Contributed by Joe Montero
After Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont failed to refute the bid for independence by yesterday’s deadline, the Spanish court ordered two community leaders to be arrested for sedition.
Jordi Sánchez, who heads the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, leader of Omnium Cultural, organisations that have been central to organising street rallies and other actions around the events surrounding the 1 October referendum, have been arrested and are in custody without bail.
Puigdemont has been given till Thursday to publicly declare an end to the bid for independence, or he too will face arrest and charged be with the same crime.
Chief of the Catalan regional police (Mossos d’Esquadra), Josep Lluis Trapero, is also under threat of arrest. He has been accused of failing to help the Civil Guard and National Police in their crackdown on referendum and around day and of not moving to rescue Civil Guard officers holed up in a government building, by the huge crowd outside. Prosecutors have already called for his arrest.
He and his police force have been elevated to hero status in Catalonia.
There is no sign that the Catalan independence movement is in a mood to surrender. It will go on resisting and this will draw its various parts closer together in a common battle. The weakness on the Spanish side is that they are creating martyrs for the cause, and if there is one thing that should be learned from the example of history, is that martyrs are as potent force for change that spurs others on by example.
Mariano Rajoy’s and his government’s response is based on a mixture of panic and an old way of thinking, ignoring the undeniable fact that the independence movement is popular amongst the Catalans and it is in the ascendency. Many want to take the movement further than Puigdemont wants to. It is the actions of Madrid that are pushing him in this direction.
The show of force does not win hearts and minds. Catalonia has a deep memory of brutality under the hand of Spain. It suffered military occupation, and during the Franco years that came to an end in the 1970’s, the language and culture of Catalonia had been banned, and every aspect of life was heavily policed and brutalised.
Rajoy’s handling of the referendum opened old wounds and drove a large portion of the undecided into the independence camp.
Hitting out at the arrests and threats, Puigdemont wrote that “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again”.
In a video clip recorded before his arrest and released on Twitter, Jordi Cuixart called on his people to “never lose hope because the people of Catalonia have earned their future”.
This is a crisis for Spain that is having repercussions elsewhere. In the Basque country fighting for its own independence, have been flying form buildings everywhere, alongside the Basque flag. There have been big rallies in support of the Catalans. The more force Spain uses, the more the road to independence is debated, including whether this is possible by peaceful. means or not.
Not to be forgotten, is Galicia on the north-west coast. This is one of the poorest regions of greater Spain and has its own growing secessionist movement. It is Mariano Rajoy’s own Turf. He comes from the northern city O Caruna. The Gallegos, and he should know, also have their own language, culture and traditions and they feel left out.
Other regions are stirring as well. The point is made with these examples, and that is that the claim of Madrid that the Catalan crisis threatens the cohesiveness of the nation is true. But the threat comes more from Madrid and from anywhere else. By its own actions it is telling people, and particularly on the younger generation, that aspirations will not be listened to and that they must be pursued with greater militancy.
Europe stands by nervously. Outwardly supporting Madrid, on the strict letter of the law, but, concerned really that the lessons being learned in Spain, will echo through Europe. It may even come to be that Madrid has not only changed politics in Spain, but has in a sense changed politics through Europe.
The claim needs to be qualified. European politics are already changing. On the one hand, there is the destructive growth of xenophobic movements. Counter to this, there are other there are movements that are looking for a very different alternative. They may still need to find their feet. The important thing is that they are there and growing.
Both are symptoms of the declining hegemony of traditional political parties and the elite that has presided over Europe since World War Two. Their fear is that developments in Catalonia will feed a new spurt of growth.
It is largely because of such broader implications and the spectacular scene in Barcelona that this crisis has generated such worldwide attention. Spinning from it, is a wider debate on the role of the state, the limitation of what is today called democracy, what is meant by putting political power in the hands of the people and how to make this a reality. There can never be too much of it.
The next chapter in this story starts tomorrow.