Viva 155! RIP Democracy
The heat has been turned up on the Catalan pressure cooker again. After five months of phony unionist insistence, Catalonia has a new president and a new government, but its make-up has immediately been rejected by the Partido Popular (PP) government and its supporters – the Partido Socialista Obrero Española (PSOE) and Ciudadanos (Cs). The application of Article 155 has been extended and direct rule will remain in place. The Spanish government’s track record in disregarding democratic procedures and their results meant that this was expected, but that does not make it legal. An undeclared state of emergency exists in Spain.
According to the Spanish government, president Quim Torra’s naming of two politicians currently in prison awaiting trial, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull, and of two others in exile, Toni Comín and Lluís Puig, is a ‘provocation’. The Spanish government is entitled to its opinion, but the appointments are not illegal and cannot justify the continued application of Article 155. In Catalonia, there is a new government with the same bittersweet aftertaste as 10 October’s declaration of independence and simultaneous imposition of direct rule.
This is just the latest, the umpteenth, example of the legal abuse suffered in Spain in recent years, with an obvious intensification in Catalonia since last summer. Quim Torra’s appointment and then the naming of his cabinet have brought two communiqués full of threats. Not publishing the appointments in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE) – the State’s official gazette – has been described as anything from abuse of the law to another consummation of Spain’s coup d’état in Catalonia, the last time being the neutering of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2010.
So it is official, the abuse will continue in all strata of Catalan society; it will come from Spanish unionist leaders, the Spanish media; it will fill social media and the streets; and it will continue to be barbarous, phobic and mendacious. Toxic unionist propaganda resonates in many a Spanish ear, rouses the basest of nationalist passions and most importantly wins votes. Article 155’s ‘any measures necessary’ means that, until the government in Madrid likes what it sees, which everyone knows will be never, direct rule of Catalonia will not be lifted. This is the bottom line. Everything else is pantomime.
Every wave of repression has been cheered on by an ever larger and more united unionist bloc that now comprises the full political spectrum of national parties, and is accompanied by a mediastorm from statewide news services. Every country needs politicians prepared to go to jail for what they believe in. In Catalonia, everyone is conscious that to seek office is to risk legal persection and perhaps imprisonment. For the many foibles these politicians may have, perhaps it is unfair to be too critical.
This government has been greeted with disappointment in various pro-independence factions, but it was always going to be a charade. The ‘government for 100% of Catalans’ and prohibition of ‘dirty candidates’ are rhetorical devices. There has never been a government for 100% of any country’s population and these candidates have been tarnished by false accusations from a puppet judiciary and have yet to be tried. They are innocent until proven guilty, and as such there is no legal impediment to their taking office. The candidates’ appropriacy is being decided upon in the Moncloa and an office in the Supreme Court.
The results of the referendum held on 1 October and the regional elections on 21 December were clear. Blocking candidacies for politicians on trumped up rebellion charges, but guilty of nothing in either a legal or real sense, reveals the Spanish government and its allies’ contempt for democracy. That the Spanish State has refused to do dialogue or politics with the Catalan government since 2010 goes some way to explaining the massive rise in support for self-determination and the right to decide.
Since last summer, Spanish unionism has been giving Catalonia and the Catalans a beating; wave after wave of propaganda and repression. Spanish unionism and Spanish nationalism are united and almost unanimous. Left and right, old and new, they form a formidable anti-democratic bloc. While Operation Stop Catalonia has limitless funding, it pores over accounts unable to find evidence of the slightest misuse of public funds.
On the investiture of Quim Torra as the 131st president of Catalonia, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his government initially took the position that they would reapply Article 155 at the slightest sign of wrongdoing – in their opinion – from the new Catalan government. However, the week long battle of Spanish nationalist strongman oneupmanship between Albert Rivera, leader of Ciudadanos, and Pedro Sánchez, leader of PSOE left him looking weak in Spanish eyes, and he has been forced to give up any pretence of leading a fully democratic country.
In Spain, everyone is accustomed to PSOE’s anti-Catalanism, in particular that of its barons: Felipe González, Alfonso Guerra, José Bono, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra and Josep Borrell. There is always a Catalan. Spanish nationalists from Catalonia are always hardliners. Historically speaking, there is little to choose between the PSOE and PP brands of anti-Catalanism, aside from the false ray of hope offered by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero regarding the Catalan Statute. Zapatero is now a fully paid-up member of the barons’ club and PSOE’s much questioned leader is taking an increasingly hard line on the Catalan situation.
On admitting the deficiencies of the rebellion law – the prerequisite of violence – Sánchez proposed adapting the penal code rather than releasing the falsely imprisoned. He shouted ‘Torra is a xenophobe’ as loudly, if not louder, than anyone else, even Albert Rivera. He also managed a ‘Torra is Le Pen’ metaphor, particularly dubious considering Le Pen’s declared pro-unionist views and links to xenophobic Spanish nationalist groups. Facts, however, should never be allowed to get in the way of a good Spanish nationalist narrative. PSOE ex-minister Blanco actually called for Inés Arrimadas to be installed as president of the Generalitat, which would also be illegal. Miquel Iceta, Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) leader, has already admitted that it is not illegal to nominate remanded or exiled candidates, just unwise as it will annoy the Moncloa and friends. As ever, it is the victim’s fault in Spain, for provoking the aggressor, and the rule of law is only for some.
Rivera has spent the week trying to outdo the overexcited Sánchez, calling for extended and stricter direct rule involving seizure of the Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals – the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation (TV3, CatRadio, etc) – and control of the Catalan school system, the much hated but rather successful bastions of Catalan culture and language. José Ignacio Wert’s mission to ‘hispanicise the Catalans’ via a now obrogated education law ultimately failed. To now modify the Catalan education system via the backdoor using Article 155 would, of course, also be illegal. He also has the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force, in his sights. – Rivera added his vociferous voice to the chorus of ‘xenophobe’ and ‘supremacist’ on countless occasions.
Ciudadanos ended the weekend launching a civil organisation called España Ciudadana – Spanish Citizenry. Yes, that is correct. A political party has launched a grassroots civil organisation, and included its own name in the title. Ciudadanos’ populism is of the more shameless variety. This platform will promote ‘pride in feeling Spanish’ and a Spain that is One, Great and Free. It is Societat Civil Catalana (SCC) for Spain, and, like SCC, it is Spanish nationalist with a far-right anti-Catalan heart. The choices of names for Spain’s new right appropriate the nomenclature of grassroots activism despite having nothing to do with grassroots activism or civil society: Ciutadans/Ciudadanos – Citizens, Societat Civil Catalana – Catalan Civil Society, España Ciudadana – Spanish Citizenry. España Ciudadana‘s mission statement sounds just like José Antonio Primo de Rivera’s Twenty-Six Point Manifesto of the Spanish Falange.
Even Podemos, its leaders and supporters, offer no succour and no resistance, no respite from the repression or hope for the future. Their argument is that Podemos is an anti-nationalist party and that part of the secessionist movement comes from the traditional Catalan centre-right. Gone are leader Pablo Iglesias’ winks and nods towards left-wing Catalan secessionists and the possibility of allowing a referendum. Gone is the ‘Long live a free and sovereign Catalonia’ of last year’s Diada, National Day of Catalonia. It is the Podemos cop-out and it has not helped them in the Spanish opinion polls, where nationally the party now lies fourth.
Pablo Echenique, Podemos representative in the Aragon Court, published a tweet celebrating Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s diverse Spanish origins and implying that they were a problem for many Catalans. In doing so he jumped on the lynching bandwagon and insulted all those Catalans with non-Catalan family or ancestors who have no problem with either Colau’s racial make-up or Catalan secessionism, a significant part of the Catalan population. Echenique was some years ago a Ciudadanos voter affiliated to the party after going through what he described as a ‘neoliberal phase’.
The excavation of politicians’ past social media posts and unguarded scribblings also embarrassed another Podemos politician, En Comú-Podem‘s Elisenda Alamany: ‘the Spanish continue to fuck us every which way,’ she once said. She apologised for having been so off-message before she ever knew she would go into politics or have a party line to follow. En Comú-Podem‘s leader in the Catalan parliament, Xavier Domènech, repeated the ‘xenophobe’ and ‘supremacist’ disqualifications of Torra during the investiture debate and was much applauded, including by founder of Spanish ultranationalist organisation Somatemps and ex-leader of SCC, Josep Ramon Bosch. Skeletons in closets and ideological flexibility are common in Spanish politics, and gradual migrations from far-left to far-right not unknown. Carlos Girauta, Albert Rivera’s henchman in Congress has been a militant in PSOE, PP and now Ciudadanos, the only constant his rabid anti-Catalanism, Spain’s most unifying force.
And lest we forget, mention must be made of VOX, the final political party in the unionist bloc. Founded by former PP politicians, the unrepresented far-right ultranationalist, truly xenophobic party is responsible for the private prosections against all pro-independence politicians and civil leaders. They also sent a letter to the Schleswig-Holstein court dealing with Spain’s request for the extradition of former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, currently in exile in Germany, urging the court to reconsider its rejection of the charge of rebellion and pointing out the similarities between Puigdemont and, you guessed it, Hitler. VOX are the legal backup, performing the role of far-right ‘union’ Manos Limpias – Clean Hands – whose leader, Miguel Bernad Remón, was convicted of extorsion and fraud. The party also seeks the illegalisation of secessionist Catalan parties.
The political forces ranged against the Catalan government are potent and Catalan secessionist parties have no support from any of the national parties. They swim against an ever stronger tide that threatens to drown them. The obstacles placed in the way of the formation of a government in Catalonia since the imposed regional election on 21 December last year reveal the Spanish State’s will to avoid relinquishing any control of Catalonia, no matter what the damage to Spain’s image. The pro-independence parties’ candidate lists were accepted by the Spanish government, but the resultant parliamentary majority they gained was the wrong result for Spanish unionism, so it was met with mockery in the form of racist identitary myth, Tabarnia, in the same way that the formation of a government five months later has been met with an extension of the Catalan independentistm = Nazism ranting and raving.
So Catalonia will limp along with a hobbled government because Spanish unionism will not accept defeat, and the Catalan people will try to get on with their associative activism as their powerless politicians, under constant threat of legal action, try to produce legislation that everyone knows will be struck down by the Constitutional Court, the same body that snipped at the Catalan Statute of Autonomy until there was very little left of it in 2010.
* * *
Before deciding to extend direct rule, unionism was first quick to criminalise and disqualify the new president Torra on the grounds of a series of tweets and articles in which Quim Torra, the Catalanist writer, made the elementary mistake of generalising about ‘the Spanish’. Everybody everywhere should be conscious of the dangers of ever starting a sentence ‘the Xs are…’. Although Torra rightly apologised for the looseness of his prose, the lynching was already underway. At the same time, one should also be aware of the dangers of taking what interested politicians and partisan journalists have taken out of context and of taking their assertions at face value. The agreed unionist narrative is that Quim Torra is a xenophobe, Podemos included. Spanish nationalists screaming blue murder about ‘xenophobia’ is one of those examples of cognitive dissonance that adds yet another surreal element to the conflict.
In La llengua i les bèsties – The Language and the Beasts – Torra plays the ‘intellectual hooligan’ denouncing the catalanophobia of many Spanish monolinguists in Catalonia. In the piece he cites a fellow traveller discomfited by the use of Catalan aboard a flight in vitriolic terms. “They are among us. They are repulsed by any expression of Catalanism. It is a sick phobia. There is something of Freud in these beasts, a rough patch in their DNA,” he wrote. The language is undoubtedly unpleasant, but is hardly xenophobic according to any dictionary definition. It could, at a stretch, be considered hispanophobic.
It is also true that this woman exists, and many others like her. Torra did not name her or publish her photo. He used her rabid catalanophobia as emblematic of a very real attitude to the Catalan language in Catalonia itself. Many reactions to Torra’s 2012 opinion article plumbed further phobic depths. Among others, ABC journalist, Hermann Tertsch, published a photo of Torra and family, mocking his daughter who has a disability on the grounds that this showed genetic inferiority, as opposed to the genetic superiority Torra had been accused of assuming. Tertsch was not offended by the racism, he is well known for his racist views. No, Tertsch and those that decided to troll the new president did so in a fit of Spanish nationalist pique.
If we are going to talk about real xenophobia in Spain, we have to talk about far-right parties and groups, all of which are Spanish nationalist: VOX, Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC), España 2000, Hogar Social, Falange and a very long etc. It is also important to note that the two mainstream Spanish parties most voted for by the far-right are Ciudadanos and PP, by a mile.
In Catalonia you do not have to listen to Catalan radio or watch Catalan TV if you do not want to. Many of the people that avoid Catalan media, are not in the Catalan school system and live in neighbourhoods where they hear, speak, read and write little Catalan. No first language Catalan speaker can get through the day without Spanish. Nobody gets insulted or assaulted for speaking Castilian. I wish the same could be said for Catalan speakers. Why insist on more Spanish? Why get offended when you hear some Catalan? Why try and impose Castilian on someone, especially if you understand Catalan. What is this phobia?
The Spanish unionist and nationalist media have had a field day with this story and used it to propagate the previously mentioned and established narrative. As a justification for the Ciudadanos proposal that TV3 be brought under central government control, Arrimadas said that no one in Catalonia would vote for her if they only watched TV3. She failed to mention that by the end of the campaigns for the 21 December election, she had racked up more screen time than any of the other candidates. Last Saturday night, TV3 gave a platform to Ciudadanos former spokesperson, Jordi Cañas, who was forced to resign that post accused of tax fraud, only to be promptly rehired by Albert Rivera in an advisory capacity. There is that flexible attitude to legality again. Javier Ortega Smith-Molina of VOX was also given his ultranationalist say. Meanwhile, on Spain’s national public channel RTVE there is an ongoing protest by female staff about censorship, pay parity and equal opportunities for women: @mujerasrtve. The only people’s pay parity Ciudadanos have ever cared about is that of the police that beat Catalan voters on 1 October. The cynicism and double standards in Spanish politics are breathtaking.
Sadly, nobody in Spain watches TV3. The majority of television seen in Catalonia is in Spanish, as is the majority of the press, which makes the constant attacks and lies regarding the CCMA hard to swallow. The Catalan media has been put under the microscope that has never been used on the Spanish media. If it were, it would soon reveal a huge amount of phobic content from Messrs Losantos, Marhuenda, Espada, Sostres, Griso, Ana Rosa, Sostres, Herrera, etc that has no place in any living room.
When Jiménez Losantos contemptuously talks of ‘bombarding Barcelona’ and ‘Catalans with their little yellow stains’, a reference to the identifying badges the Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, you get an idea of not only the hatred with which the Catalans are seen by many in Spain, but also the constant threat of violence. Though a symbol of solidarity with Catalan political prisoners, the yellow ribbon has been turned into a target, an offensive symbol, by irresponsible unionist politicians.
Losantos’ catalanophobia goes back a long time. His kidnapping and kneecapping by Terra Lliure in 1981 is no excuse for any of his offensive rants. Like many Spanish nationalists, Losantos hates everything that is not Spanish, and always has. He is a man so completely unable to accept otherness he will attack it at any given opportunity. Catalans suffer the inability of many in Spain, and Catalonia itself, to accept their culture, language and identity. Catalans can offend by merely expressing that culture or speaking that language. The idea of even less Catalan, in school, the media or society as a whole, is terrifying to Catalan speakers.
Spain’s is a clear example of post truth media. The winners, rulers and governors who have benefitted from media control and the major Spanish multinationals that support them are those whose manipilation we should be looking at. The Spanish media has spent all week giving Catalan politicians a kicking rather than report on the formation of the government. Not only has the Spanish media managed to influence a deeply undemocratic aberration from the Spanish government, it all serves to deflect attention from this government’s profound problems with the economy and its own corruption. How they are still in power, nobody knows.
The political and media onslaught is wearing, but the judicial repression has been fearsome. The legal abuse has been implacable in its defence of Spanish unity. On 21 December there was an election which had only one acceptable result – a Spanish Unionist victory. Legislation has been struck down before it has actually been passed, judicial appeals rejected before they have been heard and future judicial decisions announced by Spanish government ministers.
The Spanish government has gone rogue and the judiciary is its main tool. The Supreme Court’s Pablo Llarena has clocked up nine pretrial imprisonments, rejected all appeals and produced some of the most fantastic resolutions and indictments, full of political reasoning as opposed to legal arguments. The High Court’s Carmen Lamela has imprisoned a string of artists on charges of glorifying terrorism or injuries to the crown. Josep Arenas Beltran, Valtonyc, is on his way to jail for three-and-a-half years next week. The Altsasu eight await sentencing on terrorism charges for a bar fight. One should not make the mistake of thinking that legal abuse is limited to Catalan politicians. Lenient sentencing of gender violence does nothing to help the tarnished image of the Spanish judiciary either, and nor do its repeated failures beyond Spanish borders – you know, the ones that if ever changed will mean war. Puigdemont is still in Germany; Ponsatí is still in Scotland; Comín, Serret and Puig are free in Belgium; and Rovira and Gabriel remain in Switzerland.
* * *
For Catalan secessionists to put up with so much abuse, provocation and violence (not for the first time in history) without resorting to violence themselves is impressive. To be honest, I don’t know how they do it. Nobody’s perfect, why should the Catalans be? The extension of direct rule is the latest straw that will fail to break the camel’s back.
When Dastis said 1 October was hardly a ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and used a U2 song title to reference the British army’s killing of fourteen peaceful protesters in Derry in 1972, literally speaking, he was right. But 1 October is the Catalans’ Bloody Sunday and will be no more easily forgotten, especially considering the subsequent piling on of misery. Unprofessional and disproportionate is what is expected from the Civil Guard and the National Police, as are the cheers of Spanish nationalists baying for blood.
Why the need to insult, abuse and lie? Are there no reasonable arguments in favour of Spanish union? We have learnt that the unity of Spain has primacy over any ethical or legal code and that three words in one article of the Spanish Constitution take precedence over all other articles of all other codes both domestic and international.
While the Catalans still say sorry for existing, the Spanish never say sorry for anything and, if Albert Rivera’s España Ciudadana gets its way, never will. Why should they? Pablo Iglesias blamed the Catalan secessionists for awakening the Spanish nationalist beast and now Quim Torra is to blame for Article 155 not being lifted. As ever everything is the Catalans’ own damn fault.