It’s hard making head nor tail of what is happening in Catalonia and it is easy to place too much faith in the story our media chooses to tell us. I welcome the discussion but take issue with some of Eli Rubies’ opinions, namely that the justice system in Spain is “clearly flawed” and that the pro-independence leaders were “committed to a peaceful democratic process”.
Spain is a democratic country that follows the rule of law. We hold our governments and public officers to account and citizens’ rights are upheld and protected. It is wrong of the media to misrepresent Spain as a repressive regime. The Catalan independence leaders were not put on trial for expressing their political ideas but rather for their criminal conduct (as set out in the statutes and against the rule of law). Despite repeated warnings and rulings, they persisted in their intent, repealing the Spanish constitution in Catalonia, depriving Catalans of their rights as Spanish citizens and disobeying rulings from the constitutional court.
It is not an extravagance of the Spanish constitution to enshrine the preservation of its national sovereignty and the integrity of its territory. Most other European constitutions are alike. Not a single government worldwide recognised the 2017 illegitimate referendum nor its purported outcome.
To this day, any organisation or person advocating independence for any Spanish territory is free to speak out and express their ideas through the proper channels of regional and central parliaments, including the European Parliament. The Spanish Supreme Court has every right and obligation to defend the rule of law and democracy in Spain and the Catalan independence leaders failed to respect these legal frameworks which are there for the protection of all citizens.
The pro-independence parties in Catalonia are composed of far left, far-right and straight out anti-establishment parties, who have come together so they can form a majority in Catalonia (by the narrowest of margins and helped by a historical electoral hang-up which gives some Catalans the equivalent of a double vote) to push forward with their common goal of making Catalonia an independent nation, regardless of the economic case against it. They have spent decades trying to subvert the democratic process in Catalonia. In the Catalan Parliament, not long after the illegal referendum on Catalonian independence was held in October 2017, the pro-independence politicians, led by Puigdemont, quashed all parliamentary debate and made a unilateral declaration of independence with no legitimate mandate and in full breach of their own government statutes (not for the first time and with half of the Catalan parliament silenced and forced to leave their seats). They further encouraged civil disobedience by instructing the Catalan police force, the Mossos, to disobey orders from central government; a crossing of the Rubicon.
Catalonia is one of the most prosperous regions in Europe and certainly the most autonomous. There is absolutely no repression coming from central government. They have their own parliament their own judiciary, their own police force, their own healthcare, their own media and their own education curriculum in which the Spanish language is taught for only two hours a week, on a par with any other foreign language. For the last twenty-five years they have had every concession imaginable short of fracturing the Spanish union (a major constitutional event which would require following the proper channels and the requisite majority). Puigdemont, now in hiding, and his fellow politicians and activists, shouted very publicly before the world’s media that all they wanted was a dialogue, a platform on which to air their grievances, when in reality they had but one aim in mind and their legitimate grievances were no different to those of any other autonomous governments in Spain suffering under austerity measures or objecting to the corruption scandals that are rife among Catalan pro-independence politicians.
The pro-independence ideology has nothing to do with inequality in society, but supporters exploit these in order to agitate and drum-up resentment and perceived repression where none exists. They are an organisation which promotes, among other things, an idealised Nation of Catalonia stretching to the Balearic Islands and parts of France (without their sanction or support) and the radical and deluded idea that the Catalan DNA is different to the rest of Spain’s (there is variation, but not any more significant than the differences between other populations on the Iberian Peninsula). They do this through the dissemination of leaflets and posters paid for by the taxpayer, distastefully reminiscent of fascist identity-based racism.
They do not represent most Catalans, who claim they have been silenced and disregarded, and who live in fear of reprisals in the streets, their workplaces and schools for daring to disagree with pro-independence thugs. In October 2017, the ‘silenced majority’ came out in the hundreds of thousands across Catalonia and Spain, with one million people in the streets of Barcelona alone, to protest against the illegal and rigged referendum (lacking all electoral rigour and where children and pensioners were used as human shields) and the unilateral declaration of independence. They described the pro-independence movement as akin to a sect and spoke of decades of propaganda, dissemination of false information, indoctrination in schools, revisionist history, infiltration and purges of any dissenting voice in their media and public institutions. For years, academics and journalists speaking frankly about all these abuses and the deleterious effects of independence reported being threatened, insulted, stoned and spat at in the streets. The protesters lamented the rifts caused within families and friendships and called for unity.
Like Eli Rubies, I stand for democracy and people having an equal voice and vote and I find the use of excessive police force abhorrent. The Catalan government has launched the largest ever investigation into the Catalan police force’s actions during the recent public disturbances.
Eli Rubies is right to point out that these disturbances are caused by a minority of radicalised youths who do not represent the more peaceful pro-independence supporters, and to worry about people turning to violence. Unfortunately, scenes of excessive police force play into the hands of the pro-independence side because they are enough for people to lose their trust in the Spanish government. But we must look behind the veil; one wrong does not negate another. The leaders of the pro-independence movement have no place denouncing the Spanish government’s undemocratic behaviour or judicial system when they themselves have spent so many years agitating, promoting divisive policies and systematically undermining democracy and freedom of speech in Catalonia. The Spanish government has indeed made a serious mistake in dealing with Catalonia’s independence movement, but the mistake was one of permissive negligence and it started decades ago. They should have intervened sooner.