Photo by Joel Tasche on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “La gravedad de los sucesos de otoño”. Roger Senserrich. Politikon.

26th June 2018

Maybe it’s due to the last weekend’s poll at La Vanguardia; maybe because I’m following too many pro-independence militants on Twitter, but I have the feeling that the Catalonian society  isn’t becoming aware of the extraordinary seriousness of last Fall’s incidents. The unceasing repetition by Catalan public TV and other similar media of their version of the story seems to have reduced it, nine months after, to a half-serious-half-joking poll that was harshly repressed by the anti-riot police. The referendum, which in the Catalan pro-independence supporters’ consideration varies, depending on their convenience, from a symbolic one (“a bluff”) to the most relevant thing that has happened in Europe since the Treaty of Versailles, provoked the Spanish State’s rage, taking to prison a bunch of innocent democrats that only wanted the people to vote.

It’s a beautiful story, but also a false one. What actually happened in Catalonia during September and October 2017 was something much more radical, deep and serious than a poll badly called and far worse repressed. What we saw last year, and we can’t forget, was that the social and political leaders that represented less than half of the population on one of the country’s regions tried to use the institutions to force a civil unrest that should provoke a repressive response from the State, with the goal of justifying and imposing a unilateral secession.

This is not an elaborated fiction or a far-fetched interpretation of speeches, declarations and electoral programs. It’s something that the secessionist leaders put black on white on a damn PowerPoint presentation, on a roadmap that they didn’t hesitate to implement. No one from the pro-independence parties has bothered to deny that document’s validity, or to apologize for its contents. The former would be a waste of time; obviously, the document is valid, as secessionist politicians and the leaders of Omnium and the ANC followed it strictly (and bragging about it) in front of the TV cameras for months. The latter would imply admitting that they committed an act of madness, something they would never do publicly.  

Because it was an act of madness. We had politicians, elected on the ballot box, with a parliamentary majority that represented 48% of the voters, who decided they would use the democratic institutions to provoke collisions with the State. We’re not talking about normal collisions, such as the ones about taxes, public health, commuter trains or so, all different kinds of democratic conflicts. The pro-independence parties wanted to use the Catalan institutions in intentionally illegal ways to force the central Government to take measures, and they did so not with the hope but with the aim that things went badly. They wanted to provoke a reaction, they wanted that reaction to involve their voters and they wanted that a significant number of people ended up at the hospital so they could justify a secession.

The fact that a group of persons, from the offices of the Generalitat, were making decisions in a conscious and voluntary way, trying to create an open social conflict, shows an extraordinary lack of responsibility. The incidents in October were serious, but we were very lucky that things didn’t go any further. Puigdemont and his government’s hands shook firstly on the “country’s strike” day and then when, replying to Spanish Government requirements, they suspended the independence declaration. The demonstration on October 8th surely showed the enormous cost that seeking that confrontation would imply. The leaders of the procés (Catalan for “the process [to independence]”) backing off before reaching the cliff, nevertheless, doesn’t reduce the enormous seriousness of what they did during those months.

Do not forget, besides, that the referendum held on October 1st was not only about voting. The breakaway laws, passed by the parlament (the regional parliament) by narrow majorities, are two extraordinary documents. With them, the pro-independence politicians who – let us never forget – have never won more than 48% of the vote, declared repealed the Constitution and, with it, all the rights and liberties guaranteed by it before the courts. The law placed the parlament as the only source of power in Catalonia, without even a hint of separation of powers; the regime created by those votes was in fact authoritarian. Both texts are an extraordinary case of taking over the power by a group of political leaders blatantly ignoring any legal limitation over their authority. It’s a direct attack against the rights and liberties of all the Catalan voters that didn’t share their political goals, forcing a radical change of political regime without their consent. The politicians were using the institutions against their fellow citizens.  

Things shouldn’t have ended this way. The pro-independence cause is a perfectly legitimate political goal. Something wrong in my opinion, but perfectly defensible from a rational perspective; and it was perfectly possible to seek, in a legal and democratic way, within the institutions. Under certain conditions, I would even be in favor of a self-determination referendum, no matter I find the independence rather silly.

Let’s solve the problem once and for all. Let’s seat and talk, not a dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid, but between the two opposing Catalonias. Let’s decide what country we want, when and how.

But let us never ever forget what happened during last Fall.

During last Fall, a group of Catalan politicians decide to consciously use the institutions to force a civil unrest. Those same politicians passed laws that tried to bring down the whole legal system, against the will of more than half of the population. We can talk about jails and sentences. Their preventive detention can be more or less justified; certain persons may have stronger reasons than others to be accused of some crimes. I’m not a lawyer; I don’t know if the “rebelion” charge is the right one or not; neither do I know if they should be behind the bars now. What seems obvious to me, and we must always bear in mind, is that the means that these politicians are accused of using to achieve their goals are completely illegitimate in a democracy.