Chris Bambery – These are Dark Days for Democracy in Spain

In his report concerning week 11 of the show trial conducted by Spain to convict the leaders of Catalonian struggle for independence Chris Bambery  records how one witness after the other confirms the pacifist conduct of the Catalans. The only group that has reported violence has been members of the Spanish Guardia Civil, who became internationally notorious for their brutality on the day of the referendum. As one would expect in a show trial the judges are not permitting films documenting the true conduct of the two sides  to be used as evidence.

Chris Bambery is author and broadcaster. Co-author (with George Kerevan) of Catalonia Reborn: How Catalonia Took on the Corrupt Spanish State and the Legacy of Franco (Luath Press, June 2018)

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

This Sunday Spain goes to the polls in a general election. I will not try to predict the result but this election has been quite extraordinary. It would not be surprising if no one party gained an overall majority or if the centre left and right had to enter negotiations to cobble together a coalition or minority government. What is remarkable is the shift rightwards of Spanish politics, particularly around the issue of Catalan independence and autonomy, with the fascist Vox party looking, it seems, to give the Francoists a parliamentary presence for the first time in four decades, at the expense of the Popular Party, the governing party until last summer.

Over the Easter weekend in the village of Coripe, in Andalucía, a festival was held involving an effigy of exiled Catalan President, Carles Puidgemont, being set on fire and shot with live ammunition.

The Socialist Party mayor, Antonio Pérez, argued this was part of an annual Easter tradition called ‘The burning of Judas’, asking that it not be taken “out of context,” adding it was “satire” which was not “against the Catalan people.”

He went on to claim that “It is a celebration and a tradition like the Fallas,” a reference to the famous festival in Valencia where figures are paraded through the city before being burnt (but not shot). Pérez explained that in recent years “the protagonists have been bankers and arabs.”  So that’s all right then!

The Spanish government does not seem in a hurry to take legal action over this, unlike in regards to rappers or comedians who offend the Spanish King and God.

Puidgemont is attempting to stand in the upcoming European elections but what is unique about this Spanish general election is that five candidates gave press conferences and interviews from the Soto del Real prison outside Madrid. Oriol Junqueras, former Vice President of Catalonia, heads the Left Republican Party of Catalonia’s list in Barcelona and faces 25 years in jail if found guilty of rebellion and sedition; Jordi Sànchez heads the list of the other pro-independence party, JxCat, in the same city and faces 17 years in jail for the same charges; three other candidates, and former Catalan Ministers, Josep Rull, Jordi Turull and Raül Romeva, also faced the cameras from within the prison.

Seven other Catalan leaders join them in the dock of the Spanish Supreme Court facing the same charges in relation to the 1 October 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

Their trial resumed on Wednesday after the Easter holiday.

On Tuesday the first witness was supposed to be the current vice-president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès. He had been summoned by lawyers representing Vox, which brought a private prosecution against the 12 which is now part of the overall prosecution. Aragonès described this as “absurd.”

He told the court he was not prepared to testify because he faces prosecution in the Catalan courts on charges relating to the independence referendum. Afterwards, outside the Supreme Court, he told the media that this was a “political trial” because the 12 are on trial for taking, “a political stance: the defence of Catalonia’s independence as the best path to defence, to administer our country”.

Tuesday 23 April is St Jordi’s day, the patron saint of Catalonia, with Catalans out on the streets celebrating a gifting each other roses and books.  At the Spanish Supreme Court there was no such celebration as the trial continued with former Catalan ministers appearing as witnesses.  Former Interior Minister, Jordi Jané, and former government secretary, Joan Vida, both explained that the Catalan Government’s goal was to achieve an agreement with the Spanish Government in regards to a legal referendum.

Along with two other witnesses, Meritxell Ruiz and Jordi Baiget, they resigned their positions three months before the 1 October referendum, but explained to the Court that this was not connected to the decision to hold a unilateral independence referendum.

They did, however, reference mounting tension between Catalan and Spanish executives to justify their resignations.

Next up was David Badal, who back in the Autumn of 2017 was responsible for government payments. He denied that payments were made to a company that the prosecution says printed material for the referendum.

This is central to the third, and lesser charge, all of the 12 face regarding misuse of public funds.

He was also, at the time, head of the Catalan police mediation teams and denied talking with two of the accused, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart during the 20 September Spanish police raid on the Catalan Finance Ministry. The prosecution, and Spanish police witnesses have portrayed the protests there as a violent act of rebellion with Sànchez and Cuixart orchestrating events with the compliance of the Catalan police. Proving this has become central to the trial.

The alternative narrative, backed up by ample footage on social media, portrays a non-violent protest.

On the Wednesday witnesses included Albert Donaire, the Catalan police officer who coordinated the pro-independence “Mossos per la República” (Catalan Police for the Republic) and two weeks before appearing in Court had had his home attacked, and Neus Lloveras, former president of the Catalan body Association of Municipalities for Independence.

On the Wednesday the first witness was the former director general of the Catalan police, Albert Batlle. Prior to the 1 October referendum he had resigned his post explaining to the Court that he was “not comfortable” with how political events were “unfolding” in the run-up to vote, adding that the appointment of one of the accused, Joaquim Forn, as Interior Minister was a key factor in his decision.

Despite stating his misgivings regarding the Catalan Government’s decision to proceed with the referendum after the Spanish Constitutional Court declared it illegal, he also said that the Catalan Police had always abided by the law and judicial rulings and that he had predicted at the time of his resignation that they would continue to do so.

He also said that the then Chief of the Catalan Police, Josep Lluís Trapero, who faces a separate trial on charges of rebellion, “would not have accepted any interference from politicians.”

Among the witnesses that day was Jordi Solé, an MEP for Left Republican Party, who stated in regards to the protests outside the Finance Ministry that “it was not a tense situation,” adding, “I saw neither any attacks nor threats.”

Also testifying was Joan Ignasi Elena, former coordinator of the National Pact for the Referendum (PNR in Catalan), who assured the court that the organization received no money from the Catalan Government nor was the group’s website managed by the Catalan government. He explained that his organisation had been funded by donations from the public.

On Thursday afternoon the first witness was Ruben Wagensberg, a Catalan MP for the Left Republicans and founder of En Peu De Pau, which promotes a “non-violent” protests. He told the Court that in regards to the Autumn of 2017, “Catalan citizens engaged in the greatest act of civil disobedience I’ve ever seen”

Next up was David Fernàndez, the former Catalan MP for the radical left pro-independence Popular Unity Party (CUP) gave testimony saying he had been on the protests against Spanish police raid on the Finance Ministry and they were “absolutely peaceful.”

Fernàndez told the Court that:

 “If self-determination is a crime, I declare myself guilty and a repeat offender. And as long as it remains a crime, I’ll continue to disobey until it becomes a democratic right.”

Another Left Republican MP, Jordi Orobitg, told the Court he too had been on the protests outside the Finance Ministry and that “the most aggressive thing I saw on September 20 was a man throwing an empty plastic bottle at the police, and people reproached him for that.”

Another witness, Bernat Picornell, a Senator for the Left Republicans said there was a “festive atmosphere” during the protests.  

Meanwhile, the Popular Party and Ciudadanos, both right-wing parties, each competing as to who is harder against Catalan aspirations, lodged an appeal with Spain’s Electoral Commission seeking to bar Carles Puidgemont and two other exiled former Catalan Minister, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, from standing as candidates in the European elections.

On Thursday, the two parties that fiercely oppose Catalonia’s independence appealed to Spain’s electoral authority to exclude Puigdemont and two of his former ministers from standing in the election because they are not registered residents of Spain.

The former president and some of his ministers left Catalonia for Belgium following the failed independence bid in October 2017. Although charged with rebellion, the Spanish judiciary has so far been unsuccessful in its attempts to extradite them as courts in other EU nations do not recognise the legitimacy of the Spanish charges.

According to Puigdemont, Ciudadanos and the Popular Party “are once again making fools of themselves” with their appeal, and he insisted that he and his former ministers, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, who will run on the same ticket, have “every right” to stand in the election.

Ciudadons leader, Albert Rivera, justified this move to bar the three with the claim that they had, attempted to “carry out a coup” against the Kingdom of Spain.”

Spain has a long and bitter experience of coups, with Catalonia one of the frequent targets of military uprisings, the most serious being that in 1936 led by General Franco. Ciudadonos and the Popular Party formed a regional Government in Andalucía with the support of Franco’s spiritual heirs, Vox. One scenario is that on Sunday night they might be trying to reach a similar deal with the fascists.

These are dark days for democracy in Spain.

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

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