Spanish politics: the anything goes culture

My most admired José Juan Toharia—the renowned sociologist who co-founded Cuadernos para el Dialogo back in 1962 and now presides public opinion research firm Metroscopia—has been providing a series of data-driven analysis on perceptions of Catalonia and Spain since the massive independence rally of September 11, 2012.

José Juan Toharia in Entrevistas Digitales (El Pais)

Toharia, who has conducted regular check-ups of the Spanish society for decades, assesses the endurance of the relations between Spain and Catalonia and concludes that “Catalans’ disaffection or distrust towards Spain is not majoritarian, and neither is Spaniards’ disaffection or distrust towards Catalonia”. This “silent reality of personal feelings” contrasts with the noise out there and, as he puts elsewhere, “one wonders for how long will our democracy endure the vulgarity (if not inanity) of our political class dialectics”.

Too frequently, Spanish politicians indulge in a persistent and tacky denigration of their opponents. Far too often, they dangerously cajole the lowest forms of populism. And if these trends were not worrying enough, some of our political representatives tar the political debate with grossly offensive references to Nazism.

On October 11, Spanish Foreign Minister García-Margallo compared Catalan nationalism to Marxism and Nazism in a parliamentary debate. A few days ago, MP Rosa Díez compared the votes for Basque nationalist coalition Bildu to those obtained by the Nazis in 1933. In Catalonia, Coulcilman Jonatan Cobo from Rubi posted on Twitter a picture of Catalan President Artur Mas caricaturized as a Nazi officer with the Sig rune on his name. He was swift to delete the tweet and begrudge an apology, but the issue went wild in the social media.

Shock jocks and some journalists have also taken the easy road. Pedro J. Ramírez, the editor of the second largest national newspaper, tweeted “Sieg heil!! A Catalan mosaic” referring to the Catalan flag wrapping the Camp Nou in Barcelona on the occasion of the annual home match with Real Madrid.  The German criminal code outlaws the use of the “sieg heil” greeting, runic insignias and other Nazi symbols under section 86a, but not the Spanish one.

Echoing the same event, historian Antonio Elorza stated that “in the collective flag at the Camp Nou, as once at Nuremberg, there is no room for opponents or dissidents”. To him, Barça fans holding the flag are a renewed version of authoritarian nationalisms of the early 20thcentury, theoretically inspired by Carl Schmitt.

Carl Schmitt

The influence of Carl Schmitt in Spain is undeniable, but the target is slightly missed. The political theorist and Third Reich’s Kronjurist has exerted a long fascination among different generations of Spanish legal scholars and politicians, notably Manuel Fraga Iribarne (Minister for Information and Tourism under Gen. Franco’s dictatorship and founder of the present Popular Party), Enrique Tierno Galván, one of the Socialist leaders during the Spanish transition and the first democratic Mayor of Madrid, or Francisco Sosa Wagner, Member of the European Parliament and fellow of Rosa Díez at Union, Progress and Democracy. To many of these scholars, the involvement of Schmitt with the Nazi regime was a mere faux pas that does not undermine his contribution to the critics of liberalism and parliamentary democracy.

Unfortunately, these comments tap into a deep vein: the one that shackles Spanish political discourse by reviling opponents with the most abusive language. It may get bigger audiences, but it also opens the floodgates to slander, sinking everyone into the quagmire. A civilized society should not accept such slide towards prejudice and hate. Verbal violence is always the first step, the one that sets the ground and justifies further escalation. The pattern is well-known by anyone dealing with conflict. Neither Spaniards nor Catalans deserve it. The loser, once again, is democracy.


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