Beautiful trouble


The 1 October will always be an example of what a people is capable of when it has a clear objective, despite its indecisive leaders, and a deep yearning for freedom. It is also evidence of what is possible when people are prepared to disobey the law en masse. Thankfully, the painful anniversary has passed now and it is time for those in favour of the Catalan Republic to get it back on track.

The anniversaries of last year’s repression have come thick and fast in the past fortnight, as have the provocative Spanish nationalist demonstrations focused on Catalonia’s seat of government in Plaça Sant Jaume. The Spanish nationalists have struggled to muster 1,000 people per demo and most of the attendees have been policemen. This is in stark contrast to the 10,000 Spanish ultranationalists that yesterday filled an arena in Madrid at a rally for neofascist party, VOX.

The 1 October commemoration in Barcelona drew a quarter of a million people, which allowed some to relieve a little of the pent-up anger and frustration of the past twelve months. It was a generally tame affair, but some demonstrators have not only been treated like terrorists by the Spanish right-wing parties and media, but chided by their own representatives in classic Catalan style. Personally, I feel less threatened by the kids climbing the giant door to the Catalan parliament and covering it in stickers than each and every one of those gathered in the Spanish capital calling for an end to immigration, mass deportations, the suppression of Spain’s nationalities and autonomous regions, and the repeal of gender violence legislation. Sound familiar? “Make Spain great again” has been with us for some time now. It is also the battlecry of Spain’s two main right wing parties: the Partido Popular (PP) and Ciudadanos (Cs).

Few countries can boast police as politically active and partial as Spain’s Civil Guard and National Police. Their union, Jusapol, failed to reach the Plaça Sant Jaume on 29 September to celebrate their violent repression of the 1 October referendum when they were blocked by counter demonstrators. The keynote speech at the Jusapol demonstration was delivered by Javier Ortega Smith, General Secretary of the same neofascist party enjoying such success in Madrid yesterday. Rivera’s party paid to lead the Spanish police union’s previous march through Barcelona last January. Yesterday, Albert Rivera’s Spanish nationalist platform, España Ciudadana, failed to fill the Catalan parliament square, although unhindered. He dutifully delivered the same message as Jusapol. The crowd wished a long life to the National Police, the Civil Guard, the Armed Forces and the Constitution, and Rivera promised that the “Constitutionalists will get together and go for them”, where “them” are independentists.

On Saturday, it had been the turn of the Catalan police unions. More than 4,000 Mossos d’Esquadra and their families dressed in black and did manage to fill the square. They were demonstrating about the 29 September and 1 October mobilisations, during which they felt they had been subject to disrespect – which, of course they had – and forced to hold back from conducting baton charges and dispersing the crowds with their mobile units – the BRIMO – “for political reasons”. No demonstrators on either date noticed any sign of police restraint. Many Catalan police chose to applaud the National Police on their way past their Spanish counterparts’ headquarters in Via Laietana.

During Major Trapero’s reign at the head of the Catalan police force and thanks to the Mossos d’Esquadra peaceful execution of the orders to confiscate ballot boxes during the referendum, crowds chanted “This is our police!”, despite the fact that the Mossos had managed to confiscate far more ballot papers than both Spanish police forces put together. They had obviously been ordered to beat voters. Those people with longer memories – of the Mossos’ brutal repression of the 15-M Movement for example – could not bring themselves to sing along with that one. To chant such things is to misunderstand the nature of police forces. Many baton charges and BRIMO dispersals later, any credit the force gained under Major Trapero is spent.

The Spanish police yearn for right wing leaders like Rivera and Casado. Like Manuel Valls in the Barcelona Council elections, both of the main Spanish nationalist parties will run on law and order tickets in the next elections. They call repeatedly for the implementation of a more extreme version of direct rule. Their constant repetition of the “violent independentist” narrative over the past year, and the analogies made between the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) and the Kale Borroka in the Basque Country, reveal a desire to resurrect  a kind of anti-Basque separatist Plan ZEN (Zona Especial Norte) in Catalonia. They refer to most pro-independence parties as “Batasunos”, a reference to Herri Batasuna, the political party illegalised in the Basque country in 2003 for its alleged links with ETA. They are drawing insane parallels between Arran, the youth branch of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) and defunct armed Basque separatist organisation, ETA, to justify the illegalisation of the left-wing Catalan independentist party under the 2002 Law of Political Parties. Both the CUP and the CDRs promote non-violent civil disobedience and direct action. To equate the groupings with armed terrorist organisations is fallacious in every way. Terra Lliure, GRAPO and ETA are no more. There is no domestic terrorism in Spain or violence from political groups in Catalonia. Police violence is another matter. The Catalans would be well advised to achieve full independence before either of the Armed Forces fanboys reach power. If only it were so simple.

Recently, pro-independence demonstrators have received criticism from civil and pro-independence party leaders for covering their faces when involved in acts of civil disobedience. The naïvety and inertia of pro-independence politicians has become increasingly clear over the past twelve months, and the divisions between them especially obvious in the past week. This disappoints a good part of the activist population. Those involved in civil disobedience are well aware that they could be prosecuted, fined or even imprisoned, and so some have decided to hide their identities. For their painfully obedient leaders to tell them that, if they have nothing to hide, they should show their faces is galling. It does not take much to land an independentist in court in Catalonia. The story has been very different for those responsible for anti-Catalan assaults, who the Mossos handle with care. The Catalan police will find it difficult to regain the trust of the people. Many have never had much confidence in them.

***

On 3 October we looked back in disgust at the King’s unconstitutional speech in defence of the unity of Spain, when the Spanish monarch barked hostility at the Catalans through their television sets. We have since learnt of his full role in the Spanish State’s plan to trigger an exodus of companies from Catalonia in an attempt to sink the Catalan economy. The King personally contacted the directors of the the most important companies based in Catalonia, in particular LaCaixa and Banc Sabadell. The State had used Spanish public administrations and businesses to withdraw billions of euros from accounts after the Catalan referendum. The banks were held to ransom and the King, like any good Godfather, was there to make sure their options were clear. The unlikelihood of other European monarchs being involved in something similar in their superior democracies has escaped no one.

Article 56 of the Spanish Constitution
The King is the Head of State, the symbol of its unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular functioning of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with those nations belonging to the same historic community, and exercices the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the law.

Needless to say, King Felipe VI of Spain, like his father, “is inviolable and shall not be held accountable” for any crimes he has committed. Like thousands of Spanish politicians, judges, prosecutors and members of the armed forces, the monarch enjoys immunity from prosecution. The Spanish State has used every dirty trick in the book and shown a blithe disregard for the rule of law to put down the Catalans’ desire to vote on self-determination. Those responsible for illegal acts in the repression of Catalonia are therefore unlikely ever to appear in a Spanish Court to answer the charges and the possibility of their being tried in the European Court of Human Rights is a long way off. For long-standing residents of Spain, there is nothing new or shocking about the truths seeping out of the sewers of the Spanish State. The horror will be limited to those from more civilised countries, the few that are interested. Here, the people are used to it. In Spain, all this is normal, a sign of how far the Spanish State is prepared to go to preserve its oneness, and of its great power and ruthlessness.

***

And what of the Spanish and Catalan governments? Both have majorities that hang by a thread. The Socialist Workers Party – the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) has managed to achieve nothing in its short time in government, though some credit Pedro Sánchez with deactivating the Catalan independence movement with his friendlier approach. The Prime Minister’s recent refusal to meet with the Catalan president, despite the Socialist leader’s claim that he is always open to dialogue, rather belies the theory. Sánchez’s position on Catalonia is identical to that of his predecessor, and the narrative on the Catalan question a rehash of the PP line: there will be no discussion of self-determination or referenda, the events of 1 October, 2017, were exaggerated, and Spain is a victim of Catalan propaganda abroad. If anyone has deactivated the Catalan independence movement, it has been Supreme Court judge Llarena and the obedience of the pro-independence parties themselves.

Last Thursday, to the bewilderment of voters, and most commentators, the plenary session in the Catalan parliament was suspended until Tuesday, with Esquerra Repúblicana de Catalunya (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) unable to agree on the formula that would allow the imprisoned and exiled ministers suspended from office by judge Llarena to delegate their votes. There was talk of a definitive fracture between the parties, a withdrawal of support by the CUP, and early elections. Late on Thursday the parties came to their senses and appeared sheepishly before the cameras to apologise and announce an accord. Some credited the parties with a deliberate piece of strategic pantomime. Most, however, remain bewildered by the spectacle and were shocked to hear Catalonia’s Foreign Minister, Ernest Maragall, say “we need a plan” on Saturday night television. The Catalan government has also been in place for four months and, albeit in very difficult circumstances, has proved to be as ineffective as its Spanish counterpart. Division within the pro-independence movement has always been the norm and you could argue that pro-independence parties represent their equivalents in the civil population, but JxCat, PDeCat and ERC all overestimate their popular support. Most voters would drop their timorous party lines in a flash at the emergence of a centrist party with nerve.

Since the 21 December election, pro-independence parties have been straitjacketed by Spain’s Constitutional and Supreme Courts. Llarena’s imprisonment of ministers Turull, Rull, Romeva, Forcadell and Bassa on 23 March, to add to the four Catalan leaders already incarcerated – civil leaders Sànchez and Cuixart, Interior Minister Forn and Vice president Junqueras – has paralysed acting Catalan government ministers, who fear prejudicing the position of the political prisoners and their upcoming trials, and are cowed by the prospect of their own prosecution, financial ruin or imprisonment. Catalan civil organisations have suffered the seizures of their funds, and had little time to do anything but promote events in support of those incarcerated or exiled. Neither political nor civil leaders have been able to move Catalonia any closer to independence than it was on 1 October. In fact, it is further away.

When the new leader of the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana – ANC), Elisenda Paluzie, appeared on Catalan television on Saturday afternoon, it was to demand a roadmap from the government in which the only acceptable future scenarios were a referendum authorised by the Spanish government, a referendum forced by the international community or a unilateral declaration of independence. She also demanded the inclusion of the CUP in the government. ANC is saying to the Catalan government that, by the election anniversary on 21 December this year, it should take steps to make the Catalan Republic voted for on 1 October effective. Òmnium Cultural, the other main Catalan civil organisation, has not lent support to ANC’s ultimatum.

Most of ANC’s demands have fallen on deaf ears in the past year so it will be interesting to see how much pressure it can exert on ERC and the part of JxCat who are set on a path of “broadening the base”, increasing support for independence to incontrovertible levels, in search of the great consensus, with many of them at the same time believing that an improved Statute of Autonomy would be acceptable to a majority of Catalans. It’s a long process, they say. Maybe we were hasty. We made mistakes. It’s complicated and we need to pact everything with Madrid. And they obey. If there is no reaction from the Catalan government to ANC’s criticism, it is hard to see what ANC can actually do about it. Although the organisation is able to move the masses to demonstrate in vast numbers, many have come to see these rallies as sterile performances overburdened with symbolism designed for the world stage, but which have no brought no tangible result at home. On the other hand, the CUP can bring down the government at any time.

President Puigdemont remains in Brussels, still extremely popular, respected and influential in Catalonia, despite the mistakes, and increasingly popular abroad. He has a direct line to public opinion. There is nothing the people would like more than to see everything thrown into turmoil once again by the triumphant return of the prodigal president, another “masterstroke”, but is unfair on people who have suffered so much disappointment to give hope that such a thing could happen. Ordinary people are confused by the conflicting messages they receive from the leaders they elected on 21 December who are in prison or exile and those who act for them or have replaced them. Ordinary people are tired of seeing the wishes they have expressed through the ballot box ignored not only by the Spanish, but also the Catalan government. Catalan people are nothing if not pragmatic and telling tales of unicorns will not wash. Many feel that they have been strung along.

To further complicate the situation, the gurus of the process, so active on social media, send out mixed messages too. Their mythologisation of the process, their promises of unexpected game-changing events in the near future about which little can be said, and the repeated demands for patience, to wait for the moment, are astonishing to the grassroots, who not only made 1 October the resounding success that it was, but then launched themselves into myriad projects to make the Republic a reality, without any direction or support from their leaders. The people are ready and waiting, for civil disobedience and direct action, for beautiful trouble, and have been for over a year now.


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