Monday, January 8, 2018

Words Matter

Words matter and the Spanish nationalists have been brazen with theirs while the Catalans have been prudent.  When Madrid announced that the independence referendum was illegal, the Catalans did not jump up and say, loud and clear, “That’s a lie.  Nowhere in the Spanish constitution does it say that any referendum is illegal.”  They said it, but they said it softly and infrequently.  And yet, this is true.  So the word “illegal” took off, and all the international press use it.  (You would think that maybe one enterprising journalist from the London or New York Times or the Washington Post would have looked into the legality or not of referendums in Spain by now.)   

In any case, the UN Charter states that all nations have the right to self-determination, which gives the Catalans the right under international law to vote on a referendum even if it WERE written in the Spanish constitution that it was prohibited.  Inexplicably, “United Nations Charter,” “right to self-determination,” and “international law” have also eluded the mainstream international press.  If all journalists do is report what an authority says and nothing more, we don’t really need journalists at all.  We can just read press releases and watch press conferences unattended by the press – like what goes on at the White House these days. 

When the entire Catalan government was charged with sedition, rebellion, and embezzlement of public funds, the international press took up these heavy-duty words without question.  Sedition means inciting to rebel.  So if you charge rebellion, there is no reason to charge sedition too.  Then when you look at rebellion, you find that it means armed resistance.  The Catalans have no access to arms and have not practiced any violence.  (Most countries dropped the crime of rebellion when they abandoned the absolute rule of monarchs.)  And finally, embezzlement of public funds means you have taken funds for your own private use.  The funds in question were used to hold the referendum vote so it was public money used for a public purpose.

For these reasons, the Belgian judge was not fooled by Spain’s vocabulary and was not going to honor the arrest warrant issued by Spain for the return of Catalan President Puigdemont and the four counselors who are in exile in Brussels with him.  The Spanish judge, having received advanced word, cancelled the arrest warrant to save Spain the embarrassment of having it be denied or reduced to the only charge possible, which was embezzlement.   

On 5 January 2018, the appeal of Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras to be allowed bail was denied by the tribunal reviewing it.  In the 27-page interlocutory, the word “violence” appeared 27 times.  Except for the attack of two police cars at one demonstration on 20 September, there has never been any violence in any demonstration or other activity of the independence movement since its inception over six years ago.

The judges even state that Junqueras has never participated in or ordered any violence be committed.  But, the judges wrote, one cannot ignore that in mobilizing people they might become violent.  Further, when put in situations in confrontation with police who are there to maintain Spanish law, violence can be committed.  Here they were referring to the police violence on 1 October that was committed when riot police confronted and attacked citizens trying to vote.  In other words, they are blaming Junqueras for the police violence ordered by Spanish authorities in order to keep people from voting.

The judges also say that the aspiration for independence is legitimate and they don’t negate that Junqueras can want that.  But then that means that negotiation with Spain would not be possible since independence is not a legal possibility and that would mean that Junqueras would once again have to take unilateral actions as when the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October. 

Rajoy called for new elections for the Catalan parliament and in those elections Junqueras won a seat.  One of the reasons for this appeal was so that he could be released on bail and serve the public who voted for him.  Junqueras’s attorney has pointed out that what was a petition to be allowed bail and released from prison while awaiting trial has been treated as a trial verdict, even before the investigation has been completed.  Junqueras has evidently already been tried and convicted although there has been no trial.  The judges say that he might commit the same criminal acts, although he has yet to be convicted of any criminal acts.

The words in the 27-page interlocutory remind me of the peculiar logic of some of the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It’s a similar kind of mixed up world.  Only this is not a fantasy story – it is Spain in the 21st century.

Until now, Catalans have referred to Junqueras and the others in prison as political prisoners – a term the Spanish dislike and deny.  Now they are beefing up their vocabulary and calling them political hostages.   

According to the Council of Europe, Spain has a way to go to comply with its recommendations regarding corruption in parliament, the judiciary, and prosecution.   It was announced a few days ago that “The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO today published a report assessing Spain’s compliance with its recommendations to prevent and combat corruption in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors.
 “Four years after the adoption of the Fourth round evaluation report in December 2013, GRECO concludes that there has been limited progress in Spain in complying with its recommendations and that the country’s level of compliance remains "globally unsatisfactory". Spain has not yet fully implemented any of the eleven recommendations GRECO issued in 2013. Seven recommendations have been partly implemented and four have not been implemented at all.”


Junqueras may well be a political prisoner, a hostage, and a victim of Spanish judiciary corruption.  He will soon be taking his case to the International Tribunal for Human Rights.  Maybe a visit before that body will help Spain overhaul its corrupt system and better define what is and is not legal and what it means to rebel.  And maybe in the future they will be more prudent in choosing their words.