Political negotiation in Catalonia

Taula de negociació
Dialogue table

Maria Munné Tomàs, Director at Master of Professional Mediation

The organization of the joint meeting between opposing parties, in negotiations with a high level of conflict, such as the table of negotiation or dialogue table between the Spanish government and the Catalan must be thoroughly prepared. All elements are important, even meeting time, the number of participants in the negotiation, the participants themselves, the role they will play and the strategies they will follow, among others.

Conflict Analysis is one of the primordial elements to be known. What level of conflict am I with the counterpart? How has the tension between us escalated? What elements have played on this escalation?

Mediators, in individual sessions with each part separately, usually present a model for the assessment of the scale of the conflict, with the goal that the parties identify the level where they believe they are and can assess the time and effort to be invested in de-scale the situation.

The escalation of the conflict presented by the Danish Center for Conflict Resolution group is a simple example of understanding and applying in many situations.

Conflict escalation
Font: TinTank for the Danish Center for Conflict Resolution

As you can see, the basis of the figure's scale represents a moment where you can still not talk about conflict, but disavowment or disagreement. At this level we may disagree with a person with whom we have a very good relationship.

If we go up one more step, it means that the conflict is already personifying the counterpart. Let's move on from the refusal to point a culprit. It's not that we think differently, but the other one is to blame. Is the personification of the conflict.

One step up begins to expand the conflict. It's to think it's not the first time we've ever had it and we're not the only ones who have problems with these people.

In the fourth step the dialogue is impossible. It is claimed that speaking will not make any difference, as with people like this one cannot argue, it would be of no use.

The start of the dialogue table must be the recognition of the other, working to reduce depersonalization

If we keep rising we get to depersonalization, identifying people with the flaws that we have found they have. We don't see Teresa anymore, we see her meannes, we no longer see the boys in the neighbourhood, we see the discomfort they cause, we no longer see the gypsies, we see the thieves, we no longer see the Catalans, the Spaniards... We only see the stereotypes, prejudices, contemptuous characteristics of the other. We take part for the whole.

Up the scale at this point we keep depersonating. Depersonalizing the other, I depersonalize myself and allow me to destroy the opposite. We get the idea that the end justifies the means. We are starting to take action that we would never do if we were not at this stage of escalation and that we would possibly find unjustifiable and immoral outside the conflicting context. Crimes and criminal acts are justified and are worthy, using all the power and resources that each party has. When we have abandoned ethics, disconnected from reality, using violence, to the last step with polarization, where the other one is truly the enemy.

Descale polarization

Talk among us in the situation we are living in, here and now, makes negotiation very difficult. However, there is the possibility of raising it, as there is no uniform situation and not everyone, either individually or grouply, is so polarized.

We must go down everything that we climbed up. Dublicity and contradiction must be allowed about the very look of the situation, the same actions making self-critical and thinking about the destructive consequences of following polarization.

This is the first job that the parties must do together, see how this situation has been reached and start listening.

The situation of the conflict in our home, even though it has been altered by the global pandemic, remains of great tension, violence and perverse use of power. A baroque demonstration of the misuse of power is to deny the conflict by claiming its non-existence. This negationist demonstration of the conflict, claiming it is imagined, that it is a false problem resulting from manipulation by some, is the worst way to manage a conflict, as with negation you cannot work out a conflict.

The negationist demonstration of the conflict, claiming it is a false problem resulting from manipulation by some, is the worst way to handle a conflict, as with negation you cannot work out a conflict.

We must be aware, therefore, that we are facing a distorted negotiation, where we cannot apply negotiating rules to position in one privileged space before the other.

It has reached confrontation to the point of depersonification of the other. Therefore, the start of the dialogue table must be the recognition of the other, work to reduce depersonalization, giving nature letters to each party. This distortion of reality ends up generating a lot of aggression and therefore manifest violence.

Then, too often we have seen that dialogue and understanding, if one can ever give it is usually one time there has been destruction, as happened in the war in Yugoslavia. Where the neighbours had to agree, in mediation spaces, to abandon hostility and start agreeing not to kill themselves, so that they could live side by side. The civilian population had to do so with the help of foreign powers. Refusing negotiation and mediation meant extermination as the only possibility.

In our case, the negotiation must recognise that it does not state that the deterioration is already taking place and that the very long time it has taken is not counted in different ways. Negotiators must officially and publicly initiate the negotiation process which aims to improve our current situation.

To protect this course of improvement, the confidentiality and privacy of meetings must be guaranteed and only information agreed in the same negotiation must be transmitted. This is the only way to arouse genuine interest from all those who may feel involved and mitigate interference with the purpose of destroying peaceful spaces.