Once again the Catalans landed a peaceful, democratic blow to Spain. On 1 October over 2 million Catalans voted on the banned referendum that the Spanish government said would never happen and tried to block with 12,000 bat-wielding, riot-geared police. The result was 2,262,425 votes counted (many ballots were stolen by the Spanish police), with 89% (2,020,144) voting Yes, and 7.8% (176,566) voting No.
This pissed off Madrid so it decided it would get rid of the Catalan government. Never mind that it was a legitimate, democratically elected government. The Spanish government made illegal use of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution – an article that says that the government is empowered to give directions to an autonomous community if it sees that things are out of control. Rather than give directions to the Catalan government, it disbanded it and took over everything: the government, parliament, the economy, the police, agriculture, culture, even sending art works housed in a Catalan museum whose ownership was being disputed in the courts back to the complaining town they had come from years ago, before the final sentence of the judge. They took over everything.
With half of the Catalan government in prison awaiting trial and others in exile escaping the Spanish government-run judicial system, Madrid also called for Catalan parliamentary elections, thinking this was a good moment for the pro-unity parties to win. After all, the independence parties were incapacitated. These would be “real” elections (unlike the banned referendum) run by a company owned in part by the Spanish government. When Madrid said it would not allow foreign observers, people worried about the honesty of these elections. And Catalan President Puigdemont asked if Spain would honor the results if the independence parties won.
Madrid said that now the silent majority of Catalans would have a voice. Of course they had a voice in the September 2015 parliament elections and did not achieve a majority then, and anyone who wanted to could have voted – was encouraged to vote – in the 1 October referendum. Silent majorities tend to resemble invisible rabbits and it would be interesting to see if Madrid could pull this rabbit out of its hat.
What it did pull out of that hat was a lot of repression. Freedom of speech almost disappeared. The Catalan public media was not allowed to call President Puigdemont “President Puigdemont” even though all former presidents maintain their title. First yellow ribbons (in support of the Catalan political prisoners held in Madrid) were banned from all government buildings, then the color yellow was banned from everything – including night lighting for fountains. Yellow scarves were banned. Then, yellow ribbons began to appear everywhere: tied to trees, utility poles, bridges, balconies.
|Passeig Maritim, Tarragona|
|Girona city hall|
Citizens who demonstrated in protest of the Catalan political prisoners were not allowed to carry signs that said “Freedom for Political Prisoners.” The signs were changed to read simply “Democracy” and those were banned too. A few days before Thursday’s election, Spain’s vice president, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, bragged at a meeting of the Popular Party faithful in Girona: “Who has ordered the liquidation of Catalan secessionism? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party. Who has seen to it that the secessionists don’t have leaders because they’ve been beheaded? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party.” We all knew there was no separation of powers in Spain, and here was the Spanish vice president confirming it on television. Rajoy had orchestrated the whole judicial procedure and there is no separation of powers between government and judiciary in Spain.
The independentists were not declared illegal, but, as Sáenz de Santamaría pointed out, most of the leaders were either in prison awaiting trial, in exile, or out on bail with charges of rebellion pending. Any whisper of the word independence would put those people back in jail. And so the campaign – hat tipped to favor the silent majority -- was under way.
On 21 December the Catalans (both silent and vocal) voted.
The results were as follows: (the Catalan parliament has 135 seats and 68 are needed for a majority)
Pro-Independence parties (70 seats total)
JxCat: 34 seats, 21.65% of vote
ERC: 32 seats, 21.39% of vote
CUP: 4 seats, 4.45% of vote
Pro-Unity parties (57 seats total)
C’s: 36 seats, 25.37% of vote
PSC: 17 seats, 13.88% of vote
PP: 4 seats, 4.24% of vote
No stand on independence/unity
ComuPodem: 8 seats, 7.45% of vote
The party that won the most seats was Ciutadans – a pro-unity party. The party that won the fewest seats was PP – the ruling party of Spain and the one that brought police violence and so-called Article 155 to the Catalans. It fell from 11 seats to 4. This is a notable result in that the PP is the ruling party in Spain while it is the least voted in Catalonia.
The block that won the most seats and the majority of parliament was the independence block of three parties Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), L’Esquerra Republicana (ERC), and the CUP. So much for the silent majority.
And what about that invisible rabbit? Donald Trump sees millions of happy faces at an inauguration that was poorly attended because he is a man plagued by narcissism. On the other side of the pond there are those who also don’t see reality, but in their case their vision is warped by political expediency. This is why the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt sees invisible rabbits. He could completely ignore the fact that the three separatist parties had won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament – ensuring a separatist majority – and instead congratulate the pro-Spanish Ciutadans (C’s) party which gained 37 seats, the largest single party but one without enough allies to form a government. The Spanish president has the same vision impairment and did the same. Not only that, but he announced that he would be happy to talk with the C’s leader while he stated he was not interested in speaking to Carles Puigdemont, the head of the independence block. We are not talking here about good-natured Elwood P. Dowd who turns out to be wiser than many think. These are political leaders who will not deal with reality, who are not democrats, and who are demonstrating that the EU has become an old-boys’ club led by people who see invisible rabbits.
What will happen now? There are many questions pending. The four Catalan political prisoners have court dates in early January to see if they will be released on bail. If not, it would make it difficult for those elected to parliament to do their jobs. If Carles Puigdemont returns to Spain will he be immediately arrested and also imprisoned without bail? He is likely to be elected President of the parliament, but being imprisoned would make it impossible for him to serve. Will the Catalans have the elected officials they voted for? Or will they once again be decapitated by Rajoy?
After all the repression, the Catalans came out and voted once again for independence. 47.8% of the votes were for independence, 43.49% were for unity, and 7.45% were for neither. Independence votes have been steadily growing. In the September 2015 elections, the independence block won 1,966,508 votes, in the banned October referendum Yes won 2,020,144 votes, and on 21 December the independence parties won 2,063,361 votes.
There are those who say that independence does not have a majority of the population and that therefore independence cannot be an option. But you could also say that unity does not have a majority and therefore unity cannot be an option. If there are those who would be unhappy with the change, there are even more who are unhappy with the status quo. In a democracy, the citizens would be able to vote on a referendum and decide the issue.
In the meantime, the Spanish interior minister has decided that the 12,000 para-military police that he sent on 20 September to stop the referendum (which they did not succeed in doing given that all the ballot boxes appeared out of nowhere on the morning of 1 October, over 2 million people voted, and their votes were counted) can go home now. They’ve been posted in Catalonia for three months. After beating up unarmed citizens on 1 October, they haven’t had much to do except go out in their vans and helicopters from time to time just to make their presence felt and to intimidate people. Every now and then a few would go into a bar and start a fight if they were spoken to in Catalan. Once they started a fight when the two waiters spoke to each other in Catalan, but it turned out that they were speaking to each other in Italian. How were the Spanish police to know it wasn’t Catalan? They have nothing against Italian. Mostly they sat on those ridiculous, expensive boats and complained about the food.
The cost of this police operation is a government secret. Rajoy has made it so in order not to have to answer questions about it in the Spanish congress. Estimates make it at about 80 million euros for the three months – just the ships they were housed on cost 300,000 euros a day. Whatever the amount, it’s a lot of money for a sustained, failed enterprise.
|Tweety in the Port of Barcelona|
These police are called “Piolins” (Tweeties) by the Catalans. This is because one of the boats they were housed in had Tweety and other Looney Tunes cartoon characters painted bigger than life on its sides. Tweety is leaving. How much longer will the invisible rabbit be with us?