Karl Marx is supposed to have said that history begins as tragedy and eventually returns as farce. Too bad he’s not alive to witness the truth of his remarks as the conflict between the Catalan separatists and the central government in Madrid unfolds here in Spain, day by day, drop by drop, in all its relentless absurdity. Perhaps Marx intuited some universal truth about history, or politics, or human nature—or all three. Perhaps not. At this moment, it’s difficult to ignore the sensation that what we are witnessing here is the farce of two mutually-created firing squads aimed at each other, with the rest of Spain trapped in between.
I wrote the above words ten days ago. What has happened since then suggests an unhappy twist to Marx’s observation, namely, that farce can change back into tragedy. The day before yesterday, that is, Friday, 26 October, Cataluña’s Regional Parliament, speaking for all Catalans whether they liked it or not, once again portrayed Catalans as the oppressed victims of Madrid’s mendacity and declared Cataluña’s independence from Spain. Tit-for-tat, Mariano Rajoy, the President of the central government in Madrid, invoked article 155 of the Constitution of 1978 regarding sedition and dismissed the regional government and its president Carles Puigdemont, thereby assuming control of the Catalan government, and also, needless to say, confirming the worst of Cataluña’s suspicions about Madrid’s oppression. Whatever way one chooses to look at it, the fact is, Spain is experiencing an ominously grave constitutional crisis.
Last night there were huge demonstrations here in Valencia both in support of independence and against it. Today, Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of Barcelona in favor of remaining in Spain. Tomorrow will bring the next hurdle for both sides when we’ll find out if the politicians who were fired by the government will test the legality of their dismissal by showing up for work.
President Rajoy has convened an election on 21 December, so perhaps both sides will be able to pull themselves back from the brink. However, at the moment, the general mood of Spain seems to be one of anguish and frustration. The separatist politicians have opened a Pandora’s Box: at least 1,500 businesses, large and small, including major banks, like Bancaixa and Sabadell and even possibly Cordoníu, the oldest producer in the world of bottle-fermented sparkling wine (founded in 1551) and of one of the most emblematic companies of Cataluña, have fled political turmoil for greener pastures in Valencia, Madrid and elsewhere. In addition, not a single country in Europe or anywhere else on the planet has recognized the existence of a Cataluña independent from Spain. The separatists have provoked a conflict between themselves and the rest of the world, but even worse, a conflict between Catalans against each other. (Americans familiar with the workings of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon will recognize the similarities.)
No one knows how all of this will play out, but from my point of view, shared by many Spaniards, is that there will be no winners here, that no one will emerge from the bitterness and resentment as a better, more enlightened citizen or a wiser, more compassionate human being. I hope we’re wrong.
Here’s a drawing of a rose. It doesn’t symbolize Spain or Cataluña or the U.S., only Common Sense, trying to be born.