The need to secede
No violence, no rebellion
Last Friday’s demands for sentences of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for the organisers of the 2017 referendum in Catalonia by Public and State Prosecutors (and up to 74 years by far-right party VOX in a private prosecution) on charges ranging from violent rebellion to misuse of public funds have been condemned by almost all, Spanish nationalist parties and media included. In their case, though, the criticism was not prompted by the blatant falseness of the charges. They were critical of the State Prosecutor for rejecting the charge of rebellion, which requires a violent uprising to have occurred, in favour of the marginally lesser offence of sedition. The State Prosecutor’s request clearly undermines that of the Public Prosecutor.
The Spanish judiciary will therefore go ahead with the its case against “the process”. The prosecution will argue that Catalan political leaders, officials and civil leaders were responsible for the violence perpetrated by Spanish security forces on 1 October, 2017, because they had called the vote that provoked the violence. Who perpetrated the violence is indifferent in its arguments, the overwhelming evidence of the injuries to voters is denied and the testimony of the victims of the violence is ignored. The case against independentism is based on the loosest of interpretations of Articles 472-484 – rebellion, 544-549 – sedition and 432-435 – embezzlement of the Spanish penal code. The “invisible violence” narrative was the brainchild of deceased Supreme Court judge Maza. Since taking over, his replacement as investigating judge, Pablo Llarena, unable to uncover any evidence of any of the charges, has been forced to tie himself in legal knots to prove that non-violent action is in fact violent if violence occurs, even if it has come from the heavily-armed and fully-armoured cowards in the Spanish security forces.
It is depressingly predictable, patently mendacious and on its way to the European Court of Human Rights in the far too distant future, once the inevitable guilty verdicts are delivered in the New Year’s show trials. That is, if they take place. The trials can be repeatedly adjourned and the accused incarcerated without trial for up to four years.
Will indignation at the legal aberration being conducted by the State against Catalonia’s independentist leaders be enough to regalvanise and reunite the now divided and confused pro-independence movement? Prior to the sentencing requests, there have been weeks full of reluctant soul-searching by those responsible for “the process” and several new additions to the Catalan political landscape. The latest of these is the privately financed Consell per la República (Council for the Republic) launched in a packed Saló Sant Jordi (St. George’s Room) the the Palau de la Generalitat (Generalitat Palace) by president-in-exile, Carles Puigdemont, and to be led by fellow exile, Toni Comín. The Council will be based on citizen participation and the promotion of “constituent debates”. The Council for the Republic is a register of citizens whose purpose is to start the “construction” of the State itself, it claims.
A fortnight ago there was the launch of as yet undefined political platform, Crida Nacional (National Call), which filled Manresa’s 5,000-capacity Pavelló Nou Congost at its founding rally. La Crida‘s 17-point letter of commitment is signed by Quim Torra, the Catalan president; Carles Puigdemont, the president in exile; and Jordi Sànchez, imprisoned number two of Junts per Catalunya (JuntsxCat – Together for Catalonia) and ex-leader of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly – ANC)
Notable among those presenting and offering support to the fledgling “party” were figures such as Minister of the Presidency Elsa Artadi, economist Xavier Sala i Martin, political scientist Ramon Cotarelo, historian and politician Ferran Mascarell, vice president of PDeCat Míriam Nogueras, and IT analyst and member of the Twitterati Cristina de Haro, aka “la Gallifantes”. Esquerra Repúblicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia – ERC) was unrepresented at the event but for a few brave but low-ranking members such as the mayor of Montblanc, who attended the event in defiance of the party line.
ERC’s welcome coolly recognised the importance of platforms “on the right” of the political spectrum. It has been seen as a refounding of JxCat, the list that mixed independents from civil society with conservative liberal party, Partit Demòcrata Català (Democratic Party of Catalonia – PDeCat) to fight the 21 December election, and as yet another attempt to save the Catalan right. The reaction of Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (Popular Unity Candidacy – CUP) has been as damp and chilly as the afternoon that greeted those in attendance in the capital of Bages. Since the event, the Poble Lliure sector of the CUP has distanced itself from the party line and joined many others in calling for greater unity amongst independentists, regardless of their position on the political spectrum. Ironically, the new PDeCat leadership has held back on giving its full support to the platform too.
Considering the inclement weather and the location, the Crida’s event in Manresa could have been as badly attended as an España Ciudadana rally. In the end, it turned out to be a well-chosen venue for a slick-ish launch, within clear budgetary limits, with an altogether more democratic crowd than rising Spanish fascist party, VOX, in the Vistalegre Arena, Madrid on 7 October. There was none of the testosterone-fuelled nationalism either, fewer national flags and more restrained chanting – mainly for freedom and against the monarchy – than a standard Spanish unionist bash. Most demented in his criticism of the event in Bages was urbanite Jaume Collboni, the Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) candidate for the mayorship of Barcelona, who claimed to see Bolsarono-style tics in the Crida.
Another initiative greeted with copious buckets of cold water from most quarters has been Sobiranistes (Sovereignists) – Catalunya en Comú-Podem’s independence-lite brand presented by Elisenda Alamany and Joan Josep Nuet among others. Elisenda Alamany has already been forced to resign as party spokesperson by hardline factions in the party. The Catalan government has also announced the formation of Fòrum Cívic, a think tank drawn from various sectors of Catalan society and charged with opening up a debate into the type of society Catalans would like the hypothetical republic to be. It has been made clear that they will not be drawing up a Constitution. The Crida claims to share this openness to contribution and membership. There is scepticism and suspicion from the already existing, and competing, political and civil forces – PDeCat, ERC, CUP, ANC and Òmnium. Perhaps there is even a little fear. It depends on how much Puigdemont’s star has faded.
It seems as if the Catalan parties are realigning along traditional left-right lines, with PDeCAT/JuntsxCat being isolated by the “left” and Puigdemont’s Crida and Consell deprived of support from ERC and the CUP, although there are dissenting voices in both formations. Even PDeCat leader, David Bonvehí, has refused to openly support the Crida. There is much talk of a new tripartite alliance between the En Comú-Podem, ERC and 155-supporting PSC (PSOE) – the “left” ganging up on the “right”. The left is not nationalist, says ERC Member of the Spanish Congress, Joan Tardà, that is the preserve of the right, and only “temporarily independentist”. Suddenly, ERC’s priority seems to be to drive home its clear advantage over PDeCat in the polls. In the end, many have concluded that neither party was ever fully committed to the independentist cause. The distance between the two forces widened in recent weeks with their failure to agree on a formula to delegate the votes of imprisoned and exiled representatives, and very public disagreements. In an attempt to put a positive spin on the division, Elsa Artadi stood next to Pere Aragonès at an event outside Mas d’Enric, where Carme Forcadell is imprisoned, and referred to this disunity as “richness”. The rhetoric emanating from the parties is unlikely to convince a now sceptical electorate.
The dowsing that the Crida’s birth received has been accompanied by more admissions about the events leading up to last year’s ill-advised declaration of independence: the lack of preparation of structures of statehood, the arguments, the varying visions of what the referendum should mean, the improvisation of the unilateral declaration of independence and the threat of bloodshed from which the politicians had allegedly saved themselves and, paternalistically, the people. Little by little, the main players, including the unionist moles in the pro-independence movement’s political wing, have given their partial versions of events. And it looks like the finger-pointing will continue until every last debatable detail is out. The blood-letting may be a necessary part of the healing process – better late than never – but it is hoped that it will not drag on too long.
Not only are the pro-independence parties disunited, they are also split internally, as they were a year ago when it became clear that the Spanish government would continue to refuse to negotiate with the Catalan executive and implement direct rule from Madrid whether Puigdemont called elections or not. It was the moment they lost the game of brinkmanship they had been playing with the Spanish government. Without blinking, the Spanish State went ahead with the plan that had been in preparation for nearly three years. It was clear from the faces of those that accompanied the President in his second declaration of independence that the Republic was not ready, there was no contingency plan and they rightly feared what was to come.
Eyes on the prize
There must have been a more economical and less damaging way for all the politicians involved in the independence process to come clean. Would it not have been better for all concerned to give full versions of the events leading up to the declaration of independence before the 21 December elections? Those who had followed “the process” carefully, in particular the events of last October and the first suspended declaration, knew that the 27 October declaration was symbolic and that the simultaneous application of Article 155 would make it a bitter memory. Most of them knew what was coming, and it was not independence. I believe the same was true of most of the people. Despite this, they have patiently awaited explanations as to how far they were misled, and by whom. Independentists have also been reluctant to accept this or criticise those responsible. The leaders of “the process” are being punished enough, charged with crimes they have not committed, imprisoned without trial or living in exile. Although some may be guilty of climbing aboard the pro-independence bandwagon with no clear idea of how to culminate it, and in some cases no desire to do so, the severity of their treatment by the Spanish State and its judiciary goes way beyond what they deserve. Hence, politically speaking, they have been let off.
In the days following the referendum, it also became clear that too few people were ready to make the Republic effective either. How could they be? Their leadership had disappeared, it was suddenly up to them and they did not know how. This was the moment when the two main pro-independence parties had returned “the process” to the hands of the people and people were understandably confused. Most thought they had done their bit. Over the past year, they have received few apologies from their leaders and little guidance on how to proceed from their replacements, just a continued vague insistence that it is up to them. Though the momentum was lost, civil organisations have resolutely demonstrated and raised money, and myriad initiatives have sprung from the population, which has worked tirelessly to make the Republic effective, one day. Pro-independence politicians have done nothing in this respect. Instead they have focused most eyes on the political prisoners, precisely what is not required if you are serious about seceding from a centuries-old country that will stop at nothing to crush you.
These incomplete accounts of last year’s events served up piecemeal by pro-independence leaders and, more recently, by some of the ideologues of “the process” who normally operate in the shadows, come in a fractured political scene in which few Catalans know who to vote for any more. The loss of confidence in traditional political forces in Catalonia is general and new initiatives are treated with suspicion. It is not the best scenario for those intent on continuing to pursue that most elusive of beasts: the Catalan Republic. A kind of Stockholm syndrome seems to have spread from the political hostages, now held in Catalan jails, to their mouthpieces guiltily roaming the corridors of the parliament. The political side to the pro-independence movement has ended up looking like the the various factions fighting for the freedom of Judaea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
With so many strands to the unravelled rope and no clear destination, the movement has gone backwards, as was intended. To hear pro-independence leaders admit to underestimating the Spanish State is particularly disheartening to those with a knowledge of Catalan history. The Spanish State and the Spanish right do not indulge in navel-gazing, they do not do self-criticism, they do not say sorry, they never admit guilt and, most importantly, they never take their eyes off the prize. They will stop at nothing for the oneness of Spain. To bluff the Spanish State without a plan B was a great mistake. To overestimate it by expecting dialogue at the eleventh hour was another. In a game of poker, knowing your opponent’s mind is key. It was as if the Catalans had merely learnt the rules, while the Spanish had planned how to win and had no qualms about cheating. Either way there was only ever one winner in last year’s face-off: the unsqueamish side with no scruples. Too many pro-independence politicians had, and continue to have, their eyes on the crumbs that might fall once again from the table, rather than the main course. They are giving precedence to the success, or survival, of their parties rather than that of the pro-independence movement.
The need to secede
Yet more than two million Catalans still yearn for the Republic. As if their disappointment and frustration at their politicians and the events of the past year were not enough, they have been subjected to a high level of judicial repression, restrictions to their rights to free speech, assembly and protest, all of which has been designed to silence them and sow fear. Spanish nationalist politicians and media have also covered them in phobic mockery and derision, adding insult to injury. Catalan republicans are too accepting of the criticism of what they believe in. They are too used to it. They are, however, not as good at sticking together as the Spanish right. The assault on their identity and beliefs has been deliberate, relentless and merciless.
Catalan secessionists have to learn to believe in themselves again. Their elected representatives have let them down and shown them up. Many are too angry for words and have withdrawn, others are involved in a frenzy of self-criticism, but they need to get over it or they are done for. They all know that unity is the key to future progress but see little chance of that occurring in the current climate of shifting political allegiances and mutual suspicion.
One could argue that the civil organisations are the answer, but ANC and Òmnium have themselves have become increasingly aligned over time. And many of the CDRs, demonised by the Spanish unionist politicians and the media and criminalised by the Spanish judiciary, are more moderate than their local ANC or Òmnium branches. The chances of another organisation being formed seem remote so Crida is the newest option but, for the moment, resembles too much of what has gone before. In fact, nobody knows what it will be yet, despite their claims. It could be stillborn, it could attract many that see no other option, it could be the new JuntsxCat. Add to this fractured landscape moves to hold primaries before all elections to involve more people from civil society in the day-to-day running of affairs and you get an idea of the general loss of faith that Catalans of all political persuasions have experienced over the past year.
The repression has taken its toll on everybody, but the repression to come could be even more brutal. Despite Pedro Sánchez’s promises, the persecution is not over. The Spanish State will keep coming back with more. More scorn, more misery and more punishment. And they will insist it is deserved and all will accept. What choice do they have? Thousands of Catalans have been accused of offences related to “the process”. The nature of Spanish power and its treatment of Catalonia and its citizens – especially the most Catalan among them – is at least now clear to all. The Spanish State’s decision to proceed with its case against the imaginary Catalan rebellion should convince all Catalan politicians of the pointlessness of their patience with this maddened state that thinks of only one thing – the oneness of Spain – regardless of morality or legality. The idea of Spain’s hooligan right and far-right forming a coalition that brings them to power in Spain should focus their minds further. Without the support of pro-independence parties, the current Spanish government could fall and who knows what might replace it. Right-wing populism is all the rage, after all. Everywhere. As the far-right rises across the continents, remember that in Spain there has been little else in the past century. Spain’s right-wing leaders are confrontational and inflammatory Spanish supremacists. They miss the violence and chaos of the past and are trying to provoke it in the present. Failing this, they invent it. Just as the Spanish judiciary does.
Despite the psychological pressure, there are still more than two million people in Catalonia absolutely convinced of the need to secede but lack the politicians and tools that can deliver it. In the meantime, as they wait for the tide to turn, they continue to do the thousands of little things that, taken as a whole, might one day bring about the Republic. It is better than doing nothing. It remains to be seen whether neutered Catalan politicians and Catalonia’s weary people can resolve their differences. Until they do, independence will remain a long, long way off and secessionists not minded to give up should prepare for a long haul. After the lukewarm summer and the tepid autumn, they are preparing for a cold hard winter.