Tag Archives: 25S

on the struggle for an independent Catalonia

The following is an important recent article by Esther Vivas. The issues are complex ones and so I have also added my own comments as an extended section to the bottom of this post.

When will we see tanks in Barcelona?
Esther Vivas

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia. And he added: “We will not make it easy. Although the lion seems to be sleeping, they have no interest in provoking it too much, because it has already given enough proof of its ferocity over the centuries. These plebs are not up to much, if we know how to confront them”.

In the current verbiage that some politicians have adopted, these statements are not the only ones that we might call “undemocratic”, “putschist” and “anti-system”. After the demonstration on September 11, [1] the UPyD spokesperson [2], Rosa Díez, called on the government to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia if the region used money from central government aid “to finance its secession”. Not to be outdone, the MEP (representing the Popular Party, in power in Madrid) and vice-president of the European Parliament , Alejo Vidal Quadras, requested that a brigadier-general, preferably from the Civil Guard, take charge of the “Mossos de Esquadra” [3] to curb the independence process.

The El Mundo newspaper, in its editorial of September 27, demanded from the government “a penal response to the challenge launched by Artur Mas” who has called for a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia. El Mundo urged the government to amend the Criminal Code to “punish by imprisonment any call for an illegal referendum”. And for good measure, the extremist “Reconversion”, platform, whose leaders are Alejo Vidal Quadras and José Antonio Ortega Lara, demanded that if such a referendum were to be held the government place Catalonia under tutelage, on the basis of articles 161.2 and 155.1 and 2 of the Constitution.

And that’s not all. The Spanish Military Association (AME), composed of former members of the army, has threatened Catalan president Artur Mas with a Council of War and has warned those who promote “the breaking-up of Spain” that they will have to answer before a military court on charges of “high treason”. Nothing more than that! It speaks volumes about the present situation when a conservative politician such as Artur Mas, enmeshed to the marrow of his bones with the powers of finance, especially with the La Caixa and Aberti banks, who is leader of a party as un-subversive as the CiU [4] elicits such reactions. What will happen then when it comes to someone on the left, who is opposed to the interests of the employers and is a sincere defender of the right to self-determination?

In the light of the above, I ask myself a question. If all of this was happening, for example, in a Latin American country, how would it be characterized? The BBC has published a long report that makes the link between the threats to Catalonia and the “pact of silence” introduced during the Transition [5]. And this is quite right. The Amnesty Law of 1977 guarantees immunity to those who committed crimes against humanity under the Franco regime and during the Civil War. These individuals are still there, and today they are raising their heads again, without any restraint.

At a time where the Hispanic Titanic is taking in water on all sides, with a crisis which worsens each day and scaffolding that is creaking everywhere, it is the true nature of the regime that is revealing itself. And so are the limits of a transition that has been so beatified that it has prevented people from seeing the reality for decades. All of a sudden, the mask of “democrat” has fallen from their faces. Crises have at least the advantage of clarifying things.

According to them, democracy is a good thing as long as it does not go beyond a certain framework. As a result, all those who disturb things, whether it is these “hooligan” Catalan independentists or these “dangerous” 25S activists, must be quickly silenced. Broadcast television images of police charges? What a scandal! People will become indignant and will demonstrate even more. Solution: limit the right to demonstrate and the right to be informed and the business is settled. The president of the Popular Party group in the European Parliament, Jaime Mayor Oreja, and the Delegate of the Madrid government Cristina Cifuentes have understood this well.

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result. We should not, however, let the Spanish chauvinist fury against Mas make us take such a politician – whose only achievement in government is to have reduced social rights and taxes for the rich – for a herald of democracy and freedom. On the contrary, we, Catalans, will have a better life when we get rid of Mas, his squire Felip Puig and their team.

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent. The most important thing will be not to make any mistake about who the enemy is, and while we fight against the badly recycled Francoists, we should remember that the interests of the majority of the Catalan people have very little to do with those of the Messiah Artur Mas.

*Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She recently published, with Josep Maria Antentas, “Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro” (Ed. Sequitur). She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur. Article published in Publico.es, October 4, 2012.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

NOTES

[1] on September 11, 2012, at the call of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), constituted on March 10, 2012 in Barcelona by 269 Catalan municipalities, nearly two million people marched for the right to self-determination and independence.

[2] Unión Progreso y Democracia (Union, progress and democracy) is a political party of the radical populist Right, founded in 2007, which defends an uncompromising Spanish nationalism.

[3] Catalan police, responsible to the Generalitat (regional government).

[4] Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) is a federation of centre-right Catalan political parties.

[5] Transitional period between the death of General Franco in 1975 and the adoption of the new Constitution establishing a “parliamentary monarchy’ in 1978.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

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Some words of caution:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Balkanization”, as defined by Merriam-Webster meaning “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units” that was, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “coined at the end of World War I to describe the ethnic and political fragmentation that followed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Balkans”.

Balkanisation has also been a favoured strategy for maintaining and expanding US global hegemony that is perhaps most strongly advocated by Zbigniew Brzezinski. His most detailed and notorious public statement of such geostrategic methods can be found in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard:

Geopolitics has moved from the regional to the global dimension, with preponderance over the entire Eurasian continent serving as the central basis for global primacy.” [p. 39]

… To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” [p. 40]

In other words, here is the oldest strategy of them all: divide and conquer. Breaking nation states into smaller micro-states which is a US policy that we now see being used in attempts to weaken larger powers such as Pakistan turning them into more easily controlled “vassals” – to use Brzezinski’s inflammatory language.

In Europe the situation appears different in that, on the face of it, smaller states have gradually been welded together to build a more powerful super-state, namely the European Union. But what is this confederation of nations? Certainly it is very different in make-up from a large nation state like the United States of America. In the case of the EU, the federal administration being almost entirely in the hands of unelected and increasingly unaccountable bureaucrats. In other words, real democracy in Europe extends only as far as the national borders of its constituent states, and beyond these we have technocracy. It follows then, that if the nation states of Europe are made smaller and less influential, then the non-democratic, centralised power of the EU will automatically be increased.

Here is an interesting analysis I found in an article on the World Socialist Web Site posted November 2011 but very pertinent with regards to issues facing us now:

The advocates of a united Europe under the auspices of the EU have often drawn a comparison with the US. But the United States of America is the product of two revolutions—the War of Independence in the 18th century and the Civil War in the 19th century. Both were driven by progressive ideals that inspired millions of people—popular sovereignty and the abolition of slavery.

The EU project, in contrast, never had a higher aim than the free circulation of commodities and capital. It started as a Coal and Steel Community and arrived at its apogee with the single market and the common currency. Its lack of popular support became obvious in 2005, when the French and Dutch electorates rejected the draft European constitution because of its right-wing, neo-liberal orientation.

The international financial crisis has exposed the incompatibility of the EU and the basic interests of its inhabitants for everyone to see. The European Union does not allow for democratic and progressive alternatives. The choice between the euro and a national currency, between the EU and national sovereignty, is a choice between reactionary alternatives—the direct dictatorship of finance capital or its indirect dictatorship by means of the balkanization of the continent.

The real alternative is between a capitalist and a socialist Europe. The present crisis poses the stark alternatives of social revolution or a descent into war, depression and dictatorship.

Without breaking the iron grip of the financial markets, expropriating the banks, corporate conglomerates and private fortunes and placing them at the service of society as a whole, there is no solution. The dividing line in Europe is not between Greeks and Germans, Portuguese and French or Irish and British, it is between the working class that is forced to pay for the crisis and the financial aristocracy that continues to enrich itself, along with its henchmen in the EU, the national governments and all of the establishment parties.1

Whilst very much sympathetic to the wishes of historically oppressed populations in regions like Catalonia that seek greater political independence, I feel that secessionism at this time might nevertheless make a grave situation, still worse again. Weakening instead of strengthening the influence of the ordinary people, and thus leaping out of the national frying pan only to land up in the globalist (i.e., neo-imperialist) fire.

1 From an article entitled “The unravelling of the European Union”, written by Peter Schwarz, posted on the World Socialist Web Site on November 14, 2011. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/nov2011/pers-n14.shtml

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25S: the salvaging of democracy

Spanish state. 25S: the salvaging of democracy
Esther Vivas

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Madrid on Tuesday September 25, 2012 to protest against the sequestration of popular sovereignty by the banks and “markets”. Repression was once again brutal, leaving dozens of people wounded, and there were numerous arrests.

In this article, Esther Vivas reviews the motivations for this mobilisation and the causes of an ever more brutal police repression.

“They call it democracy but this isn’t one” was the cry repeated in the squares and on the demonstrations. And as time went by, this slogan took on still more meaning. The stigmatisation and repression against those who struggle in the street for their rights has only intensified in recent times. The worse the crisis gets, the more popular support broadens for those who protest and the more the brutal repression increase. The thirst for liberty is being smothered along with the current “democracy”.

Recent days provide a good illustration of this. On Saturday, September 15, 2012, when activists were detained during the demonstration against austerity in Madrid, what was their crime? Carrying a placard with the slogan: “25S: Encircle Parliament”. The next day, two wagon loads of police carried out identity checks on dozens of people in the park at Retiro. The motive? Participating in a preparatory meeting for the said action. Five days later, several of these activists were charged with offences to the highest institutions of the nation and they could be jailed for up to one year.

What were the objectives of the “25S: Encircle Parliament” action? Its appeal expresses them clearly: “Next September 25, we will encircle Parliament to save it from a kidnapping which has transformed this institution into a superfluous body. A kidnapping of popular sovereignty carried out by the Troika and the financial markets and executed with the consent and collaboration of the majority of the political parties”. What will be the form of this action? Its organisers have said and said again: “non-violent”. What kind of fear is it that dictates all these police measures? Fear of violence, or of freedom of expression?

As I said a few months ago at a social centre: “When those at the bottom move, those at the top tremble”. That is the truth. Fear has begun to change sides, even if only partially. The repressive measures, like those we have mentioned, show the fear of those who exert power. The fear that the people rise up, organise, express themselves freely against injustice. The fear of a handful faced with the multitude.

Coup d’état?

The criminalisation of “25S: Encircle Parliament” practically began a month ago when the government representative in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, characterised this initiative as a “disguised coup d’état”. The former minister and PSOE deputy José Martínez de Olmos compared the action to the attempted neo-Francoist coup by Tejero in 1981: “Occupying Parliament from the inside as Tejero did or from the outside as some wish on September 25 has the same goal: the sequestration of sovereignty”. Words repeated yesterday by the PP secretary general, Dolores de Cospedal.

Coup d’état? The only putschists here are the financial powers who overthrow governments as they wish and replace them by their trusted henchmen. In Italy they have sidelined Silvio Berlusconi in favour of Mario Monti, a former consultant for the Goldman Sachs bank. In Greece, they have replaced Giorgios Papandreou with Lucas Papadémos, ex-vice president of the European Central Bank. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos is a former employee of Lehman Brothers. As the journalist Robert Fisk puts it: “The banks and the ratings agencies have become the dictators of the West”. And when the “markets” come in by the door, democracy goes out the window.

It is difficult to believe today that Parliament “represents the popular will”. A good number of ministers and deputies come from private enterprises, others return there as soon as their political careers end. The companies reward them generously for services rendered. Do you remember Eduardo Zaplana? First Minister of Employment, then consultant to Telefonica. Elena Salgado? Vice minister of the Economy, she became a consultant for Abertis. Not to mention Rodrigo Rato, former Economy minister, then director of the International Monetary Fund and finally president of Bankia. His adventures as head of the bank have cost us dear. Without forgetting former prime ministers Felipe Gonzalez and José Maria Aznar, the first becoming a consultant for Gas Natural and the second working for Endesa, News Corporation, Barrick Gold, Doheny Global Group and so on. So it goes.

More democracy

But democracy is, precisely, what the movement of the indignant is demanding, a real democracy in the service of the people and incompatible with the sequestration of politics by the business world or with the Spanish centralism which denies the right of people to self-determination. Paradoxically, it is the protestors who have been deemed to be “anti-democrats”. Anti-democrats for symbolically “besieging” the Catalan parliament on June 15, 2011, during the budget debates which involved austerity measures which had not appeared in any electoral manifesto. Anti-democrats for organising meetings in the squares and stimulating public debate. Anti-democrats for occupying empty housing and putting it to social use. Anti-democrats, definitively, for combating unjust laws and practices.

And when there is more democracy in the street, there is more repression. Fines of 133,000 Euros are demanded by the Ministry of the Interior against 446 activists of 15M in Madrid; 6,000 Euros against 250 students involved in the “Valencia Spring”; hundreds of Euros against activists in Galicia, to mention only a few examples. Along with that, more than a hundred arrests in Catalonia since the general strike on May 29 and a modification of the Criminal Code to criminalise the new forms of protest.

The other face of austerity is the politics of fear and repression. Not so much a social state, as a penal state. Democracy is not on the side of those who claim to exercise it, but rather on the side of those who fight for it. History is full of examples of this, and “25S” will be one of them.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

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On Wednesday [Sept 26th], Democracy Now! also reported on the 25S “Occupy Congress” protests which they say led to at least 60 people being injured after police in riot gear had charged against demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets.

They spoke with independent journalist Maria Carrion who told them:

Well, as you, as your viewers and listeners have been able to see, it’s a very serious situation here in Spain. This is just the latest of many, many protests that we have been having here in Spain, in the last year, especially, and there will be many more coming. People have lost faith in government. People have lost faith in the main institutions. And we are facing 27 billion euros in social spending cuts.

Every week, the government unveils a series of new measures that affect primarily education and health and salaries and the welfare of Spanish people. And as we saw at the top of the hour, Greece is really an example of what’s coming our way, and that’s why I think people are so enraged and so worried, because they see that none of the measures imposed on Greece on in Portugal or in Ireland are having any sort of effect on the economy, on people’s welfare, on employment. And so, I think people are saying we do not want to head in that same direction.

Well, the PP, the conservative government in power, even before the protests took place, they were already equating them to the 1981 coup d’état here, the military coup d’état that tried to return Spain to a dictatorship. And they, you know, posted 1,400 police in riot gear and even sharpshooters around Congress. So, the disposition—disposition was already there to criminalize protesters. And now what has happened is that those who have been arrested are being charged with crimes against the nation for trying to, what they say, occupy Parliament while in session, which is a crime. They—the, you know, protesters always said, “We’re not occupying. We’re just surrounding Parliament.” But in any case, they are being charged with crimes against the nation, and they will go before a judge, a justice, at Spain’s National Court, which is the court that’s reserved for trying high crimes such as terrorism.

Click here to watch the report or read a full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under austerity measures, campaigns & events, Esther Vivas, Greece, police state, Spain