A first time with many obstacles ahead

Today the Spanish parliament has approved by a narrow margin of two seats a new government led by the Socialist Pedro Sánchez. I have not dared to start writing these notes until I saw the 167 against 165 in the screen of my tv. It will be the first time since the transition to democracy in the 1970s that there is a coalition government at the national level, the first time that there is a minister from the Communist Party, and of course also the first time that Podemos is in government. The required plurality of MP votes was achieved thanks to the abstention of the ERC, a Catalan left-wing republican party that in 2017 supported the 1O referendum banned by the Constitutional Court, and the unilateral declaration of independence. Other nationalist parties have also either voted yes (PNV) or abstained (Bildu).

The number and magnitude of the obstacles this government has had to overcome, just to get going, is overpowering. The first and probably most important has been the difficulty of its parties and supporters to acknowledge reality as it is. PSOE and Podemos failed to reach an agreement after April’s election, which produced a slightly larger share of 173 seats for the parties that today voted for Sánchez. The reasons behind the decision to call for a new election in November still escapes my understanding, but I suspect that the Socialist Party wanted to recover its dominant position in the left and, hoping to concentrate votes, assumed a huge risk. It is now clear that Podemos is here to stay, with a solid electoral floor.

PSOE has also had to assume that Catalunya and the Basque Country continue to be essential to secure parliamentary majorities, and that at the moment these are not possible without ERC. Retreating from an extremely aggressive discourse against separatists still displayed in the campaign of November, the PSOE has changed course and has negotiated with ERC the support for this government. After years of tension, dismissals and rejections, this is a fundamental first step in the right direction that is needed as air.

ERC, on the other hand, has had to assume the defeat of the unilateral strategy, and it is now struggling with the bitter task of how to reconduct the situation with its leader Junqueras in prison sentenced to nothing less than 13 years. Not only he is sentenced for sedition (a felony questioned in it itself, and that many criminal lawyers fail to see in the events of 2017 in Catalonia), but the EU Court of Justice has recently declared that he had parliamentary immunity as EMP prior to the time of the Spanish Supreme Court’s ruling. Any solution to the Catalan question is very far away, and certainly impossible with political leaders in jail, but ERC has understood that if there is any chance to improve the situation it involves a different government in Spain. Notably, Podemos has had a more flexible stand on the Catalan question (in favor of a referendum).

It is hard to disentangle which has been the component of the new government that has generated the strongest reaction of rejection among the right: the presence of Unidas Podemos, or the support from ERC and Bildu (Basque left secessionists). According to the deafening yelling from the parties of the right during the investiture session, the “unity of Spain is in peril” and this government is “supported by terrorists”. Hence, it would seem that the agreement with the secessionists is the key driver of all this wild gesticulation. However, I can’t help thinking that this is just the issue in which the parties of the right have specialized, using it so intensely for the past years to gain electoral support that they seem trapped into it. The occasional cry against the perils of communism (isn’t this extraordinary in 2020?) shows that the concern probably goes far beyond the territorial question.

All this end-of-the world rhetoric and outright verbal violence, including harrassment and threats to MPs that would support the government, shows a serious problem in the functioning of the Spanish democracy that we should aim at correcting: some parties seem to be incapable of acknowledging the democratic legitimacy of this government and of some of the MPs that currently hold seats in Parliament. Linz pointed precisely to this manichaean identification of the other party or parties as threat for the integrity of the political system, as one of the main reasons for the breakdown of democratic regimes in Latin America.

VOX is probably the best but not the only representative of this problem. It certainly has the authoritarian and nativist components typical of the European radical right (a bit less of the populist one), but also extremely present in its essence is the rejection of plurality and diversity within Spain. What is surprising to me is that, in this aspect, it is becoming difficult to distinguish degrees of dramatism with the other right or center-right parties. PP has been as harsh if not more regarding the territorial question, and Ciudadanos, following this same strategy is going from parliamentarian irrelevance into likely extinction. All three parties, with very similar intensity disqualify independentist parties directly and those who speak with them indirectly. The PP could have chosen a strategy to differentiate itself from VOX, which has almost doubled its seat share between April and November and is an obvious electoral threat. But the PP did not consider for one minute the possibility of a demarcation strategy with VOX, let alone confrontation. In fact, the PP does not seem to be paying any attention at all to its right.

It maybe that VOX was born in a context where the far right was already mainstreamed in Europe generally (as Mudde’s argumet goes in The Far Right Today) and in Spain in particular by the PP itself, through its own radicalization regarding the Catalan question and its stirring up of Spanish nationalism. In the end, they may not be that different (which would be quite dramatic) and it may make little sense to seek an inexistent distinctive trait. However, strategically it would seem reasonable, as the fragmentation of the right will complicates its chances to obtain a majority (smaller parties with spread support do not benefit from the premiums of the electoral system).

This lack of respect for basic democratic principles not only is apparent in some political parties, but also resonates on other layers of the Spanish political, institutional and media systems. Part of the press was ferouciosly attacking the governement before it was even born. A leading newspaper asked socialist MPs to break party discipline in todays’ vote. The fact that the political rights of some of the Catalan leaders in jail have not been guaranteed shows that the abusive use of restrictive legal instruments to fight against populism (and Catalan independentism has certainly many populist traits ) is a short haul strategy that can also severely damage liberal democracy. Democracy should be defended in each and everyone of its many dimensions: majority rule and minority protection, political rights as fundamental protected rights, rule of law and accountability, to name only some of the most important ones. To this list, we shouldn’t forget to add the recognition and preservation of the value of our institutions, including and above all the parliament, and the governments it elects.


The title of my last post conveyed a sense of optimism regarding the Spanish political situation after the general election of April that obviously says very little about my ability to interpret the political situation of my own country. More than seven months after, here we are still without government, and with a new election held on the 10th of November that has multiplied by two the parliamentary strength of the far right party Vox. So whenever I want to self-flagellate I come here and read the title of my my last post and think how wrong and at the same time how right it looks. Anyway, a post will come at some point on the November elections. I wanted to wait until we had a government but perhaps this will be too long to wait.

On the Spanish elections: Ça commence aujourd’hui

Spaniards voted on Sunday primarily against a right-wing coalition and for moderation regarding the territorial conflict.

The most important question about these Spanish elections was whether or not the right would get enough support to form a government. The right in Spain is now fragmented in three parties: the traditional conservative Popular Party PP (in power until the vote of no confidence held in May 2018 led and won by the socialist Pedro Sánchez), the new center-right party Ciudadanos, C (which was first represented in the national parliament only in 2015), and the brand new far right party Vox.

The PP and C had just reached an agreement with Vox to govern in Andalucía after the recent regional elections, and during the campaign there were explicit statements regarding the feasibility of this right-wing coalition at the national level. In Spain, the mainstream right never even considered to exclude the far right from a potential government. It was clear that if they won the necessary seats, they would form a government. The polls gave an uncertain scenario regarding the likelihood of such a coalition, so even if the PSOE was expected to win, voters went to the polls without knowing what kind of government could come out of the elections.

Spanish citizens have very clearly voted against this right-wing coalition in massive numbers. Turnout has been one of the largest in our recent democratic history reaching over 76% of the census. The parliament has now 186 out of 350 seats belonging to parties of the left, including PSOE, Podemos and several left-wing regional parties mostly from Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia.

In a context of increasing polarization,the Spaniards have voted for moderation. The socialist party PSOE has clearly won the election with 123 seats and 29% of the vote. This is a remarkable increase with respect to the historical minimum of 85 seats that PSOE won in 2016. The large distance from the next party (PP, 66 seats and only 17% of the vote, worst result since 1979) should facilitate PSOE’s task of forming a government. This result can be attributed to several factors, the weight of which will have to be evaluated once we have post-election survey data: the threat of the right-wing coalition, the ability to present the policies carried out in the past few months they had been in power, and the support of women.

Podemos, a left-wing political party created in 2014 paid the price of this socialist victory keeping only 45 of the 71 seats they got in 2016 together with its regional allies. Podemos has also been punished by the electoral system which under-represent small and mid-sized parties with territorially spread support, but still remains an important party with an ability to condition government formation.

Moderation has also won in another dimension of the election result which is fundamental for the mid-term future of Spanish politics. In Catalunya, ERC has been the most voted party in a general election for the first time 1977. ERC is a left-wing pro-independence party that after taking a leading role in the events of autumn 2017 (celebration of a referendum of independence declared void by the Spanish Constitutional Court, unilateral declaration of independence), has taken a more pragmatic stand in favor of dialogue and negotiation with the Spanish government. In a press conference from jail, its leader Oriol Junqueras declared that ERC would do anything in its hand to avoid a government including the far right.

In Catalunya electoral turnout was 17 percentage points higher in 2019 than in 2016. Even considering that participation was very low in the previous general elections, this is a huge unprecedented increase in mobilization. Catalans knew that the right-wing coalition was a particularly dangerous threat to Catalan self-government. Interestingly, the second party in Cataluña has been the Socialist Party, and not Ciudadanos. The two more moderate actors in the two sides of the Catalan conflict are the two most voted. The PP has almost disappeared keeping only one seat of the 48 that correspond to the Catalan districts. The hard discourse of Ciudananos and PP (and of course Vox) regarding Catalunya has not paid off this time, not only in Catalunya, but also in the Basque country where neither PP, nor C nor Vox win any seats. Such harsh discourse is maybe unnecessary when Catalan pro-independence leaders are being judged in Madrid, deprived of their political rights during the campaign -some were candidates-, and held in preventive prison for over one year now. The voters seem to be more interested in seeking for potential future solutions to the territorial crisis than in leaders that continue to dig in their heels.

Voters have massively abandoned the PP, who has lost half of its seats to both Cs (more moderate than PP in socioeconomic issues but not in the territorial question) and Vox (far right on all dimensions). The magnitude of the PP defeat is only similar to the one suffered by the extinct UCD (the center-right party that led the Spanish transition to democracy in the 1970s) before it disappeared. Part of the reasons for it may be related to the widespread the corruption that has plagued the party in the past years. But neither C nor Vox are born in response to corruption. Both are primarily the result of the territorial conflict.

In my opinion the PP has been a victim of its own strategy. It has used the territorial conflict (particularly in its Catalan version after the Basque terrorist organization ETA declared a cease of violence in 2011) as an electoral strategy to gain votes in other parts of Spain. By bringing to the Spanish Constitutional Court an appeal to the Catalan constitution (estatut d’autonomia, already amended and limited by the Spanish parliament but approved by Catalan citizens in referendum) in 2006, the PP set the seed of a problem that it then refused to address politically. For years, this strategy seemed to work, and during the great recession it diverted attention from other more uncomfortable issues such as the economic crisis or widespread corruption (to be sure, the strategy of focusing on the process towards independence also worked for the Catalan pro-independence parties, some of which also had attention to divert from corruption scandals and poor economic performance).

This harsh and aggressive PP discourse against the territorial minorities that seek more self-government, and the permanent emphasis on the Catalan pro-independence leaders as the source of all evil set the frame of the conversation that was then made available for everyone else. Other parties without government responsibilities and constraints carried the arguments further to the extremes. Like the toothpaste out of the tube, what had been unleashed become difficult to control. The recent move towards even more conservative positions of the PP accentuated with the new leadership of Pablo Casado. While Rajoy had managed to keep the most extreme faction within the party while keeping also a relatively moderate look, Casado, in the few months he has been leader of the party – and before Vox was a relevant actor – has gone all the way to the right, including bringing back the questioning of women’s reproductive rights in the age of #Metoo and the 8M. He is already correcting this course with a view in the European, regional and local elections of May 26.

Spain is a peculiar case in that the radicalization of the moderate right with government responsibilities precedes and has created the opportunity for the appearance of the far right. The economic crisis, systemic corruption and the fact of having to deal with the 1O referendum and the declaration of independence has made things easier first for C in 2015 and then for Vox. Both C and VOX have done fairly well in 2019. But not quite enough.

Moving away from the polarization dynamics and high levels of hostility that have characterized Spanish politics in the past years will be difficult. Any attempt to bring dialogue around the territorial question will be criticized by the right and its media environment. There will be strong pressures for a government with PSOE and Ciudadanos. Those prone to distention and dialogue will have to endure the yelling of those that base their strategy on demonization and the denial of the diverse and plural nature of Spain, now not only in the media but also in parliament. But votes give reasons and strength, and they are signaling a change in direction. Let’s hope they will be heard and used.

Tres análisis rápidos sobre sexismo, la agenda feminista y el 8M

En el marco de nuestro proyecto POLCHAN sobre cambio político en España hemos hecho tres análisis en torno al 8M.

En el primero, Sexismo, año 1 (Agenda Pública, 4 de marzo), se explica en qué consiste el sexismo moderno, es decir, el sexismo al que nos enfrentamos hoy. También se analiza quien es más o menos sexista. Q que nadie se crea libre de pecado, el sexismo está en aire que respiramos, pero si eres hombre, mayor y de derechas tu probabilidad de tener actitudes sexistas es más alta.

En el segundo, Agenda feminista y opinión pública en España (Politikon, 5 de marzo) miramos con Berta Barbet y con Guillem Rico qué piensan los españoles sobre algunas cuestiones en las que el feminismo se posiciona: violencia de género, gestación subrogada y cuotas. Lo tenemos claro respecto a la violencia de género, pero sobre los demás temas hay más desacuerdo y confusión.

En el tercero, también con Berta y Guillem analizamos el 8M de 2018 ¿Quién participó el 8M? ¿Por qué? ¿Con qué consecuencias? (Piedras de Papel, 6 de marzo). Las motivaciones ideológicas y los agravios son la principal explicación, pero también importa la movilización via Twitter y algunos eventos biográficos (como tener una hija). Mayor identidad feminista y menor probabilidad de votar a C’s son las principales consecuencias de la participación.



One in a million

A couple of days ago we had a great workshop by a former New York Times editor on how to write an op ed. His first piece of advice was to start with a personal story, preferably with a personal experience that would show how “you were one in a million” to write that op ed.

So let me start with my personal hook: I have known Jordi Sànchez for over 15 years now. Jordi Sànchez is one of the two pro-independence Catalan activists that are now being judged in Spain by the Supreme Court. He has been held in prison without bail since October 2017. In spite of our important political disagreements, I have to say Jordi Sànchez is one of the persons with the highest moral and political standards I have come to meet ever in my life.

But with all due respect to the advice of the former New York Times editor, I think that my personal appreciation and knowledge of Jordi Sànchez is of no relevance whatsoever. The point at stake here is how a state should deal with a major challenge that comes from a peaceful political movement that defends secession.

Jordi is not the only activist in prison. With him in jail since October is also Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium, whom I don’t know personally. There are also seven other politicians that held positions of institutional responsibility at the time of the events, imprisoned and now being judged. Others are being prosecuted in other courts.

Jordi Sànchez was the president of the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia). This is a civil society organisation that has taken an active role in the staging of different pro-independence protests in the past years, including the referendum that took place on October 1st 2017 in spite of the ban of the Constitutional Court. He, as the others currently in jail, is accused among other things of rebellion, which involves a violent uprising. The prosecution has asked for 17 years in prison.

I do not know if there were any misdemeanours in the actions of Jordi Sànchez, although, so far, I fail to see how the organisation of pacific political protests can be considered a crime in a democratic state. But what I do know is that a democratic state should be very concerned with the protection of the political and civic rights of *all* their citizens, regardless of their views. Protests may be and often are disruptive, but as long as they are not violent, they are and should remain a fundamental element of democracy. This concern on preserving fundamental political rights is not what I see considering the 16 months of pre-trial imprisonment and the accusations of violent behavior that are manifestly untrue to any witness of Catalan politics in the past years.

The pro-independence movement has made many mistakes. Probably the worst has been the failure to correctly assess and acknowledge the level of support that an independent Catalonia has among the Catalan population. Hence, among other things, the unilateral declaration of independence of the 27th of October 2017, a clear political mistake. I wonder if this declaration would have happened had Sànchez not been already in jail at the time.

The trial that is now being held in Madrid is the demonstration of the failure of political institutions and actors to handle a political conflict through political means. The conflict was both ignored and used politically in a polarizing whirlwind, then left to rot. Now it is contaminating the whole Spanish political landscape.

But this case is also an example of how states’ reaction to political threats may overstep the mark. Some have highlighted the populist drift of the Catalan regionalist parties, with its rejection of the evil Spanish establishment and its idea of an unconstrained popular sovereignty at the centre of political decisions. I can see the argument. One should be warned, however, that populism is not the only threat to liberal democracy. The way states react to populist challenges can also harm democratic rights. The pre-trial imprisonment and the exorbitant two-digit prison requests for implausible felonies seem closer to repression and purge than to due process.

The editor also adviced us to close the op-ed with a solution. I am afraid the time for solutions for this conflict may be very far away, if possible at all. I would settle for just stopping to make things worse.

The ghost of Stein Rokkan is with me at studio #11

CASBS has more than 50 studios, each one displaying a long list of ghosts, previous CASBS fellows that occupied the studio for a year since 1955. In my door, I have some names that blow my mind, like Sidney Verba and John Aldrich. But my favorite one is Stein Rokkan. There are several reasons why he is my favorite. First of all, Rokkan is a proper ghost: 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of his death. He died young, only 58, but he had enough time to leave a lasting imprint in the people that worked with him. My dear former supervisor Stefano Bartolini (who is not prone to compliments, but knows how to make them when they are due), told me many times during our time at the EUI about the generous, humble, brilliant academic nature of Rokkan. These warm feelings of admiration have somehow reached me without knowing him personally. While writing my PhD I read and re-read Rokkan’s work on European cleavages and party systems (some of which has been re-edited by Peter Flora at OUP), each time finding some new source of inspiration in it. These pages structured the way I think about politics, which are now about to be shaken upside down by my year at CASBS. As it happens my PhD dissertation later was awarded the Stein Rokkan prize for Comparative Social Science Research, one of the academic achievements I am most proud and grateful about (with my UAB research group and my CASBS fellowship, of course!). And about 20 years after, here I am again with Stein, who was sitting right here about half a century ago, by my side.

PS. Applications for 2019-20 CASBS fellowships are now open!

Democracia Parlamentaria

La moción de censura ha visibilizado al parlamento como órgano central del sistema político español, que por algo se llama democracia parlamentaria. Por primera vez hemos visto que el congreso de los diputados tiene capacidad no solo para poner, sino también para quitar gobiernos. Esto es algo que suele pasar desapercibido porque, hasta hace poco, los gobiernos han sido relativamente fuertes y estables, sustentados en mayorías parlamentarias relativamente amplias. Estas mayorías eran posibles por dos razones. Por un lado, solo dos partidos de ámbito estatal concentraban la inmensa mayoría del voto. Por otro lado, tenemos una ley electoral desproporcional que, justamente para asegurar gobiernos sólidos, premia con sobrerrepresentación parlamentaria a los partidos más grandes. Poner es más fácil que quitar, y por eso hemos visto producirse once investiduras y tres mociones de censura (fracasadas las tres) antes de presenciar por primera vez desde 1978 cómo un presidente del gobierno es censurado por el parlamento. El día 1 de junio, el congreso de los diputados, aplicando un principio básico de la democracia parlamentaria, forzó una asunción de responsabilidades políticas sobre un gobierno que se negó a hacerlo por iniciativa propia. El sistema de partidos ha cambiado y esto marcará también el funcionamiento de nuestra democracia parlamentaria. Con más partidos en el parlamento es de esperar que el peso de esta institución sea cada vez mayor, quizá limitando la duración de los gobiernos (aunque no tiene por qué ser necesariamente así), pero también sometiéndolos a un mayor control en su actividad.

Aun así, el parlamento ha necesitado para cumplir con su tarea de control del gobierno un desencadenante en forma de sentencia. Hace solo un par de semanas la moción era impensable y sin la sentencia sobre el caso Gürtel es muy probable que no hubiera habido moción. Los electores ya habían castigado en las urnas la corrupción política del PP en 2015, privándole de la mayoría absoluta, pero la oposición no tuvo capacidad entonces para gestionar esos resultados electorales dando lugar a un gobierno alternativo. Cabría entonces hacer la reflexión de hasta qué punto es bueno dejar que el desarrollo de los acontecimientos sobre cuestiones políticas siga el ritmo marcado por los procedimientos judiciales, que no han de encargarse de dirimir las responsabilidades políticas sino las penales. La situación pone de manifiesto una gran dificultad de la política para gestionar las cuestiones que le competen por iniciativa propia, incluso cuando dispone de los medios (es decir, los escaños) para hacerlo. Las sentencias no son ni pueden tener el mismo impacto que las instrucciones o las acusaciones, pero ya antes de la sentencia existían la justificación y la capacidad para haber actuado políticamente. Y no se hizo.

Un parlamento fragmentado, donde no hay mayorías absolutas monocolores, es seguramente más rico y representativo de la pluralidad social, pero exige pactos y acuerdos para poder gobernar. La moción se ha centrado en el que es, posiblemente, el único planteamiento que comparten todas las formaciones que han votado a favor: era necesario echar al PP. Pero a partir de ahora será necesario ensanchar ese espacio. Echar a Rajoy es una cosa, gobernar es otra. Si tenemos un sistema de partidos que ha superado el bipartidismo, los acuerdos (de gobierno o de legislatura) serán imprescindibles. O tenemos algo parecido al bipartidismo con mayorías forzadas gracias a la ley electoral y “rodillos parlamentarios”, o tenemos más opciones políticas con representación y construimos las mayorías a través de acuerdos en el parlamento. Las ventajas e inconvenientes de cada modelo son objeto de grandes discusiones académicas, aunque la realidad demoscópica de momento parece ir hacia el segundo. Una cosa está clara: todo a la vez no se puede, y convendría ir asumiéndolo.

En un momento en el que las instituciones del estado se encuentran en una situación de desprestigio sin precedentes, creo que conviene subrayar que en este caso nuestra democracia parlamentaria ha funcionado, con las limitaciones señaladas más arriba (falta de iniciativa, lentitud), para producir un resultado de mínimos: en la jerga que se utiliza en la literatura sobre corrupción “throw the rascals out” (sacar a los ladrones). Podemos alegrarnos legítimamente por esta buena notica. A partir de ahora sería conveniente que la política recupere su iniciativa, y esto en la actual coyuntura requiere que los partidos políticos definan su estrategia de acuerdos, preferentemente con altura de miras y capacidad para gestionar la tolerancia a la frustración.

New parties partisanship (flings vs old married couples?)

With Roberto Pannico we have been exploring the consequences of party system change  at the individual level. The irruption of Podemos and Ciudadanos as new parties in 2014 and 2015 allows to assess to what extent the citizens that developped a partisan attachment to these new parties changed their attitudes compared with those that did not. We use a DiD panel data model to assess to what extent partisanship with new parties changed political interest, trust in political institutions and intensity of party closeness, as a fling with a new party could do, compared to ramaining attached to your old party couple.

We find that the consequences of becoming a partisan of a new party are different depending on weather citizens had or not a previous attachment to an old party. New parties have a “fling” effect increasing political interest among those that were not close to any party before, and increasing the intensity of party closeness among those that came from an old party. But they also have a surprisingly strong “old married couple” effect among those that have remained loyal to their old party, increasing their trust in political institutions.

If you want to know more we are presenting some preliminary findings Monday 28th May at 1pm at our DEC seminar (Sala de Juntes, Fac. de Ciències Polítiques i Sociologia).



Quick reflections on the Catalan election 2017

The first significant outcome of the election is that Ciutadans is today the most voted party in Catalonia. Ciutadans is a Spanish nationalist party located in the centre-right that defends the current constitution and status quo against independence. Led by Inés Arrimadas it has increased 7 percentage points with respect to 2015 and now gathers 27% of the valid votes and 37 seats. This confirms that the Catalan electorate is becoming increasingly polarized along the national conflict.

The second significant outcome of the election is that pro-independence parties maintain 48% of the vote, which due to the electoral system (with a strong under-representation of Barcelona, the district with lowest support for Independence) allows them to get a majority of seats (70 over 135). This support for pro-independence parties (JxC, ERC or CUP) has been very stable along time and has not vanished in spite of the many questionable things the former pro-independence government has done. The increase in participation (to an all time record of 82%) has not altered the fact that a bit less of half of Catalan voters choose a pro-independence party. Everyone needs to accept that this large level of support for independence from Spain is there no matter what.

The division of support between the two blocks remains stable and strongly conditioned by language and origin. The changes compared to 2015 have to do with movements within these blocks. Among the pro-independence block, Junts per Catalunya (list led and designed by former president Puigdemont now in Brussels and including Jordi Sanchez -former leader of the ANC now in preventive prison- and many candidates from PDeCAT, formerly CiU) unexpectedly wins 34 seats, more than the 32 that go to Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (led by former vice-president Junqueras, currently in jail). JxC has capitalized the application of article 155, highly unpopular in Catalunya. The CUP, a radical left party advocating for the unilateral way to independence, has suffered a severe loss from 10 to 4 seats. One of the readings of this result is that socially-conservative independentists have won the competition within the pro-independence block, which is of course very bad news for the left in general. A transversal left coalition (including all left parties) would have been extremely difficult even if the numbers made it possible, but it is  mathematically impossible with this result.

Among the block of parties that are against independence from Spain the support has concentrated in Ciutadans. Here also the right wins, even if the Popular Party is heavily damaged by the suspension of self-government institutions implemented by Rajoy, keeping only 3 of the 11 seats it had in 2015. This will be interpreted with a Spanish perspective: until now the PP has electorally benefited in Spain from nourishing the Catalan conflict, but now it seems they are not the only ones that could take advantage. The rise of Ciudadanos in Spain is a serious threat for the PP. It is however hard to think that the PP will interpret this in a way that facilitates a compromising solution in terms of a constitutional reform, or even reducing pressure in the ongoing prosecution of pro-independence politicians. I hope I am wrong on this.

PSC has managed to increase one seat, but Catalunya en Comú-Podem loses three. The difficult situation of CeC-P (with a divided rank and file regarding independence but advocating for a referendum and a transversal left government) shows in this results. CeC-P and PSC are the two parties more likely to be able to build bridges between the more extreme positions and the election result does not reinforce them. It does not look like the national conflict is going to lose any salience in the coming months.

The only potential coalition that sums enough seats to form government (68 conform an absolute majority, though in a second round a plurality would be enough) is made of the pro-independence parties. They have profound disagreements both in ideological terms and on they strategy to follow from now on regarding independence. Furthermore, seven of the elected MPS are either in preventive prison, or in Brussels and likely to be sent to jail as soon as they come back to Spain (including would be president Puigdemont). MPs in jail would be able to vote for a president, but they would not be able to participate regularly in parliamentary activities. It would be complicated to keep a sufficient parliamentary majority in these circumstances.

If government stability seems complicated, a solution of the Catalan conflict in Spain looks further away than ever with this results at hand and with the explosive ongoing mixture of political and judicial processes.

In short, the result of this election is not promising in terms of conflict de-escalation in Catalunya, nor in terms the likelihood of a stable government that can put an end to years of “processisme” (the never-ending process to independence that makes impossible for anything else to get into the political agenda), nor in terms of potential advances towards the solution of the Catalan problem in Spain. It seems to me that the inability of a political elite to manage this question may become another (sad) reason to call yet once more for an agreed referendum. But this seems to be highly improbable if not impossible as well.

A personal view on what is going on in Catalonia

It is very hard for me to write about what is going on in Catalonia right now. The feelings are intense, complex and contradictory and words are so often used or felt as weapons that it scares me to write them on this blog. What follows is of course only my personal view on the matter.

I did not like the twisting of laws that the Catalan Parliament (led by a coalition of pro-independence parties) did to pass the referendum bill that was then suspended by the Constitutional Court. That is why I did not vote. It was a very difficult decision for me, because I, as a large majority of Catalan citizens, think at this stage we really need a referendum in which every one feels called to participate and can express her views after a careful discussion of the implications of the different scenarios. I think ends do not justify means and that formal procedures, rule of law and guarantees should be respected. I hope we will be able to have this referendum some day, because I think Catalan people must be able to decide their future. And because there is no other way out of here. In my University the Council recently supported to join the National Pact for a Referendum and I voted in favour. But I do not think the Catalan parliament can legitimately make a unilateral declaration of independence now.

In spite of not voting, I felt I had to be there in some way. I spent most of my weekend at the voting station in my village. I was there on Saturday evening, early on Sunday morning with coffee for those that had spent the night there, later again to bring some food for those people of all ages that had spent the whole rainy day there and were keeping the place open until the evening with regular threats of police intervention. I felt a bit awkward but I was also impressed by their determination, their commitment, their tense quietness. I felt I had to be somewhat close to these people. So I did not vote but I took part, one of my many contradictions these days. It probably shows that I find it hard to find a place to stand in all this mess.

I took part because although I profoundly dislike the actions of recent Catalan governments on many grounds (including the use of the independence issue to cover all sorts of pressing social problems), I also dislike the actions that Spanish government (and the Spanish state) has done to limit the self-governing aspirations of the Catalan people. I do not think Catalans are brain-washed or conditioned by a wicked political elite, even if this debate on the relationship with Spain has removed attention from other uncomfortable but extremely important issues like corruption or austerity cuts. The aspirations of independence of a large number of them (according to polls about 40%) are legitimate. They have increased significantly as a result of the uneasiness generated by the Constitutional Court amendment of the Estatut (Catalan constitution) in 2010 after an appeal promoted by the PP. Things could have been very different if this Estatut had been respected, and if a Constitutional reform had been agreed among the parties. Hélàs, it did not go that way. We are now in situation in which a Spanish minister has revoked all Catalan autonomy without even going to Parliament to discuss the issue. Astonishing. And we will see what is to come.

This is the result of the fact that, unfortunately, the Spanish state is not really a federal state with a generalised federal political culture that respects diversity, self-government and shared rule. Sometimes I have the feeling that some instances in Spain prefer an independent Catalonia than a Catalonia that speaks Catalan within Spain. I know many people in Spain who do not share this view (there have been many demonstrations in Spain in support of the Catalan referendum), but many PSOE and specially PP representatives are probably more extreme on this than their voters. They dig in the heels of the Constitution as it is, but this Constitution has become too narrow to solve this problem that we have. And Podemos is not yet strong enough.

The PP has almost no presence in Catalunya but as you know it is the largest party in Spain and by using the Catalan question (ie. Spanish nationalism) to win votes in other parts of Spain, it feeds both anti-Catalan feelings in Spain and anti-Spanish feelings in Catalunya. The Catalan pro-independence parties in Catalunya of course also use their tools to increase their electoral support, but I have to say that Rajoy does a large part of their work. The result is two political entities, Catalunya and Spain, drifting apart. And also a deepening division within Catalunya.

Above all, I am against the violent repression of the expression of legitimate political views. What went on this weekend was an amazing mobilization of some civil society organisations in pursue of their political objectives. The police actions were unnecessary and disproportionate, unacceptable in a State that calls itself a democracy. As an insightful journalist mentioned yesterday, this hard reaction by the police follows an understanding of what a State should do that fits into the XIX century, perhaps the XX century, but not into the XXI century. Over 50 years ago Almond and Verba told us that a political system in which institutions and political culture do not come along consistently together cannot be a stable system. What we need is to adjust our institutions to better fit citizens’ values and preferences, not a State behaving like a Leviathan. Not a crash.

Catalunya has given me so much, I love this country deeply and I suffer to see what is going on. I do not want a Catalonia independent from Spain. I honestly don’t think we would be better off. I do not want a Spanish state imposing itself. There is a place between independence and status-quo. In a situation like this it is impossible that only one view prevails humiliating the other side, we need to find a compromise, however difficult this is. The Catalan government should stop its flight forward. The Spanish state has a responsibility to offer an alternative that is appealing for Catalan citizens, or independence will inevitably come, sooner or later. Listening to the Spanish prime minister on Sunday or the King yesterday it all looks pretty hopeless. None of them had a word for the citizens of Catalunya that are in my place, an impossible place to be.

I end with the hartbreaking poem by Joan Maragall, Oda a Espanya, conveniently edited while I hope for a happy ending.

On ets, Espanya? – no et veig enlloc.
No sents la meva veu atronadora?
No entens aquesta llengua – que et parla entre perills?
Has desaprès d’entendre an els teus fills?