Toni Strubell, Núria Bassa – Will the Amnesty Law enable Spain to finally shed its fascist past?

Spain’s continuing struggle to enter the political twenty-first century and shed its fascist past.

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

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Although the issue of Catalan and Hong Kong autodetermination has largely slipped away from the international public eye, ongoing lawfare applied to political dissidents has been anything but ceased in either scenario in recent times. The political persecution policy currently in practice, however, could well face different fortunes in the forseeable future. While the prosecutors of Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai are unlikely to have much trouble obtaining a severe penalty for his purported “national security crimes” – despite the sham presence of one British magistrate on the panel of judges – things are taking quite a different turn in Spain where the intelligent use of the seven key Puigdemont MPs – who sway the majority in the Madrid Parliament – is unleashing a state conflict of enormous proportions.

The chance result of last July’s general elections to the Spanish Parliament has led to two major outcomes. Firstly, it once again put the Catalan issue centre stage in Spanish politics, albeit in quite a different light this time. It also placed socialist president Pedro Sánchez in a hazardous position because staying in power entailed having to pull several dangerous rabbits out of the hat to ensure a majority. Though recurring to traditional allies such as Basque PNV or Catalonia’s ERC was a routine step – in exchange for traditional favours to Basques and vague promises to ERC – Puigdemont’s Junts party was to prove a somewhat tougher proposition. They looked like they really meant business when negotiating – take it or leave it – and this led a desperate Sánchez to embark upon a process whereby he had to agree to introduce legislation that would put an end to seven years of relentless judicial prosecution of Catalan independence movement leaders and activists.

The key negotiation piece was to be the question of an amnesty bill designed to free Catalan activists and politicians of prosecution in suits largely inspired in lawfare. Though all parties supporting Sánchez’s presidency were favourable to the step taken, the mere possibility that this law might be passed in the Madrid parliament unleashed an unprecedented wave of protest amongst conservative magistrates and their professional organizations, furious that seven years of a carefully planned “general cause” against the Catalan independence movement might come unstuck. They feared that a return to a political scenario – as demanded by various international organizations including the UN – might put an end to a judicial routine involving the more or less automatic conviction of Catalan activists and politicians – often under preposterous accusations of rebellion, disorders or sedition – when the only “crimes” being judged were protests against unjust convictions or taking any kind of part in the organisation of the 1st October 2017 Referendum, accusations that little chance of convincing the European courts as witnessed in previous cases.

On the political front, opposition to Sánchez’s bill led the PP to organize massive rallies at the headquarters of the socialist party. Media in the hands of the right – is there much more in present day Spain? – played their part in stirring up spirits to boiling point, portraying with the “Amnesty for the Catalans” as the epitome of sin, favouritism, and corruption. The far right’s reaction to the amnesty bill went so far as to organize public prayer sessions in tune with the current boom of far-right pseudo-religious irrationality invading the global scene. But the very socialists now pleading for Puigdemont’s support cannot claim to have been alien to the creation of this wave of anti-Catalan feeling. Ever since Felipe VI’s infamous October 3 2017 speech -openly calling for hard action against the Catalans and their institutions- there has been an explicit call to bar no holds in the repression of the Catalan independence movement, a practice that the PSOE had no qualms in supporting in the not so distant past for fear of losing votes to the Spanish nationalist right. Indeed, Sánchez himself is on record for having ranted for Puigdemont’s imprisonment in a style not dissimilar to that of PP’s leaders. In few months he has gone on from partaking generously in Spain’s sociological repulsion to the Catalan Process – a big vote-puller in Spain – to admitting changes in the law that could have provided loopholes for prosecution of the leaders of the Process, including outlandish accusations of “terrorism” for those involved in the famous 2019 “Tsunami” protests. As Puigdemont’s party pressed for more, Sánchez even agreed to grant amnesty for accusations of embezzlement that, incidentally, no judge in his right senses would ever have taken into consideration. Sánchez’s desperate bid for power even caused him the public condemnation of one of the more uppity “barons” of his own party – president Page of the Castile-La Mancha region – and that of fat cat former president Felipe González, who in interviews (for example, praising Meloni) appears to be closer to Vox than to even the most right-wing “socialists” of our day.

Needless to say, the reaction of a large portion of the conservative Spanish judiciary to this law has shown anything but acceptance. This sector has for too long enjoyed a position of preeminence in Spanish politics. And despite the fact that the council of state prosecutors voted 17-15 in favour of the amnesty bill, the Supreme Court makes no secret of its intention to do everything in its almost unlimited power to condemn Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders. Particularly scandalous was when it was revealed that Spain’s major judiciary organ’s official e-mail service had been used by a group of judges to distribute instructions on how to fool the amnesty law. Despite the preposterous nature of these “recommendations”, it is clear that these initiatives seek to delay Puigdemont’s return from exile for as long as possible, or, alternatively, to ensure his cherished imprisonment should he return. Accusing him of “terrorism” and embezzlement is the mainstay of their bid to dodge the law. But other judges such as Barcelona-based Aguirre – one of the major scourges of the independence movement – seem to have lost all sense of ridicule by reopening the absurd accusation that the Russians were behind the Catalan bid for independence in 2017. In so doing, he has gone so far as to investigate famous TV personality Carles Porta, causing incredulity in all but the most extremist circles.

All things considered, the despairing reactions displayed to the amnesty law by the far right and the Franco-nostalgic judiciary are significant. After almost seven years of easy convictions in Spanish courts – and despite the disbelief and mistrust in Sánchez shown by many Catalan independentists – amnesty could well be a way of changing the course of events. We think that it is not too bold to state that Sánchez’s bid to retain power has led Spain to the limit. For the first time since Franco’s death, the far right encrusted within the Deep State, has been challenged, albeit it by a very teetering and vote-needy Socialist party initiative. And the fact that the four prosecutors of the 2019 trial – convicting the Catalan government to jail sentences of up to 13 years – have now been publicly downstaged would have been something unimaginable last year. Sánchez sells the operation as one turning the page on the Catalan issue. But maybe the page that has truly been turned is one on which the pact between Francoists and democrats was sealed to ensure the formers’ immunity and ongoing power in the key judicial, military, police and economic areas. That too may now be questioned as Felipe González has unashamedly regretted that all this might “rupture Spain’s democracy”. Is it not something else that might de ruptured, Mr González?

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