Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two photographs that will mark the future of Catalan politics

by Vicent Partal. Originally published in VilaWeb on December 14, 2013.

Taken within a week of each other, the juxtaposition of the photograph of Pere Navarro (Catalan Socialist Party) with the Spanish rightist parties with that of photo of the parties announcing the pact on the referendum perfectly outlines the current political scenario

Josh King wrote a book years ago titled Dukakis and the Tank in which he analyzes the history of the relationship between politics and photographs. The title refers to the devastating photograph of the former governor of Massachusetts that wrecked his presidential campaign against Bush Sr. Photographs, according to King, can send more powerful messages than speeches.

A bad photograph in particular can ruin an entire political career or put that person's capabilities in doubt. In our country, the famous photograph of a smiling Josep Lluís Carod Rivera (Catalan Republican Left) while posed with a crown of thorns in Jerusalem while being photographed by President Maragall played a significant role in constructing a certain negative image of the then vicepresident. Just like the famous photo of Francisco Camps with Rita Barberà in the Ferrari [both of Valencia People's Party]. Now, within a few days of each other, two photographs have framed the change in the political era that we have begun to feel in the Principality [of Catalonia].

On December 5, like every year, the controversial delegate of the Spanish government in Catalonia, María de los Llanos de Luna, held a public event in the delegation's headquarters to commemorate the Spanish Constitution. The PP and Ciutadans parties were longtime attendees at this event, which was systematically avoided by the rest of the Catalan political forces. This year, however, the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, Pere Navarro, decided to go. Former presidents Montilla and Maragall (both Socialists) had never attended but nevertheless he went and found himself in the photograph. With a glass of sparkling cava in his hand, a smiling Navarro posed with Alicia Sánchez Camacho, Llanos de Luna, and Albert Rivera. The impact was immediate.

Navarro, Rivera, Sànchez Camacho and Llanos de Luna

Twitter and Facebook were flooded with surprise and outrage. Many socialists expressed their annoyance with a photograph that added to the Catalan political conversation an image of the socialists in the hands of the Spanish right. The truth is the scene was more complicated than that. Navarro wasn't sure whether to join the toast and it was Camacho who pulled him in and put him in front of the camera. The head of the PSC, however, didn't know how to react. In most of the photographs, his body language reveals his discomfort: he is in one corner of the image while Llanos de Luna and Sànchez Camacho take up most of the center of the image. But the result is complete and devastating: PSC joins the pro-Spanish front and subjects its opinions to the People's Party. Navarro left the Spanish government delegation building quickly, just after the photo was taken, surely without realizing the impact it would have.

Just one week later, at about the same time of day, the counter-photograph emerged. The leaders of CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA and the CUP appeared together solemnly in the Palace of the Generalitat [Seat of Catalan Government] to announce the agreement on the referendum. They filed out from the office of the president and assembled behind the podium adorned with the official seal of the Generalitat. The president's head of protocol slightly reorganized the order of those on the right side of the photograph—curiously, the representatives of the leftist parties. In the front row were a few chairs in which were seated some of the heavyweights in the president's office, including Jordi Vilajoana. Behind were dozens of photographers and cameramen ready to capture an undoubtedly historic moment. The Catalanist bloc had achieved the photo, and further displaced Pere Navarro and the PSC who now found themselves linked with the extreme right and far away from the solemn political unity underscored by the Gothic Hall in which the announcement was given.

Catalan Parties come to agreement on Referendum question

Curiously enough, at the same time, Navarro himself was just a few yards away, in the Plaça Sant Jaume, oblivious to what was going on inside the Generalitat and the redoubled effect that the new photograph would have on him. Now it wasn't just a question of what he was doing in the first photo, but how it was that he wasn't in the second one.

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