More than a Local Crisis

The changing situation in Catalonia needs to be understood again a context that includes a crisis of legitimacy in the Spanish political system more generally and a changing sense of scale in relation to states as a result of globalisation, says Josep Valles. 
 
Political events do not exist in a vacuum and it is important to understand the evolving relationship between Catalonia and the Kingdom of Spain, one must also understand the context within which those changes are taking place. There are two factors that are worth considering when trying to understand both the origins of the current situation and its eventual outcome. These are the crisis of legitimacy of the whole Spanish political system and the changing political-territorial scale with which the trends associated with globalization challenge today’s states and nations.
 
In fact, the return of the Catalan question to the forefront of the Spanish political agenda equates to a new institutional and symbolic definition of Spain as a political community. This new definition is, in turn, related to the two larger phenomena mentioned above.  
 
Let us deal first with the unsteadiness of the Spanish political system as a whole. As has happened in other historical periods, the Catalonia-Spain relationship has to be redefined when the Spanish political system suffers a loss of legitimacy. The weakening of the effective guarantee of individual rights, especially social and economic rights, the growing dysfunctions of representative democracy, its parties and institutions, the increasing of political corruption, the confrontational style of Spanish politics or the sectarian bias of the media groups: all these factors have deeply impaired the system’s capacity to successfully address the territorial problem with a consociative approach. 
 
On the other hand, this territorial conflict cannot be isolated from other issues raised by generational, cultural, economic and technological transformations, leading to new forms of citizen mobilization with which traditional institutions struggle rather unsuccessfully. The expansion of the Catalan demands is partially due to the clever use of social networks for distributing information and organizing campaigns and demonstrations. Therefore, the search of a new model of inter-territorial relations cannot be the exclusive domain of the traditional elites and will have to take into account these new forms of citizen’s engagement and participation.  
 
The second fact to be considered when looking for a solution to the Spanish-Catalan territorial issue is the changing scale of contemporary politics. The territorial organization of Spain and, in particular, the relationship between Catalonia and the Spanish state can no longer be addressed from the doctrinal perspective that takes the "sovereign nation-state" as the main subject of politics. Neither what is generally termed globalization nor European integration allows us to consider this ideal of sovereignty as a benchmark for political communities seeking to manage their common interests efficiently. For this management capability is now limited, shared and coordinated with other major centres of decision making. Large metropolitan areas, territorial political entities not recognized as sovereign states, supranational organizations - international or regional, transnational corporations: these are the agents involved today in the definition and implementation of public policies. Hence, the relative positio
n that each political community occupies in this broad and diverse network has greater significance and effectiveness than the territorial boundaries of an allegedly exclusive or sovereign power. "Post-sovereign" communities now make up the network of global politics.
 
On the other hand, the “national” condition of some political communities becomes more diffuse if considered as the sum of its members shared historical memory, language, cultural expressions, etc. In an era of mass migrations and of expanding on-line tools of socialization, this common shared experience and understanding is more elusive than in the recent past.  The fact is that territorial boundaries and national identities do not often exactly overlap as the idealised “nation-sate” would pretend. Some sort of “post-national” community now appears in the global political network. 
 
Both factors - the crisis of Spanish political system and the vanishing profile of the territorial "nation-state" – challenge in different ways the realisation of a tenet of democracy: the free and equal participation of all members of a community in the political decision-making process at different levels of government.

A selected bibliography is available by clicking on this link.
 

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Josep Valles's picture
post by Josep Valles
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB Barcelona)
20th August 2015

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