TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Better Than a Victory or Worse Than a Defeat?

At the root of what is now happening in Catalonia there are various diagnostic errors. Those who wish to manage the issue as that of legality and public order are radically mistaken in their failure to see in it an eminently political problem, requiring all the imaginative force of political reason. The mere guardians of legality are unaware either of such creativity or of the diplomatic acumen called for in especially complex conflicts. Technocratic management is impotent there, where what is at stake is identity itself with its acute affective dimension, the emotion saturating one’s belonging or non-belonging to a group. Therefore, the source of the current crisis surpasses its historical and geographical context and goes to the conflation of the political and the nonpolitical, which may be unnoticed in periods of “normalcy,” though not in exceptional, dangerous and decisive situations.

The past few years have witnessed an explosive mix of ineptitude, laziness, and cowardice when it comes to accepting the threadbare nature of our institutional architecture here in Spain and the need for corresponding reforms. Recycled all around us are outdated concepts, incapable of grasping the generational changes that have happened and the most basic aspects of collective psychology. The transnational framework of the European Union should have introduced more complexity into our appreciation of multiple identities that intersect in the same human being. Yet, what returns with renewed strength is an anachronistic conflict of one nationalism against another, with all the polarization of different groupings into friends and enemies presupposed in such a clash. It is not enough for the changes in our institutional architecture desperately needed today to be merely formal; rather, they would have to respect the complex individual, sociological, and political complexities of the twenty-first century.

When all is said and done, the Spanish political system and those with the greatest responsibility to protect it turn out to be incapable of resolving what should have been dealt with (and, we hope, can still be dealt with) in a manner of coming to a mutual agreement. Dialogue, a shared word, that which the ancients have called logos, is the only path to the suspension of the threat of violence, as Hannah Arendt among others also acknowledged in the twentieth century. The true and ongoing struggle is not a struggle of some against others, but that of all for a fragile dialogical and logical (in the Greek sense of logos) mediation.

Unfortunately, the spaces of an encounter have narrowed down. And those who could have played a mediatory role either did not know how or could not or have not allowed themselves to do so in the midst of the polarizing forces that have systematically privileged those most radicalized. In his discourse, the king has refused to exercise the mediatory function and, hence, no longer symbolizes a unity above all the parties. He has offered not a gesture, not a word, to those who, from now on, are considering him to be a part of the problem. It is a poor excuse that his margin of maneuver is narrow from the constitutional point of view; the king’s approach, in his discourse, to those who have convened the referendum and those who participated in it stood as a reminder of how his father, Juan Carlos, treated the participants in the coup d’état of 1981 by mobilizing the military. Should we spell out the differences between the two situations?

Ever since the Catalan process began, we have thought that it would make sense to aspire to a pact, however difficult it may be, for the following reason: pro-independence forces are insufficient to obtain what they were asking for but sufficient for the state to take them seriously. One must reach an accord when the numbers of the adversary are neither overwhelming nor negligible. To make a pact would have been better than a victory; it would have addressed the needs and aspirations of all the elements concerned in a dialogic, mutually agreed upon, and just way. But to reject the very possibility of dialogue, let alone a pact, is worse than defeat, since no one emerges victorious from this rejection signaling a heartbreak for many, a tear in coexistence, whatever the final result after the dust settles.

The great multitude of Catalans who supported holding a referendum is a categorical given, yet it is also indisputable that approximately half would have voted yes, and the other—no. Although there was a great mobilization on October 1, significant numbers of potential voters refrained from participating. International recognition is insufficient but should not be depreciated and may, in fact, increase if the central government persists in its ineptitude. When things are this way, it is indispensable to reach an agreement; not to do so is always a bad solution.

The period we are entering is emotionally less propitious to an agreement, which is more necessary than ever before now that we have an indication of what might happen should it not be reached. We are not so naïve as to ignore the grave challenges facing whoever embarks on the path we are suggesting. Perhaps, a reflection on the meaning of a “pact” could help illuminate this difficult road.

A pact or an agreement is different from a peace treaty signed in the wake of open hostilities and emphasizing the disequilibrium between the participants (the victors always dictate the terms of such treaties). For its part, a pact postulates that no one should humiliate the adversary and that there should be mutual concessions, rather than a masked imposition of one side’s demands on the other. We cannot come out of such an agreement without some sort of renunciations that will be painful. Should we continue tackling the problem with a solution corresponding to fifty per cent or to appeals to indivisible sovereignty? Do we prefer to carry on invoking the established means of authority when it is evident that these means systematically privilege one of the sides in the conflict?

Not even at this moment does it seem to us that an agreement is impossible, one which would recognize the national political subjectivity of Catalonia, repair the damaged Estatut and establish a roadmap to a possible secession, carefully outlining the qualified majority of Catalans necessary for this decision. Why content ourselves with a victory or, more likely, suffer an all-embracing defeat when we could do one better: a pact? Those who a priori refuse to try and achieve this goal support, whether directly or indirectly, those who dream of a simple imposition.

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