This piece will probably change nothing.
The preventive imprisonment of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart is one of those events (one more) for which I could tell the most beautiful story ever heard and still not get anyone to change his previous opinion. No matter how much I cite the article of the penal code about sedition, mention the newspaper pieces about the calling for demonstrations on September 20th, point up that similar initiatives in other advanced democracies also end up in analogous judicial actions, and invite everyone to read calmly the well-reasoned judicial writ on the subject, no pro-independence hardliner will even consider my argument.
It doesn’t matter that Sànchez and Cuixart had spent months bragging that they intended to break the law. It doesn’t matter that they are going to share accomodation with Jordi Pujol Ferrusola, Ignacio González or Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, among the long list of politicians and businessmen that used to be almighty but are now enjoying their own serving of Judicial Independence and Rule of Law in the Soto del Real prison. Debate, for want of a better word, is just impossible.
I will thus limit myself to a few diffuse comments about where do we go from here and what can be expected to happen in the next weeks.
- Law is being applied
One can believe that an act of sedition was committed or support the independence movement, but the truth is that the article of the penal code seems to be written exactly for the kind of activities described in the judicial writ. We are not talking about climbing on top of a Guardia Civil car and deliver a speech on nice things about the liberty of the people and pacifism, but about a coordinated effort to hinder a police search ordered by a judge. This search can be considered fair or unfair, but it was a legal action, and obstructing it a criminal offense. Sànchez and Cuixart almost bragged about doing exactly that on TV the whole day.
Preventive prison is also covered by the conditions stated is Spanish law. Sànchez and Cuixart are professional activists (and I deeply admire how good they are at it) who have been saying in every way possible that it is time to defy the current legality and declare independence. Since promoting disobedience to legality is sedition (once again, the legal definition of the offense is what it is), and their job is to mobilize other activists to break the law, the condition of probable recidivism is fully applicable.
It’s easy to say that this is politically toxic, that the law is unfair, that it furthers the pro-independence movement, or anything else. We will discuss this shortly. But in any case, what we have witness today is in no way exceptional or illegal.
- The sedition offense could have been avoided easily
Again, this argument is independent of whether the offense of sedition is valid, civil disobedience is applicable or secession is a fair or unfair cause. The ANC and Omnium could have called for a mobilization in Plaça Catalunya or in Plaça Universitat, stage their performance two streets away from the offices of the Counselor of Economy and not block the way of the judicial agents. That would have been an unauthorized demonstration that would have resulted in a few fines, and that would have been all. Despite this, the organizers decided to call for demonstrations on the entrance of public buildings. Maybe they were not aware of the risks they were taking, but ignorance of the law is no excuse.
- Sànchez and Cuixart are probably delighted of ending up like this
They wouldn’t say it aloud, but this is what they wanted: be martyrs. The strategy of the independence supporters, according to their own roadmap, is to promote conflict and these arrests are exactly the kind of clashes that they think can grant them legitimacy. It is part of the elaborated ritual of obfuscation of the pro-independence movement; they believe it reinforces them.
- Reminder: The ANC and Omnium represent just “half” of Catalonia
This is not a conflict between Catalonia and Spain. This is above all a conflict between Catalans that want the secession and Catalans who oppose to it. That the first group is much noisier doesn’t mean that the second does not exist. The legality being applied by the tribunal is supported by many Catalans that are fed up of Sànchez and Cuixart insisting that Catalonia is only them.
- I suspect that everybody knows the end of this story
Or, at least, what’s going to happen in the following months.
- The central government will invoke article 155 of the Constitution.
- The government of the Generalitat, the ANC and Omnium will react with some convoluted ambiguous-symbolic-patriotic gesture to draw attention, but they will not reply to Rajoy.
- Esperanza Aguirre or some ideologic relative will say something fascist-like. Independence supporters will say that she represents the whole of Spain.
- The central government will activate article 155 since it will have no other option. Implementation will be clumsy and confusing, since this is Spain and we do things in that way.
- The independence supporters will take the streets with demonstrations, since that is what they always do.
- The Generalitat or the political parties that would just have lost control of it will take the application of article 155 to the Constitutional Court, Strassbourg and the Competition Tribunal of FIFA to litigate against everything. Some points will be declared void, since we are in uncharted territory. This would give the basis to scream about a dictatorship and mobilize, rather full of themselves.
- Nobody will change his opinion
- The central government, through its representative in the Generalitat, will manage somehow to call for regional elections. Most probably this will also be litigated eight times. If we are lucky, the vote would take place before the end of the term of office. Otherwise we will be dealing with lawyers, demonstrations and victimism until 2019.
- After an ugly, nasty campaign full of patriotic gestures and cheers to the martyrs for the cause, the Catalans will vote a parliament that will essentially be identic in composition to the one elected in 2015, only with more CUP and less CUP and Demòcrates. This will happen because the society is divided and at the end of the day we like to annoy others.
The most probable option then is that ERC will say that it legitimates the Independence and will try again to form a government, the Popular Party will say no, etc. The European Union will then either send troops to smack the back of all our heads so that we leave them in peace, or will expel us from the union so that we leave them in peace.
With any luck, politicians in both sides will figure out that they are behaving as idiots six years after the rest of the country reached the same conclusion, and will negotiate a compromise between the status quo and the secession what will not make anybody happy.
The bottom line is what Pablo mentioned a few days ago: the problem in Catalonia is not so much the lack of dialogue, but the internal restrictions inside each block. Nobody in the secessionism is interested in deescalating for fear of taking the blame of failure when the inevitable elections take place. Everybody knows that there will be almost no transfer of votes between blocks (there will be no grateful socialist militants that would reward ERC with their vote if ERC became more moderate), so they are competing among themselves and dare not project an image of weakness
In the unionist camp, everybody knows that the independence supporters are tied to the mast of an agenda of short-term radical goals, so nobody has incentives to take a step forward and offer a referendum when the others just want to talk about secession. They will follow on with article 155 with some degree of resignation, and wait for the elections. Podemos will continue, in the meantime, with its equidistant attitude because they know that in the unionism there is actually a group of voters favoring moderation, although I suspect that it is smaller than they think.
What is becoming clear, I’m afraid, is that we’re going to be immersed in this groundhog’s day of sterile debates until elections take place. The only unknown is whether politicians in both sides, especially in the pro-independence camp, will continue building up tension until a real social fracture is created, or finally get to understand that they cannot win at all costs. The sooner we vote the better, but I’m not optimistic.