Contributed by Joe Montero
The ongoing face-off between the Catalan Government re-elected last October and Madrid entered a new phase by the end of last week.
The leader of the victorious pro-independence parties, Carles Puigdemont, remains in exile and would be arrested if he returns. This means that his re-election as the Catalan President has been effectively blocked. Puigdemont backed off last Monday week, in favour of Jordi Sanchez, who is the former leader of the grass roots organisation called the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly). The Catalan parliament has agreed.
Puigdemont said he was provisionally stepping aside. It means while bowing to the inability to set foot in Spain for now, he is leaving a door open for a future return.
At the hands of the pro-Madrid Supreme Court, Sanchez has been remanded in custody for five months without bail, and faces being charged with rebellion and sedition. A consequence of the imprisonment is being prevented from turning up at the Catalan parliament to vote and be voted for and sworn in.
The grounds given by Judge Pablo Llarena for blocking Sanchez were, that although he might have the rights to be released, vote, be voted for and inaugurated, it is legitimate to withdraw these rights, if there is a risk that he would re-offend. The judge ruled that such a risk exists.
Another Spanish court sentenced two young Catlans to 15 months in prison for burning a photograph of King Juan Carlos I and his wife Sofia, which is indicative of the rising intolerance and repression building in Madrid. The imprisonment has been condemned by the European Human Rights Court (EHRC), as a violation of the right to free speech.
The number of Catalans arrested, charged and imprisoned has escalated since last year’s referendum on
In the face of the Llarena judgment, the Catalan parliament has continued to defer its decision.
The response of Madrid is that if this is not resolved soon, Mariano Rajoy may once again dissolve the parliament and impose a new election. This is a very risky strategy. It has already backfired once and is likely to do so again.
It only makes sense if the game plan is to achieve two outcomes. One is to break the alliance of pro-independence parties, with the threat of permanent direct rule. The second is that if the threat fails, to impose direct rule.
But this too has a good chance of backfiring. It would underline the continuing refusal of Madrid to listen to the Catalans and could easily lead to an escalation in militancy and justification for the use of other means to assert the Catalan voice.
The movement is far too big and rooted in the region’s history and culture for it to be destroyed from above. It is a reality that Madrid refuses to understand.
It is no surprise that Carles Puigdemont told Catalan television news service El Punt Avui: “It is no tragedy if there are new elections, although it is not the priority, and no-one desires it.”
Whatever the outcome over the argument about who is going to lead the Catalan parliament, the core issue remains the progress of the movement for independence. Most of the media reporting is leaving this important point out, as it focuses on the personalities.
How the effort of the Catalans to assert their voice progresses will be determined at the grass roots. It’s track record of organising at this level, is the movement’s greatest strength, and why it can call out the numbers at the critical times.
This laid down human infrastructure will remain and keep on working behind the scenes.