For five years, during cabinet meetings I had President Mas, Vice President Joana Ortega and Minister Francesc Homs sat to my left, and Minister Irene Rigau to my right. All of them are currently being prosecuted for having peacefully exercised their fundamental right to the freedom of expression, the 9-N [9 November] vote. I am not. It is a situation which I find personally trying, but which I shall not go into here. I wouldn’t be able to. But since I am as equally responsible as my colleagues, I can only conclude that the discrepancy in my treatment is an arbitrary and purely political decision. A manifestation of something highly disturbing: the use of justice by a government that seeks to limit the free expression of opinion.
It is not an isolated case. We are witnessing, for similar reasons, cases brought against the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell and a number of council officials (the Mayor of Berga Montse Venturós, the Councillor for Vic Joan Coma, etc.) and various members of the public. Judge Vidal’s suspension from his post is another example. Unfortunately, it appears as if the High Court does not want us to forget that it is a successor to the Public Order Court of the Franco period. However, more seriously is the fact that the Constitutional Court [with the initials TC in Catalan] or, rather, a majority of eight members (I confess I am surprised than it wasn’t only seven of its twelve members), thought nothing of becoming the instrument to enforce the wishes of the Spanish government.
It has not always been the case. There was a time when the Constitutional Court was highly respected and that its members were largely jurists of great merit and standing. It was a court which appreciated the fact that the ambiguities inherent in the constitutional text require interpretation in order to consolidate the political balance reached during the Transition. In a way, the Constitutional Court was seen as safeguarding the spirit of the Transition. In 1984 the TC was responsible for overturning the Organic Law on the Harmonisation of the Autonomic Process, and in 1994 it ruled in favour of the constitutionality of the Linguistic Normalization Law of 1983, the foundation of the Catalan education model. If the TC had persisted in this vein, perhaps today Catalonia would be an enthusiastic advocate of the Constitution. But it was not to be. Certain reactionary forces, principally the PP and those conditioned or influenced by them, realised that to achieve their strongly-desired objective, to return to a uni-national, hyper-centralized Spain, they needed to manipulate and control the TC. And they succeeded. As a result, in 2010 the PP obtained the disgraceful ruling on the Statute which the Catalans had voted for. The aftermath of this decision is well known to all.
We are told that we must respect the law. It sounds right. But if we are not respected, how can we respect others? In terms of specific individuals, how can we respect a president of the Constitutional Court who only five years before being appointed wrote, among other gems, "Money is Catalonia’s rationalizing balm" and, worse yet, has not seen fit to apologise? That such an appointment is possible is frankly incomprehensible and would be unheard of in our democratic equals.
The decision to go down the judicial path, including criminal proceedings, to condemn the peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression was ill-advised. How far are they prepared to go? Do those who are behind it realize the extent of such a decision in the European context in which we live (fortunately we are in Europe, and let no one get their hopes up: we will continue to be so)? Are they aware of where it might lead us? In a democracy, when there is a conflict between the government and those who practice freedom of speech around a topic (whether religious, cultural, political, in terms of customs and so on), however acute the conflict may be, freedom of expression always ends up winning. Except, of course, when democracy has deteriorated: which is the path of Putin and Erdogan. And since neither one nor the other have a place in the European Union, one must conclude that the path of the repression of the freedom of expression is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, it will leave behind many wounds that could have been prevented. Incidentally, those with the extremist, most intolerant positions who criticized the Spanish government for "allowing" the 9-N vote saw what was coming. Indeed, 9-N took place because, for an instant, the Spanish government’s attitude appeared to be one of non-interference in the celebration of the participatory exercise. It was the correct, intelligent attitude, which should have naturally led them to acknowledge the legitimacy of Catalan sovereignty. But it was only an instant. The inconsistency of subsequently changing their attitude and opting for the path of repression pushes us closer to the precipice, burns our bridges and exacerbates the conflict. It does nothing whatsoever for Spain and Europe’s long-term interests.