News compilation on New Cold War.org, Nov 12, 2017
Mass protest in Barcelona demands freedom for Catalan leaders
BARCELONA: Hundreds of thousands of Catalans marched Saturday, November 11 to demand the release of regional officials jailed for their push for independence from Spain, which has left the country mired in a political crisis.
The more than two-hour long protest in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, came a day after the region’s parliament speaker – one of dozens of lawmakers sacked by Madrid last month – was released from jail after posting 150,000 euros (US$175,000) bail.
The demonstrators gathered on an avenue next to the regional parliament building waving Catalan independence flags and chanting “Freedom!” while some held up banners announcing: “SOS Democracy”. Children in riding helmets climbed castells – the region’s traditional human towers – as others held placards bearing caricatures of some jailed lawmakers.
Barcelona municipal police put turnout for the march at some 750,000 people as crowds stretched for more than 15 blocks along the boulevard.
The Catalonia crisis has caused concern in the European Union as the bloc deals with Brexit and uncertainty over the fate of the region’s 7.5 million people. More than 2,400 businesses have moved their legal headquarters elsewhere.
On November 8, a general strike called by a pro-independence union caused travel chaos, blocking 60 roads and train lines including Spain’s main highway link to France and the rest of Europe. [See: Catalonia protest strike closes down roads in region, by Reuters, Nov 8, 2017.]
Since lawmakers in Catalonia – a wealthy region with its own language and distinct culture – declared independence on October 27 following a banned referendum, pro-separatist [sic] officials have come under huge pressure from Madrid. The central government has dismissed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, his government and the parliament, suspended the region’s autonomy and called for new elections there on December 21.
Barcelona’s popular mayor earlier slammed the actions of Puigdemont’s government. “They’ve provoked tensions and carried out a unilateral independence declaration which the majority do not want,” Ada Colau told a meeting of her party members. “They’ve tricked the population for their own interests.”
Eight members of the axed Catalan cabinet are currently detained on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. A further six fired officials including parliament speaker Carme Forcadell were granted bail this week on similar charges by Spain’s Supreme Court. Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium awaiting a hearing on possible extradition back to Spain after Madrid issued an EU-wide warrant.
“The situation is sad, the politicians haven’t done their jobs,” said Robert Muni, who was protesting with his children, although some protesters shouted their support for Puigdemont, “our president”.
‘We want freedom’
Puigdemont and four ex-ministers say they are in Brussels because they cannot be guaranteed a fair trial back home. “Although some of us are far away from you and others are in prison, we have an opportunity to express loudly and clearly that we want freedom and democracy,” Puigdemont told Catalan television.
Saturday’s protest was organised by two pro-independence lobby groups, ANC and Omnium, whose two leaders are also detained.
Puigdemont has said he travelled to Brussels after declaring independence in order to raise international awareness on the treatment of separatists in Spain. But the European Union, nervous that Catalan independence could stir up separatist tensions in several member states, has repeatedly backed the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over the crisis.
Some participants at the rally betrayed their frustration at the lack of support from Brussels for their cause, holding banners printed in English asking “Europe, where are you?”
Rajoy himself will be in Barcelona on Sunday [Nov 12] – his first visit to Catalonia since the independence crisis erupted – to show support for his Popular Party candidates in next month’s vote.
750,000 protesters descend on Barcelona demanding release of jailed independence leaders
Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters clogged central Barcelona on Saturday [Nov 11] to demand the release of separatist leaders held in prison for their roles in the region’s banned independence drive. Wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels to signify support, they filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches.
Catalonia’s two main grassroots independence groups called the march, under the slogan “Freedom for the political prisoners”, after their leaders were remanded in custody on charges of sedition last month.
Barcelona’s police said that 750,000 people attended the rally. The protest is seen as a test of how the independence movement’s support has fared since the Catalan government declared independence on 27 October, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fire its members, dissolve the regional parliament and call new elections for December.
“Look at all the people here,” said 63-year-old Pep Morales, who was confident separatist parties would win in the 21 December election. “The independence movement is still going strong.”
Many of the families, young people and pensioners there had travelled from across Catalonia to attend the march. They carried photos with the faces of those in prison and waved the red-and-yellow striped Catalan independence flag.
The Spanish High Court has jailed eight former government members, along with the leaders of the grassroots groups the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, while investigations into their roles continue. The court last week issued arrest warrants on charges of rebellion and sedition for ex-regional president Carles Puigdemont, who flew to Brussels after being deposed, and four other former government members who went with him.
On Thursday [Nov 9], the Supreme Court released on bail the Catalan parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell and four other lawmakers. They had enabled the [October 1] declaration of independence by overseeing a parliamentary vote. Another lawmaker was released without bail.
Ms Forcadell was released after agreeing to renounce any political activity that went against the Spanish constitution, according to the court’s ruling, in effect banning her from campaigning for independence in the December election. Those [constitutional] terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders.
The PDeCAT party of Mr Puigdemont has failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the election with another secessionist party, denting the pro-independence camp’s hopes of pressing ahead with its bid to split from Spain after the election. On November 11, the separatist Esquerra Republicana party said the ousted Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, one of those in jail, would be its candidate in December and would campaign from behind bars.
Pepita Sole, a 61-year-old pensioner in the crowd on Saturday draped in a flag, said she understood the independence declaration was symbolic but now wanted the real thing. “They better understand that we’re not faking,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands take to Barcelona streets demanding release of Catalan leaders
Read the full article at the weblink.
Russian embassy comments on Moscow’s alleged role in Catalonia crisis
MADRID – Some Spanish media reports on an alleged Russian role in Catalonia’s crisis distort the reality in the region, Russia’s Embassy in Madrid said on Friday. “We are again surprised how some Spanish mass media outlets stir up hysteria about the alleged “Russian hand” in Catalonia and do not help the readers to see the real situation and possible ways of solving problems in this autonomous community,” the Embassy said.
“In both Russia and Spain, journalists enjoy freedom of formulating their own opinion, but our journalistic culture does not allow disseminating fake news,” it stressed.
El Pais daily earlier wrote that hackers based in Russia allegedly helped the Catalan authorities to maintain a website on the independence referendum. The paper also accused some Russian mass media of biased coverage of the situation in the region.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow’s attitude to the situation in Spain remains unchanged, stressing that events in Catalonia are Spain’s domestic affair. Moscow proceeds from the understanding that events in the Spanish region will further develop in accordance with the country’s constitution and legislation.
On October 27, Catalonia’s parliament voted for a resolution proclaiming independence on the basis of the results of a referendum the autonomy held on October 1. Spanish authorities declared the plebiscite illegal. The Senate (upper house of the Spanish parliament) approved of Madrid’s request for using Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. This article, never used before, allows for restricting Catalonia’s self-government.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that a decision had been made to oust Catalan leader Carlos Puidgemont and his government. Also, Rajoy dismissed the Catalan parliament and called an early parliamentary election in the autonomy on December 21.
Belgian judge releases president Puigdemont and his ministers, VilaWeb, Nov 6, 2017
The judge is to decide within the next 15 days whether to accept the extradition petition from Spain
Catalonian crisis, or the hunt down of political dissidents in Europe
On October 6, 1934, president Lluís Companys proclaimed the Catalan State. This attempt ended up with the imprisonment of the members of the Catalan Government and the suspension of the Statute of Autonomy by the Spanish Government. Lluis Companys was executed in 1940 by Franco’s firing squad. He remains the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed.
We all expected the worst outcome, it was an open secret wriggling through the labyrinths of the Spanish court. Earlier this week, one of the bailiffs, during a microphone testing, said it out loud: “a la cárcel todos” (all to jail). The prosecutor who filed the charges against leaders in the aftermath of the Catalonian referendum and declaration of independence showed his intentions when he chose “más dura será la caida” (their fall will be harder) as title for the cause. So, when the Spanish judge decided on 2 November to retain eight Catalan leaders (including Oriol Junqueras, Vice-President of the region) accused of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement, no one was surprised.
We all knew that the national high court was coming after them. A stark statement considering that we are talking about a democratic country; one that is often hailed for integrating so well and quickly into the “EU club of democracies”. Two weeks before, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez had been imprisoned for leading a peaceful and authorised demonstration. A decision that had sparked puzzlement among part of the legal community who even questioned if the crime they were being accused of really existed in the penal code. The cause against the Catalan leaders is riddled with judicial irregularities; the decision of the magistrate responds to ideological divergences. It is unclear whether the national high court has jurisprudence to rule on cases of rebellion. It has ignored basic procedural protocols acting with a hastiness and celerity atypical of the Spanish legal system. The prosecutor’s office is treating the accused with revenge and not protecting their presumption of innocence.
This all happens while the images of the police brutality on 1st October, 2017 are still fresh in our minds. It happens under the direction of an inflexible, revengeful and bellicose government and political allies. For weeks we have seen how the Spanish establishment – government, certain political parties, police and justice system – has anchored its narrative in the Constitution refusing to give a political solution to a political problem.
However, the curtailing of civil rights in Spain does not start with the Catalonian crisis. In past years, the separation of judiciary powers from the executive branch (which in itself is very enigmatic, as ten members of the 12-person Constitutional Tribunal are political appointees) has severely deteriorated. Examples include Operation Catalonia, where the ruling right-wing government allegedly used judicial proceedings to discredit Catalonian politicians; pressures on judges who prosecute political corruption; introduction of the “gag law” which limits civil liberties severely; or the 73 decree-laws (of a total of 143 bills) which were introduced by current President Rajoy during his majority rule from 2011 – 2015. Amnesty International has repeatedly warned Madrid of breeches to freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
However, Catalonia takes the biscuit when it comes to suffering from the increasing authoritarian methods of the ruling establishment. The Spanish Constitutional Tribunal has refuted many pieces of legislation approved by the Catalan Parliament, including the housing emergency and fuel poverty bills. But more importantly, in 2010 it ruled illegal parts of the Catalonian Constitution which had been approved by Spain’s Parliament and later ratified in a vote by Catalan voters. This not only broke Spanish rule of law and left Catalonia as the only autonomous region in the Iberian Peninsula with an invalidated Constitution, it also marked a turning point in the region’s claims for independence.
After that, the Catalan demands for independence tightened. Amidst a severe financial crisis that started in Spain in 2008 and further eroded its political, economic and social structures, the Catalans developed a cross-societal movement that brought together a plethora of political sensibilities, ages and classes. It culminated with the election in 2015 of Junts pel Si a loosely-knit political movement led by Carles Puigdemont that promised to call a vote for independence.
Following the 2015 election result, responsible political leaders would have sat down to prepare a referendum like in Quebec or Scotland. But Madrid refused to take the Catalan pledge seriously, not realising the strength of their determination. President Puigdemont tried as many as 18 times to negotiate a popular vote (something that the Spanish Constitution envisages if Parliament votes for it) with the governing party. Instead, Mariano Rajoy’s executive and political allies shielded behind the Constitution and decided to give a juridical-constitutional answer to a political problem. What followed has been illustrated in the international media extensively; police brutality on October 1, 2017; imprisonment of civil and political leaders for defending peacefully the democratic mandate entrusted to them by the people; and the looming suspension of Catalan’s political, cultural, economic autonomy.
Throughout the crisis, the discourse of the Spanish government has remained immovable. Like Schmidt’s sovereign, they believe that they are in their right to transcend the rule of law in the name of the “public good”. They have appropriated the term “public good”, negating the fact that over 80 per cent of the Catalans demanded to vote. Covering themselves with the mantle of constitutionality, they have tried to ensnare a political movement by co-opting it with physical and legal violence. Meanwhile, the EU shies away from any involvement in the crisis, siding with the Spanish government. Again, sadly, this is nothing to be surprised about. After all, they are the ones that decided to ignore the Greek bailout referendum result in 2015 or bail out banks against the will of the people.
The Catalonian issue is not a national problem; it is one that is much more fundamental. One which has seen an elected government put in jail for defending peacefully their right to self-determination. One where the fundamental values of the European Union enshrined under Article 2 are being violated. One in which the history that we thought was a thing of the past (although some of us suspected was throbbing somewhere in the depths of the earth) is resurfacing again. One in which the political class has not been able come up with a creative solution, with a human solution. The only thing now left for citizens is to think critically, to stick together and create a common front to tell our leaders that political problems are solved with political solutions that involve mutual respect and dialogue.
Tonina Alomar is a researcher and editor based in Brussels. She is a member of The Global Center for Advanced Studies where she is investigating how the neoliberal framework determines the way we reflect and respond to climate change. She has worked as a political consultant and in the European Parliament and is a graduate of London School of Economics.