Power, populism and mirror games
7 de febrero de 2020

I came across a thought-provoking graph today. It showed the evolution of the issues that concerned the British. And it is curious how, in 2016, suddenly and without any changes, the concern for the European Union (EU) as a problem is triggered. At the same time, and as if by magic, the concern about immigration, which was at a high level, collapsed.

By scratching a little, you can understand this amazing change. In the UK, taking away the most dynamic areas, the growing presence of immigrants (from inside and outside the EU) was constantly growing and causing problems, both because of their lack of integration (in the case of Islam) and because of the fierce competition for less qualified jobs (in the case of Eastern Europeans). In other words, for millions of Britons this immigration was worrying (and they were not convinced by the data on their role in the economic expansion experienced during those years, because they, in particular, did not benefit from it).

The reaction was the emergence and consolidation of xenophobic parties which, little by little, put the EU in the spotlight as the defender of everything that forced them to accept change. Not only did UKIP do this, but, in the end, the Conservative party itself, whose nationalist wing was never fond of it.

From this breeding ground, the campaign against the EU was born, which is identified with the evils of immigration, transfers to other countries, or limitations on British human or labour rights legislation. Real concern was used to whip up the population against something they did not perceive as a problem.

A real concern was used to stir up the population against something they did not perceive as a problem

If we go to a closer case, we will see how the feeling of independence is exacerbated in Catalonia as a result of the economic crisis. The nationalist governments are not very effective in making things dynamic, but they are very effective in blaming the problems on a supposed flight of money to the rest of Spain. Espanya ens roba’ translates the unease with the crisis and its injustices into discontent with the constitutional framework, thanks to the «Catalan space for communication» that spreads the message.

And, if we want an even closer example, we have that of a similar campaign that redirected the massive citizen discontent for institutions that neither function well nor reform towards a symbolic persecution and burning of the alleged cause. That would not be the sectarian and corrupt bipartisanship, nor its connivance with nationalisms, but the ghost of Francoism.

All three cases have a lot in common. One, they depend on the use of huge and ruthless media artillery (with reality, among other things). Another, that they are driven by authority. And the third, that they do not solve the problem, but create an additional one.

The departure from the EU helps Boris Johnson, but it does not limit the arrival of non-EU citizens, nor the demand for qualified workers. Nor the need to conform to standards that the EU requires of all suppliers.

The unilateral declaration of independence or the «botifarréndum» put the nationalists in power, but does not give them the control they want. Nor do they allow them to solve the problems of funds in health or dependency, or to improve their competition against the seriousness of Madrid.

And blaming the ghost of Francoism for the degradation of democracy has allowed Sánchez to be elected as a regenerative democrat, but in return has delegitimized the institutions in the eyes of many, many people, and has not resolved any of their difficulties.

In all three cases, the population has been lied to from the control of the media in order to avoid responsibility for a problem and to gain a foothold in power. In all three cases, this use of false enemies will leave serious marks and victims.

Populism is not an insurgent tactic, but one that deploys power to perpetuate itself. And then, it becomes much more difficult to fight.

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