The trial against the pro-independence political prisoners will dominate the first half of a momentous political year, both in Catalonia and in Spain. Our collective future will be decided in courts profoundly lacking in prestige and credibility, and not only in terms of events in Catalonia: The Spanish judicial system has also been called into question following the ruling in the ‘Wolf Pack’ trial [upholding a controversial verdict in which five men accused of gang-raping a woman were found guilty of sexual abuse rather than the more serious offence of rape], the outrageous trials involving the freedom of expression and questionable rulings involving mortgage fees. Ultimately, the decision in the 1-O trial [named after the 1 October 2018 referendum deemed unlawful by Spain] will mark the culmination of the judicialization of Spanish democracy, to the astonishment not only of the European political world, but also in judicial circles, which in Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland, signalled their disagreement by rejecting the extradition of exiled Catalan political leaders.
Whatever happens, thanks to the unique nature of the process, which has so little in common with the rule of law, it is highly unlikely that the outcome will be a positive one. The prospects for the future look bleak. In fact, everything suggests that the case will continue in the European courts and that it will lead to more demonstrations on the streets and continued political unrest. Indeed, putting independence on trial is making governability highly problematic, both in Catalonia and Spain. Both are ruled by unstable governments which depend on small majorities in their respective parliaments. Neither Torra nor Sánchez will find it easy to approve their budgets for 2019.
The all-important dialogue the two leaders have only just initiated won’t prove easy. How it unfolds will inevitably depend on the trial, and it will be determined by the final verdict, which will also have a direct effect on the municipal and European elections on May 26. We are therefore facing six months of uncertainty, which must be tackled by keeping a cool head while constantly rethinking one’s strategy.
In spite of the inherent difficulties, the Catalan government must separate the trial from its decisions and the fledgling talks with Madrid. Catalonia must not only act in response to the manifest injustice surrounding the treatment of those who are either in jail or in exile; while Spain must not act as if the trial were not highly irregular. For the pro-independence side, continuing to protest and seek international support is one thing, while abandoning politics, governing positively and responsibly is another matter entirely. The Spanish left, meanwhile, will require bravery to politically prepare itself for the negotiations over Catalonia; in other words, to distance itself from the PP and the Cs ultranationalist spiral. Negotiating the budgets could serve as a good opportunity for rapprochement. In addition to firmly denouncing arbitrary justice, a good way for it to reject the judicialization of politics is by starting to engage in real politics. Fearlessly. Dialogue and negotiation must never be a cause for alarm. And they can take place without surrendering anything, starting with the defence of those who are in prison and in exile, and with the appeal to a referendum called for by the majority of Catalan society.