THE OBSERVER

The downfall

Once again in history, Spain is split between the forces of reaction and the forces of change

ESTHER VERA
ESTHER VERA Directora de l'ARA

The speed and noise that characterise the times we are living through would seem to prevent it, but whenever you manage to distance yourself a little, you get shivers down your spine. Once again in history, Spain is split between the forces of reaction and the forces of change. Once more, progress and accord seem impossible: both sides are digging their heels and moderates are being hushed up. The stakes are high and Spain is gambling with the downfall of the democratic regime which finally appeared well-established within the European framework. Built on the back of fear and amnesia, the political transition [following Franco’s death] was a historical exception to violence. But now the Spanish right seems determined to culminate the regression borne out of the court ruling against the Catalan Statute, and progressive Spain has ground to a halt and feels inadequate in the face of the threat posed by the heirs of the Franco regime. A majority of Spain’s public opinion has yet to decide whether to push aside the historical hurdles unabashedly, and it lacks the courage to take a step forward.

Intransigence, the flat-out refusal to accept diversity and to agree on a stable framework for Catalonia, is about to rattle the entire Spanish constitutional edifice. By blatantly denying many Catalans their right to be heard, Spain is becoming increasingly mired in swampland, with its institutions getting bogged down. The Spanish government dare not talk to Catalonia, Madrid’s legislature has ground to a halt and is unable to pass the budget, while the judiciary makes decisions that question the country’s legal security and undermine its standing in the eyes of European justice. The image of impartiality and fairness of the courts is also constantly being eroded by those very decisions.

Now the impotence and also the peaceful determination of Catalonia’s political prisoners is being expressed through their dire decision to start an unlimited hunger strike. Those who believe that dialogue should always prevail over authoritarianism when democratic demands go unheeded are moved and struck by this news. Responding to self-determination demands with violent threats would not be an acceptable recourse for Catalan society, as non-violence is the main asset of the pro-independence camp. That is why a hunger strike is the last resort. Putting your life on the line to get the international community to pay attention to your cause is for Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull to decide. Their goal is to denounce the fact that their appeals before Spain’s Constitutional Court remain unresolved with no date in sight, which means they cannot take their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This prolongs pre-trial detention, which becomes an extended form of revenge whose sole purpose would appear to be breaking the separatist grassroots and political leaders on a psychological and human level. The decision to begin a hunger strike was preceded by a lengthy, intense reflection on the part of the political prisoners in Lledorners and those outside. The latter have implored them not to risk their lives. A hunger strike can have unforeseeable effects on one’s mental and physical health. Experts have explained that, after the first few days, you stop feeling hungry and your body becomes weaker as it progressively adapts to the new situation. There are risks from day one, but twenty-one days is generally agreed to be the time beyond which major, permanent effects are experienced.

Internal debate among the prisoners

Sànchez and Turull’s decision will get political and human rights groups to focus on Catalonia again. Needless to say, it is a grave, personal choice for both prisoners and Catalonia’s National Assembly have already announced their support on the streets. A new, far-reaching scenario has opened up.

The internal debate in the Lledoners facility [where the male prisoners are held] and their two female colleagues, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, has gone through a number of phases. The decision was debated in terms of its seriousness and its power to influence the Constitutional Court and the Spanish government. Some prisoners considered it and then dropped the idea because of the associated physical weakness ahead of the trial. They worry they wouldn’t be fit to defend themselves when the trial kicks off, presumably in January next year.

This week’s 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution should be a hard pill to swallow for the Spanish State. Two elected MPs, one a grassroots leader (Jordi Sànchez) and the other a politician who was jailed halfway through being voted president in parliament (Jordi Turull), will be on hunger strike to demand guarantees of a fair trial. It is not about expecting favouritism, but pushing their appeals through the Constitutional Court —which may drop or dismiss them— so they can turn to the European court. What other democracy in Europe could afford to do nothing, faced with such a grave situation? Spain is progressively wiping away the years of democratic progress as part of the European club. So far, justice and the monarchy are in a crisis. Refusing to handle the Catalan issue politically may end up bringing down the entire institutional edifice.

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