"The ANC and Ómniun have been the government's independence story broadcast mechanism"Carmen P. Flores
Steven Forti has a Ph.D in Comparative, Political and Social History from the UAB and the University of Bologna. He has done research work at the Universities of Rome and Sorbonne, with a thesis on the question of the transit of political leaders from the Left to fascism in interwar Europe. He is interested in the history of politics and political thought in contemporary Europe, particularly Spain and Italy. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History (IHC) of the new University of Lisbon and professor at the UAB.
What are the causes of the rise of the Far Right and nationalism in Europe?
I think there are two reasons that go together: the crisis that began in 2007 -2008 and of which, whatever may be said, we have not yet left behind us and the epochal changes we are experiencing due to globalisation. If we put these two elements together -there are more factors, of course- we might explain why there are far-right parties that have come to power, either supporting some government, or in opposition, but in any case they have risen considerably. We have cases like Hungary or Poland. There are also countries that have been considered as the cradle of social democracy and social welfare in rich, prosperous countries, and so on, such as the Scandinavian countries, where there are forces of extreme power that exceed 15% and in some cases participate in the government, as in Denmark or Norway.
We have the example of the party of the democrats of Sweden This was born out of the twilight neonazis of the 80s and that gets more than 12% of the votes. This should make us think.
I think the broad causes are the following. So, what the great political and economic elites have done, the ruling elites have responded to the crisis. At first, with austerity that has caused impoverishment of everyone as a whole, greater social inequality, high levels of unemployment, and also the challenges of globalisation, as was managed from the 90s, and together with everything I have explained above, on top of which the refugee crisis all have caused that the ideas of identity and nation have succeeded.
Do you think that the European project has failed?
Maybe not failed, but it is in intensive care. Can it get out of there? I think so.
What role are the European elites playing?
The elites have to rethink how the European project has been managed, which is bizarrely related to the economic crisis and has not been one of the best. The European project can leave Intensive Care, yes, with courage, and a real European project composed of strong ideas can be proposed, like the much vaunted project of the United States of Europe that has never been applied.
We have to think about how the EU project was constituted, based only on currency, when it should have been a political union, not simply economic and monetary.
We need to make a fiscal union, which is necessary, because companies are going to Holland and Ireland. They are doing this because they have lower taxes. On the other hand, it has to be a true political union. For example, that the European Parliament has more power, that it is not an institution only of representation, but that it has real power. The European Commission has to be elected by Parliament, as happens in all the states and not that the countries are the ones that choose commissioners who have not been elected by Parliament. There is a lack of democracy in the EU that the crisis has highlighted.
What are the elites doing then?
Not much. They are in a situation of extreme difficulty, particularly after Brexit and the rise of Eurosceptic parties. However, nobody has the courage to turn the EU into a real political project.
If this does not occur, what will happen?
It is quite difficult to say, because things happen quite quickly. Who would have said a few years ago that Trump was going to be president of the United States, or that the United Kingdom was going to leave the EU? It is quite difficult and anything can happen, even the disappearance of the EU, or to have less political power. In an EU that survives, anything can happen.
Is the resurgence of ultra-right and nationalism just a passing fad, or is it here to stay?
It is difficult to know, because as I said, things happen quite quickly. They could have come to stay. We could have a xenophobic nationalism, from national to populism. However, during these four years we could endure a frustration of the general public with these movements because the question is: can these movements respond to society's questions and needs? The Saldini League has said that some 600,000 emigrants should leave Italy. This cannot be done. The Far Right has set the bar so high that this cannot be done. With this panorama all the possibilities are possible.
What is the relationship between nationalism and the Far Right?
Any right-wing party, wherever it may be, in Finland or Hungary, is nationalist or ultra-nationalist. It was like this before and it remains so now. They have the nationalism cult, and it has an excluding nature.
What do you think about what is happening in Catalonia with the independence movement?
Now we are now scraping the bottom of the barrel. A situation of blockade, of political incapacity, where nobody wants to admit their failures.
The "proces" has been a peculiar process of the Catalonian reality that has much to do with what we are talking about. It is fruit of the times. It is the return to our grandparents' ideas: the homeland, the nation.
It is an incipient enclosure within identity that later comes together with other actions. The "proces" is not the National Front of Lepen or other parties, but is the offspring of them era. If we do not understand what is happening in the United States, and we do not understand what is happening here, what is happening in Europe, that is to say, we are not understanding anything. It is not that Catalonia is an island within the world, but that it is related to this. The "proces" has been the result of all this. It is a response from political elites that were getting worn out and a response to difficulties that were global, Spanish and local. This is coupled with the Spanish multilevel crisis, which is an socio-economic crisis that has been political and institutional, on top of a territorial crisis.
The "proces" has been the response of some elites on one hand, the development of a story and the ability on the part of these elites to channel this story together with a part of the non-majority population, but significant and numerous enough that bought into this story.
Before, this population segment did not ask for independence, but now is outraged. It is the ability of these elites, with large doses of propaganda, to create and sell a story that part of the people have bought into.
What is the story? An obtainable utopia that has been sold out. I share Marina Subirach's opinion that "independence has been seen, sold as and bought as an available utopia". We should not forget the country crisis that Spain is enduring, which, together with the economic crisis has broken the model of the country of transition that was: European integration. The independence channelled by the elites with intelligence has served to create a utopia in a section of the total populace.
Do you think that the cases of corruption of CDC have been what has led to the ideological change of this party from autonomist to pro-independence?
I do not think that's the only reason. It would too much of a simplification. Not only that, but there are other factors as well. Some elites that had governed all their lives now find themselves in crisis, not only because of the corruption cases, but because of the economic crisis and how the first government of Artur Mas approached the economic crisis: austerity and cuts. There were more cuts in 2011 in Catalonia than in Greece and with that, I think no more needs to be said. For the CDC, it was tactically useful to be strategically reconverted to independence in September 2012.
I think the issue of corruption has weighed heavily, but above all the fear of CDC losing power after social protests.
The image of Mas entering a ring-fenced Parlament by helicopter made the convergents talk about how they should revert that situation, because if not, they are going to be eaten alive. This made them think that the government of the best had sold them had sold them what was not apt. Yes, corruption, along with other issues that I have already explained, on top of the fear of social protests.
What role has both the Catalonian bourgeoisie and certain entrepreneurs played?
We still have a considerable lack of data, and it will take time for things to surface. I think there are two interesting topics here: first, I think the Catalonian bourgeoisie, at first continuing to be charmed by CDC's turnabout. The Catalonian bourgeoisie felt identified with CDC. Therefore, until 2015 they continued to support the Convergence Party without hesitation and accepted it. This is, they bought the story, a good proportion of them believed because of the discourse and another because of the tactical theme.
After Puigdemont's election, the PDeCAT social block was no longer the same, something had broken.
Who is currently the Catalonian bourgeoisie and which party represents it? This is the question and I think the PDeCAT did has not asked itself this question. In the last elections, a part of the Catalonian bourgeoisie voted for Ciudadanos and another for the PSC, perhaps because of the presence of Espadaler, and some for JuntsxCatalunya. However, the truth is that the social block represented by the bourgeoisie ws broken and has been orphaned. I believe that Ciudadanos will now be the reference party of a good part of the bourgeoisie.
What about ANC, Ómnium, CUP and the two great unions?
I quite agree with the opinion of Guillén Martinez who has judged with a bit of provocation that the ANC and Ómniun is a sort-of Peronist association, not because they are from the extreme Left, but because they are a transmission mechanism of the government of the Generalitat.
There are people who have believed the project, but the way the ANC and Ómniun have acted have been the transmission mechanism of the government's story.
There are internal and external examples. In the ANC elections that Sanchez won, let's not forget that Sanchez was Mas's man and takes on considerable protagonism, controlled by the old CD and by ERC. An external example: on October 27 and 28th, just after the pseudo UDI, what were the ANC messages to the public? Do not worry, do not question anything, our leaders know what they are doing. When people expected some gesture, silence was the answer, while the ANC and Omnium spread the message. They have acted as a transmission mechanism.
The CUP has tried to develop a strategy of its own -I say this as an observer- stating that they have led PDeCAT and ERC towards radicalization to achieve a process of rupture with Spain.
This is a situation that largely has not happened, but in part has pushed both parties to the limit. Who would have said three years ago that the independence bloc, with Puigdemont at the head, would have led to a referendum and a UDI? This means that, in part it has achieved its goal. However, on the other hand the CUP, which is an anti-capitalist party, extreme Left with remnants of the extreme Left of the 70s and 80s, but which in the end supported its political and social enemy, which has allowed the old Convergence Party to reconvert and manage the political and social crisis and its own crisis of cases of corruption from the power itself, and has controlled the media that has been key in the reporting of the procés, when the CUP could have provoked an election in January 2016. Here, the CUP, as Gregorio Morán says, has been the "convergent manger caganets", referring to the traditional Christmas manger figurines showing popular figure defecating. To a large extent they have played this role. Now they have taken on a different attitude, but what I have just explained is what they have been doing during these years.
The CUP has always said that the national and the social go together, but at some point we have to chose which is the priority because things do not go together, and they have chosen the national pillar.
As for the Trade Unions, the issue is more complex. In the two unions, particularly in the UGT, some time ago there have been changes at the top, and sectors close to CDC and ERC had achieved quite significant control for example the Munté Ros case, and so on. We should not forget that the unions are themselves suffering a quite significant crisis due to changes in economic and social models. Within this global crisis, they have encountered a situation in which they have taken up diverse positions, having to give voice to all and not just certain postures, but this has not been easy. Hence the complications.
The position of the opposition parties has been lukewarm. Have they not known how to react?
The opposition parties are in a minority in the Parlament, but nevertheless the three parties have taken issues to the Constitutional Court. I think you cannot blame them. Another thing is that the parties that defended a transversal Catalonia, such as the PSC, have been hit hard by a crisis that has been both global and Spanish. Social democracy at international level, in Spain, another crisis after the Zapatero government and to this the national question has been added and they have had to re-close the wounds that have been opened with all these conflicts of socialism.
We should not forget that the PSC has suffered -now not so much- a bleeding of votes and a flight of some of its leaders, such as Ernest Maragall, Marina Geli, Joan Ignasi Elena and so on. The Catalonian socialists have suffered a quite profound internal crisis.
What has been broken in Catalonia since 2010 is not only confidence in Spanish institutions, but what has really broken is the transversal Catalanism, as a common denominator of all parties. Now what do we have? It is a third way that defends the reconstruction of a transversal Catalanism, which could reach 25% of votes. Catalanism is a vision of the past and independence is the only thing that remains. Catalanism has been broken, it is clear.
What role are the Left playing in the entire process?
Although they have not achieved much, the PSC is trying to find a space after the live haemorrhaging since 2010. I think it has been quite strengthened by the arrival of Iceta, but has not played a key role until 2010. The PSC always had played a quite presence in Town Halls, it has been in power in the Generalitat, and now it is how it is.
The ICV has had a complicated, intense and difficult process, successful until 2015. From then on, it entered into a crisis and now resides in a confluence space with the new forces, fruit of the 15th May 2013 elections: Podemos and Ada Colau's party. ICV made a generous bet that has not gone wrong.
Particularly in 2017, the tension of the procés led to a situation that is quite difficult to manage, beyond the mistakes that have been made, it has endured under pressure from the other parties, the media, and so on.
This tension has taken its toll. After October, Los Comunes has become the only transversal political space. Inside it there are anti-independence people, mostly independent people, even pro-independence people. This is a great wealth, but it also has its risk in a moment of polarization it could become a drama. This would explain some of the decisions they have made.
Both the PSC and ICV are playing out a quite difficult role that has been reflected in the result achieved in the last elections, which does not allow them to play any significant role. Now we have to wait for the municipal 2019elections. We will have to see how they stand up. Particularly what will happen with the Barcelona City Council, if it is going to continue in the hands of Colau and ICV, and at this moment is not so clear that they will manage to maintain it.
The challenge of 2019 is not only for them, but for the entire Spanish Left: with Podemos and its confluences that have everything at stake, particularly the cities of change, will all be lost? Spain is turning to the Right and this can greatly affect these projects. We will have to wait and see what happens.