The Ministry of Truth
The nine Catalan politicians and civil leaders in pre-trial detention in Catalan prisons will be transferred to Madrid jails tomorrow in readiness for the show trials. The Spanish judiciary has stuck to the same surreal narrative throughout: there was a violent uprising in Catalonia in 2017, though no evidence has surfaced that any such thing ever occurred. Justice has never been the intention, but rather crushing the independence movement and exacting revenge. The letter of the law is irrelevant. Unable and unwilling to intervene to avoid the shameful spectacle, the nine-month old Spanish government has decided to launch yet another propaganda offensive to sanitise Spain’s image, damaged as it has been, it says, by “misinformation”. The trial will attract attention from the outside world, though perhaps not quite as much as it should considering a European country is trying a regional government for an ideology in 2019. The Spanish State is not believed to be excessively concerned what the world might think of it.
Last Monday, King Felipe VI of Spain took the unusual step of presenting diplomas to those embarking on a diplomatic career and urged them to “project Spain’s best image, which is its genuine image: a democratic, free, modern, caring and tolerant country”. Why would he need to insist were such a thing even close to the truth? According to Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Borrell, who flanked the monarch at the event, it is because the minds of non-Spaniards have been poisoned against “the greatest civilization in the history of mankind” (Pablo Casado) by Catalan independentists. It is Borrell’s role to send up smokescreens that obscure Spain’s historic aversion to political and democratic methods where its restive regions are concerned. But if he fails in his mission impossible, it really does not matter. The most important aim has always been to stop the Catalans in their tracks. The PR offensive is an exercise in damage limitation.
Borrell has been assisting His Majesty at the forefront of Operation Save Spain’s Image since June, when his prodigious intellect took over the role, and its accompanying tired narrative, from the Popular Party’s Alfonso Dastis.
The King had already taken over the main operation, Save Spain, from the government on 3 October. According to the editor of El Nacional, José Antich, the King’s bellicose speech on that day was a terrible mistake and since then the Spanish government has been irrelevant, with the judiciary assuming the responsibility for preserving the oneness of Spain: the president of the Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes; the president of the courtroom trying the Catalan process, Manuel Marchena; the investigating judge, Pablo Llarena; and the public prosecutor’s office.
Borrell’s early months in the job were marked by a similarly confused message, frequent gaffes and not inconsiderable linguistic difficulties. He spent a significant amount of time falsely claiming that the Spanish Foreign Office was strapped for funds and could not compete with the Catalans’ means, rhetoric that he continues to repeat whenever he gets the chance. In reality, Article 155 has left Catalonia and its institutions in severe financial difficulty.
On the diplomatic circuit, the José Borrell show has been generally well-attended. It is just as well that he has significant international experience and a good reputation because the content of his talks is implausible at best. It is not that the Spanish government’s narrative requires a rewrite or any polish, it is that Spain’s position is untenable and Borrell’s task impossible. Spain’s damaged image is well-deserved and probably irreparable.
Borrell has received the investment he demanded without refreshing the tale that Dastis had to tell the world. Dastis’s foreign interviews after the violent repression of the 1 October referendum basically involved downplaying the numbers of injured and disregarding the video evidence. As recently as last week, Borrell was still trotting out the same sorry tale. According to him, the injuries were “fake news”, the referendum was marked by “Russian interference” and some of the videos were filmed in Pinochet’s Chile. Borrell never lets the facts get in the way and thoroughly enjoys insulting those that inhabit his place of origin. Back in November, he even accused a fellow member of the Spanish Congress of spitting at him. As usual, no evidence could be found to support Borrell’s creative version of events.
Borrell’s notorious lack of scruples was again evident this week, as it came to light that one of his advisers at the Spanish Foreign Office, Gabriel Colomé, has recently signed opinion pieces in the Los Angeles Times and Euronews as “a political science professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona”.
Colomé is, in fact, on a sabbatical precisely to allow him to work for Borrell. For Colomé not to declare his current employer allows Borrell to pass off a piece of propaganda from the Ministry as an independent academic’s opinion piece. “Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author”, it says at the foot of the Euronews piece. “Once Again Fake News from a Catalan Secessionist!” shouts Colomé’s piece on behalf of the Ministry. How embarrassing one might think, but nothing embarrasses Borrell. He has no shame.
The Diplomats’ Graduation Show starring King Felipe and José Borrell coincided with the launch of Global Spain’s campaign to counter what it calls the “lies” and “fake news” of the independentist movement. Global Spain is the makeover of Brand Spain, a kind of Make Spain Seem Great Again, a now costly cog in the Spanish propaganda machine, revived by yet another injection of taxpayers’ money and charged with selling the Spanish Utopia to the world while the trial plays out to an international audience live on television in Catalan, Spanish and English.
Global Spain even has a Secretary of State, formerly known as the High Commissioner of the Government for Brand Spain: the journalist and former Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) politician, Irene Lozano, who was re-signed by the Socialists last October to take over the rehashed secretariat. Brand Spain was set up under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and headed by José Manuel García-Margallo as a tool to attract foreign investment and help Spain overcome the economic crisis. Thanks to the Catalan crisis, it has been turned into a launchpad for the Spanish State’s political propaganda with the slogan “Nothing matters more than the truth”. While it is true that “most of developed countries [sic] have similar initiatives to manage their country-image [sic]”, not many countries have a Borrell to turn such initiatives into the Foreign Office’s Ministry of Truth. In his image, it believes itself to be artful, but is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. In Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Truth is abbreviated in Newspeak to the more accurate-sounding Minitrue.
Lozano will be responsible for the dissemination of propaganda videos, overseeing social media campaigns and the use of forums, coordinating mouthpieces to save Spain’s reputation and help Spain’s judiciary to convince the world that all is in order under the Spanish rule of law. The Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Office and Diplomatic Information Office (OID) will also be running public relations offensives in a concerted effort to persuade the world that the trial is not political but criminal, that the defendants are not political prisoners but criminal politicians, that the Catalan politicians in exile are, in fact, criminal fugitives from justice, and violence does not have to occur for it to exist. Journalists will be briefed by all the above-mentioned departments in the legal contortions they are about to witness in the Supreme Court, just in case they do not understand what they are supposed to understand.
This week, Lozano’s has visited Belgium, the cause of much Spanish nationalist chest-beating in the past year, it being the venue for the massive independentist demonstration at the end of 2017 and home to president Puigdemont and five other Catalan exiles, critical Flemish nationalists and a judiciary reluctant to accede to the demands of the Spanish judge investigating the Catalan Process, Pablo Llarena. She was then in “Londons” [sic] to address the House of Lords and meet the British-Spanish All-Party Parliamentary Group.
One of Borrell’s recent initiatives has been to issue Spanish ambassadors and the diplomatic corps with “specific instructions” to counter official events held by the Catalan president, Quim Torra, whenever and wherever he is on foreign soil “denigrating Spain”. He was particularly happy with the response to Torra at Stanford University by the Spanish consul in San Francisco, Diego Muñiz, which he delightedly, but inaccurately, described as a “roasting”.
To outsiders, the Spanish State’s anti-Catalan propaganda campaign, designed to whitewash the Spanish judiciary’s execution of political trials under the watchful eye of the House of Bourbon might seem to contradict the Spanish authorities’ insistence on the existence of a separation of powers. In fact, it reveals the aforementioned impotence of the Spanish government.
Borrell has always bleated about the difficulty the Spanish government has had counteracting the independentists’ message on the international scene. The truth is that, on the one hand, most of the world could not care less what is going on in Spain and, on the other, the vast resources already put at his disposal have been obvious in Spain’s aggressive reactions to each and every critical voice from abroad. For everyone’s information, the Catalan government does not have much money and how that money is spent is still under Spanish government control. It is true that it receives a lot of help from indignant volunteers, independent organisations and individuals, working for free, horrified at Spain’s authoritarian lurch and repressive policies towards its own people in the name of Spanish unity.
Is the Spanish government now worried that foreign journalists will stop limiting themselves to rehashing press releases and do some research, that they will stop following the lead of their Spanish counterparts in ignoring the biggest story in Spain, as they have done for years? Though most Catalans hope that the world’s eyes will be trained on the trial for the next few months, they should prepare to be disappointed once again.
Spain’s attorney general, Maria José Segarra, has refused to allow international observers arguing that it is unnecessary as “a live broadcast will be offered” and doubting that “more transparency can be offered”. She is wrong, and International Trial Watch – a group of Spanish and European experts in law and human rights – will be coming anyway. I hope space can be found for them. There’s nothing like being a fly on the wall.
Manuel Marchena, the Popular Party’s ultra-conservative “battering ram“, the most powerful judge in Spain, will preside over the courtroom number two. On the prosecution bench will be representatives of far-right party, Vox, which has presented private prosecutions against all of the accused in the Case Against the Catalan Process. The narrative of the Spanish government, the Public Prosecutor and the extreme right is and will continue to be the same. Of all the branches of government, the Spanish judiciary is the one that has most clearly maintained its links with the past and is the clearest legacy of the military dictatorship. As well as a show trial, it will be a showcase for the far right in the run-up to the European and local elections in May. An obscenity.
The Spanish State’s use of the judiciary to crush the Catalan pro-independence movement has been fraught with difficulty since the decision was taken to go the legal rather than the political route. Principle among these problems is that, even if it is accepted that the referendum held on 1 October, 2017, was unconstitutional, which section of the criminal code could be used to prosecute its organisers? In the end, the now deceased Attorney General, José Manuel Maza, settled on two of the most serious charges in the code – rebellion and sedition – which carry maximum sentences of 25 and 15 years imprisonment respectively. The rebellion law was last used to prosecute Antonio Tejero, who led the attempted coup d’état on 23 February, 1981. The main obstacle to a charge of rebellion, however, is the prerequisite of “violent uprising” in section 472, when independentist leaders and supporters have always shunned violence.
. A conviction for the offence of rebellion shall be handed down to those who violently and publicly rise up for any of the following purposes: …Article 472 of the Spanish criminal code
One need not go into the purposes of any alleged rebellion that follow; the description of the offence advisedly stipulates the need for the accused to have risen up “violently and publicly” to be considered guilty. When the rebellion law was revised in 1995 by a cross-party committee, the word “violently” was inserted after consultation with the Royal Spanish Academy over its precise definition. The editor of the rebellion law states that it does not cover the events of September and October in Catalonia.
In the case of the sedition law, section 544 of the code, it is necessary for the accused to have “publicly and tumultuously” risen up.
Conviction for sedition shall befall those who, without being included in the felony of rebellion, publicly and tumultuously rise up to prevent, by force or outside the legal channels, application of the laws, or any authority, official corporation or public officer from lawful exercise of the duties thereof or implementation of the resolutions thereof, or of administrative or judicial resolutions.Article 544 of the Spanish criminal code
Since Maza’s original ruling, it has seemed that the Supreme Court is using the 1870 Spanish penal code instead. Pablo Llarena, who took over the case as investigating judge, has gone to extreme lengths to stretch the law to fit the events. His redefinition of the word “violently” was not this time performed in consultation with the Royal Spanish Academy.
Our legislator, by including in the description of the offence the adverb that conditions the action (violently), avoids incorporating in the offence the substantive content which is suggested. He is acting violently whomever does so in a violent way, which does not necessarily mean the same as acting with violence.Pablo Llarena, investigating judge of the Catalan process
His rulings and reasoning are labyrynthine.
There are many reasons why this trial should not be happening at all, and certainly not in its current form according to the article The Dark Side of Spain’s Supreme Court: procedural irregularities, the lack of a legal basis, it does not fall within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, Llarena’s irregular appointment as investigating judge, the political nature of Marchena’s control, the ultra-conservative judges and a series of scandals involving important players in the Spanish judiciary.
Before the trial has even started the relevant laws have been pored over by a large part of the population, all the events and players analysed in detail and the procedures come under constant scrutiny. For those who have done their homework, it is very simple really. From the journalists playing catch-up under the influence of the Ministry of Information, however, little can be expected.
The prisoners, and now the trials, were always meant to tie the pro-independence movement up in knots, take up all its time and resources, focus all its attention on their elected representatives turned political martyrs. Not one of them deserves to be in prison. In September and October of 2017, much to the annoyance of a majority of independentists, they stepped back from the brink, never making legally effective the unilateral declaration of independence. Some meekly handed themselves in to the authorities. Others went away. The Spanish State, however, decided to execute its plan all the same, “to encourage the others”. As far as criminal law is concerned, they had done nothing wrong. They did not take the “nuclear option”. Spain did, and here we are on the eve of the fake trials.
Although the trials will, to anyone interested, show the Spanish State up for what it is and the prisoners and the independentist movement will continue to occupy the moral high ground, Spanish power, the so-called deep state, does not care about its international image. Tomorrow the prisoners will be transported to the Spanish capital like lambs to the slaughter. When inevitably they receive a condemnatory sentence and are sent back to prison, and then, in the distant future, their case goes to the European Court of Human Rights and the Spanish judiciary is inevitably censured for human rights violations, nothing will happen and nothing will change, and Spain and the “international community”, if such a thing exists, will continue to be unable to care less.
. All I have to do is tell the truthCarme Forcadell, speaker of the Catalan parliament accused of rebellion for allowing a vote
The jailed Speaker of the Catalan parliament has said, “Preparing my defence has been easy. All I have to do is tell the truth”. Would that it were so simple in Spain. The Catalans are, as they have always been, on their own and up against a formidable and amoral adversary.