Thursday, 9 February 2017

Why is former Catalan president being tried?

The short answer is: because president Mas promoted a mock and non-binding referendum on the independence of Catalonia in 2014 against the Constitutional Court sentence.
Rigau, Mas and Ortega went to court sorrounded by pro-independence supporters that encouraged them.
However, this explanation might not be sufficient for those that don't follow Catalan and Spanish politics. I'll try to explain the main things to understand the situation:

What happened on the 9th of November, 2014?

That day was the chosen by the Catalan Parliament to hold a legal referendum on the independence of Catalonia. However, given that the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended it, this referendum never took place.
People knew they were not voting in an official referendum. It was just a protest day.
Instead, the Catalan government promoted a 'participatory process' where volunteers opened polling stations and counted the ballots. President Mas always warned the result wasn't going to have a legal effect. More than 2.3 million people participated (or voted), out of about 5 million people that were allowed to vote. 80% of ballots supported independence. Of course, this process didn't have any legal effect. Catalonia is still part of Spain.

If it didn't have any legal effect, what's the problem?

The matter at stake is the following. the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the real referendum and warned the Catalan government of making any movement about it. After the 9th of November, the general prosecutor of Catalonia didn't find any crime in this 'participatory process'. However, the Spanish general prosecutor (who's the boss of the Catalan one), forced the Catalan prosecutor to report president Mas, vice-president Ortega, secretary of Education Rigau and secretary of Government Homs.
That night, both president and vice-president presented the results.
Independence won overwhelmingly because pro-Spanish voter didn't cast their ballots. 
We should also mention here that the Spanish general prosecutor directly depends on the Spanish minister of Justice. And, moreover, this general prosecutor resigned a month after forcing the Catalan to report the government, because he was uneasy with that. So, we could say that is the Spanish government who reported the Catalan government and provoke the trial. 

But, why is calling a non-binding vote illegal?

According to the Spanish government, and to the parliamentary majority, the Spanish constitution doesn't allow a vote on independence. They say that the Spanish people, as a whole, is the only one entitled to make such decisions. It's like saying that the whole UK should have voted on the Scottish independence referendum.

On the other hand, nationalist and leftist parties defend that the Spanish constitution does allow the vote on independence only in Catalonia. However, they are still a minority in the Spanish parliament (about 100 MPs out of 350).

And you, have you understood anything? What do you think?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

5 ways to identify a populist

Presumably, politics in 2017 will be mainly marked, at least in the West, by populism. Whether it's right-wing (hi Trump, Farage, Wilders and Le Pen), left-wing (we can talk about Chávez, Fernández de Kirchner and, perhaps, Pablo Iglesias) or difficult to define (classification specifically created for our favourite clown: Grillo), populists all over Europe and America share some strategies that are worth knowing.
The Euro-populists are coming

Given that it's difficult to agree on a deffinition of 'populism', this is just a quick guide to identify populists that will definitely make the headlines this year:

1. People against the anti-people

This is what gives the name to their rethorical strategy. A populist always differenciates 'the people' from 'the anti-people'. The anti-people is always blamed for the disfunctions of society, usually corruption and poverty. The foes of the people vary in every country, and usually includes both internal and external evils.

The favourite internal foe is the elite or establishment, that is blamed for ignoring the people for very long time. This elite may be political or economic. It's also very useful creating a tag to refer to this group of people. That's the case of casta in the Spanish politics.
Wilders has a clear pick when deciding who's his external foe: ISLAM.
When it comes to external foes, usual suspects are Islam (Le Pen and Wilders are experts on it) and some international institutions. Here you can choose between the EU, IMF, World Bank..., or you could even blame another country, like the US or Russia (indeed, they're always the bad guys in films).

Last but not least, a good populist will always emphasise the honesty and good qualities of the people, because all the bad things come from the anti-people.

2. Easy solutions to difficult problems

Given that all things that don't work in a society are caused by the establishment and some evil foreigners, politics and economy would easily improve if we remove these guys from power. Moreover, every problem present in society has to have an easy solution that fixes it. Why analysing the fluxes and causes of immigration to the US when you can build a wall at the border with Mexico?
Some other examples are the will of European populists to leave the EU to solve all the problems of their countries. The euro (€) is bad as hell, and the EU is even worse. Let's get rid of them and we'll be back to paradise.

3. Hate or disrespectful speech

If you have already a populist in your mind, you'll probably understand this third point. When it comes to point at the anti-people, a populist usually isn't respectful. Why should they be respectful to those that are hurting their country and their beloved people so much?
Who cares if refugees are fleeing from war when you can win some votes?
Ok, not all populists are as rude as Donald Trump. He's, by far, the rudest example. But a populist doesn't care if he offends other people. A populist pursues the division between the people and the bad guys. If a bit of hate speech (towards muslims or bureaucrats) deepens the division, that rises the impact of a populist discourse and may rise their electoral success.

4. Personalism

A populist doesn't rely on a party. The party is basically transformed into a platform to support the leader. A populist leader takes all the importance, and all the other's job is to flatter the leader. Do you know anyone in French Front National a part from Le Pen? Did Republican Party had any importance in Trump's campaign? Why is Chávez still so important in Venezuelan politics after his death?
Marine Le Pen has even changed the name of her political platform into Rassamblement Bleu Marine.
Given that a populist gives easy solutions to difficult problems, any solution that the leader proposes is good. Actually he doesn't have to think carefully about the proposals. He only has to justify that this goes against the anti-people and everything will be solved.

5. The people is in charge, not me

Finally, when populists get the power, they always claim to be there only as the reprensentation of the people. The people is who now runs the country, and the populist leader's job is to interpret the people's will.

This especial connection between the leader and the people makes a populist keen on direct democracy to run the country. The Italian Beppe Grillo might be the highest example of this, although not the only one.

And you, would you add any other characteristic of populism?