Despite what the higher echelons of the State might believe —including Spain’s caretaker government—, the extremely harsh, unfair sentences passed on the Catalan leaders merely deepen the political crisis in Spain. And they only debase democracy further. Basic rights and freedoms have been severely undermined and the rift with a great deal of Catalonia has grown wider. Courts of law and repression should have never been part of the answer to Catalonia’s demand for independence. Instead, dialogue and political negotiation should have prevailed, like in the UK with Scotland. This verdict is the embodiment of a complete democratic failure, both in itself and for the injustice of its content. Ideas cannot be imprisoned. It is a political failure that does not put an end to anything, like Spain’s deep state would hope, but it marks the beginning of a long period of instability. Far from providing a solution, it makes the problem worse. What’s coming next is not the “death throes” [of Catalonia’s independence bid] in the form of street protests, as Spain’s caretaker PM has hinted when commenting on the verdict. Rather, it is a social and political crisis that threatens to become permanent, to get worse and, therefore, to continue to affect the political stability of Spain and Catalonia. Unfortunately, Spanish justice itself will contribute to it by issuing another European arrest warrant against former president Carles Puigdemont.
Indeed, Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled that no crime of rebellion was committed. Of course not: the judicial outrage would have been unprecedented. But since it has failed to prove the charges of rebellion, of staging a coup and upsetting the constitutional order —there was none of that in the events that were being tried—, the court has turned the conviction for sedition —which in itself is highly questionable, too— into a mini rebellion of sorts. And, above all, it has made it into a mockery, a humiliation and an act of revenge against the independence movement, which never had the State on the ropes but did, indeed, ridicule it on October 1, 2017 when we showed that Spain couldn’t prevent the independence vote from going ahead. Therefore, the court has opted for the most extreme interpretation of Spain’s criminal code, twisting the events of 2017 to claim that what would have passed as an act of disobedience or the legitimate exercise of the right to protest, assemble and civic dissent in any European country, was in fact a riotous uprising. Furthermore, this extremely biased interpretation paves the way for imposing restrictions on the right to demonstrate and free speech in the future. Basic liberties are in danger.
For all that, for its profoundly reactionary content, for its restrictive interpretation of the legal and constitutional framework, this verdict will be a heavy burden on the rule of law that those who shield themselves behind the legislation so like to brandish. No matter how often they deny it, regardless of Madrid’s PR campaigns praising democratic standards in Spain, the existence of political prisoners in the very heart of Europe is very real. The cases of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, both grassroots leaders, are emblematic. So are the cases of the other imprisoned or exiled leaders. Denouncing this injustice now takes centre place in the political agenda.
Besides its unjust component, the verdict is an attack on peaceful coexistence. It has caused a sheer, utter fracture. Paradoxically, the same fracture that had failed to materialise, despite everything, has now been given a boost by the judiciary. Psychologically, this is a turning point. It is a legal onslaught against freedom and basic rights, and against the Catalonia that wanted —and still wants— to decide her political future at the polls, in a democratic, peaceful manner. The Supreme Court has ruled against ideas, not facts: there was no violence and no evidence of misuse of public funds has been presented. And yet the sentences are disproportionately harsh: between 9 and 13 years, nearly 100 years when combined. Most of the defendants convicted for the 1981 military coup were given more lenient penalties. Besides, two million citizens have been expelled from the rule of law and it is an embarrassment for many other democrats. The sentence carries a profoundly nationalistic bias and justifies itself alluding to an alleged identity-based Catalan republic that only exists in the minds of the judges. In short, this is the sentence of a monarchy on the defensive, one which is truly identity-based because it sees a united Spain as a superior, ultimate good.
Whatever happened to discussion, voting, dialogue, free thinking and the right to protest? Whatever happened to the spirit of Spain’s political Transition? The verdict is a new expression of endemic impotence and ignorance. To borrow the words of Miguel de Unamuno on October 12, 1936, the State did not aim to persuade with arguments, let alone seduction, but to win through fear and punishment. It is the perennial inability to accept national diversity, the time-honoured fear of difference and freedom, a return to authoritarianism disguised as the law and the Constitution. It is a defeat.