Puigdemont stays in Brussels as the Spanish judiciary threatens to incarcerate Catalan politicians
You may have noticed that I’m making fewer posts this week. That’s not because I’ve given up on the Catalan issue but rather because fewer significant events are taking place and I prefer to make a report when something actually happens. Furthermore, I’m currently going through all the material I’ve created over the last couple of months, organising the blog posts and writing up some of the video footage because I think there’s enough content there to provide the skeleton for another book.
Shitstorm or Anti-Climax
If you remember my last article was published on Monday morning and was called “The calm before another Catalan political shitstorm or just a massive anti-climax?” and judging from what’s happened over the last few days, I think it’s been a combination of the two. Obviously, at the time of writing, I didn’t know about Puigdemont and the other consellers’ escape to Brussels and still held out some hope that the Catalan Government would offer some kind of opposition to Article 155. The fact that they didn’t do so did feel like a massive anti-climax.
As a supporter of Catalan independence, I felt deceived and let down by the pro-independence leadership because either they knew that any attempt to declare independence was bound to fail and deliberately misled hundreds of thousands of people who sincerely believed that Catalonia could actually succeed as an independent republic. Alternatively, they disingenuously believed their own rhetoric, which seriously calls into question their competence and intelligence as politicians.
However, the Catalan independence process is amazingly resilient and, as a chronicler of what’s happening here in Catalonia, I’m fascinated to see where this next twist will take us. I get the feeling that it’s probably going to be into a new Catalan political shitstorm. So let’s go back over the events of the last few days.
Exile in Brussels
Some time on Monday morning, news came that Puigdemont and the consellers had fled to Brussels and at that point it became clear, even to the most optimistic of us, that the Declaration of Independence had been little more than a chimera. It wasn’t until the press conference given at lunchtime the following day, though, that it became clear that perhaps there was some kind of method in the madness.
The core message of the press conference was that the pro-independence parties would be contesting the elections in Catalonia on December 21st and that Puigdemont was in Brussels because he feared that, with a charge of rebellion hanging over him, he would be arrested if he returned to Spain and wouldn’t receive a fair trial. From an international point of view, the story of the flight into France and the fact that press conference was given in Brussels kept the story of the Catalan conflict in the headlines and on the front pages.
The leader in exile narrative is even more important from a Catalan point of view, though, because it allows Puigdemont’s supporters to turn him into a national hero and so keep hopes of independence alive. Puigdemont is now one of a long line of the presidents of the Generalitat, many of whom have been exiled, imprisoned or even executed.
Francesc Macià was exiled during the Primo de Rivera dictatorship prior to becoming president of the Generalitat following its restoration in 1932. Lluís Companys was imprisoned for declaring independence in 1934 and forced into exile at the end of the Spanish Civil War before being captured by the Gestapo in France and extradited back to Barcelona, where he was executed by firing squad in 1940. Josep Irla and Josep Tarradellas were the two presidents of the Generalitat in exile during Franco’s dictatorship. Even the memory of Jordi Pujol has recovered somewhat when we are reminded that he was falsely imprisoned by the Franco Regime for what became known as the Events of the Palau in 1960.
This means that as far as the support base is concerned, Carles Puigdemont is the rightful president of the Generalitat and the undisputed leader of the independence process. This is very important because it successfully parries any challenge to his authority that may come from Oriol Junqueras and Esquerra Republicana or from within the ranks of his own party, PDECat.
Santi Vila, the Conseller who resigned last Thursday, the day before the vote on the Declaration of Independence in the Catalan Parliament, is making a play to become the PDECat candidate for President of the Generalitat in the elections. As the the acceptable face of Catalanism, he’s definitely to the liking of the Spanish Government and the Unionist parties here in Catalonia.
He’s also got support within his own party, where there’s a considerable group that was never fully committed to independence and would be happy if Vila took PDECat back to the autonomous community politics of old. However, with Puigdemont now in the line of the great Catalan presidents, his authority is almost impossible to question and it looks increasingly likely that he’ll try to stand in the elections.
Yesterday’s main development were the subpoenas issued to 20 members of the Catalan Government to appear in court in Madrid today charged with rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds. Tactically, this is about the worst thing the Spanish authorities could possibly do because, now they have control of Catalonia via Article 155, rather than letting things settle, court proceedings against Catalan politicians will just stoke up resentment in the pro-independence camp.
The imprisonment without bail of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, when people were still feeling optimistic about the possibilities of independence, so the rallies were good-humoured and peaceful. If something similar happens to some or all of the politicians who are in court today then the reaction will be just as strong. This time, though, without the hope of independence and convinced that they are under the repressive Article 155, the reaction of the demonstrators is unlikely to be so good-humoured and could well turn nasty.
I can’t help but think that that is precisely what the Spanish authorities. Any disturbance of the peace would be a perfect excuse for the police to get the truncheons out again and vent their hatred against the Catalans. As I’ve said before, the Partido Popular isn’t remotely interested in the unity of Spain but uses attacks against Catalonia as a cheap way of winning votes.
Democracy on Trial
This is why Carles Puigdemont was very wise to decide not to obey the court order and will attempt to make his declaration from Brussels. Had he made an appearance in court in Madrid today, he would have been gleefully imprisoned without bail. The Spanish authorities are keen to make a scapegoat out of him and it’s reasonably certain that he would have been found guilty of all charges. Being found guilty of rebellion, even though he has never exhorted any violence, would mean a prison sentence of 30 years.
Puigdemont is much more useful in Brussels. It remains to be seen what the Spanish authorities next move will be. They may allow him to declare or they may send out an international arrest warrant and try and get him extradited so he may have to flee again. I have no idea.
Julian Asange sent out a tweet yesterday comparing his own situation with that of Carles Puigdemont. The two cases are completely different, though. Assange was (probably falsely) accused of something that has nothing to do with the work he does whereas Puigdemont is accused of acting as a consequence of an electoral programme. This actually does mean that democratic freedoms and processes are on trial.
Once again, the Catalan crisis is opening up political questions that go far beyond the simple dispute of territorial sovereignty between Catalonia and Spain and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it would be unfair to describe it as another political shitstorm at the very least.