Monday, April 23, 2018

The Day of the Book and the Rose

Today is Sant Jordi, for me, the nicest of the Catalan holidays. Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia, but his popularity spreads far and wide. He is also patron saint of, among others, England, the country of Georgia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, and the boy scouts.

Saint George is the one who slew the dragon and saved the princess. Where the dragon’s blood fell, a red rose grew, and so the tradition in Catalonia is for men to give roses to women. But there is more to it than just roses. Early in the 20th century, it became the custom for women to give a book to men. This was started by a bookstore owner in Barcelona who noticed that Miquel Cervantes and William Shakespeare died on the same day and thought that somehow, that could make for good business. The book thing caught on and 23 April became the day of the book and the rose in Catalonia and has recently become UNESCO’s International Day of the book. Nowadays women give books and/or roses to men and men give books and/or roses to women because Catalonia is a modern and liberal society not totally stuck in gender roles, and because they value literature. Sant Jordi is the Catalan version of St. Valentine’s Day.

Pretty much every town has a plaza or promenade where there are book and flower stalls. Some of these are run by bookshops and florists, some by political parties, some by non-profit organizations. The main event, of course, is in Barcelona along La Rambla where today there are over 900 bookstalls and where they expect over a million people to stroll and buy books and roses. Total book sales for today throughout Catalonia are expected to exceed 1.5 million copies.

Each year we visit the stand of the rescue group
that brought me Cupcake

This year the holiday felt a little different.  You couldn't help but remember that the two Jordis, the two grassroots leaders, were both in jail. thrown there without a trial and denied bail.  Since the Spanish government has taken over the Catalan government, there will not be the usual institutional events such as the blessing of the roses at the government palace or the speech of the Catalan President since there is none.  Nevertheless, the illegally deposed president did issue a short video, not from the government palace but from Berlin where he is in exile.  He sent greetings for the holiday that were broadcast on Catalan news and on Facebook. This is not a Spanish holiday; it is celebrated only in Catalonia.

School kids listening to a story being read

The Rambla of Figueres

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Catalan Exiles are Spreading Out

There are now Catalan political leaders living in exile in three different countries within the E.U. Until recently there were five living in Belgium: President Puigdemont and four of his ministers. A couple of weeks ago Anna Gabriel, a member of the Catalan parliament, refused to appear in court to answer to charges of rebellion and sedition and went to Geneva. Now Clara Ponsatí, one of the four ministers who had been in Brussels since October, has gone to Scotland to resume her position as a professor of economics at the University of Saint Andrews.

Ponsatí was the minister of education in the last Catalan government.  She says that her colleagues in Scotland are shocked that she has been facing charges of rebellion and sedition with the possibility of a 30-year prison sentence in Spain. For one thing, because they know her well, and for another, because rebellion and sedition do not exist as crimes in Great Britain. Then there is the fact that the British government agreed to Scotland voting on the same kind of referendum that Spain says is illegal for the Catalans and for which Catalans are being imprisoned, without trial.

She also says that she will continue to work for Catalan independence. Now there will be a voice in Great Britain to add to the others in Belgium and Switzerland.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The New Spanish Inquisition

A new Spanish Inquisition is underway. This time its focus is political and not religious. The target is the Catalan independence movement.

It began four months ago with charges of rebellion against Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the two leaders of the large grassroots independence movements that held huge peaceful demostrations each year for the last six years on 11 September where, each year, one million or more people took part. It followed with charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds against the all members of the former Catalan government. Five of those charged, including the President of the Generalitat (Catalan government), left the country and went into exile in Belgium; several, including the President of the Catalan parliament, were imprisoned after their initial hearing and subsequently released on bail; the remaining four, including the Vice President of the Generalitat and the two grassroots leaders (the two Jordis) remain in prison, in preventative custody. They have been charged with rebellion even though not one ever committed any act of violence. The judge in charge of the case has said as much. But he has also said (in fact, written in his interlocutory) that they must be held because they have not renounced their commitment to Catalan independence. In other words, they are being charged and held for their political beliefs.

The Spanish government then instructed its police to investigate the finances of the Generalitat to see how much money was spent on the October 1st referendum. This would pertain to the charge of misuse of public funds. I should make clear that although the Spanish government and the entire international press refers to the referendum as being illegal, it was not. Referendums are mentioned in the Spanish constitution and they are allowed. However, this one was suspended by the Constitutional Court. It was therefore a suspended referendum, not an illegal one. It should always have been clear to the international press and the international public (and questioned by them) that in a democratic country, no referendum should ever be illegal. Voting is, after all, the basis of a democracy.

The Spanish police searched and investigated and came to the conclusion that no public money was spent on the referendum. So much for misuse of public funds.

But Madrid is not satisfied and today, the Minister of Internal Revenue has announced that 60 news media, businesses, and persons will be investigated to see if they were indirectly involved in receiving payments from the Generalitat that were then turned into payments for the illicit referendum. Among the 60 are journalists, newspapers, media groups, all kinds of businesses, and private persons. They were selected based on their known support of Catalan independence.
They have called this a witch hunt. I call it an Inquisition. You are guilty because you believe in a political idea that the government doesn’t like. Or maybe you are guilty because you read a newspaper that presents a view that the government doesn’t like. Or maybe you write and sing songs that the government doesn’t like. Two singers were just convicted for that and sentenced to three years in jail. Maybe you listen to those singers and you will be charged soon with listening to songs that the government doesn’t like. People who have posted comments critical of the Spanish government or police (or king!) have been charged with hate crimes – a designation usually reserved for crimes or speech against a vulnerable minority. Since when is criticizing the government a hate crime? Since the new Spanish Inquisition went into effect.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One More Catalan in Exile

People who have some interest in Catalan independence probably know who Carles Puigdemont is.  He is the deposed president of the Generalitat (the Catalan government), who much to the dismay of Spanish President Rajoy, who deposed him and called for new elections (although it was not his prerogative to do so), won those elections.  Instead of staying in Spain when charged with rebellion, together with four of his government deputies, he high-tailed it for Belgium because he was not assured that he (or they) would have a fair trial (since the charge of rebellion, substantiated by the preliminary court ruling, with no known act of violence, would by itself suggest that this is simply the making of a political trial and that it is not possible that it be fair).  His other motive for going to Brussels had to do with “internationalizing” the independence process and the undemocratic and illegal Spanish response to the independence movement.  In prison he would be allowed to talk to his wife for ten minutes a day by phone, but barred from communicating directly with the media.  Ensconced in Brussels, he holds press conferences, gives interviews, writes and publishes articles, attends university and other forums and debates, and is active in informing the world about what is happening in Catalonia and ensuring that Spanish repression remains in the public view.

Not many people know who Anna Gabriel is.  She was a deputy in the last Catalan parliament that was disbanded by Rajoy when he axed the Catalan government.  She is a member of the political party CUP, which is a left-wing, anti-capitalist party.  She is also being charged with rebellion and she has also decided that she can best serve the cause of Catalan independence and informing the world about Spanish repression by leaving the country.  She is cited to appear before the judge tomorrow (Wednesday) but she will not appear.   She has gone to Geneva. 

If the Spanish court demands her extradition, she will argue that she would not receive a fair trial in Spain where she is being charged for her political activities and already condemned in the Spanish press.  Switzerland does not extradite people for political crimes and it is believed that there is little chance that an extradition order will be presented or that it would be honored.  Her lawyers believe that extradition would be illegal because there is no evidence to suggest that Gabriel has committed any crime, whereas there is much evidence, on the part of the Spanish government, the judiciary, and the police, of political persecution.

Gabriel compares Spain with Turkey and says that Spain does nothing to ensure her safety (or that of anyone who is pro-independence).  Many people have been physically attacked, some, like Gabriel (and Puigdemont, and Mireia Boya, also from the CUP) have received death threats and yet the Spanish police do nothing to find out who the perpetrators are and bring them to justice.  On the other hand, they busily charge schoolteachers who held classroom discussions about what happened on 1 October, and private individuals who have posted opinions critical of the Spanish government or the Spanish police with hate crimes.

Gabriel says she has always campaigned peacefully for a referendum and she criticizes the Spanish government for wanting to stop the movement for independence with repression rather than political dialogue.  She says she decided to go into exile when she saw that after more than three months, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sanchez, and Jordi Cuixart were still in prison and that everyone in the former government was under judicial threat.

Gabriel intends to bring to international attention the lack of judicial impartiality in Spain.  Her attorney is Olivier Peter, a young Swiss who works in the area of human rights and has presented cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg¸ including several recent cases where Spain was found in violation of international law and condemned (and fined).  She is also planning to work with attorneys and organizations that work for civil and human rights that are linked to the court.  Gabriel herself is an attorney and before her service as a deputy in the Catalan parliament, was a law professor in Barcelona.

 Whereas both Carles Puigdemont and Anna Gabriel have been involved in the politics of bringing about Catalan independence, they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum.  This is one of the arguments against the accusation that Catalan independence is a populist movement because it incorporates the Catalan right (Puigdemont) and the Catalan far left (Gabriel) and other parties in between such as L’Esquera Republicana.  Now those two opposites will lead the two international fronts bringing to light the illegal and undemocratic actions of the Spanish government and judiciary to the world.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Madrid is in a Frenzy

Madrid is in a frenzy.  Last October, after sending in 10,000 military police to ensure that the Catalans would not vote on a referendum, which more than 2 million of them did anyway, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy called for special elections.  This was an illegal move – illegal under Spanish law which specifies that only the President of Catalonia can call for special elections, but never mind.  No one stopped him.  He did it thinking that the independence parties, knowing the elections were illegally called, would not participate, and that Catalans were tired of hearing about independence and frightened by the police violence and subsequent repression and so the pro-unity parties would win a majority.  Rajoy, who has never, not once in the last seven years since he was elected, agreed to talk to any Catalan leader, knows nothing about Catalonia and misread what the public wants.  He thought they would be frightened and tired and would shrug their shoulders in the way common to Spaniards.

But Catalans are different. As the banners at the soccer games say, “Catalonia is Not Spain.”  They did not shrug their shoulders.  The parties ran their candidates, and the citizens voted for the three independence parties, who once again have the majority in the Catalan parliament.  So what was Rajoy to do?  Sit down to talk?  No.  He wouldn’t even engage in the pro forma talk with the newly elected Speaker of the Catalan parliament for him to present the candidate agreed upon by the Catalan parliament to be the next President of the Generalitat (Catalan government).  That candidate is Carles Puigdemont.   He is also the person who got deposed three months ago by Rajoy.  But the Catalans voted for him again.  And he’s back!

What was Rajoy going to do?  Not let the Catalans have the president they elected in elections that he himself called.  So, since earlier in the week, his interior minister has set up extra controls at all the borders, making sure that Puigdemont does not attend the investiture session of parliament scheduled for next Tuesday at 3 pm. 

Spanish Interior Minister Zoido has said on television that Puigdemont will not be allowed to cross the border into Spain.  They have it guarded at all points.  He will not be able to enter by air, land, or sea.  All roads (except forest tracks) have guards inspecting vehicles, even the trunks of passenger cars.  Airports large and small, harbors and ports, all have extra security.  What Zoido failed to remember is that Puigdemont is a Spanish citizen and you cannot prohibit a Spanish citizen from entering Spain.

What Zoido really meant and eventually said is that, as there is an arrest warrant out for him, if Puigdemont were to enter Spain, he would immediately be arrested.  So if he tries to pass through in a car (or the trunk of a car, they really are inspecting car trunks!), in a helicopter, light plane, or boat, they will catch him. If he somehow manages to elude those controls (maybe the police were taking a break when he whizzed by, stuffed into a trunk), National Police are guarding the parliament building.  They have been inspecting the sewers in around the parliament building to make sure he cannot enter by subterranean passage, and they have also been staked out at the Barcelona Zoo, which is a close neighbor to the parliament building in the Parc de la Ciutadella.  It isn’t clear to me what they are doing at the zoo, although some have conjectured that they thought he might take shelter there and then try to enter the parliament dressed as a gorilla or elephant.

What’s with all the whoopla?  It isn’t illegal for Puigdemont to enter Spain.  If they want to arrest him, surely, it would have been easier and far less expensive for the Spanish government to simply place a couple of guards at the parliament building which is his obvious destination and arrest him there on Tuesday.  He’s not a terrorist.  He wouldn’t be armed.  Is it possible they hadn’t thought of that?  That they aren’t interested in saving money?  Or saving face?

President Puigdemont is not likely to enter Spain stuffed into the trunk of a car.  But waiting for him at the parliament building wouldn’t have planted the nasty seed that they’ve tried to plant in the minds of people.  They’ve insulted the Catalan president by conjuring up undignified images of him crumpled up in the trunk of a car, or wading through sewage to get to his investiture.   And yet to many, it’s the Spanish who look ridiculous stopping people at the border and looking into the trunks of their cars.  Unless there is a terrorist alert, the Spanish/French border is usually clear and open (the French police did not agree to participate in the operation).  And mucking around in the sewers did not make the police look particularly dignified.

Not being sure they would find Puigdemont, on Thursday, the Spanish Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, got on television to announce that the government was going to file a petition to prevent the investiture session from taking place.  Actually she said they would file it if the Congressional Counsel approved it.  The Congressional Counsel did not approve it, saying it was illegal, but they filed it anyway.  There was a post on Facebook showing Saenz de Santamaria talking to the press with a quote below.  It may or may not be exactly what she said, I didn’t listen to the whole presentation, but it certainly embodies what she and the government is doing.   It reads: "We totally respect the Catalans, but what is unacceptable is that they take advantage of elections to vote for whomever they want."

The Spanish government filed the petition with the Spanish Constitutional Court to prevent the investiture session from being held on Tuesday.  This is illegal.  The Court can only pronounce on an act, and if the investiture is not proper, it also hasn’t taken place yet.  But they’ve pronounced anyway.  Since they can’t prevent the session, they said that Puigdemont can only attend if the judge trying the case of rebellion gives permission.  This pronouncement is even more improper than stopping the session would have been.  For one thing, it is also preventative, and for another, no one asked them to do that and the court only functions in response to petitions that are presented to it. 

But Puigdemont is no fool and has turned around and filed a request with the said judge to be allowed to attend the session on Tuesday.  We’re all waiting to see what the judge will say and what will happen next.

There is a move on now for people to congregate in front of the parliament building on Tuesday, everyone wearing a mask.  We’re all Puigdemont!

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.