One week ago, some sentences uttered by minister of public administration Mertixell Batet were enough for the Spanish government and their accompanying political and media apparatus to instill in a certain public imagery the notion that a fresh dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona has begun. The sentences in question weren’t even kind. Minister Batet has merely stated that her government should not adopt as heavy-handed an approach as their predecessors. Making concessions on some of Puigdemont’s original demands —particularly those that are blatantly obvious— does not equate to progress but, rather, regaining a modicum of the sanity that was long lost in Madrid (but not in Barcelona).
Stating that it would make sense for the political prisoners to be moved closer to home is merely quoting the Spanish criminal code. And Batet’s claim that she would welcome a constitutional reform, without going into specifics, is just cheap talk. This becomes blatantly obvious when you consider that Spain’s socialist party does not have enough parliamentary support to undertake any sort of reform, no matter how modest in scope.
On this same point president Torra was right when he drew a red line by saying that this is not the time to talk about dialogue but negotiation, and that the latter could never fail to acknowledge what has happened in Catalonia in the last year: the two democratic mandates arising from the self-determination referendum on October 1 and the elections on December 21, plus the proclamation of the Republic.
This distinction between dialogue and negotiation is befitting in that it places the Spanish government where it ought to be. They might believe —as I am certain they do— that offering some gestures, even inconcrete ones, will suffice to supress the republican movement and prevent the independence project from taking hold. Gaining time matters to them: for their national project and for the sake of their party. So the Catalan government should be very firm on this point.
Of course dialogue is always necessary. In the last eight years, Catalonia’s independence movement has been the only actor that has strived to engage in talks by every means possible. So it should take no lessons whatsoever on this particular subject. And, indeed, it would be in everyone’s best interest (ours and theirs) if things could go back to normal, to some extent. However, this is not going to happen for as long as there is a single person who is being targeted by the state’s reprisals, especially those held in prison or forced into exile. If Spain’s PSOE government cease to act with the aggression and violence employed by their PP predecessors, the change will be welcome. But it won’t be enough.