The show must go on

The show must go on

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.

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The show trial of Carles Puigdemont: a tragicomedy in four acts

The show trial of Carles Puigdemont: a tragicomedy in four acts

Last Wednesday it looked like the previous evening’s suspended declaration of Catalan independence had backfired, by giving the Spanish government the chance to put the ball back in the Catalan government’s court by asking for clarification. Here I argue that the Spanish government, by setting in motion the process to commandeer the Catalan regional government in accordance with Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, may be walking into a PR trap.

The way this process is regulated in the Spanish senate’s rules of procedure will allow Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont to present his own appearance before a senate committee as his defence in a political show trial before a kangaroo court dominated by members of the governing party. For maximum mutual damage, Puigdemont can even call snap regional elections after the Senate committee finds against him, but before a plenary session of the Senate authorises any corrective actions proposed the Spanish government.

The whole process will take the better part of two weeks, during which both Catalan and Spanish nationalists – politicians, media and grass-roots – will vociferously escalate tensions.

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Independence as performance art

Independence as performance art

Lately, Catalan separatists have started making parallels between their situation and the independence of Slovenia. Foreshadowing yesterday’s suspended declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament, it had been suggested that Catalonia might do just this because Slovenia had earned international recognition after agreeing to a moratorium on the effects of its own declaration of independence in the Summer of 1991. It is perhaps particularly appropriate that in the 1980s Slovenia spawned Neue Slowenische Kunst, an avant-garde (though they called themselves retro-garde) collective engaging in political performance art around the concept of the state. Here I argue that last night’s Catalan declaration of independence took place on a symbolic plane, and that the clash with the formal legal expectations of observers is very much like that elicited by performance art, down to causing offence and anger at taboo-breaking. One could call the events of last night Catalonia’s Žižek moment, after Slovenian philosopher-cum-performance-artist Slavoj Žižek, who is loosely associated with the NSK art collective.

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QE’s graceful exit

QE’s graceful exit

The ECB is expected to discuss this Thursday the future of its asset purchase programmes beyond the end of 2017. But exiting QE is no easy matter. The Fed’s policy normalisation plan has been three years in the making, with an update only last June, but the plan hasn’t been executed yet. The reason is the concern about the market impact of stopping or unwinding asset purchases. Just like bond yields have collapsed to negative values as a result of QE, they could rise uncontrollably when QE ends. And, in the case of the eurozone, the borrowing costs of peripheral member states might shoot up like they did at the height of the government debt crisis five years ago. I argue that a graceful exit from QE would be possible if central banks chose to act as market-makers, but they won’t for ideological reasons, and that the ECB actually can’t, for legal reasons.

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