A Catalan government minister said that "all moderates at this moment have a gun pointed at their heads". He was referring to the narrow margin for action in the current political situation, which is accelerating towards the announcement of an independence referendum, and also towards a response from the Spanish government, the extent and consequences of which are unpredictable.
The Catalan authorities are working on organizing the referendum, but admit that work remains to be done. It will only be able to be held after the approval of a new legal framework by the Catalan Parliament and with strategies to achieve international visibility and support that are difficult to guarantee prior to a proclamation or a vote.
However, Madrid’s only strategy is to pressure the courts, with the ephemeral "operation dialogue" pushing up daisies.
The trial against Mas, Ortega, and Rigau is a new step that accelerates the political countdown. If the former President of the Generalitat is found guilty for having provided ballot boxes so that 2.3 million people could vote, it would be a grave symbolic gesture that could not be disguised as an administrative matter.
Unfortunately for our collective democratic health, as much as the members of the judiciary try to defend their independence, the actions of Spain's Prosecutor General to impose his criteria on the Catalan Board of Prosecutors and the resignation of the previous Attorney General, Torres-Dulce, are elements that augment the lack of trust in the impartial actions of the judicial apparatus, if you consider the Prosecutor’s Office as an independent body and not just as a simple arm of governmental action.
Five years after the ruling against the Catalan Statute and the collection of signatures by the PP —who saw that attacking Catalonia was effective in wearing down the PSOE—, Mariano Rajoy's government has to make a decision. Letting reality take its course is no longer an option, as things have changed and are coming to a head.
In the days leading up to 9-N in Madrid, the unbelievers who underestimated the extent and impact of the popular mobilization ruled the day, and felt surprised and mocked for not having gone all out to prevent the vote. By not responding legally to the request for clarification of the Constitutional Court's order suspending the consultation, they left a door open that allowed the Catalan government to act. This week's trial, according to the hawks, is the fruit of their tepid actions back then.
Even if a guilty sentence is not legally evident, it would be hard to imagine a decision defying the Prosecutor General's order to act. In words of the lawyer Jordi Pina, "the Spanish government wants the political death of all three defendants."
The dilemma over the degree and proportionality of the response affects both hawks and doves in Spain. The unknown is who will come out on top now in this new stage.
The political and media reactions are pointing Mariano Rajoy towards a harsh response. The catalogue ranges from Anson's --who in his day was director of the leading newspaper for the monarchist Spanish right and who, apart from beauty contests, provided brightness and splendor to the Royal Spanish Academy-- threats of violence, to petitions for suspension of Catalan home rule from any one of those who employ hate speech.
Very few point publically to the use of dialogue, proportionality, and negotiation. For the moment, one of the most plausible options is that of massive disqualifications for public office. Threats towards civil servants, and disqualifications of the government, the Executive Committee of Parliament, and its Speaker. Of all those politically responsible for every step. In the end, the option would be the suspension of Catalan self-rule.
There are also differences in strategy in Catalonia, with the extreme being those who favor the now-or-never approach and becoming martyrs for a higher cause. As if Catalonia had historically specialized in freeing its leaders from Spanish political intransigence, now democratic but still intransigent and incapable of dialogue.
The February 6th demonstration at the steps of the Barcelona Courthouse made clear once again the civility and strength of the independence process. Also a certain weariness of public opinion, which does not mean a disconnection from the desire to vote, nor the disappearance of the majority that would vote for independence. The trial against Artur Mas, the former President of the Generalitat, is a boost for the emotions of those who are in a hurry, but what is needed is to provide reasons to those who doubt and distrust the viability of the referendum. The people who, in any vote (which will come in one form or another) must believe in the possibility of a freer and better country. Those who, out of exhaustion, might do like Estanislau Figueras. Figueras was the first president of Spain’s First Republic who, in a turbulent meeting of his cabinet on June 9, 1873 and after many arguments without reaching an agreement on resolving Spain's institutional crisis, with continual changes in government and coups, exploded: "Gentlemen, I'll be frank: I'm sick to death of all of us". Just before slamming the door and catching a train to Paris.