On December 21st, 2017, Catalans went to the polls to choose representatives for their Autonomous parliament. This, however, was no normal election for it did not come about because the previous legislative term had ended, or because the sitting president had called for early elections.
Rather, it occurred because the central government in Madrid did not like the decisions that the sitting parliament was making. Specifically, it decided it could not tolerate the fact that a majority of the parliament had, in accordance with its prerogatives under the UN Charter of Fundamental Rights, articulated its desire to pursue national self-determination.
Though the Catalan government and the people that had voted them in in September of 2015 had never engaged in any known acts of violence-and indeed have been obsessive in their renunciation of anything remotely resembling it within their ranks-the central government invoked Article 155 of the Constitution and suspended the operation of the Autonomous Government. This notwithstanding the salient fact that Article 155 does not give then the right to do so. Rather, is says the central government only has the right to "give instructions" to the established government of the autonomous community in such cases.
The central government then went on to issue arrest warrants for key members of the sitting Catalan government under the charges of rebellion and sedition. Tipped off to the coming crackdown, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont and five members of his cabinet fled the country. Staying behind, was vice-president Junqueras and the rest of the cabinet ministers, most of whom who were quickly whisked off to prisons near Madrid in the following days. As soon as they resurfaced in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, the Spanish government served the Belgian government with an order of extradition for Puigdemont and his group of exiled ministers.
On December 6th, however, after being informed through back channels that Belgian prosecutors saw no basis for the charges leveled against Puigdemont by Madrid, the Spanish government withdrew its extradition request. So, now, absurdly, Puigdemont was completely free to roam about 27 EU countries, but would be subject to immediate arrest should he return to his own home.
One would think that a judicial defeat of this magnitude at the hands of a country with a much stronger record of legal rigor than is known to exist on their home turf might have given the Spanish judiciary and the political class that shamelessly pulls its strings, pause for thought. But giving new meaning to the concept of sin vergüenza, they and their numerous press acolytes forged ahead as if nothing had happened.
When the central government invoked Article 155 on the 28th of October following Puigdemont’s Declaration of Independence the day before, it set December 21st as the day for new autonomous elections in Catalonia. In doing so, their strategy was clear. They believed that the Catalans, having seen the state’s willingness to use violence-first during the October 1st referendum, then through the application of Article 155 at the end of the same month-would assume the "proper" position of helplessness before Madrid and give the Unionist parties a majority of votes in the Catalan parliament.
But they were taking no chances. In addition to keeping the most important and charismatic of the independentist leaders in prison or in exile in the basis of nonexistent crimes, they used their control of the Central Electoral Commission (see my "Big Media on Last Thursday’s Vote in Catalonia: Never Mind") and their enormous media advantages (See my "The Baseless Myth of the Poor Propagandized Catalans") to try and induce a sense of hopelessness among pro-independentist voters.
But those voters were having none of it. On December 21st, the independentists not only did not lose their majority to the pro- Madrid Unionists, but added to it. It was clear, if it was not already clear after the September 2015 Catalan parliamentary vote, that the drive for independence was no fluke, nor was it a matter, as the Unionists and their journalistic echo chamber constantly said, of a minority trying to impose its will upon a majority through the use of tricks and deceptive propaganda. The Unionists had every advantage any political constellation could ever hope to have and they still lost by roughly 4 percentage points.
Here again the Unionists had another opportunity to reflect and to perhaps take the Catalanists up on their long-standing offer to sit down and negotiate a new modus vivendi between the two entities.
But if there is one thing that history shows, it is that the supremacist mind is seldom an empirically-driven one. Where well-informed third party observers see actual numbers and proven balances of force in both the electorate and in the press corps, they see only dark plots and deceit, phantoms they use, in turn, to justify their own quite real acts of subterfuge and violence.
We have seen this dynamic for years in the Israel projection of its own supremacist aggression onto the helpless Palestinians. And we are now seeing it among Spain’s vast legion of Unionists.
So, rather than begin negotiations, the PP government and the judiciary it brazenly controls has, since the December elections, spent its energy dreaming up ways to prevent the coalition of forces that won at the polls-whose chosen parliamentarians include Puigdemont and his ministers in Brussels and Vice-President Junqueras in the prison near Madrid-from taking office.
Their first move was to deny Junqueras’s request to be released from prison-where he awaits trial on the same charges the Belgian judge could not substantiate in Puigdemont’s dossier-on the basis that the release of this wholly nonviolent man who has repeatedly confirmed his belief in nonviolence before the judge and the world could cause "grave citizen confrontations".
They then moved on to matters of procedure. The rules of the Catalan parliament explicitly permit the use of telematic votes and telematic "appearances" in the chamber. And it was precisely through these means that President Puigdemont and the other elected parliamentarians trapped in Belgium were planning to be sworn in.
But just as the winning parties in Catalonia were gravitating toward this solution, the central government leaked a report to the press that characterized this method of investiture as being illicit owing to the inherently "personal" nature of such ceremonies. In other words, they generated an entirely new standard with absolutely no basis in the existing statutes. And as is their wont, the dominant centralist press treated this ad hoc invention with the deep and submissive veneration.
Soon after this, Spanish president Rajoy declared that if the government led by Puigdemont, which he had illegally deposed in October, were to be reconstituted in keeping with the majority desires of the Catalan people, he would again avail himself of article 155 to crush it.
Under both Spain’s and Catalonia’s political systems the election of the head of the government is preceded by the establishment of the parliamentary "table" or reduced working group, whose composition is determined by the numerical balance of the full chamber. Yesterday, that table was established, as is fitting, with an independentist majority.
However, in its reporting of the event, El País, a once great socialist paper that seems determined to wholly obliterate its remaining shreds of intellectual and moral credibility, went with the following headline "Los independentistas se hacen con la mesa del Parlament", using a verbal construction, "se hace con" that is most commonly used in the press today to speak of hostile takeovers in the world of business.
The implication could not be any clearer. Despite having won the elections, and having won them under enormous duress and harassment, the independentists, according to the Unionists, have no inherent right to exercise the power they have earned at the polls. Even though Unionism has been defeated two times in succession in Catalonia they, according to this supremacist mindset, are legitimate in a way the Catalan Republicans are not, and can never be, in their own land.
When will those silly Catalans finally learn the self-evidently logical rules of this game?
Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014).
Read more by Thomas Harrington
- Never Mind: Big Media and the Catalonia Vote – December 26th, 2017
- Catalonia and the Art of Differential Diagnosis – November 14th, 2017
- Last Sunday In Catalonia: Pirates 1, The Invincible Armada 0 – October 4th, 2017
- Catalonia: Spanish Centralism or Self-Defeating Hubris of the Authoritarian Mind? – September 22nd, 2017
- Breaking: Forced Takeover of Catalan Government Institutions by Spanish Police Ahead of Oct. 1 Vote – September 20th, 2017