-sac, this end-of-the-road moment in Catalan/Spanish relations can only be unblocked by elected politicians choosing two courses of action.

1)      Management of the current devolution framework as set out in the Spanish Constitution.
2)      Exercise of the right to self-determination via  referendum bill approved in the Catalan Parliament.

The problem is that most political parties in Catalonia want a third, unviable option: a high level of self-government in a federal Spain. Despite the clear-cut ruling by the Spanish CC, PSC-PSOE and CiU will try to pursue this non-option.

Choosing option 1 would be an admission of failure, whilst option 2 requires a level of courage and dignity than anyone in CiU or ERC, let alone PSC or IC-V, can only dream of.

For over 100 years, Catalonia has tried to change Spain, make it a federal, multi-national state. The Spanish have decisively rejected such possibility.
Yet some Catalans still insist on trying to achieve a chimera.
The stage is set for either a massive climb down and humiliation or a paradigm shift in Catalan/Spanish relations the consequences of which are unpredictable.
Let’s hope that the Spanish state does not resort to military threats and intimidation as has been historically the norm. History is not on the side of the Catalans.

English: BBC News, CNN
Catalan: Vilaweb,
Spanish: Publico,
Videos: CNN, Vilaweb,


santcugat said...

I've always been a bit disappointed by demonstrations in Spain. There is a big emphasis on the march component, but no follow-though. There isn't really a history in Spain of people power achieving much (compare to Portugal or the French in getting rid of their dictatorship/king).

For example, the civil rights demonstrations in the 60s in the US consisted of a march, followed by rousing speeches by MLK. Everyone went home motivated for change.

Rab said...

"no follow-through" - I could not have put it better.

Your fellow santcugatenc once again gets it spot on:

Victor Alexandre

I wish he could translate all his articles into English -it would save me a lot of time.

Another expat blogger, sadly retired since he is much better than Rab, put it memorably in his blog, explaining that the problem is not lack of popular support, but lack of cojones on the part of Catalan politicians.
No Cojones

There is a partial reason for it though, and that will be the topic of my next post this weekend.

Brian said...

I agree too. I was there in Barcelona, and yes, there were more than a million people (we did not move for almost 2 hours!).
I will be shocked, but unfortunately not surprised, if politicians of ALL parties carry on as if nothing had happened. After a few days of mumbles and empty threats and promises, I'm afraid that this is what will happen.
The change people demanded on the 10th will never come about with our present "leaders", we need someone or some group with the vision and intellectual ability to take a step forward.
Best wishes from Tortosa.

Rab said...


I am afraid you are right, and it has taken less time than we all imagined for them to fall out with one another. Sometimes I think we have too much faith in self-serving politicians. Plus ça change…
To paraphrase someone else… "never so many have been so leaderless"

Ahh, lucky you living in Tortosa…. I like the area a lot, used to go there as a little boy in school holidays to visit cousins... happy days.

GironaLad said...

I have to say that the estimates of one million people at the rally seem rather inflated. I'm pretty sure that many people would need a lot more space. I live within a few blocks of Plaça de Tetuan and watched the organizers preparing loudspeakers and stages and TV camera platforms earlier in the day. In the evening I walked there around 8pm with my wife and one-year-old in his push chair just in time to catch the singing of the Segadors to mark the end of the march.

It may be that most of the crowd had already given up in frustration with the overcrowding and gone home by then, but there really was plenty of space for us to walk right through on Gran Via as far as Bailen, my son proudly waving his ERC balloon.

Rab said...

Hi GironaLad,

You are probably be right, 1m people is a very big number but if that’s the case, then we need to revise down attendance for every other rally.

From what I remember watching online, a lot of people did not make it to Tetuan as the “capçalera” dissolved in Gran Via well before the final destination due to the collapsed streets and inability to move forward. It must have been the only political rally in modern history abandoned because of excess support. Only in Catalonia….a bit of a joke if you ask me.

Universitat to Arc de Triomf or Pl Espanya to Pl Catalunya would have been better routes from a logistical point of view.

I was not there on the day but my friends were and they tell me it was unlike anything they have seen before: bigger than the demo against the Iraq War, Lluch, Barça victories, etc, the biggest they have ever attended.

Someone wrote that when FCB play in the Camp Nou, 70-90k people are absorbed fairly easily by public transport, whereas on 10-J apparently the metro stations were collapsed for a long time.

Personally I find the counting a bit more realistic in UK demonstrations but like many other things, we will probably never know the truth…

Metaphorical question: did you son's ERC ballon deflate before he got home? It could be a sign of things to come ERC's way....lots of people very pissed off with them.