I have been staying away from politics in my blog for a while, on the basis that it is depressing and the world does not need one more pseudo intellectual bleating about how terrible things are and why are the people so easily duped? Events in my adopted country of Spain have brought me back to commenting, not so much for what is happening as the maddening misinterpretation of the situation in media and public opinion of the UK and other countries.
I’ve noticed before that while Americans cheerfully admit to ignorance of any geography that is not concerned with the delivery of cheap gasoline, British like to imagine they understand the world and that the world cares about what they think. In common with other nations, they’re apt to be principled liberals in terms of world events to a far greater degree than they are in respect of events at home. Hence English willingness to believe the Spanish state has responded to reasonable grievances from the plucky little state of Catalonia with state sponsored brutality and a callousness that is sadly described as “typically Spanish” by some commentators, whose expertise consists of having stayed in the Costas a few times, and being convinced that all Spanish are lazy and devoted to the bloodthirsty and cruel sport of bullfighting.
The British media, including sadly the BBC, has largely played along. It is not necessary to imagine any conspiracy here. Modern journalists are idle and useless – their industry is dying and all its resources go to chasing ratings and paying inflated salaries to ‘personality’ presenters. They print or report whatever they are spoon fed, especially if it fits a pre-existing narrative. Catalan separatists have been much more media savvy than Spanish central government, not surprising since the Catnats are directed by a journalist and the government by a lawyer.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the fake nature of the Cataloonies’ arguments, as they are obvious to anyone who has time and inclination to look. There’s the spurious reference to an imagined Catalan state prior to the siege of Barcelona in 1703 in the course of a war between European dynasties. There’s constant reference to Franco as if Madrid represented the dictator and Barcelona the old republic – in the actual civil war, Madrid resisted a three year siege by Franco and surrendered three days before the end of the war. Barcelona’s republicans fought amongst themselves then surrendered six months earlier without serious resistance. Not that any of this matters, as Spain has been a democracy for forty years under a written constitution guaranteeing the most regional autonomy of any European state that had two Catalan politicians as its principal authors. There’s also a coordinated and offensive use of vocabulary like “repression” which echoes the time of the dictator and is an insult to those Spanish who actually suffered and struggled against Franco’s genocidal regime.
Social media have fanned the flames using any film they can of whatever might amount to police violence – some dating from 2008 anti-crisis riots onwards though all presented as occurring on 1 October this year. Film of riot police striking batons against railings or banging the street to intimidate crowds is commented on as if they were striking heads (strange that we’ll watch endless slow motion replays of the critical moments in sporting events and still disagree on what we saw, but everyone accepts at face value what the commentator in a newsreel tells them they are watching). Journalists who could actually be bothered to go to the street on 1 October filmed themselves voting on multiple occasions in the ‘referendum’ without any difficulties – one lady using a Madrid address – but still the voting figures put out by the Generalitat are accepted, along with their assessment of people injured which goes up every week. A lady who was sexually assaulted and had her fingers broken turns out not to have been assaulted and film analysis shows the uninjured hand she had bound up as if it was broken was the opposite to the one supposedly injured.
All of this is secondary if you believe that truth is relative and it’s more important to have an opinion than to know what happens – that opinion creates truth in effect – but one has to feel sorry for anyone who really does believe that.
Apart from the cynical manipulation of media and the smug outrage of sections of the British public, what is important?
First, nationalism is never progressive. It relies on a tribal urge that brings out the worst in people – my tribe is better than yours, and this chimp mentality has been exploited since we came down from the trees to demand unreasoning obedience to a leader.
Second, societies will always throw up a class of aspiring leader (let’s call them politicians) who will try to exploit the chimp mentality. In modern times, from the French Revolution to the Arab Spring, the revolutionary/secessionist mode of this is that a middle class wants a bigger slice of the cake and is prepared to exploit ‘the mob’ to get what it wants, though it is likely to lose control of events on the way. In the past, the right wing middle class ‘independentistas’ who declare ‘Spain is robbing us’ and resent contributing to the poor south, used the anti-capitalist CUP (who have only ten seats in the regional assembly but can get numbers into the street) to ratchet up ever greater demands, but now they have become prisoners of that process and must fear becoming prisoners of the state. At least the CUP are coherent, but the last time a party that described itself as nationalist and socialist was used by rich people who thought they could control it to gain power, things did not end well.
Third, English, Welsh, Irish and Scots should stop insisting on an interpretation of Spanish events that chimes with their own national preoccupations, especially if they can’t be bothered to find out what’s actually happening in Spain and where it comes from. In particular, continuing to see the world through the distorting mirror that is on whichever side of the Brexit divide you stand is not helpful – Brexit is irrelevant and the EU largely so, except to the extent that the fantasy of re-joining as a sovereign state fuels the separatist delusion.
Personally I believed UK was right to withdraw from EU not because I’m a nationalist, but largely because the union has become a non-democratic tool of neo-liberal globalisation, irretrievably damaged through political enlargement that makes no economic sense, and the disaster of the single currency. To put it more emotionally, I’m not happy that the sadistic punishment of the Greek people by the empire of Greater Germany in order to create an example and make the world safe for irresponsible banking is being done in my name, or that right across the EU ordinary people are continuing to suffer for the same reason. Practically, if the Union is to survive without somehow abandoning the euro (unacceptable to Germany) UK must either leave or join the single currency and accept economic integration – this isn’t a wish but an inevitability.
Fourth, it may be time to recognize that the people of the world are no longer persuaded by neo-liberal globalisation orthodoxy. They have called BS on the notion that outmoded nightmare of Reagan and Thatcher will actually benefit them. For now, they have few alternatives and those there are seem worse than the status quo, but if you’re unhappy enough, staying where you are ceases to be an option. What they need is something better than borderline-sane demagogues, irrationalist fanaticism, or nineteenth century tribalism. Who said it was the end of history?
Since I wrote this, Spain has intervened, elections have been called and the Catnats are in jail on charges of sedition. Interesting that the Catnats seem to have engineered this pre-election martyrdom – every right wing revolutionary group from the Muslim Brotherhood to the modern US Republican party seems to be adept at three tactics i) propaganda and misinformation ii) exploit the uncompromising hard left to split your opposition and iii) use the laws and institutions of democracy against democracy itself. In the same way you organize an illegal poll and misinterpret its results in the name of democracy, you can use legal process to subvert the law. Rajoy’s PP administration would prefer to have Catnats free to contest the December elections, as they know Catnats will lose. For the same reason, Catnats want to disrupt the election.
In a constitutional democracy, there’s separation between government and the law. Under the law, Puigdemont’s gang has to be prosecuted – they’ve broken the law and boasted of it. Normally they’d be charged and bailed and the case would be heard after the elections, but they need to be sent to jail, so the leader of the gang runs away to Brussels. A judge has to apply the law on bail, which is that it’s not granted if there’s a risk of the accused running away – which clearly there is when the leader has fled. Hey presto, instant “victimisation” and you can say your party couldn’t contest elections under these conditions so the result doesn’t count, as well as playing the martyr card in the actual poll.