Photo by Anthony Da Cruz on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “La democracia derrotó al golpe”. José Ignacio Torreblanca. El Mundo.

7th November 2018

It is just over a year since the attempt to overturn Constitution, by bypassing the Catalan parliament, stepping on the rights of the representatives of the majority of Catalans and disregarding the will of all Spanish people to coexist in peace and freedom, was defeated. Undoubtedly it was the most delicate moment that Spanish democracy has passed through since the coup d’état in 1981.

That was not, as some still claim today, a peaceful democratic effort to consult the Catalan citizens about their future, but an illegal referendum on self-determination. A referendum based on an express law passed in defiance of the Constitutional Court, without either the mandatory reports of the Counsel of Statutory Guarantees or the participation of opposition. A law disguised as a harmless civic celebration leading to the proclamation of independence of Catalonia in the 48 hours following a vote held with neither guarantees nor rules for a minimum turnout to consider the result valid and binding. A law by which the Parliament, without having passed through UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the International Court of Justice granted itself the right to self-determination. A law that postulated itself as not abolishable and “hierarchically superior to all others”, therefore putting itself above the Spanish Constitution and Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.

It is surprising the consumption of hours dedicated at this point to discuss whether that event was a coup or not. This is a nominalist dishonest discussion aimed to generate noise to mask and dilute the seriousness of what happened. It is clear that the secessionists attempted to carry out a coup against democracy, Constitution and coexistence. By doing so from self-governance institutions using the regional government, the Catalan Parliament, the administration, the regional police forces, and schools, and by trying to legalize their coup with a law (actually two laws), there is a distinction between Puigdemont and Junqueras from Tejero in their means, but not in their ends (to subvert the Constitution).

The parliamentary coup d’état (or self-coup without violence) is not new. Many democracies have abolished themselves using parliamentary majorities or popular plebiscites. From the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela, the very existence of which perpetrates a coup d’état every day against the Bolivarian constitution itself, to the demise of Weimar Republic, which did not require a gun-wielding Hitler to storm into the Reichstag, but to get it to grant all state powers to the Führer. Let us consider, then, the substance, which is the attempt to abolish constitution and Autonomy Statute, not the technique to execute the coup.

Certainly, Carl Schmitt, the theorist on states of exception, would have not hesitate in homologate such a perfect coup as the one designed by Catalan secessionists. And certainly, any democrat in any place of the world would have warned against the aberration of staging such attack against a democracy on its very behalf. Despite the self-praising for the October 1st as the crowning moment of the Catalan democratic path to the Republic, no democrat can speak neither of “results” or “referendum” on a process that even international observers invited by the Catalan government certified its integrity as unverifiable. But even omitting the non existence of an independent electoral board or any valid census, every democrat knows that a consultation where the half of the census does not participate, and the half who does participate, overwhelmingly supports the option promoted by the Catalan government, is a vote lacking of enough consensus and legitimacy.

In the Catalan issue, still much remains to be done. The wounds from the deep divide sowed in our society will take long to heal. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Catalan crisis has led the citizens to strength, not weaken, their penchant for democracy, constitution and rule of law. Apart from Podemos and nationalists, most politicians were able to see this. While opportunist and risky, if the current Socialist government can afford the flirting, gestures, contradictions, altering its narrative and “emphatic” approaches to secessionism is precisely because it knows the latter has been defeated by democracy.

If secessionism has been defeated it was not just by luck, but by democratic virtue. It was so because of the civic courage of hundreds of thousands people that took to the streets to defend our common project. The rest was achieved by our political representatives, who temporarily left behind their differences and partisan agendas, the judges and police and civil guard, acting jointly to enforce the rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as our diplomatists who defended before the world the legitimacy of Spain’s position and the just reasons behind Spanish democracy.

The independent media must be honoured as well, since they fulfilled their duty to provide plural factual reporting to refute the fallacies and lies from secessionism —supported not only by the official propaganda apparatus in the public Catalonia broadcasters and pro-secessionism media, but also by the active support and meddling from media at the Russian orbit and their operators in social media, like Julian Assange.

This triumph of democracy is also a triumph of our European partners, from which we have received support and solidarity beyond noisy exceptions whose role is none other than revealing the sweeping support to Spanish democracy abroad. The neighbouring governments and friends understood the need for stopping the worst version of nationalism we know: irredentism and chauvinism, which aspire to transform the alleged moral, social and economic superiority of a group into a right to exclude and discriminate those who are different and think differently. This was the best international mediation we could benefit from, by those who declared clearly and unequivocally that would not tolerate a unilateral illegal secession carried out against the majority of the Spanish people, openly violating the constitution. This refusal by the European capital cities and institutions also brought down this attempted lethal blow to 1978 Constitution.

For Spanish democracy, 2017 has been a traumatic year. For an entire Spanish generation, who did not the experience the coup d’état in 1981, or witnessed it from the distance, the dramatic moments of September-October last year will strength their sense of belonging to this political community. Now, King Philip VI, like King John Charles I before him, has faced and overcome its critical democratic constitutional moment. The damage done has led the Spanish people to rediscover the values of coexistence in peace and freedom under the same rules in a democracy where all of us fit in and in a Europe where forty years since the proclamation of Constitution we are still admired for our civic compromise to the values of an open, democratic, plural society. Secessionism believes it has awakened the Spanish nationalism, and thinks it is thus legitimated to negotiate on an equal basis, but what has strengthened instead is the political nation and the sense of belonging to it.

José Ignacio Torreblanca is full Professor of Political Science at UNED and Head of the Madrid Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. (ECFR)