"Why Catalonia is not giving up",Toni Strubell

Article by linguist Toni Strubell, author of “What Catalans Want”

Last Tuesday 15th October, the Catalan issue came to the fore at the House of Commons, Just as it had done 306 years ago back in 1714. On this occasion -not so very differently- in the wake of the announcement of draconian prison sentences for nine of Catalonia’s more prominent political prisoners. Today, after years of the EU’s leadership buying Spain’s perverted view of events, it is soothing for many Catalans to hear that minister Christopher Pincher’s mealy-mouthed and corporative justificaction of Spain’s brutality should have met with indignant response across the floor. Significant indeed was Sir Desmond Swayne’s (Con) description of the sentences as “shocking, horrifying and a reminder of a former Spanish regime” or shadow minister Emily Thornberry’s (Lab) as “incredibly harsh” and “the judicial equivalent of what we saw from the Spanish police on the streets of Catalonia two years ago: unnecessary, heavy-handed and entirely counterproductive”.

After two years of relative quiet (since the Dantesque attacks on voters at the October 1st Referendum), the massive demonstrations and protests against Madrid’s sentences have once again brought Catalonia centrestage at a time when many were maybe beginning to think the battle was over. Let it be known that Catalan determination is now maximum after the savage sentences. For many, the Rubicon has been crossed. As one Catalan philosopher put it, “the Catalan mental frame always sprouts afresh to outlive its illustrious gravediggers”. On this occasion, once again, Spain’s traditional disregard for a political approach to the issue guarantees that the Catalan drive for independence is in no way backpedaling.

One factor that leads us to believe this is the perception that a scenario for another “easy” Spanish victory over Catalonia is less plausible than it was in 1714 or 1939. Today, the more overtly repressive measures and international connivance of past times are not so readily available to Madrid governments. Although Juncker has done his bit, neither Louis XIV nor Hitler will be there to bundle Spain out. Parallel to this, Madrid’s attempt to sell the idea that the Catalan movement is “terrorist”, Erdogan-style, is backfiring miserably as the whole world has seen that middle-of-the-road support for Catalan independence is both peaceful and transversal. Now support for the political prisoners is no longer the cause of a handful of brave activists blocking motorways. It’s now embraced by a clear Parliamententary majority, prestigious business associations, Chambers of Commerce, 90% of all Catalan city and town hall governments, all the Catalan universities, a wide range of youth organizations, significant portions of the  Church, Barcelona’s Liceu opera house audiences, dockers, trades unionists, sportspeople, you name it. Significantly, they have even had to postpone the Barcelona FC–Real Madrid match this week for fear of major protests. But will things have calmed down in December when they play? I have my doubts. Parallel to this, even one portion of those opposed to independence have shown evident signs of shock at the severity of the sentences. No doubt, we are before a scenario in which more sympathy for independence will be triggered off. Evidently, the State only has itself to blame.

Sentencing seven Catalan ministers and two popular social leaders to between thirteen and nine years of prison, after two cruel years of preventive emprisonment, may seem normal to some. For exemple, to those conned into thinking some sort of crime has been committed. But has it? Of course it hasn’t! Let’s have a close look at this. The Catalan leaders were sentenced for sedition, a “crime” no longer contemplated in most civilized states. But what stands out most about the sentence is its arbitrary and biased nature. Firstly, in the fact that the principle “offence” being judged here -calling a Referendum- had previously been suppressed from the Spanish penal code. Secondly, because there fails to be any clear evidence of violence or embezzlement to justify any kind of prison sentence. And lastly –and this is the most devastating thing for Madrid- because when Swiss, Belgian, Geman and Scottish courts have been called upon to extradite other exiled Catalan leaders, none of them recognized as “crimes” any of Madrid’s accusations. Neither has the United Nations, which, along with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch,  have as repeatedly as unheededly called for the prisoners’ instant release.

Let’s come out with it for once and for all. These people have been sentenced to one hundred years in prison for entirely political reasons. They have been condemned because they took steps to counter Spain’s age-old refusal to respond politically to their petitions. And these petitions were not outlandish but ones based on rights included in international agreements which Spain had to sign to achieve international homologation as a democratic state. OK, the defendants were disobedient to Spanish judicial organs that bade them refrain. We all know that. But according even to Spanish law, disobedience can only be penalized with fines and a temporary suspension from office. Never twelve years in a Spanish prison! Anyway, haven’t Spanish governments been equally disobedient to other key rulings issued by Spain’s Constitutional Court over the years, many of which favorable to Catalonia? Why was there no prosecution here, may one ask?

What we have in Spain, therefore, is a situation of discrimination suffered by minorities through the clearly bogus use of the judiciary. Spain’s justice system is scandalously warped. Members of the key judicial bodies are appointed by the major parties to which they subsequently owe obedience. Besides, these bodies are at the service of the mantra of National Unity, a “value” placed above Democracy. The most poignant exemple of this can be seen in the fate run by the 2006 Catalan Statute. It was passed both at the ballots and in the Catalan and Spanish parliaments. Indeed, it was even sanctioned by the father of the present king, whose TV rants against Catalonia might even have raised eyebrows in heyday Serbia. But the Statute was subsequently mutilated by a very controversial 2010 Constitutional Court ruling at the initiative of PP. This left Catalonia stranded with the remains of a Statute that no one had actually voted, a situation of judicial limbo that would be considered intolerable in any other context. But if it meant weakening the political position of the Catalan institutions and people, exposing the country to degrees of fiscal spoliation unparalleled in any other European territory (other than Mallorca), this was certainly not going to make anyone in the Madrid establishment lose any sleep.

Particularly upsetting for democrats is the case of social leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, populaly referred to as the “Jordis”. They have inexplicably been sentenced to nine years prison. This is surely one of the great judicial scandals of the last decade in the so-called democratic world. Cuixart is president of Òmnium Cultural, an 160.000-strong cultural association that, along with the Catalan National Assembly, has become the main social catalyst behind the independence Process arising in 2012. Jordi Sánchez is the former president of the powerful Catalan National Assembly. Together they organized the vast peaceful demonstrations for self-determination that have been one of the political media sensations of the last decade.  The Jordis’ only “offences” have been to lead these peaceful movements. The State grabbed at the opportunity of framing them when, on September 20th 2017, they led a peaceful protest against what was seen as provocative judicial-political actions aimed at derailing the October 1st Referendum. With their driver’s permission, they stood on the roof of a police vehicle -the only vantage point available- to call on angry demonstrators to disperse. This after a day in which their principle activity had been to organize access lanes for police to enter and search the Catalan Ministry of the Economy. Nine years prison for this? That is preposterous. Like the other sentences, it can only be put down to Spain’s renowned thirst for vengeance.

Spain claims to be a State of Law and a democratic country. It even claims to rank high on several international gauges for democratic standards. But what are the criteria on which these gauges are drawn up? Who decides this? Independent agents or politically loaded lobbies? What many see in Spain is a mess. A real mess. Why ? Because it is a State built upon the foundations of a dictatorship. I ask, have those patting Spain on the back taken into account how the current regime was created? And the economic and political repercussions that lead off from that origin today? Can we accept that none of Franco’s crimes have been judged while the sentences applied against Republicans have yet to be officially annulled? Have they taken into account who took the decision, well into the new Millenium, that those sentences should not be annulled? Do they know Spain comes second only to Cambodia as regards the number of those a dictatorship caused to disappear? What of Spain’s sinister record as regards mass war graves? Do they know that there are still a staggering figure of over one hundred thousand unidentified victims of Franco repression to whom successive Madrid governments have shown unblushing indifference? Parallel to this, do they know Spain has just ratified perpetual duchies for the families of Franco and Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish Fascist party? Do they know 1066 Catalan voters were injured by police truncheons as they waited to vot at the 2017 Referendum? Do they know about the Gag Law (Llei Mordassa) that severely limits freedom of expression and other laws that Spain’s recent governments have implemented to persecute political oponents and restict Human Rights? Do they know that Spain has prosecuted more artists, rappers and singers for their work than countries like Iran or China? No matter how degraded the international situation has become, Spain still holds every right to score highly on gauges measuring poor democratic standards worldwide. Certainly, uncomfortably close to those of a dictatorship.

I’m not going to be the first to say this. But it must be insisted that the Catalan cause has little to do with nationalist identity. And a lot to do with Democracy. Indeed, since the beginning of the Process, a trickle of politicians and intellectuals worldwide have come to see this. The Catalan revolution is not the result of selfish jingoim. It represents a positive push in the direction of a truer from of participative Democracy. It is also a way of escaping from a hostile environament in which Catalonia has been humiliated and her bid for progress and freedom in many ways flaunted. So that trickle has rapidly become a steady stream and threatens to become a flood. Despite the Spanish government’s feverish attempts to discredit Catalonia and save Spain’s face (via government propaganda agencies such as #Españaglobal), Catalonia is clearly winning the battle of public opinion. As demostrations worldwide have so far show, it is increasingly seen as a cause many can sympathize with. The people of Catalonia want to be able to decide their own future and, since 1989, have been demanding their right to do so.

This claim seems all the more legitimate when we consider the fate of Catalonia’s last ten  presidents, since 1931. Five of them suffered periods of exile, four spells in prison, one execution and almost all fines, suspension or contempt from Madrid. The Catalan cause, therefore, and its rejection by Madrid is nothing new. And Spanish governments of different colours have always responded to it in a similarly repressive fashion. It is on the Catalan side that the changes are more visible. As Spain continues to make all the same old mistakes in handling the Catalan issue -mistakes that many now consider irreparable with the new sentences-  Catalans are spurred on along the road to independence. No one is giving up because Spain is allowing them no other option.