On Christmas Eve, a good friend told me an old joke to describe British self-possession. A lord who is about to leave his mansion for a weekend of fishing is stopped by his butler who, frightened, tells him that his factory is burning down. And the lord replies, undaunted: “I´ll be so upset on Monday when I get back from fishing!” The joke seemed to me entirely appropriate to the dramatic climax that was building up around the CUP assembly that was scheduled for the day after St. Steven´s Day. Another “historic” day– I´ve already lost count– that would determine the future of the entire nation, now supposedly left in the hands of some “radicals” that had kidnapped democracy. Too overblown to be true.
THIS EVENT coincided with a conversation with another friend who talked to me about a historian who was so fixated on the study of ancient times that she only read the newspapers that had been accumulating once a month. This made her realize to what point that emergencies of the day, the expectations about a specific event, what would become a historic before and after, melted away like a snowball when only thirty days of perspective were added. The “all or nothings”, the “now or nevers”, the “definitive ends”, or the “beginnings of a new era”, after just thirty days, made her laugh. It is not the events themselves that give them their importance, but rather our impatient expectations that are driven by attempts — often desperate– to predict the future.
HERE WE HAVE, then, a couple of opportune anecdotes to end a politically hectic year, yes, but one that leaves us with the same uncertainty that we began with. The road to independence, which we have dubbed “the process”, has instead become a race against the clock. The problem isn´t that we´ve been in a hurry– which we have–, but that we moved too fast. The mistake has been in interpreting the process as antagonistic, like a life-or-death struggle. In part, this is because we responded to the apocalyptic threats of our adversary, who, wanting to stop the demonstrations, only fanned the flames. In part, it is due to the fact of not trusting enough in the ability of democratic institutions to finish the job, something that caused us to vote in a strange way. In part, still, there is difficulty in understanding that the structural weakness of the sovereignty movement can only be resolved with cunning and not with blustering.
THE CASE OF THE CUP ASSEMBLY on December 27th (27-D), once you get past the irritation and jokes it caused, should be seen as a great lesson for everyone. With perspective, neither 9-N, 27-S, 20-D, nor 27-D have been decisive at all. They have been milestones that have generated major fights over interpretation, but without the ability to change the state of things. The step from popular demonstrations to their institutional realization, the only thing that can democratically validate secessionist aspirations, is enormously complex. I have always denounced the risk of trusting everything to enthusiasm, a state of mind that I detest. The virtues that the independence movement should now be cultivating are the strength, perseverance, and prudence needed to calm tempers and act intelligently. Whatever happens, neither January 2nd nor January 10th will be decisive; neither will any hypothetical elections in March. New uncertainties, equally great or more so, will arise the day after any of these dates. And so on, up to the great final challenge, the riskiest of all: building the free, just, and prosperous country to which many aspire. Great expectations are not deserved — you have to know how to earn them.