Catalans are fed up with being sold down the river by much of their political class.
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
Llegeix en català aqui
Leaders of the Catalan National Assembly who protested before the Catalan government building by raising a wall of October 1st ballot boxes
Photo: Lluís Brunet.
Last Saturday, 1 October, marked the fifth anniversary of the Catalan Independence Referendum of 2017. It was thus a key date to evaluate the real state of the Catalan independence movement today. After a surprisingly massive turn-out for last 11th September’s national day demonstration (700.000 according to organisers), the test was to see how people and organisations would react to a new call to the streets in remembrance of that fateful event. While the previous days saw countless local events to remember how the ballot stations had had to be protected from police attacks, the 1st October concentrated demonstrators in a major rally in Barcelona’s emblematic Plaza Lluís Companys. Prior to that, an impressive wall of ballot boxes had been raised by Catalan National Assembly leaders before the main door of the Catalan Government headquarters in protest for the lack of implementation of election programme promises concerning the pursual of independence (see photograph).
Indeed, this year’s October events have brought in quite a new paradigm. The general tone of the demonstrations –both local and national– have shown up the existence of an unquestionable divorce between the street movements and the current coalition government which is increasingly seen as having put the cause of independence well behind that of miserable party interests. This development has been especially visible as regards the position of Esquerra Republicana de Catalaunya (ERC) and president Aragonès, whose resignation was widely called for at the rally. In addition, when ex-Parliament speaker and party colleague Carme Forcadell made her speech, it was met with a growing degree of indignation as she seemed to offer little more than excuses for her party’s inactivity, an attitude seen as particularly contradictory by those who remember her as the emblematic president of the Catalan National Assembly in the key lead-up to the Referendum. She also made the error of delivering the kind of void speech that the more active portion of the indy movement simply has no patience for anymore. Even if she is one of the “martyrs” of the movement – she served almost 4 years of jail – people no longer want words but actions in the form of steps taken towards independence as promised in the election programmes of both government parties, ERC and Junts per Catalunya.
Significantly enough though, ERC seems to be taking much more stick in this sense than Junts. This almost certainly has to do with the current crisis in the Catalan government, the continuity of which is right now in the air. Aragonès had last week expelled vice-President Puigneró (Junts) for allegedly being “disloyal”. This accusation was made because he had failed to notify the president that Junts would unexpectedly be calling for a vote of confidence to renew their party’s parliamentary support –or not– for the president. Yet this step is seen by many as an excuse to expell Junts from the government due to their insistence (genuine or not) that the independence programme be implemented. But the fact remains that the vote of confidence after two-years in government had been on the cards from the beginning as part of the investiture agreement Aragonès had with the third independentist party, the CUP. Indeed, Junts can hardly be blamed for their discomfort in the government when ERC have done nothing to support Junts leaders Puigdemont, Torra or Borràs when they have been the victims of the lawfare systematically applied by the State courts. ERC would seemingly be setting its sights on a new government formula based either on a one-party administration or a new coalition with the socialists and the Podemos-Comuns group. However, for may independentists –on the left or not– the fact that ERC could be contemplating chipping in with the socialists is absolute heresy since this party has been every bit as hostile and repressive towards the indy movement as Rajoy’s PP had. Perhaps the verdict of ex-La Vanguardia journalist Jordi Barbeta is the best when analysing how things stand after this 5th year commemoration: there has been a general catarsis of a substantial part of the Catalan independence movement which no longer fears denouncing some of its own leaders when sectarianism, bowing to repression and paralysis have waylaid them from election promises made.
Whatever led the Catalans to the 1-O Referendum?
Perhaps it is just worth remembering the reasons that led the Catalans to challenge the state and hold the Referendum on 1 October 2017. It was certainly not frivolity despite the frivolous behaviour the EU authorities displayed in responding to it. (They just didn’t). It responded to forty years of increasing frustration. To begin with, it must be said that the Catalans had never felt comfortable within the constitutional Spain of the 1978 regime. Especially when they perceived the profoundly restrictive nature it was to take on once Spain had tricked the world into thinking Franco was the past. He was very much the present too. After his death, the famous slogan “Freedom, Amnesty, and Statute of Autonomy” – when “Statute of Autonomy” actually meant something – became a popular demand for most citizens. But the “freedom” and “amnesty” that the Kingdom of Spain was to allow were strongly marked by a strong stench of unearthed mass graves. There was no real gesture to judge the past nor do justice to Franco’s victims. But there was an even more sinister factor involved: many of the individuals responsible for the crimes perpetrated during the dictatorship had actually taken up pews in the new institutions occupying elite positions in large corporations, universities, the public and private sectors, and the law courts. In contrast with many Spanish territories, Catalonia would never lose sight of this aberration despite having its own share of Francoists.
Much of the same occurred when Catalan self-government was “graciously” restored with the approval of a Statute of Autonomy in 1979. And although at first this allowed the recovery of Catalan institutions, two decades later the Catalan political class, together with a wide range of the economic and social sectors, came to the conclusion that the policies of the Kingdom of Spain had left that Statute high and dry. It was therefore thought necessary to initiate a reform that would establish a new relationship and a new division of powers between the Spanish State and Catalonia. In 2004, after the erosion of Catalan rights that president Aznar’s second legislature had adopted – plus a fluke election that surprisingly put him in power – socialist president Zapatero was obliged to fulfill an electoral promise that he had never imagined he would have to comply with, permitting the reform of the Catalan Statute. A new scenario appeared to be opening, which indicated that an agreement regarding the comfortable integration of Catalonia within Spain could be envisaged. But the truth is that the exercise ended up having radically different results to those expected given the furious reaction of the Deep State to the initiative.
Despite being approved with a large majority in the Catalan Parliament in 2006 –even with the approval of the Spanish Parliament and the signature of the king – it awakened the most rancid of reactions from Spain. The recognition of Catalonia as a nation set off all the alarms. The PP took the Statute to a Constitutional Court where it had a majority vote and four years later, in June 2010, fourteen of the most important articles of the new Statute were substantially slashed. This drastic action by a politicised Court led a large portion of Catalans to perceive the crass unwillingness of Spain to solve the Catalan issue. It left no other option than for the people to mobilise for their rights. This is basically what led to years of mass demonstrations demanding a referendum. But despite the multiple proposals and petitions made, the Catalans were always to get the same answer: NO. As stipulated in the 1978 Constitution –still in force and with no feasible option for revising it in sight– the mantra was for the unity of Spain to be “indissoluble”. Indeed, this was the sole petition Franco had made to future monarch Juan Carlos on his deathbed. Since then, neither PP nor PSOE have come up with any kind of counter-proposal to those Catalan demands. Repression and a strict application of the law have been the only response forthcoming as was seen at the non-binding 9N plebiscite (November 2014) and the Referendum on 1 October 2017, both carried out after repeated appeals to Madrid. This has left a trail of convictions, exiles, constant reprisals and unjust sentences with many trials still pending. So far, more than four thousand people have suffered prosecution and over one thousand voters suffered police-inflicted injuries in the process. And this is why tens of thousands demonstrated in Barcelona last Saturday. Certainly quite a different scenario from Scotland where, nonetheless, future developments are sure to have their echo in Catalonia.
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