Given than in recent years Spanish politics has specialised in dramatics, gesturing, gaffes and the invocation of imminent Armageddon, the present strategy of normalising the profound discrepancies between Catalonia’s pro-independence parliamentary majority and the Spanish government carries limited credibility. In fact, many Catalans —who were shocked when they saw the ballot boxes arrive on October 1, followed by the Spanish police’s baton charges and the declaration of independence on October 27— view with skepticism the possibility of the Spanish government coming to an understanding and devising a historic conflict-resolution strategy with Catalonia.
Despite this lack of mutual trust, Catalan president Quim Torra and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez realise that now there is a narrow window of opportunity to prepare the ground for a dialogue which both of them wish to be successful in the short term, even if it is only to gain time. Honest unionists and separatists know that only a victory at the polls will allow them to prevail and neither side is prepared to surrender. This narrow window for pacification might suddenly close when the campaign for the Spanish or local elections kicks off or once the trial against the Catalan leaders has begun.
AHEAD OF THE POLLS, this window of opportunity for political negotiation might widen or vanish prematurely for many reasons. Firstly, PM Sánchez welcomes the internal rift in the PP because it gives the PSOE some breathing space to roll out, unencumbered, their current policy of making announcements as if they were paid-for political ads. Secondly, having the courts of law deal with the Catalan independence process means that Justice Llarena is in a position to make potentially incendiary decisions. The recent ruling by a German court has shattered the rebellion indictment against Carles Puigdemont and destroyed the credibility of the charges against the Catalan leaders currently held on remand. Their release would be legitimate and fair, but it doesn’t look as if Spain’s justice is prepared to make an honest interpretation of the consequences of Germany’s decision. The loss of international prestige by Spain’s justice might not end there if Llarena decides to drop the European Arrest Warrant against Puigdemont because he is unhappy with its outcome or, even worse, if he refuses to try Puigdemont only for the one offence which the German court saw any potential in. In Spain the hotheads who claim that once Puigdemont has been handed over, he should be tried for the crimes that Germany did not recognise will only strengthen the Catalan leader’s defence when his legal team appeals the extradition on the basis that Spain would be unable to guarantee him a fair trial.
ONE DAY WE WILL FIND OUT whether Justice Llarena built the rebellion case —which introduced the novel idea of violence-free violence— to preserve Spain’s unity on his own accord, because he is part of the deep state that has historically guaranteed the survival of chauvinistic, reactionary Spain, or he was following orders. That will likely be the day when historians will also learn whether King Felipe’s speech on October 3 was the Spanish government’s doing or it was suggested by his own close circle. Obviously, the Spanish government was necessarily aware of the message in the King’s speech but, did King Felipe ruin his reign all by himself? was it those around him? or was it Rajoy’s PP?
YOU DON’T NEED TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENCE to ask yourself where Spain is headed and whether it will manage to get over the enormous institutional crisis —among others— that have it mired in corruption. iIn Spain the feeble exercise of free thinking, the country’s sickly democratic culture and its disdain for politics are are a heavy burden carried over from Franco’s era. Sánchez’s initiatives to bury Franco and his regime are neither symbolic nor a form of retribution. They are essential actions to turn a new page in this dark, authoritarian Spain that still hangs in the air, just as people in Europe and the US are catching a whiff that is reminiscent of fascism. This phenomenon is not merely Spanish and we will need to stay alert, as Madeleine Albright warned in her book Fascism: a Warning. In her work the former US Secretary of State —who was born in Prague and was a victim of Nazism and communism— analyses fascism in the 20th century and how its legacy impacts the world of today. She emphasises that we mustn’t trust “anyone who claims to speak on behalf of a whole nation or group, someone who doesn’t care about other people’s rights and is willing to use violence or any other means necessary for their own ends”. In many countries the political centre is being weakened by economic, technological and cultural factors. Spain and Catalonia are not immune to this and we will need to remain vigilant every step of the way in order to seize and preserve free thinking, demand a fair justice system and respect for peaceful, democratic dissent.