By Joe Montero
Since last November and the forced Catalan election, not much has been heard of what has happened there and across Spain since.
The pro-independence parties won on the election. But Madrid continued to refuse to recognise this and its implications. Instead of respecting the wishes of the voters, immense pressure is being put on the regional parliament to cave in to the wishes of Madrid. But the pro-independence parties have refused to do this and this has resulted in a political stalemate.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has responded with the threat to maintain direct rule from Madrid and choosing to continue using escalating repression as its main weapon.
Elected members of parliament remain in prison, waiting to appear in court. Carles Puigdemont, president in the last regional parliament, remains in exile with four others , because they will be arrested as soon as they return. Others are being hunted or faced the prospect of joining the ranks of those charged. .
Rajoy, his ministers, and much of the big media, which is sympathetic to the government, go on about the rule of law. But whose law is this? Who appointed the judges and prosecutor? Reliance is put on an archaic constitution, designed to maintain control in Madrid and in the hands of the most privileged section of society. Thus, anything that goes against this arrangement is called illegal and worthy of punishment.
And this is exactly the direction that the Rajoy government has continued to take. The Supreme Court has prevented the new Catalan parliament from electing Puigdemont and leader of Together For Catalonia (JxCat) as president. Oriol Junqueras the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), will not be allowed out of prison to vote, or stand and be voted in as vice-president.
Altogether, 19 elected members of the Catalan parliament and other key leaders in prison, on bail or in exile. All are charged with sedition and rebellion, which carries imprisonment for up to 30 years. The Supreme Court has issued further writs, on the same charges, against another 11, including Marta Rovira (temporary leader of the ERC), Josep Louis Trapero (former head of the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra), former JxCat leader Arturo Mas, and Anna Gabriel and Mireia Boyá of the People’s Unity List (CUP). Another 28 are being investigated.
Anna Gabriel, leader of the CUP, has just fled into exile in Switzerland, after being ordered to stand before the court in Madrid on 21 February. “Since I will not have a fair trial at home, I have looked for a country that can protect my rights,” she told Swiss newspaper Le Temps on Tuesday.
Madrid wants to either force its control on the Catalan parliament or destroy it.
A group of 650 lawyers from all over Spain has produced a 50 page document on the infringement of human rights in Catalonia by the Spanish authorities during the independence referendum on October 1. It includes a full list of all the restrictions and infringements, imposed on the Catalan institutions and public that contravene “the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950,” and will be presented to the council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks.
The report also condemns the “extreme judicialisation” of the Catalan conflict, the repression by the Spanish police that left 1,066 people injured during last October’s election, and the suspension of Catalonia’s self-rule under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
“Instead of choosing dialogue to solve the conflict, the Spanish state has preferred to take the path of judicialisation and repression, with serious infringements of rights and freedoms, charging the leaders of two organizations behind this peaceful and democratic process with the non-existent crimes of rebellion and sedition, as well as the president, the vice president and ministers of the Catalan government,” reads the report.
The turn to escalating repression is not only being directed against politicians. The Catalan protest movement has risen again since mid-January, and the use of police raids and arrests has picked up again. This has come together with a new level of savageness in the propaganda war in which the bulk of the Spanish big media is complicit.
A new twist in this has been a barrage blaming the Russians for being behind the threat to Spanish unity. If you believe it, the Catalan independence parties are in league with the Russians. It doesn’t stay here, because the accusation of Russian interference extends through Spain.
Attention is also being turned to the Basques, Gallegos (Galicia) and other independence movements across the Spanish territory. All are becoming increasingly restless and want self-determination.
Eight young Basques who have already spent time in prison without trial, have been sentenced to a total of 375 years, on the accusation of belonging to the outlawed and formally armed ETA (Land and Freedom). The accusation was based on taking part in the campaign to free political prisoners. Spain’s extremely broad anti-terrorism law has been used to secure the convictions.
An anti-union law brought in by the Zapatero government in 2010, is the vehicle that the state is increasingly predisposed to use to intervene in industrial disputes and the internal affairs of unions, and it brings the “legal” power to use the military. A dispute at Ryanair over contracts is a test case because the company is using Spanish law to support the employer’s right to not recognise unions.
An important aspect of the rise of repression is the nurturing of fascist sentiment, chauvinistic flag waving and accusing any criticism as unpatriotic and a threat to the Spanish state and national unity and therefore deserves to be punished. This sets the political context for the erosion of what had been accepted rights in Spain’s broader society.
Already, under Operacion Arana (spider), which is being carried out by the paramilitary Civil Guard, the accusation of supporting terrorism has been used to carry out raids against Twitter account users (Alfredo Ramírez, Casandra, Andeka Jurado, Kaitet Prieto, to name just a few), artists (such as César Strawberry, Pablo Hasél) and journalists (BoroLH).
On 20 February prominent Spanish rapper from Mallorca, Valtonyc, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison by the Spanish Supreme Court, for insulting the country’s royal family and “inciting terrorism” in his song lyrics. He is appealing his sentence before the European Court of Human Rights’ Constitutional Court. A work titled Contemporary Spanish Political Prisoners was removed by the authorities from Madrid’s ARCO art fair, and a book on the Galician drug cartel has been banned. The three events occurred in a single week.
This is a government and establishment in political crisis, facing a worsening economic environment (despite claims to the contrary), continuing political instability and a crisis of legitimacy, aggravated by some two hundred cases of corruption that are supposed to come before the courts.
This government should not exist. But it is maintained by the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE) and its union movement, the General Union of Workers (UGT), which systematically fall in line with most repressive measures. In parliament, the PSOE abstains as a block from any measure that has the potential to bring down the government. The reason is that the defence of the constitution and the two-party system is primary. They have been quite open about this. They fear being eclipsed by the anti-austerity and anti-establishment Podemos.
A rising protest movement across Spain is answering the rise of repression. Huge numbers of pensioners marched in Madrid just two weeks ago, opposing cuts to the pension. They faced the police head on. There were the protests against the visit of King Felipe in Barcelona, which met police attack and arrests. there was the big women’s march on Sunday (their time) in Madrid.
Fearing that the strategy might backfire, cracks are starting to appear on Rejoy’s side and sections of the elite are getting noticeably nervous. He and his government may still be in for a major fall and this could happen before too long.