The transfer of the political prisoners, which is underway and at the moment involves six of the nine pro-independence prisoners —Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Jordi Sànchez, and Jordi Cuixart—, cannot be a bargaining chip. It is the bare minimum that can be hoped for from a Spanish government that says it wants to work to open up a new stage of dialogue. A dialogue that —this must be made clear up from the start— will not be truly effective until all of the political prisoners have been released. Until then it will not be possible to normalize anything. For one simple reason: there will be two million Catalan citizens that will feel that their rights, their votes, and their freedom have been attacked. We cannot forget the starting point of judicialization as a response to a problem of a political nature: pre-trial prison is abusive, as are the accusations of rebellion and sedition based on non-existent, concocted violence. The only violence that existed was by the Spanish police forces against peaceful citizens during the October 1st referendum. Neither the voters on that day nor the demonstrators at the September 20th protest outside the HQ of the Catalan Finance Ministry were violent at any time. This has been proven by the Mediapro documentary, which featured images and voices against the narrative presented by a justice system that has acted in a shockingly partisan way, in service to a State belief that the unity of Spain is an unchallengeable value.
That said, it is obvious that the transfer of the prisoners allows a certain detente, and especially a much-needed, humanitarian relief for the families. As a decision made by the Spanish ministry, bringing the prisoners closer to home undoubtedly represents a gesture of political intention. But it is not, nor can it carry with it any pretension of being a political solution: Pedro Sánchez’s government cannot expect a pat on the back from the pro-sovereignty camp. The underlying ignominy is too serious. The indignation too deep. Instead, it will probably be met by an avalanche of criticism from the Spanish political caste and media. It is in response to this most radical Spanish nationalism that the Moncloa must be brave. It is here where the political game must be played, where the decision must be defended on humanitarian, political, and justice-based grounds.
It is clear that, being closer to home, the Catalan political prisoners will be a little less vulnerable. Being far from home, in a hostile environment, in a deliberate state of social isolation, was part of the punitive abuse to which they have been subjected during the past several months. In Catalan prisons they will undoubtedly continue to be political prisoners —absurdly, or worse, vindictively— behind bars. But not only for their families, as we have said, but also for them and for all of those who are calling for their imperative release, this transfer represents a small victory that, nevertheless, we will not celebrate. Sánchez has made the first move, but there is still a long way to go.