Tag Archives: Carles Puigdemont

notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections

On October 27th, the Catalan parliament honoured the result of the independence referendum held on October 1st by voting in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence. Within hours the Spanish Senate in turn voted to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend regional autonomy and dissolved the Catalan Parliament. Prime Minister Rajoy immediately called for regional elections to be held on December 21st.

On the eve of the Catalan elections, here is another update courtesy of my friend in Barcelona. Firstly, in response to the anti-democratic clampdown on Catalonia since the independence referendum:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

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Secondly, on the prospects for tomorrow’s vote and the likely repercussions:

I don’t know what polls you looked at, but the ones that newspapers of all tendencies have published here say that it will be a close thing between Esquerra Republicana and Citizens. I’m sending you a link to an article in the Financial Times (sorry about the rotten source) that presents the data as it has appeared in Spanish and Catalan media.

I don’t have a clue how valid the polls are. All I can say is that most newspapers in Spain are right wing, so if all these right-wing media (including FT) are saying the independentists have a good chance of winning, maybe they will win. On the other hand, they might be deliberately exaggerating the independentists’ chances in order to encourage unionist participation.  Who knows?

As for the Thursday vote, that’s another conundrum. Some say that an election on a working day is likely to have lower participation than on a Sunday [in Spain elections are usually held on weekends], since people in precarious jobs (i.e. most workers) will probably hesitate to ask their bosses permission to go to the polling station (though legally they’re entitled to four hours off to do so). In principle lower participation should damage the unionist side, since abstention in Catalan election has traditionally been quite high on that camp. But of course this is an unusual election and they should be more motivated than in the past. Maybe only the staunchest people on both sides will make the effort to vote, and if this is the case, the non-committal Podemos-type left (Catalunya en Comú) will do badly. But this could work to the latter’s advantage after all, because if there is a hung parliament (there may well be a draw between the two blocks), they might become the arbiters of the situation and force some sort of compromise solution. Otherwise, there would have to be a repeat of the election. And so on and so forth…

The one thing that’s clear to me, in answer to your question, is that if the independentists win, they won’t be able to go ahead with their separatist agenda for the simple reason that their leaders are either exiled, or in prison, or on bail under promise not to break the law again, or indicted, or about to be indicted, or in the case of CUP (the radical independentist party), quite likely to be made illegal. In fact they haven’t even been able to talk much during the election campaign, since saying certain things would mean an arrest. It’ll be quite an act of protest on the part of Catalan voters if they win, given these circumstances; and in fact this is why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to vote for Esquerra Republicana. But it will be a symbolic act and nothing else.

Something else that may well happen is a rigged election. I know this sounds weird and impossible in a European country, but a lot of weird and impossible things have happened over here since last September, so if I’m paranoid, it’s not without some justification. For example, the IT company hired by the Spanish government to count the votes is one that already raised suspicion when in the last Spanish election (the one that had to be repeated) Podemos lost about one million votes in six months. Apparently this company have close ties with Partido Popular and have been appointed arbitrarily and without following due procedure. The rumours of rigging are so widespread that there will be the largest number of voluntary observers in polling stations ever. But what happens once the data is sent to the central system is more difficult to keep track of. Would it really be so difficult for the Spanish government to alter the results?

Finally, I’m not surprised that May is backing Rajoy and that the media have stopped being interested in us. We’re after all of no economic or strategic importance to anybody. And I guess from the point of view of the rulers of Europe, having authoritarian regimes ruling peripheral countries like Spain or Greece can only be a good thing. After all we had Franco for forty years and nobody batted an eyelid, so long as the US could keep its military bases in the peninsula. I don’t think things have changed that much.

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Update:

On Friday 22nd, the day after the elections, Democracy Now! interviewed Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the new book “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.”

Faber compared Spain’s clampdown on the independentist movement to “a kind of McCarthyism”:

It’s really important to understand that despite the fact that what—despite what happened yesterday, where the pro-independence parties continued to hold onto a majority of seats, this judicial process is continuing. In fact, this very morning, so the morning after the elections, the Spanish Supreme Court announced that it was further indicting a bunch of other leaders of the pro-independence movement, of all the different pro-independence parties, as well as the civil society movement that has been supporting independence.

And you can describe this as a kind of McCarthyism, where what is, in principle, a legitimate political position, which is the idea that Catalonia is better off on its own as an independent republic, has become criminalized. And in the same way that in the 1950s communism was a reason to persecute political ideas, the same is happening now in Spain, where the judicial branch of the Spanish state is applying pressure and sort of setting boundaries to what is sayable and thinkable politically.

Regarding the future, he said:

Rajoy has said already, this morning in a press conference, that he is not going to talk with Puigdemont anywhere. Rajoy, in his typical stubborn denial fashion, has said he is not going to do that. It’s really—one could wonder how long this attitude of Rajoy, this kind of denialism of Rajoy, can withstand reality, the political reality of the fact that at least about half of people in Catalonia do not see the Spanish state as their state and want to leave. It’s really unclear whether Rajoy can keep this up, but he’s going to, for sure, try.

Currently, the Catalan self-government continues to be revoked. Rajoy said this morning he will—the self-government will be reinstituted as soon as a new government has been formed. And now the question is whether the three pro-independence parties will be able to actually form a government. They do have a majority of seats, but there’s three of them, and they don’t see eye to eye on everything. So it’s still up for question whether this government can be formed. And it’s up to question how the government will look, because of the 70 pro-independence deputies that were elected yesterday, eight are either in exile or in prison currently.

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

 

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Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

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The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

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Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

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Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

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Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

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