Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Banging Pots Is Not Violence

Spanish leaders never tire of talking about the rule of law and the constitution.  They insist that the Catalan referendum was illegal.  Is that so?  My understanding is that the Spanish constitution talks about the indivisibility of Spain, but there is nothing that says that referendums are not allowed, and in fact, they have been used throughout the country for various issues. 

Democracy is defined as government by the people.  The people exercise their democratic rights by voting to elect representatives or voting on referendums to give their opinions on specific issues.  If it is true, as those in Madrid say, that a referendum on independence is illegal, then Spain needs to consider that international law contradicts and overrules that.  A vote based on the right of self-determination is protected in the United Nations Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Spain is a signatory, and is a right of all peoples.  If the Spanish government doesn’t know this, surely the EU does.

But you don’t need to study the Spanish constitution or international laws and treaties to understand that voting is a basic right in any democracy.  It is the only concrete way that citizens can choose their leaders and tell them what they want them to do.  Any country that doesn't allow it doesn't provide democratic rights to its citizens.

In the recent crisis in Catalonia, two civil society leaders were charged with sedition and sent to prison, without bail, to await a trial that could take years to happen.  These are the two Jordis, Jordi Sanchez, leader of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Jordi Cuixart, leader of Omnium Cultural.  These two organizations have been the driving and organizing force behind the massive pro-right-to-decide, pro-independence demonstrations that have been taking place over the last six years.  Both Jordis are known pacifists who have always in every public appearance, called for peaceful, civil demonstrations, and the Catalans have always taken heed and done exactly that.  Catalans (and others) consider them to be political prisoners as they have done nothing illegal, have never engaged in or advocated violence, and are being charged and being held without bail before trial, for their beliefs.

The two Jordis are the only Catalans in jail so far.  But there are hundreds of others who have been charged and called to testify before judges, in advance of possible indictments.  These include dozens of government officials, 700 majors of towns throughout Catalonia who made the usual polling places in their towns available for the referendum vote on 1 October, and several citizens, some of whom have been charged with violence for having defended themselves from police attacking them with clubs.  These people were unarmed.  One threw a chair, causing a Spanish police agent to fall.

There are the higher level government leaders, the former President of the Generalitat and former ministers who have already been indicted for various crimes related to the organization of an earlier referendum – an unofficial “consultation” that had no legal consequences but was a way of allowing citizens to express their opinion on whether or not they wanted independence.  It was basically an opinion poll.  This was held in November 2015 and was also deemed illegal, thus the indictments.

Now charges have been filed against President of the Generalitat Puigdemont, President of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell, all the ministers and others from the government and parliament.  They are being charged with sedition and rebellion, never mind that rebellion is defined as employing violence and the only violence employed so far was that of the Spanish police on 1 October (the Spanish government says there is no reason to investigate that violence that resulted in over 1000 citizens being injured and treated by the public health service because the police were just doing their job).  Given that there has never been any violence within the independence movement or on the part of the government, the attorney general had written in his charges that violence could have resulted or could result in the future.  The charge of rebellion is the most serious of all the charges and can carry a penalty of 30 years in prison.  It is hard to understand how people could be so charged on the possibility of something that didn’t happen but might have. 

When the current, legitimate Catalan government was elected in September 2015, they ran on the platform of holding a referendum, setting up the mechanisms for a new state, and declaring independence if the pro-independence vote won in the referendum.  This platform was filed, as required, with the elections supervisory committee in Madrid when the candidacy was set up.  Puigdemont, in his press conference today, asked how was it that now people could be charged with such serious charges when they were completing what their platform had stated and what the people had voted for?

It is likely, if not certain, that if Puigdemont were to present himself before the judge, as he has been ordered to do at the end of this week, he will end up like the two Jordis – instead of testifying and going home, he’d be sent directly to jail.  His bail has been set at 6 million euros.  Before becoming president two years ago, Puigdemont was a journalist and mayor of Girona.  He’s not Donald Trump and hasn’t made a career of political corruption.  How is he supposed to come up with 6 million euros?

Rajoy has imposed elections to be held on 21 December.  Legally, only the President of the Generalitat can call for elections, but Rajoy is using an interpretation of the constitution in invoking Article 155 that goes far beyond what is actually allowed in many aspects of the Madrid takeover, not just the pending elections.  No attorney general or Spanish judge has called him on it, and none will.

Catalans were worried that the pro-independence parties would be deemed illegal and not allowed to run.  So far that hasn’t happened and I don’t think it will because Madrid has another way of dealing with the problem of the pro-unity parties losing.  Today, the Vice President of the Spanish senate has said that if pro-independence parties win the election, they will impose Article 155, the government takeover, again. 

In a shrewd move, on Monday, Puigdemont went to Brussels, the capital of Europe, with seven of his cabinet members, four women and three men.  On Tuesday he held a press conference that those of the press club where it was held said never had so many cameras in the room.  When the press conference began, it went live around the world.

He spoke in four different languages and told the world that he and his cabinet were not seeking asylum; they were there because they weren’t safe in Spain; that they were peaceful people and didn’t want to achieve independence with violence; that the road ahead was long; that they would participate in the elections called for 21 December; and that they were in the European capital so that Europe would react to the situation.

Puigdemont had time to respond to five questions from the press: Euronews, BBC, Sky News, TV3 (Catalan television), and Belgian television.  The Spanish media were pissed that they didn’t get a chance to put forward a question.  They were also pissed that most of Puigdemont’s talk was not in Castilian (could it be that the Spanish journalists did not understand any of the other three languages?).  Puigdemont had delivered his talk in Catalan, Castilian, English, and French – most of it was in French.  “Vergüenza,” they said afterwards, referring to Puigdemont’s polyglot performance and not their own ignorance.

After Puigdemont finished and they were leaving, a Catalan who works for one of the Catalan MP’s went offside with some of the press and suggested to them that they read the charges of rebellion against the Catalan government.  What they cite as violence is the banging of pots that people do on their balconies when they protest.

Puigdemont and the Catalans may not win their struggle for independence by convincing the public of their cause yet it doesn’t hurt to have the public on your side.  No one who pays attention can be very impressed with the lies told publically on Spanish and international television (including the recent BBC interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Dastis who said the videos of the police violence on 1 October were fake news).  Spaniards can be fooled, but the BBC had its own cameras and crews there and knew better.  

Puigdemont doesn’t tell lies.  And he chooses his audience strategically.  Going to Brussels, the capital of the European Union, was good strategy.  Europe has chosen to ignore the police violence, the abuse of civil and human rights, the cessation of a democratically elected parliament and government, the incarceration of political prisoners, and the unconstitutional direct rule imposed by Madrid. (If anyone in Europe wanted to read the Spanish constitution they would see that what Rajoy is doing goes far beyond what is constitutionally legal.) 

The most important thing that Puigdemont said was a question.  Will Madrid recognize the results of the elections they have called for on 21 December?  If the pro-independence parties win another majority, will that vote be respected?  Yesterday the Vice President of the Spanish senate said that if pro-independence parties win, Spain will again impose direct rule.

Puigdemont, with this trip to Brussels, has brought the problem to Europe, physically, laid it at its feet, and told then to react.

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