It is hard to believe how low the pro-independence leaders are going to make the Catalan government fall. The nomination of Quim Torra i Pla as regional premier confirms the most disturbing tone of its plans: the building of an independent Catalonia in confrontation with half of the Catalan people and the rest of Spain, and in line with European ultra-nationalist xenophobic movements. Even the way the candidate has been chosen, hand-picked by ousted regional premier Carles Puigdemont, confirms the authoritarian drift of secessionism.
The first statements by Torra as nominee leave no room for doubt. There will be a place for the government “in exile,” efforts will be made to meet the “mandate of October 1,” which implies restoring the breakaway laws passed by the Catalan parliament and voided by Constitutional Court, and a move toward a “constitutional process.” These are more than disturbing words because, unless they remain mere rhetoric, they imply the beginning of a new unilateral process of independence determined to violate the Constitution and the Catalan Statute once more, and continue to cause a clash with more than half of Catalan voters.
The xenophobic profile of this lawyer and essayist exacerbates the crisis. He has apologized for his contemptuous offensive comments against Spaniards and has deleted them from the social network where they were posted. He has apologized by saying that he published them six years ago and that what matters are the facts, not the words. It is a poor and scant apology from someone who has not made clear if he still thinks that Spaniards only can plunder, as he then believed. His undeletable ideology is connected to the xenophobic movements of the European far-right. Catalan independentism, which began its breakaway process with a promise of a new democracy “in the form of a republic,” is more similar to the nationalism of Viktor Orbán in Hungary than to the Europeanist republicanism of Emmanuel Macron. It is not a surprise. During the time he spent in Belgium after fleeing there from Spain, Puigdemont strengthened ties with the N-VA Flemish nationalists and the Vlaams Belang racist neo-Nazis.
Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalunya) is following a path with a difficult return, from the centrists and liberals to whom Convergència was aligned with in the past to the anti-European far-right parties. In the Catalan case –another exceptional feature – it converges with the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), signaling a distancing from unilateral independentism and yet it has resulted in a claudication to Carles Puigdemont’s follies and dictates. Is Torra really a candidate for the ERC and its party chief, Oriol Junqueras, as the head of Catalonia’s government? Is he really the appropriate person to represent the dignity of Catalan self-government and institutions before the rest of Spain and Europe? Can someone with such ethnic prejudices and so little democratic disposition lead a fruitful dialogue?
The choice of Torras is a terrible signal, especially for Catalans, because it is a promise of conflict and unlawfulness instead of policies to solve their real problems.