To judge by the coverage in the foreign press, dismissed Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont liquidated the Catalan separatist movement with his appearance in Brussels this Tuesday. Puigdemont has been called a coward for running away and leaving his people behind to fight for him. The extent to which Puigdemont is misunderstood is illustrated by the proliferation of articles calling his Brussels press conference a circus. Surely the Catalan public must agree, and this should spell the end of the Catalan Spring?
Not so fast. A quick survey of the Catalan separatist press reveals that Puigdemont’s actions are dignified, that the Brussels appearance is an Europeization of the conflict, and that trust in the inscrutable purpose of the leaders is nearly absolute. And when the actions of the leaders are questioned, the ultimate goal of independence continues to require popular mobilisation.
And this was before a Spanish judge jailed nine members of Puigdemont’s cabinet. So, no, this is not even the beginning of the end of the Catalan Spring. It is the end of the beginning.
Political debates not only use language but are carried out in a language. And Catalan opinion — in particular separatist opinion — is formed in the Catalan-language media. To predict the reaction of the Catalan separatist public one must look in particular at the press with .cat internet domains: the print newspapers Ara.cat and ElPuntAvui.cat; and the online papers ElNacional.cat, NacioDigital.cat, and VilaWeb.cat to name the most prominent. LaVanguardia.com and ElPeriodico.com, while published also in Catalan – though not only, and in the case of El Periódico under a .cat domain – are patently not representative of separatist opinion because of the .com domains.
And in the Catalan separatist space it is evident that Puigdemont’s escapade to Brussels is actually a dignified defence of Catalan democracy.
Not only that. The fact of having retreated immediately after proclaiming the independent Catalan Republic does not detract from the dignity of the declaration itself. Moreover, Spain’s dismissal of the Catalan government and the dissolution of the Catalan parliament for elections in December is not a defeat, but a partial success on the way to the eventual victory.
As to Puigdemont’s Brussels appearance, it is not a circus but a successful internationalisation of the Catalan conflict.
In the Catalan “botifler” (traitor) paper El Periódico (.com, recall), we find recent articles describing the current state of separatist opinion as cognitive dissonance. including the rationalisation of contradictions by elaborating new delusions:
Many of the arguments held by the separatists have proved unfounded. … independence … has economic consequences … the possibility of EU help has been refuted … the operational capacity to make independence effective has been refuted … There was nothing or practically nothing ready, there was no possibility of controlling the territory …
… if Puigdemont and the rest of separatist leaders continue to lie it is to justify their past lies …
Does this resonate with separatist opinion? Hardly. In El Nacional (.cat, this time), an opinion piece on what has been done wrong enumerates the same contradictions, but ends with an exhortation to continue the struggle.
The most important thing is that we clean the political discourse of double meanings and hat we all are able to see more clearly, which is also a way of being free. I’m optimistic because I’ve seen people change around me, and once you have tasted freedom, you don’t go back into the closet if they don’t force you. And being cautious, now they can not force us as before. The undercurrent is in our favour. Let’s commit and work at it.
Perhaps aware of the need to update the narrative, in light of the contradictions that would become manifest over the first couple of days after the declaration of independence, Puigdemont’s deputy Oriol Junqueras published an article in El Punt Avui (.cat) on Saturday, apologising because
In the next days we will have to take decisions and they will not be easy to understand.
The willingness of the separatist grass-roots to suspend disbelief is illustrated by the following twitter exchange
Separatist MP Lluis Llach — a noted singer-songwriter who became popular across Spain among Franco’s opponents in the latter years of his regime — says
The [Very Honourable President] of the Republic [being] exiled is an indictment of Spain before European and international institutions, and serves the dignity of the October 1st [referendum].
To this, the Irish chapter of the grass-roots separatist Catalan National Assembly responds.
We’re with you all and we understand that right now there is no need to understand anything. Thanks for what you’re doing.
Okay, then. Junqueras wins. This is not the beginning of the end of the Catalan Spring, but the end of the beginning.