Thursday, 11 November 2010

Who is King Artur of Catalonia?

Many of the Catalan politicians whom I like come from the federation Convergència i Unió (CiU = CDC + UDC). It is high time to take an extra look at the party's leader Artur Mas. After the November 28 elections, he will most likely replace José Montilla (PSC) as President of the Generalitat, Catalonia's highest decision making body.

With perfectly tailored suits and an elite school background, Artur Mas looks quite different than politicians in my native country, Sweden. These might well be common features among decision makers in Southern Europe, but we tend to disqualify anyone who looks well off, since they “do not understand the lives of ordinary people". And although in debates I usually perceive Mas as highly competent, I can be annoyed by his complaints about not having been allowed to govern although he "won" the last election. By reading La Mascara del Rei Artur ("King Artur's Mask") by Pilar Rahola I have gained new perspectives. This text does not attempt to be a summary of the book, but an example of what I have learnt.

As the title suggests, the aim has been to find the "common man" Artur Mas – the one who is hiding behind the mask. To achieve this, Rahola set up conditions which only a famous journalist can allow herself: to get full insight into the official as well as unofficial agenda and to have the right to publish the book as she wanted it. The fact that Mas agreed must have had its origin in a strong desire to balance how media currently presents him; his opponents claim that he is being manipulated by his core staff and he is usually portrayed as impersonal, superior and vain – e.g. "Guapooo!" ("Hi handsome!"), in the satire program Polònia.

Artur Mas confesses to Rahola that it hurts him to be portrayed as a rich “yuppie”, since he comes from a Calvinist family with an ideal of austerity. On the other hand, he admits that he does not easily make new friends, since in the future he will most likely have to make decisions which affect them personally. His wife, Helena Rakosnik, admits that her husband is not a typical public person, since he is quite shy and always puts his family first, even when that collides with political events. Behind the façade there seems to be a man with great personal integrity.

Hovever, Mas’s distance to his own coworkers is being perceived as a disturbing, even by key people. Former CiU leader, Jordi Pujol, tells Rahola that he is worried about his successor's approach to human relations, not the least the one between the two of them. The contacts with the leader of UDC are even more complicated. Duran i Lleida himself describes them as "normal but not warm." Mas’ position – that he shows his confidence by not interfering in how Duran i Lleida manages CiU’s work in the Spanish parliament - is clearly not enough as a base for mutual trust.

With regard to the influence which the CDC core team (nucli de confiança) - often called pinyol - has on Mas, Rahola is able to dispel the myth. It is true that David Madí, Oriol Pujol, Francesc (Quico) Homs, Lluís Corominas and Felip Puig already during Jordi Pujol’s last years as president, acted as a close-knit group which stood out for being well educated, but also independence minded. It is also true that these people - when it looked like Duran i Lledia was about to take over as the common CiU leader - launched Mas at their alternative and promoted his candidacy at the risk of their own positions.

Subsequently, during CiU’s time in opposition, many other party members have preferred to keep a low profile, but pinyol has remained by Mas' side and acted as CDC's public face. This inner team shares that sense of responsibility (responsibilitat) which the object of the book claims to be his major political motivator (although Rahola suggests that the word ambition (ambició) might be more correct). After having talked to everybody involved, Rahola can confirm that if Mas becomes Catalonia's next president, that will largely be pinyol’s merit, but that, at the same time, he is the sole leader - only he is irreplaceable.

The book has also given me a long awaited explanation to why Mas has been so upset for not being allowed to form government. Indeed, as an individual party CiU has won most seats in the latest two Catalan elections, but for myself, used to Swedish coalition governments, that is of little importance since the parties of Tripartit (PSC, ICV-EUiA och ERC) together have an absolute majority. Thanks to Rahola, I now know that both personal values and realpolitik have made this so sensitive.

From an ideological point of wiew, this is an issue about Mas and pinyol being convinced that only they have the interests of Catalonia as their top priority. If you have that belief, it is not only inexcusable but totally incomprehensible that ERC - which wants a sovereign Catalan state - during two terms of office have chosen to support José Montilla’s PSC instead of CiU, especially after the last elections, when ERC throughout the campaign had underlined its Catalan profile.

But which party is to form a government in Catalonia has, as a principle, also been a pawn in a negotiating game. CiU (obviously) thinks that the group with most MPs should always receive the first opportunity. So, in 2005, when Mas and nobody less than José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE) reached an agreement on the wording of the autonomy charter Estatut, the former had made this a condition for a deal, something which the latter is said to have accepted. But afterwards, disappointingly enough for CiU, the Spanish Prime Minister did not demand of PSC to respect that part. And since Mas does not see PSC as an independent party, but only as an extension of PSOE, you can understand that he feels cheated by the socialists.

Now this is, after all, how politics tends to work - it is often ugly! To return to Mas as a person, here he has a weak side which Rahola as well as his colleagues have identified: he is unable to see an opponent's attack or betrayal as a mere political maneuvering, but takes it very personally. Rahola ties up her story by noting that Mas, in fact, does wear a mask - not to hide his own weaknesses, but to protect himself from the shortcomings of the outside world.

With an internal party perspective, Mas has already accomplished quite a few deeds. He has united and created a modern political party of the loosely connected Convergència movement, which many observers predicted to fall apart without Jordi Pujol. And this work started in a critical moment; in 2004, just before CiU - after having had the power for 23 years – would lose it to the first Tripartit government.

Today he has much bigger challenges ahead and since I came here in 2005, I have no own experience of how CiU will take on that role. However, with the economic crisis, the appalling unemployment figures and the Spanish Constitutional Court's dilution of Estatut, Catalonia will have to travel through turbulent waters and needs a visionary leader who can restore confidence. I therefore hope that Felip Puig is right when he tells Rahola that Artur Mas will be even better as a President than he has been as a candidate for that office.


Florenci Salesas said...

A really spectacular post about the book and Mas. Both Rahola and Mas are my cup of tea, but I'm ever interested in amplifying my view about the people who can rule the country. I feel very disappointed by the way the independentist ideal have been split in three or more parties - it seems everyone is moved more by their need to show how long my "instrument" is than to work for that idea - instead to built the unity the larger amount of people is claiming now in Catalonia. I think in Madrid they will be still laughing at that...

About Mas, I still don't know if I dislike him less now that some few years ago. I'm tired by the way things are going now, after all and maybe I'd preffer he will be in power. However, not all the troubles we have aren't because the tripartit fault: now it seems Spain remembered it has the real power. Consequently, it started to use it to cut a lot of our liberties, obtained, most of them, with not so few sneaky movements made by Catalonia, taking proffit at the usual Spanish chaos, I have to admit.

The only thing that's absolutelly true about the future is that, whoever is the person who becomes president, he will have a hard job to put a bit of order to the big mess we have in this moment.

Una abraçada des de Sitges! :)

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Florenci,

Thanks for sharing your opinion. The word I would personally use about the fact that the independentista movement has split into so many fractions is not disappointed, but amazed. I simply cannot understand it.

I am playing with the idea that true Catalans simply hate subordinating themselves, and prefer to be the leader in a party of 4 gats than just another voter for a party of millions. This fractionism simply must say something about the Catalan mentality, but I still do not understand exactly what. ;-)

And in the end, we do not even have to leave Garraf to see this mentality in practise: Sitges is Sitges, Vilanova is Vilanova and the only thing which unites us is that we do not like Vilafranca! ;-)