In the last few years, and more so in recent months, Catalonia’s pro-independence movement has denounced the drop in Spain’s democratic standards, the regression in terms of individual rights and liberties and the existence of a partisan, biased justice system: in short, the systemic failure of the current regime that began in 1978. Their cry was met with scorn, sarcasm and slurs in and outside Catalonia: the reply was that the only ones whose rights and liberties were in jeopardy were the people who break the law; that Spanish justice is impeccably neutral and independent; that the state’s apparatus is only subservient to Spain’s greater interest, and that criticising the 1978 regime is akin to questioning democracy itself.
However, last week we saw a number of events —wholly unrelated to the Catalan issue— which have proven to anyone willing to open their eyes that this is not just about the “Catalan separatists’ defiance”. Rather, Spain’s political-institutional system is experiencing major problems. Its trouble runs deep and —just like in Hamlet’s Denmark— there is a foul, rotten stench about it.
In chronological order, the first such event was the downfall of Cristina Cifuentes, the PP president of the Madrid region. This was not brought about by a non-confidence vote or the explicit, public loss of her party’s support. Instead, what happened last Wednesday was a political liquidation that is reminiscent of the Mafia’s methods. Rather than a sawn-off shotgun —the weapon traditionally favoured by Cosa Nostra hitmen— they got rid of Cifuentes using video footage that someone had illegally held on to for seven years (1).
“Dirty war” tactics had already been used against Catalan separatist leaders: fake pseudo police reports, stories leaked to “Madrid-friendly” news outlets, embarrassing recordings from wiretaps and so forth. Anyone who believed that such tactics would be limited to fighting Catalan independence was either very naive or very cynical. You start by using that sort of thing against your “enemies” (Artur Mas, Xavier Trias, Oriol Junqueras, Lluís Salvadó and the list goes on) but, given their simplicity and impunity —Jorge Fernández Díaz and Daniel de Alfonso could attest to this— the temptation to use them against one’s own party peers who have turned into a harmful nuisance becomes irresistible. In the words of an unnamed PP leader last Thursday, when it was feared that Cifuentes might dig in and decide not to step down as regional party leader, “let us hope that another video is not needed”.
Like Hamlet’s state of Denmark, something is rotten in Spain’s political-institutional system
Next came the ruling in the so-called Manada case (2). It exposed not the need to amend the Spanish Criminal Code, but the persistence in the mid-to-higher echelons of power of a reactionary, sexist and national-catholic culture, whereby a woman must violently resist her assailants and lose her life, if need be, in order to prove that she has been raped, not unlike St. Maria Goretti. Well, that is likely what two of the three judges involved believe. As for the third one, Ricardo Javier González (who cast a separate vote), he saw no foul play but “fun and banter”, with the young woman having a great time.
When I first heard about the ruling, issued by a Navarre court, I recalled the famous photograph of the “bullring trio”: in 2010, shortly before handing down the ruling that watered down the Catalan Statute, three Constitutional court judges had no qualms about showing themselves sitting in the stand of a Seville bullring, enjoying a cigar after a nice lunch. The same arrogance, the same scorn for the public opinion and the feelings of the society which, in theory, they serve.
Finally, we have also heard the public prosecutor’s closing argument in the Altsasu case (3). Instead of merely going over the events which the trial was concerned with and recapping the evidence gathered against the defendants —which is what a prosecutor is supposed to do—, Mr José Perals launched into a political-ideological tirade where he spoke about “fascism in its purest form”, “xenophobia and racism”, of everything which “unfortunately led Europe to one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century”. Was he talking about an incident in a Navarre bar or Auschwitz? And he went on to claim that “Basque supremacists support an outdated form of nationalism that seeks to expel people …” Is it normal for a prosecutor’s closing argument to resemble an editorial of Libertad Digital, a column in El Mundo or La Razón (4)? Is it in the prosecutor’s job description to determine which strand of nationalism is outdated and which is trendy? If I may be so bold as to offer a tip to president Puigdemont’s legal counsel —and the rest of the exiled Catalan politicians— I rush to translate into German, French and English both Justice González’s remarks and the conclusions of prosecutor Perals and send them to the judges in Kiel, Geneva, Brussels and Edinburgh. Nothing will paint a more accurate picture of the social sensitivity and lack of bias of today’s justice system in Spain.
To cite the dictionary entry: “Degenerescence: degeneration, especially of an organised body”. Precisely.
(1) The seven-year-old footage shows Cristina Cifuentes caught red-handed by the security staff of a supermarket when she was attempting to shoplift some beauty products.
(2) A group of young men who called themselves la Manada (“the Wolfpack”) have been recently found guilty of sexually abusing a young woman, but rape charges were dismissed by the court, which has outraged many in Spain. One of the three judges failed to see any sexual misconduct at all in the group’s actions.
(3) Several young men from Navarre face terrorism charges for allegedly assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil officers and their partners in a drunken late night bar brawl. They have been held in pre-trial custody for well over a year.
(4) These are four well-known Spanish nationalist news organisations.