Article 155 Won’t Stop a Declaration of Independence. The Catalan People Won’t Let It!
The process that will eventually lead to the independence of Catalonia from Spain is moving slowly but inexorably forward. It’s almost like watching a train crash in slow motion.
Yesterday, Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy invoked the long-awaited Article 155, claiming on the one hand that he wasn’t suspending the Generalitat while on the other announcing that he would be replacing the Catalan President and all his ministers and running the Catalan administration from the corresponding ministries in Madrid. Central government will also be taking over control of the Catalan Treasury, the Catalan police, the computer systems and all the public media companies with an aim to call elections at some point within the next six months, a responsibility according the the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, which is the sole right of the President of the Generalitat. If this isn’t a complete take over of the Catalan government, I don’t know what is.
Rajoy made his announcement just before lunchtime on Saturday fully aware that a demonstration was planned for 5 pm on Saturday afternoon in the centre of Barcelona in support of the Jordis, the two independence leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, who were imprisoned without bail by the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid last Monday. He surely must have been aware that timing is extremely important and his announcement of the effective cessation of the Catalan government would be another complaint added to an already long list of grievances aired by people attending the rally.
The Role of the Catalan Police
Another less commented on piece of news from Saturday morning was that the Chief of the Catalan police, Josep Lluís Trapero, had returned all the awards he had received from the Spanish police throughout his career. This struck me as particularly significant.
Trapero was accused of sedition in the same hearing as the Jordis but the Audience Nacional judge, Carmen Lamela, decided that preventative prison was not necessary and subject to handing over his passport and checking in at a Barcelona courtroom every 15 days, allowed him to go home. However, the Spanish public prosecutor seems to have it in for him and it is likely that he will be called to make another court appearance in Madrid this week. My wife, who is a lawyer herself, says that if he goes, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll be allowed to return to Barcelona.
Add this to the fact that Article 155 will effectively put the the Mossos d’Esquadra under the control of the Spanish National Police and the relationship between the two forces, which was already tense following Spanish police violence on October 1st, looks set to worsen. I’ve said this before but accusing the Catalan police of disloyalty and going after their chief at a time when you expect them to obediently follow your orders hardly seems like a sensible tactic.
For this reason, I wouldn’t be surprised that, should a Declaration of Independence be formally made at some point over the next ten days, Trapero doesn’t come out and officially pledge the loyalty of his force to the Generalitat. He’s likely to end up in jail anyway and what’s the difference between 15 years for sedition and 30 years for rebellion?
The Rally in Barcelona
As always, the rally in central Barcelona was an excellent example of peaceful good-humoured civic behaviour from the Catalans. Official police figures stated that 450,000 people attended, which as we live in the centre of town and are getting good at judging the size of demonstrations based on how much spillover into our neighbourhood there is, seems at least 200,000 too low to me.
Whatever the real figure, the independence movements capacity for mobilisation is extraordinary. Over a million people attended the Catalan national day in Barcelona on September 11th, 2.3 million people voted in the referendum on October 1st, 700,000 came out in Barcelona for the General Strike on October 3rd and 250,000 went on the candlelit vigil in Barcelona in support of the Jordis on October 17th. It’s also worth bearing in mind that every time there’sa rally in Barcelona there are similar smaller rallies in towns and villages all across Catalonia so the number of people mobilised is impossible to calculate.
What was interesting about this rally was that although it was purportedly in support of the Jordis, a large part of the Catalan political class attended, including President Puigdemont, which gave it an official feel. To me at least, it gave the impression that the complicity between politicians and people is pretty unbreakable and the pro-independence bloc is bracing itself for the final battle.
A Historic Moment
Apart from the shouts of “Freedom” and “Independence”, the booing of the Spanish police helicopters and the singing of the Catalan National Anthem “Els Segadors”, a particularly powerful moments was when Maria del Mar Bonet, a singer-songwriter who came to fame singing protest songs under Franco’s dictatorship, sang her classic “Que Volen Aquesta Gent?” (What do these people want?). It was like being back in the Sixties. It’s clear that the Catalan independence movement is making history.
The camera panned out and President Puigdemont, who has been in favour of Catalan independence all his life, was smiling and mouthing the words. More importantly, though, was when the camera focused on Xavier Domènech, one of the leaders of the left-wing Comuns group, who although in favour of a referendum have never supported independence. Domènech was crying, not uncontrollably but he was obviously deeply affected by the moment.
The Catalan independence movement clearly has right on its side and Domènech and the Comuns claim to stand with the people. If there was ever a time to show what you stand for, it’s now. It would be very good news if the Comuns were to start voting with the rest of the pro-independence bloc rather than abstaining.
Carles Puigdemont’s Statement
At nine o’clock yesterday evening, Carles Puigdemont made an official statement from the Palau de la Generalitat. We had heard a lot of it before: the insistence on dialogue and democracy, objections to the use of police violence and the judicialisation of a political process. A special mention was given to the Jordis and there was even a section in English in which he asked support from Europe.
However, the key moment was when he announced that the Bureau of Catalan Parliament would be meeting on Monday to draw up the agenda for a plenary session in parliament some time this week. The idea is to debate and vote on the consequences of the referendum on October 1st so it seems highly likely that some kind of official declaration of independence will be made.
It’s important to note that it will almost certainly take place before Friday, which is when the Spanish Senate will be debating the measures proposed by Mariano Rajoy under Article 155. Once Senate has approved the measures, the powers of the Generalitat and the Catalan police will be suspended also immediately, severely restricting the Catalan government’s ability to act.
So it looks likely that independence will be declared later this week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday, and the Catalan independence process really will move into unknown territory. What’s very clear, though, is the Catalan people aren’t ready to put the brakes on this so Puigdemont and his government can be confident in counting on their complete support for a declaration of independence.
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