Sagrada Familiar

Vicenç Navarro analyses events in Barcelona over the past week, examining the anti-democratic measures introduced by Artur Mas’s government. A government rolling back on election promises, giving priority to the demands of Brussels, the fetish for sating the demands of financial markets, the compliant media, the cut-thirsty establishment, the contempt for democracy, the paltry welfare state, the conflating of minor scuffles with terrorism: now where have I heard that one before?

Who is anti-democratic?

The morning of the 15th of June, the members of the Parlament of Catalonia had been called to approve the budgets put forward by the new Government of Catalonia -which included the most radical cuts in social spending to be carried out during the democratic period. These cuts would weaken even further the already underdeveloped welfare state of Catalonia, which, along with the rest of Spain, has the lowest social spend per capita in the EU-15 (the group of EU countries with most similar economic development to ours). The president of the government, Artur Mas, had declared that these cuts “were due to the demands of Brussels”. However, they were not in the electoral programme of this party in the recent elections to the Parlament of Catalonia. What is more, during the electoral campaign, Mas promised on numerous occasions that his government, should it be elected, would not carry out such cuts, singling out health and education, in particular, as the public services of the welfare state that would be protected the most from any cutback. These promises were clearly ignored, and immediately after the government was formed, significant reductions in social spending were begun, above all, in health and education.

The economic and financial establishments (close to CiU and the PP) approved of these cuts, presented in top media outlets in Catalonia, including those of the Generalitat, such as TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, as inevitable and necessary in order to “regain the confidence of the financial markets”, the phrase most widely used to justify the extraordinary reduction in the already poorly funded welfare state in Catalonia.

The deafening silence of the Catalan establishment faced with these cutbacks contrasts with the uproar on account of almost identical circumstances in the United Kingdom, where the government led by David Cameron was carrying out substantial cuts in social spending, despite the fact that these were not included in its electoral programme. Cameron, like Mas, had also promised, during the electoral campaign, that he would not make cuts. Well, in the United Kingdom, no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the highest authority in the Anglican Church, roundly denounced this behaviour and accused Cameron’s government of immorality and lacking democratic legitimacy when carrying out these measures, making clear that legitimacy and legality were two concepts with different ethical and political implications. He emphasised that the cuts, while legal, entered into conflict with the democratic order, since such public policies had no popular mandate for their implementation. Demonstrating the scarcely democratic culture of the Catalan establishment, no voice surfaced to point out and -even less so- denounce such anti-democratic behaviour from Mas and his government.

Needless to say that whilst the financial, economic, political and media establishments maintained their silence, only broken to support the cutbacks, large sectors of the population, beginning with the unions, mobilised against them. As a consequence, Catalonia today is living through a great social and labour agitation. The latest addition to these protests are those of the 15-M movement, one of the most positive developments that has taken place in the political life of Catalonia (and of Spain) which, as a consecuence of its radicalism, goes to the root of the causes of the cutbacks, which is to say, the existence of a very incomplete democracy, which is responsible for insufficient wellbeing. The strength of this movement is based in the fact that the causes of its outrage are shared by the great majority of the population which, moreover, finds a large amount of its specific proposals for change reasonable and necessary. Its criticisms of the enormous democratic shortcomings in existence in Catalonia (and in Spain) are widely shared by Catalan society.

Artur Mas tried to discredit these mobilisations contrasting them with the support his party CiU had obtained from what he called the “silent majority” in the last municipal elections carried out only a few weeks previous. In this declaration various facts were ignored. One is that CiU only received the support of 14.9% of the electorate (that is, of those who voted and those who able to vote did not do so). His great victory was based in an electoral law that is scarcely democratic, which translates such a small percentage of votes of the electorate into such a large change to representative institutions. What is more, among the voters, the voters for left parties (1,220,926, tri-partite) were greater in number than the right wing (1,141,597, CiU and PP). And even a minority (but a substantial one) of the right wing voters disagrees with the cutbacks that the Mas government is carrying out. Whatever way you look at it, the Mas executive did not have a mandate to carry out these policies.

It is therefore healthy that the 15-M should want to denounce these cuts that were going to be implemented by trying, symbolically, to surround the Parlament to denounce these measures. The slogans called for non violence. But it got out of control [not least on account of agents provocateurs – HG], and this is being used to discredit the movement (and this despite the fact that the 15-M movement condemned the violence and denounced the uncivil behaviour of a tiny minority). After that, Mas even tried to link the 15-M movement to terrorism. These clumsy attempts at criminalising them failed, and last Sunday, Barcelona saw one of the biggest ever demonstrations in its history.

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June 2011

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