Catalan civil society

Last Sunday marked six months since the 1 October referendum in Catalonia descended into violence as the Spanish police forces – the Policía Nacional, the National Police (PN) and the Guardia Civil, Civil Guard (GC) – tried, and failed, to stop it by force. The Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s very ‘own’ autonomic police force, celebrated the ignominious half-year anniversary a week early by laying into the crowds they were preventing from demonstrating outside the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona. The supporters of Article 155 – the Partido Popular, the Popular Party (PP), the Partido Socialista Obrero Español, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the Ciudadanos, the Citizens (Cs) – marked the day with silence regarding the events of 1 October (1-O). They claim it was, and is, the rule of law, and that the anti-democracy here is separatist. 1 April was also the 79th anniversary of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s nationalist army victory in the Spanish Civil War.

This tripartite political alliance, PP/PSOE/Cs, supports Societat Civil Catalana, Catalan Civil Society (SCC), born out of far-right Somatemps in 2014. Its name shouts grassroots, ordinary people, workers, regular citizens, civic groups, and it’s a big fat lie. Both Cs and SCC were reactions, built from the top down. SCC’s rallies were always rag-tag, improvised affairs, plagued with far-right symbology, salutes and chants, until the big-budget post-referendum production of 2017. They were never an occasional public manifestation of constant purposeful activity. SCC is an anti-movement, like Cs is an anti-party. Both are supported by a range of Spanish unionists and nationalists, from ‘moderate’ liberals to died-in-the-wool fascists; even Nazis. Both are obscurely financed and have undergone reinventions in an attempt to hide their connections to, and support from, the far-right.

Because SCC lacks a truly cohesive social mass, because it isn’t actually a thing, it can’t keep up. Secessionist Catalan civil society is characterised by ever-growing array of associative activity between, apart from, and over and above simple demonstrations, although they did manage to join Catalonia top to bottom and have attracted 1-2 million people to their 11 September commemorations every year since 2012, which have been as peaceful as they’ve been spectacular. SCC was founded in 2014 as the anti-Assemblea Nacional Catalana, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). However, ANC has never been all there is to it.

ANC was founded in 2011 and has grown at a vertiginous pace, but Òmnium Cultural has been around since the 1960s and has also grown enormously since 2011. This growth reflected ever-growing grassroots support for the independence of Catalonia, and the imprisonment on remand of their respective leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, on sedition charges reflects the importance the Spanish government gives to the two pacific organisations. It was the next step in the Spanish government’s ‘lawfare’ strategy, its executive and legislative branches using its judicial branch to first ‘decapitate’ the pro-independence movement, and then work its way down. At the same time they’ve been systematically misusing the euphemistically named Ley Orgánica de protección de la seguridad ciudadana, Citizen Security Protection Law, a.k.a. the Ley Mordaza, or Gag Law, as well as hate crime legislation – designed to protect minorities – to repress and limit the freedoms of speech, association and assembly from the bottom up. How long will it take for the Spanish State’s top-and-bottom strategy of lawfare to meet in the middle? When legal action and intimidation has touched at least 2 million lives? It’s an insane strategy designed to grind the secessionist movement into submission.

It hasn’t just been ANC and Òmnium either. We shouldn’t forget the Associació de Municipis per la Independència, the Association of Councils for Independence (AMI), the myriad other civil and cultural associations, or the innumerable new initiatives from groups of citizens that make up the ever-evolving secessionist movement. The Comités per la Defensa de la República, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) were formed to defend the referendum and have stayed on, garnering ever greater support. Their reason for being is to provide more proactive resistance to the onslaught from the Spanish State and, though they are as avowedly non-violent as all the secessionist collectives, they take direct action. The Spanish authorities now have them in their sights and are pushing the ‘violent separatist’ narrative for all it’s worth. Remember, in this narrative, the possibility of future violence is enough for rebellion or sedition to exist, even if that violence is ultimately meted out by the Spanish or Catalan forces of law and order.

What this means is that the grassroots secessionist movement is still there, and perhaps growing, but it’s different now. The main secessionist civil organisations and political parties are creaking under the relentless ‘legal’ pressure from the Spanish government and its allies in their application of Article 155, but there’s more civil activity than ever. Actual Catalan civil society is forward-looking and has been peacefully going about building a republic despite the ‘legal’ impediments, despite the trauma of the past six months, while SCC and tripartite unionism occasionally and passively defend the deeply corrupt status quo, this Constitutional monarchy, or promote a return to an inglorious, more Spanish, past; more of the same, or worse. They believe in the unity of Spain whatever the cost to democracy, separation of powers, human rights and basic freedoms.

It is reaction, negation and destruction versus non-violent action, construction, creation and association. I know whose side I’m on, and its logo doesn’t look like a patriotic turd.

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