We need peaceful mediation and a negotiated political solution between the government of Spain and the people of Catalunya.
The Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy is pursuing an incredibly dangerous strategy of intimidation and repression and is putting the integrity of his country at risk. His government ordered a coordinated use of paramilitary violence against voters and has repeatedly lied about the law, the political process, and the reasons for the current state of tensions in Spain, blaming those who have suffered violence and extrajudicial police actions, on the grounds that their nonviolent resistance to such abuse justifies the abuse.
The King of Spain yesterday repeated some of these distortions and implied the State will not protect the people of Catalunya from the violence of Mr. Rajoy’s law-breaking administration. The central government is pursuing an unjustifiable bully tactic, in hopes they can scare millions of people who have now lost faith in their leadership to once again trust them.
Intimidating, cajoling, and violently forcing an entire people into renewed friendship is not going to work, nor would any decent or reasonable person think it should.
In the persistent hope of those of us who believe in democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, we continue to hope that King Felipe VI did not understand the grave and menacing insult suggested by the portrait hanging behind him, which depicts one of his predecessors who sought to eliminate the Catalan language clutching a baton—one of the major instruments of violence used by the Guardia Civil against unarmed nonviolent Catalan voters on Sunday.
A surprising array of executive officials—suggesting a coordinated and pre-planned campaign of disinformation—have sought to justify state violence that extended as far as clear and deliberate torture (breaking of fingers, boots to the head, rubber bullets at close range, use of banned chemical agents) in public, which is to say, with total confidence in the protection of national authorities.
Now, the High Court is looking into charges of “sedition” and “inciting rebellion” against regional officials who have presided over a referendum.
- There is no rebellion. There has been no separatist violence of any kind, nor is there any evidence that any group exists that has even contemplated such an idea. The people of Catalunya have displayed an astonishing amount of grace and devotion to peaceful civics, absorbing hateful unlawful violence, protesting with hands raised, with moments of silence, and with calls for dialogue and mediation.
- The false allegation of “rebellion” is being used by the leadership of a major western democracy, a NATO country, to justify the use of unprovoked state-mandated brutality against nonviolent, unarmed citizens doing nothing more than participating in a transparent voting process.
- Voting in the referendum was not, in any sense of the word, an “illegal” act. If the proposition that the referendum should be “binding” (in and of itself, without consent of the national Congress and/or the Constitutional Court) is found “unconstitutional”, this only means that the referendum is nonbinding. Casting a ballot is not a crime against anyone, and no legitimate authority anywhere can sustain its legitimacy by using violence to disrupt or summarily punish citizens for casting ballots.
Unbelievably, representatives of Rajoy’s government have openly sought to popularize in the press the idea that they have “de facto powers” stemming from court rulings that a referendum could not be in-and-of-itself legally binding. No law, and no court ruling supports the Rajoy government’s claim to unreviewable power to step outside the law, negate existing checks and balances, and commit overt acts of physical assault to disrupt nonbinding citizen deliberations.
The national prosecutor’s declaration that the widely documented and coordinated violence used to attack voters will not be investigated makes the executive leadership of the country openly, evidently complicit in that violence. That question is settled, before the eyes of the world, and in the very declarations made by Spain’s national leadership. The officials involved should expect that they will one day require a pardon or otherwise be held accountable.
King Felipe VI, in his controversial intervention in Spain’s Constitutional crisis, recognized the right of the Catalan people to self-government. Spain’s leaders cannot threaten and menace the people of Catalunya into feeling welcome as an integral part of one unified country. Their naked abuse of Catalan institutions and citizens has pushed even those who would oppose independence to view it as a credible alternative to the unacceptable course of condoning their own violent repression.
The violence ordered and carried out by the Rajoy government has now called the entire Constitutional order into question, leaving millions of Spanish citizens with no confidence in the State’s willingness to protect and serve them, as they deserve.
If Spain’s central government wishes to challenge the referendum on the question of whether it is binding, that should be done through the instruments of lawful governance—in the courts, and in dialogue with regional leaders. They should make the case that they believe the referendum was technically lawful but legally nonbinding, and offer a proposed pathway for a negotiated solution. They must do this in order to restore their own position as a legitimate party to the decision-making that will resolve this crisis. Doing so may lead to the Generalitat coming to the view that such a negotiation would be a better way to represent the will (and rights) of the people than a unilateral declaring of independence.
May the wisest, most balanced, and decent leaders on all sides commit to a process of mediation and dialogue, so that the resolution of this crisis is both lawful and free from any further threat to any person’s rights or physical safety.
UPDATE: 21 October 2017
Today, the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, announced he was activating Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which gives the central government limited powers to act to restore constitutional order if Autonomous regional officials have failed to comply with this “pact of coexistence”. Since Article 155 has never been invoked before, opinions vary widely on what it permits the Prime Minister to do.
Reports today suggest that though EU leaders have expressed support for a unified Spain, they have privately pressed Mr. Rajoy to desist in his aggressions against Catalunya and to enter into dialogue to achieve a negotiated solution.
- Having ordered paramilitary attacks on voters, jailed protest leaders and sought treason charges against a police commissioner who refused illegal orders to use violence against unarmed civilians, Mr. Rajoy’s ongoing threats and refusal to engage in dialogue have raised the possibility Spain could lose voting rights in the European Union.
- Volkswagen, owner of SEAT, the Spanish automaker, says it has endured threats and illegal pressure from the Spanish government to move its headquarters out of Catalunya.
- This suggests a de facto coup with intention to punish the Catalan people and loot their economy—every aspect of this campaign of retribution violating Catalan, Spanish and European law.
Now, Mr. Rajoy seeks to jail the Catalan president for “rebellion”, despite the fact that such a charge would require there be a campaign of violence. To the shock of European leaders, democracy advocates and critics in Spain, Mr. Rajoy and his government are making the absurd and lawless argument that their own coordinated campaign of violence against Catalan voters constitutes the “violence” that proves rebellion.
At the hour of this writing, Spain’s Prime Minister has announced he intends to:
- depose the Catalan President,
- control or dissolve the elected Parlament de Catalunya,
- seize control of the regional police force,
- take over public media services,
- and “illegalize” all political parties that have expressed sympathy with the cause of independence.
- He then seeks to hold elections in which only candidates from parties he has approved will be allowed to seek office in Catalunya.
- 450,000 people have gathered in Barcelona for much of the day, demanding the freedom of political prisoners jailed for “sedition” for organizing peaceful demonstrations against Mr. Rajoy’s authoritarian violence.
- Addressing the rally, Carles Puigdemont—President of the the Generalitat, the Catalan government—called Mr. Rajoy’s action “the worst attack” on the people of Catalunya “since Franco”.
- Carme Forcadell—President of the Parlament de Catalunya—said today that Mr. Rajoy’s actions amount to a “de facto coup d’etat” against the independent democratic institutions of Catalan self-government, adding it should be seen as a coup against 21st century European democracy.
- Charles Michel—Prime Minister of Belgium—has said if efforts to achieve dialogue between Spain and Catalunya fail, EU-level or international mediation will be necessary.