There was a demo in Palma on Saturday. The police reckoned that around 500 people took part. It was a protest against the Sánchez administration’s handling of the crisis. The resignation of the government was demanded.
So far, so understandable and also reasonable. There is a right to protest, while it certainly isn’t the case that there has been universal support for the government’s Covid measures. Given the extreme circumstances of the crisis, its impact on individuals, on businesses, on society makes it unthinkable that there could be such a level of support. Protest is justifiable, but the extent to which protest is overtly political dilutes its message through the alienation of what might otherwise be a sympathetic public. Moreover, when this protest is also used for purposes which are seemingly divorced from its aim, the disconnect is only heightened.
It’s inevitable that Covid is politicised, but it has been to such a degree that does some government opponents little credit, and the same can be said for some of the government’s supporters. The rhetoric is often infantile, characterised - for instance - by lazy jibes of “communists” or “fascists”, depending on which side is making the jibes. Lazy but also demagogic, as with Vox denouncing “criminal negligence”.
There are grounds for a serious debate about the handling, but such debate is made implausible by the invasion of ideologies that cannot, for one moment, contemplate shades of grey. It’s black and white, with these colours reversible, again depending on which side.
The Palma protest was organised by the Foro Baleares, a right-wing organisation (some would say far right). Members of Vox took part, albeit in personal capacities. As such, therefore, the demo was as much a manifestation of political ideology as it was any indignation with the handling of the crisis. And therein lies the rub. The ideology determines the expression of indignation, which was also an assertion of Spain’s nationhood. There is thus a conflation of issues, which should be mutually exclusive and yet manage to be combined. Overtly politicised? Unquestionably.
Having briefly detained themselves by threatening to burn a pro-independence flag draped from a balcony (which quite possibly had been draped as a provocation), the protesters ended their march outside the government’s Consolat de Mar headquarters. In addressing the protesters, the president of Foro Baleares, Sergio Bota (a youthful figure in his early twenties), referred to September 12 (the date of the march) having been the original Majorca Day. It was changed “by the Armengol Catalanist government”.
Setting aside the fact that I don’t think this was strictly accurate - it was the Council of Majorca who changed it - what did the date of Majorca Day have to do with a protest against the Spanish government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis? Nothing whatsoever, but here was a further example of how the issues become intertwined. Irrelevant the reference may have been, but it was perfectly relevant in the context of the political nature of the protest.
Any notion of there being consensus as to how to move forward in dealing with the virus can be forgotten. Consensus rarely exists at the best of times, but in these worst of times, it was more or less present very briefly (at the start of the state of alarm), only to be abandoned - as could have been anticipated - in the flurry of increasingly divisive politicking, some of which has wrapped itself in the Spanish flag and voiced that only through an advocacy of staunch Spanish unity (and a highly conservative unity at that) can there possibly be a solution.
While Congress has managed to disgrace itself on occasions (both the right and the left), we now have the return of the Balearic parliament and what will be the impossibility of achieving Francina Armengol’s always-wished-for consensus. The virus, it might be said, is highly consensual. It is ultra-democratic, showing favour to no political ideology. Such a broad church of infection and of the consequent effects, in all manner of ways, should demand a similarly unified response. But this is not feasible, for unity carries its different flags and waves its multiple banners in the espousal of policy driven by the insidious incursion of past wars now being reenacted in the name of public health and of economic reconstruction.
Even before the various parties started to gather for the new parliamentary season, one could write their scripts, with the right - the furthest right - prioritising the downfall of the Armengol government in much the same way as it longs to topple Sánchez and his communist partners. Debate can therefore not be serious for what is such a serious situation. It is not achievable because ideologies and their explicit manifestation make it unachievable.
Humility and tolerance should have been virtues discovered amidst the calamity. Not a chance.