England and Catalonia

Pankaj Mishra recently published a New York Times article about Brexit that could be dedicated to the whole of Europe. According to the columnist, Great Britain is beginning to get a taste of the medicine their ruling class administered to the colonies during the 20th century. No longer enjoying the scope of an empire, says Mishra, the British remain in the hands of the class of spoiled and overbearing politicians who sowed chaos in the Middle East, in Africa, and in India.

Although the press merely reflects the surface of the conflicts, it’s easy to notice that the malaise in Europe has more to do with the power struggle which triggered the decline of the ruling classes than with the debate of ideas and projects. Just as it happened before World War I, part of Europe insists on walking toward the abyss. The chance of a debacle is the last resort for some circles which are trying to maintain their power by turning democracy into a casino.

While during the 20th century Europe’s oligarchies protected themselves from decrepitude by putting the emphasis on the military’s rhetoric, now they are defending their cozy fiefdom by trying to turn politics into a kind of narcissistic football extravaganza. The universalization of school education has reduced Europe’s leadership to the same level as the masses who vote them into office. The flaws that Ortega y Gasset would ascribe to the common man are found one century later well distributed among the political and economic elites in Europe.

Just as it has happened with football, democracy is in danger of becoming a fabulous business controlled by four vulgar moguls and a yellow press. Just like sports competitions would generate acts of aggressiveness and violence when they became a television spectacle, politics will also produce increasingly intense outbreaks of tension if it continues to be underplayed. The sense of emptiness is annoying, and Europe is gradually having fewer politicians and more circus professionals.

Perhaps because he’s from India, Mishra doesn’t see that Brexit won precisely against the clumsiness of the same elites he attacks in his article. Maybe due to interest or to resentment, he forgets that the British electorate voted to leave the EU out of sheer spite of the disgraceful campaign carried out by their political leaders. The chaos of the negotiations between London and Brussels comes from the fact that the same leaders who are managing the separation from Europe, deep inside, are wishing to stay.

Just like Catalonia and independence, Brexit is led by politicians who don’t believe in the project they are defending because they don’t have anything personally to gain. Just as the Catalan politicians had no choice and organized a referendum which they didn’t want nor expect to have taken place, Brexit was designed to secure the European Union in the polls. The problem is that not even the attempt to turn the assassination of Joe Cox into a pro-European commercial spot helped in manipulating the outcome of the referendum.

Brexit, like the independence movement, raises concerns because it shows that the electorate can’t find politicians capable of properly elevating and representing the sense of their convictions and their vote. As it happens in Great Britain and in the US, newspapers in Catalonia are also filled with articles ascribing to the electors malicious feelings which actually belong to the rotten elites who have lost the ability to lead their countries.

Instead of insulting Brexit voters, Mishra should celebrate Europe’s democratic spirit resisting the pressure of consumer propaganda and the prejudices inherited from communism. It’s good news that capitalism has found its limits and hasn’t been able to buy nations like England and Catalonia. Right now, nowhere else in Europe can one see the middle classes exerting resistance against the trivialization of politics and of the polls. If capitalism cannot be stopped, neither can the ambitions of Russia and China.

The proof that the clique that benefits from Europe’s casino only thinks about their own interests is their attempt at stigmatizing the vote of the British people, just like the Spanish have tried to break Catalonia’s social harmony. Europe’s bosses want to make the continent’s poor pay the immense loss of power they’ve suffered in favor of the Asian elites. Lucky for us, we have the atomic bomb and the democratic spirit of countries like Catalonia and England; otherwise, humankind would once again be at war.

Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato.

(Originally published on 18 January 2019)