The political fight was uneven in strength, but both sides got knocked down and are still trying to get up off the canvas. The leadership of Catalonia’s independence movement is either in jail or exiled and PM Mariano Rajoy got sent home, even though he held the reins of the State’s power apparatus. Catalan society is recovering progressively and is perusing the names of the newcomers, at home as well as in Spain, where the clash with the independence movement has also taken its toll on the political system. The Spanish government’s inability to engage Catalonia politically and the weakness of its political foundations were exposed when direct rule was imposed by invoking article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. On an international level, Madrid’s position has been weakened by the judicial construction of a case that is crassly political.
Turning a new page is proving difficult for both sides. De-escalating requires political gestures which show that mutual trust can be rebuilt after it was shattered well before the ruling on the Catalan Statute, handed down in 2010. It remains to be seen whether PM Pedro Sánchez will have the courage to do politics and start a serious negotiation about the most pressing issue currently on his agenda: Spain’s institutional design. To prevent him from taking any steps, Ciudadanos leaders Albert Rivera and Inés Arrimadas (and the masterminds of social confrontation) are striving to raise their head in a silly contest which involves tearing down yellow ribbons and calling failed demonstrations with the goal of lending credence to the poisonous, irresponsible narrative of an allegedly conflict-gripped Catalonia. Pressure from the reactionary forces is threatening Sánchez’s socialist party, which might miss the opportunity that the competition between the PP and Ciudadanos —locking horns over who gets to lead unionism— has presented them with.
The prison’s strategy
The outlook for the new political year —assuming the previous one ever came to an end— is stormy. The calendar will fuel tension and rallying in Catalonia, despite renewed threats of direct rule and Miquel Iceta’s warning about the danger that “a hostile atmosphere might influence the outcome of the trial”. The ridiculous charges faced by Catalonia’s political prisoners will set the tone for this autumn and the strategy with which the pro-independence movement intends to oppose it suggests that the Catalan prisoners will be playing a major role. In his first months in office Catalan president Quim Torra made it very clear that his priority are the prisoners and exiles. After holding meetings this summer in Waterloo and Lledoners, this week president Torra will outline his views on the current state of affairs. Presumably he won’t focus on the much-needed governance that appears to have been put on the back burner. Torra has stated that he won’t accept a guilty verdict, but has not clarified what the consequences of that might be. His position is consistent with that of the prisoners and his lack of trust in a fair trial has been abundantly substantiated by how the case has proceeded. They claim that “a fair trial could only bring a non-guilty verdict” and their goal is to create the widespread feeling that will allow them to expose the weaknesses of Spanish democracy and bring new allies to the cause of democratic regeneration. In other words, they aim to call on all citizens, regardless of their political preference, to rally for the sake of democracy itself.
In an interview with this newspaper the Speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, states that the key to bringing back the spirit of October 3 is to bring together the civic majority that opposes violence and favours a solid democracy and a peaceful, legally-binding referendum. The aim is to “expose this judicial farce” supported by the broadest majority possible.
In the interview the Speaker mentions a long parliamentary term that will rest on “how these ideas take shape and how consensus-building and a united front are established to face the coming months”. He echoes the words of Josep Rull, in an interview from prison that we will publish on Monday, but he admits that “the climate that we are able to create will determine the outcome”. The new political year kicks off with a public address by the president, followed by Catalonia’s national holiday on September 11, and the first anniversary of the independence vote and the October events. Presumably, the prisoners will be moved back to Madrid for the start of the trial. The coming months will see a fresh rallying bid during which the governance of Catalonia mustn’t be put on hold, if we want a better country, whilst broadening and consolidating the pro-sovereignty movement as the best political option to bring progress to Catalonia and her people. Now that Catalans have regained self-government with the lifting of direct rule, not only is it necessary to protect it from new threats but it must be exercised for the sake of Catalonia’s progress.