I write half an hour away from the closing of the ballot stations in the 21D Catalan elections. Only participation figures are known. But whatever the case, there could not be more of a “Final Judgment” sensation in the air as regards the whole Catalan Process. Some may think it would have doubtless been wiser to await the results before writing anything. But I also think that it is worth trying to spell out what it means to Catalans -of one persuasion or the other- to be faced by a moment like this. It is extraordinary, something many other Europeans would find it difficult to get their minds round. Here it is not a trivial question of who the next president, winning or losing parties are to be. Here it is a question of what country is to be emerging from the day’s voting. And who may be losing out on their national dream.
Indeed, we are facing a joust in which many years of future are being inevitably spelt out in circumstances that, again, are difficult to imagine. The participation we know to be enormous, some five points ahead of figures for this time in the 2015 elections, that were already massively attended. Then, on closing the ballots, some pre-count-up forecasts suggested that a massive turn-out would favour unionist parties, whose voters were traditionally seen to be lazy about voting in “Autonomous” elections. The suprising thing was that, in terms of elected MPs, the independentists won an absolute majority though in terms of votes, the 48% mark reached deprived them of being able to speak of an overall victory. Many Spanish media and politicians dashed to proclaiming the conclusion that, hence, 52% were not for independence. But parties winning 14% of votes –notably Unió (Christian Democrats) and Podemos-associated Catalunya Si Que Es Pot– publicly announced their refusal to be considered “Unionist” (or indy, for that matter, so the divide on that occasion must more accurately be seen in terms of a 48, 38 and 14% distribution (indy,unionist, non-defined).
What will tonight’s result be? Undoubtedly a huge growth of Ciudadanos, a rather aggressive unionist party headed by a rather arrogant though pretty young woman born in Andalusia, though boasting Salamancan roots. Her family background, though unsavoury (father ex-policeman reputed to have been involved in ill-treatment of detainees; uncle a Fascist provincial head under Franco), is ideal for the rather aggressive and enormously media-backed campaign she has been made the object of. Two years of solid TV promotion have made her enormously popular amongst her followers who overlook her rather limited and obsessive custom of spewing out the same party-line speech, day after day, conjuring up an apocalyptic picture of corrupt Catalan politicians (while her own party is the true pit-prop for Mariano Rajoy’s PP with 900 procecuted members). She is really into projecting the idea of school children having Catalan “rammed down their throats” (although parental complaints about the prestigious Catalan education system are actually few and far between). Of course she has been able to conduct a hugely-financed campaign, while indy leaders have not.
Indeed, the key factor about these elections is that the indy parties have had to face up to them –as one journalist put it – with one arm bound, lips sealed and severely punished economically. They have had to face huge fines. Two of the three Catalan indy parties face the elctions with their principle cantidates unable to participate in the campaign at all. Of the President’s list, numbers 1, 2 and 7 for Barcelona are either in prison on in exile. The leading candidate of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, again, is in prison. What kind of an election is this when candidates are in prison and cannot participate in the debates? One that could only occur in Spain and be tolerated by an increasingly sectarian and hypocritical European Union.
As far as resources are concerned, President Puigdemont’s campaign, for exemple, has been almost mouth-to-ear, having to resort to calling supporters to print out posters (small ones, often in black and white), which they have to stick up themselves in the knowledge that many will not make it to the morning as unionist militants rip them down overnight (this has been the regular scene in the town I live, for exemple, and quite generally it seems). One unionist media El Confidencial went as far as to interview a team of louts that went around Catalan towns ripping down yellow ribbons that people hang up in solidarity with . Meanwhile the glossy banners and billboards of the unionists stand aloof on streetlights and billboards, well away from any attempt to suppress them.
In twenty-one minutes we shall have a good idea of “what Catalonia shall die of”, as a Catalan expression puts it. We shall know if the combined powers of Spain have pulled her under. Or whether she will continue to float on and ride the current on her way to redeeming her Republic.