Interpreting the Catalan elections

The challenge of assessing the outcome of yesterday’s regional elections in Catalonia is that several actors in this crisis can claim different forms of victory – and are doing so – from different frames (majority in terms of seats neglecting share of votes, etc.). This, uncertainty and a strong component of post-truth politics in the secessionist camp, have been the defining features of a full-fledged crisis that has seen competing narratives about democracy, rule of law and basic constitutional covenants, first and foremost among the clashing camps in Catalonia. Such diametrically opposed framing and narrative building have also shaped the political framing elsewhere in Spain and at the international level.

Given the complexity of the results, their myriad implications and the renewed uncertainty about what comes next, it is important to perhaps distinguish between big read takeaways and deeper changes in the political and social landscape in Catalonia, which are sure to condition the region and Spain as a whole.

Three myths about Catalonia’s independence movement

A romantic framing of foreign crises where self-determination is involved is a common trap. The imagery of “oppressors” vs “freedom fighters” is appealing and, to their credit, the leaders of Catalonia have been successful in promoting their agenda abroad in just such terms – sometimes going as far as referencing Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid.

Combined with the soft power appeal of cosmopolitan Barcelona, there is much confusion abroad on the nature of the current crisis in Catalonia, and myths and stereotypes abound – helped by the likes of Assange and similar figures.

This article seeks to test some of these myths, in order to shed light not only on the Catalonian referendum debate but on the wider issues for pluralistic democracies and the rule of law. The dynamics in the Catalan debate are similar to those at play in other European countries in the age of populism and are therefore of fundamental importance for the future of Europe as a whole.

Myth One: A legitimate and democratic referendum process unjustly constrained by the Spanish state