When the Catalan government declared a republic, the Spanish regime answered by sacking it, dismissing the Catalan Parliament and calling fresh elections on 21 December. That election was another defeat for the Spanish regime as it delivered, again, a pro-independence majority. Unable and unwilling to respect the democratic will of the Catalan people, the Spanish regime is now using all means at its disposal to prevent Carles Puigdemont from being elected as Catalan president. In the process it is revealing the profoundly undemocratic nature of the regime that was established in 1978.
The behaviour of the Spanish government is reaching farcical levels. Puigdemont was legally elected as a member of Catalan parliament. He has been charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his part in the 1 October Catalan independence referendum and the 27 October declaration of the Catalan Republic.
Quite apart from the fact that rebellion and sedition are in the Spanish penal code as relics of the old Franco-era penal code, there are no real legal grounds for either charge. Let’s take rebellion. The Spanish penal code is clear in that rebellion means a “violent and public rising” [my emphasis]. The High Court Judge Llarena, in charge of the case, has admitted that the Catalan government did not call for violence nor organise it. In fact, the only violence on 1 October took place when the Spanish state sent thousands of police officers to Catalonia to crack the heads of those at the polling stations, leaving 1,000 people injured and costing one person an eye due to the impact of a rubber bullet.
To get around this ‘small detail’, Judge Llarena has built a convoluted argument that goes like this: the Catalan government in calling a referendum on self-determination must have known that the Spanish state “which has the monopoly on violence” would use it to prevent the referendum from going ahead, therefore the Catalan government is responsible for violence carried out by the Spanish state. Yes. Read this paragraph again. It is Kafkian. Still, this is the official line of reasoning used to keep two members of the Catalan government in custody, without bail.
The leaders of the two main pro-independence mass organisations (Jordi Sánchez from the Catalan National Assembly and Jordi Cuixart from the Òmnium) are also being kept in custody, without bail, pending trial for sedition. Charges against them are equally baseless. During a mass demonstration on 20 September against a police search of the Catalan Economy Department in Barcelona, the two Jordis argued with the crowd, which had been peaceful at all times, to go back home and allow the police to leave the building. They are charged with sedition, which is described in the Spanish penal code as “publicly and tumultuously to prevent, by force or outside of the legal channels, the application of the law” [my emphasis]. There was clearly no force used on that day (or any other day for that matter) and certainly the two Jordis rather than encouraging the crowd to prevent the action of the agents of authority, were strenuously arguing for them to go back home to allow the police to leave the premises. These ‘details’ do not bother the Spanish regime, which is using the judiciary in a politically motivated, vengeful campaign against those who have dared to defy the Spanish 1978 Constitution, which denies the democratic right of self-determination.
The Spanish High Court initially issued a euro-arrest warrant against five members of the Catalan government, which moved to Belgium after the 27 October declaration of the Republic, including President Puigdemont. Then it realised that the Belgian justice was probably not going to accept the request for the charge of rebellion but only for the lesser charges. So the euro-arrest warrant was withdrawn. The Spanish justice system is therefore not attempting to arrest Puigdemont in Brussels, nor in Denmark where he went to deliver a lecture, but the minute he sets foot on Spanish soil he will be arrested and probably remanded in custody without bail.
This obviously poses a problem as the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, after consultations with all political parties, determined that Puigdemont is the only candidate to command a majority and asked for him to be voted as president at a session of the Catalan Parliament which was to take place on 30 January.
The Spanish regime was afraid Puigdemont would try to sneak in and attend the session, which was scheduled to take place on 30 January. So it reinforced security at the border, setting up search and control checkpoints, checking private airfields and even sending a specialised unit of the police to search the sewers of the Catalan Parliament building!
The Spanish government panicked. That is the last thing it wants. It cannot allow this to happen. It then decided to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to pre-emptively suspend that session of the Catalan Parliament. This is the stuff of Minority Report, where people are arrested for crimes they have not yet committed! Even the Council of State issued a legal opinion telling the government that there were no grounds to request the suspension of the session.
Rajoy went ahead anyway and subjected the Constitutional Court judges to enormous pressure to rule in his favour. “Reasons of state” demand it, he said, “there would be dramatic consequences” if the session was allowed to go ahead. Never mind the fact that the president of the government is not supposed to exercise pressure on the Constitutional Court judges!
Finally, the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the session could go ahead…but only on their terms: Puigdemont cannot participate in the session of Catalan parliament, which has to elect him as a president via a teleconference from Brussels. Furthermore he cannot not attend the session in person either, unless he presents himself in front of the judge first. This is a Catch-22 situation. If he stayed in Brussels he would not have been able to participate in the session. If he returned to Spain to take part in it he would be arrested…and prevented from taking part.
In ruling on the conditions of the session of Catalan parliament, the Constitutional Tribunal was overstepping its remit, as no-one has asked it to rule on that question, just on whether the session should be preventatively suspended or not. The problem was that the CT knew full well it could not agree with the government request, as there were no grounds for it. A session of parliament that has not yet taken place cannot be suspended on the basis that a violation of the constitution might take place. So, instead, it made a ruling on a separate matter which it had not been asked to rule on. The Spanish regime is stretching and bending its own rules and regulations to the point of rupture.
The aim of the Spanish government is clear and publicly expressed: they will not allow Puigdemont to be sworn in as Catalan president. According to Spanish law, since he has not yet been tried, he is presumed innocent and he retains his full political rights, increased by the fact that he is now an elected member of parliament. None of this matters. The Spanish regime will not allow a democratically elected representative who has a majority of votes in the Catalan chamber to be elected as Catalan president. They have made it clear that if by any chance Puigdemont was to be elected, they would not recognise the decision and keep article 155, direct rule in Catalonia.
The situation is made even more scandalous by the fact that the ruling party in Spain, Rajoy’s PP, came last in the Catalan election and does not even have enough deputies to form its own group in the Catalan chamber. Yet, it abrogates the right to decide who can be the Catalan president.
This is extremely serious, as these methods that are used against the Catalan republican movement will set a precedent and be used tomorrow against anyone challenging any of the tenets of the Spanish regime. The deafening silence of the Spanish left on this question is staggering. In fact, the main leaders of Podemos and United Left have made statements asking Puigdemont to withdraw his candidacy. Instead of exposing the scandal of the Spanish regime interference with the democratic rights of the Catalan Parliament, they blame the victim!
One does not have to support Puigdemont becoming a president, and he has not yet explained the program of his government, but any consistent democrat is duty-bound to support his right to be considered as a candidate.
Catalan Parliament session suspended
Finally, Roger Torrent, conscious of the fact that if he defied the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal and went ahead with the session to elect Puigdemont as president he would probably be immediately charged, arrested and remanded in custody without bail, decided to suspend the session on the day it was supposed to take place. The day before, a spokesperson for the ruling Popular Party had threatened Torrent in no uncertain terms: “he has two kids, he should know what he exposes himself to”. Do as we tell you or you will end up in jail. The threat is very real as four people are already in jail without bail.
The decision by Torrent also reveals a deep rift amongst the two main independence parties. On the one hand Puigdemont needs to be appointed as president at all costs, otherwise he will become an irrelevant figure in Brussels, prevented from ever coming back home. The main leaders of ERC (to which Torrent belongs) have already intimated that the way forward is not to defy Spanish law but rather work within it. This is a de facto surrender of any struggle for a Catalan Republic, as the Spanish regime will never allow a referendum to take place. Furthermore, what Puigdemont was asking Torrent to do, to go ahead with the session and somehow make him a Catalan president defying the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal, would have led immediately to his arrest and jailing, while Puigdemont remains free in Brussels.
The main leaders of both ERC and Puigdemont’s own party PDeCAT would rather have someone else from the pro-independence majority become Catalan president, but that is not something Puigdemont will accept.
While the leaders of ERC and PDeCAT descended into mutual recriminations, thousands of people gathered outside the parliament perimeter to support the voting in of Puigdemont as president, called by the ANC and the Committees for the Defence of the Referendum (CDR). Angry at the decision taken they broke through police lines and went right to the doors of the building.
URGENT: des dizaines de manifest parviennent à entrer ds le parc du Parlement. Les mossos essaient de les repousser— Elise Gazengel (@EliseGaz) January 30, 2018
URGENTE: decenas de manifesstantes independentistas consiguen entrar en el Parc de la Ciutadella. Los Mossos no consiguen retenerles pic.twitter.com/OS4AI9Rm7K
Again, the ANC played a role in de-mobilising by calling people to go home rather than stay and keep the pressure. It was down to the CDR activists present to organise an impromptu assembly, which decided to stay and camp outside the building. Only after several brutal police charges by the Catalan Mossos police were protesters finally removed, by midnight (see below).
A new strategy required
What these events reveal, once again, is the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the Spanish regime. This confirms what we have said all along: the only way to achieve the right of self-determination is by revolutionary means. The current leaders of the main pro-independence parties (ERC, PDeCAT and Puigdemont’s list JxCAT) are not prepared to go down that road.
In a very angry intervention on Catalunya Radio this morning, Carles Riera, the head of the CUP parliamentary group, did not mince his words: “what happened yesterday was a piss-take. It’s the third time and it will be the last one: on 10 October with the suspended declaration of independence, on 27 October when the government ran away and then yesterday. Yesterday the Catalan Parliament was not strengthened, because the rhythm of events was marked by the Constitutional Tribunal and Catalan parliament abided by its ruling.”
He is absolutely correct. Now all the conclusions must be drawn from this. A new strategy is required, one that is based on mass mobilisation, that relies on the Committees for the Defence of the Republic, and that links the struggle for independence to the struggle to end capitalist austerity.