Spain’s Supreme Court has finally set the start date for the trial of Catalonia’s independence movement. Now the magma where Catalan and Spanish politics are bogged down has some landmark dates head which, regardless of the sentence and despite everything else, will help the prisoners to draw up fresh personal strategies and will allow Catalonia to come up with new political ones. Escorted by Catalan police, last Friday the nine Catalan independence leaders were driven on a Guardia Civil bus from a prison in Catalonia to their new facilities in Madrid. It was yet another prison transfer, with a lengthy journey and the obligation to start afresh in a new penitentiary. However, now they have a calendar and the chance to defend themselves in a trial that will be broadcast live on TV.
The prison transfer has exposed the Catalan government’s paradoxical position and its impotence against the State’s judicial action. Catalan president Quim Torra met the prisoners before the drive to Madrid, a meeting which some of those present have described as “emotionally charged”. In particular, the heartfelt, silent embrace between Carme Forcadell (the Speaker of the Catalan parliament) and minister Dolors Bassa, who were split a few months ago for family reasons and sent, each on her own, to a separate facility. Likewise, everyone noticed that Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull had put on a suit for the journey and were wearing their minister’s pin on the lapel of their jacket. Actually, early on the prisoners had voiced their intention to appear in court with “all our own personal dignity intact, as well as our rank’s”. President Torra held the emotional tone in a solemn public statement in Palau de la Generalitat: “The trial will change Catalonia and her relationship with the Kingdom of Spain for ever”. Seduced by history, president Torra is not one to spare public gestures, which reveal the limitation of political action and the gap between the narrative and the reality following the declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament on October 27 2017.
In the trial that will kick off on February 12 Catalonia’s independence bid will sit in the dock, but so will the Spanish State. The quality of Spain’s justice, politics and democracy will be put in the spot. It will also expose the media’s capacity for reporting, analysis or propaganda. The court is aware that the verdict will be contested before Europe’s justice and it ought to tread with care and seek a unanimous verdict, which might result in lower penalties for the sake of achieving internal cohesion. Many experts have publicly denounced that, because there was none, it will be impossible to prove the violence required by the charges of rebellion, and they have suggested that the defendants might only be convicted of attempted sedition or a crime of disobedience. Five hundred witnesses will appear in court, including former PM Mariano Rajoy and his deputy (Sáenz de Santamaría), former Treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro, Basque leader Íñigo Urkullu, former Catalan president Artur Mas, Speaker Roger Torrent and the top boss of the Catalan police force. This court case will become a trial against the lack of a political response to the demands of a broad majority of Catalans and it will be a test for Madrid’s most bigoted patriotism. The court is trying to prevent the trial from turning into a political debate, which will conflict with the interests of the Catalan prisoners, who —at last— are getting a chance to explain themselves, argue their case and voice their demand for a self-determination referendum in Catalonia.
A historic trial is about to start. It will offer Spain a chance to move forward, get mired down or give in to the siren calls of reactionary forces. Obviously, it is not the justice system’s job to solve the problems which politicians have failed to tackle, but a change for the better or worse is now in its hands.