We had a referendum

What is at stake today in Spain is the very existence of a healthy democratic system

ORIOL JUNQUERAS
ORIOL JUNQUERAS

I support Catalonia’s independence. This is hardly a confession, given than —for as far back as I can recall— I have never been coy about it. And I support the right to self-determination in the understanding that any right is always asserted by the will to exercise it. A right that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but is thwarted and cannot be exercised, is not a right. Or, even worse, it is a symptom of a shortcoming in a system of liberties which becomes a flagrant violation of a democracy’s foundational principles.

In Catalonia we had a referendum on October 1 last year. That is what I testified before Spain’s Supreme Court. In other words, the Catalan people were given a chance to voice their views —peacefully and democratically— on the future of Catalonia by answering a clear-cut question. Holding a referendum is not a criminal offence. You only need to read the Spanish Criminal Code. In fact, this became apparent in 2005, when the holding of a referendum ceased to be classed as a punishable offence in Spain. That is to say, there was a debate on the subject and the Spanish parliament agreed that it would no longer constitute a crime.

On October 1 I exercised my right as a citizen by casting a vote along with over two million people. I was proud to be able to be heard at the polls, as I am a democrat before I am a supporter of independence. I have always felt that way. On a personal level, that day I witnessed another lesson in civic spirit by the Catalan people. Nobody was forced to vote and everyone who did, as ever, did so in a peaceful manner. Many even sported a proud smile.

Today the Spanish Supreme Court claims that there was violence on that day and it intends to hold the Catalan government to account for it. Yet Europe’s democracies have failed to see any violence at all. At any rate, what everyone saw was the Spanish riot police baton-charging against peaceful members of the public who were gathered at polling stations. What we all saw —and were shaken by— were images of a shock force that was unleashed against peaceful citizens, much to the dismay of the public opinion. For that reason millions of people chose to go on strike on October 3 as a protest against the use of force and against the images that disturbed all of us who support democracy. So much so that the Spanish socialist party (PSOE) announced that day a parliamentary motion to censure Spanish deputy PM Sáenz de Santamaría as the mastermind of the police violence on October 1.

In what constitutes a deceit unbecoming of an impartial, democratic justice system, now they argue that all that violence —the only kind we witnessed in the streets of Catalonia— is down to the Catalan government and the citizens who turned out to vote. That is the only way for them to press charges which carry penalties of up to thirty years in jail. Holding people like ourselves responsible for any violence —people who have always rejected violence unreservedly and whose actions have always been guided by profound democratic and pacifist convictions— is not only a falsehood, but also perverse and immoral.

The same Europe that has been aloof, reticent or clearly opposed to Catalan independence is now questioning the crimes that we are being held for and has determined that there was no rebellion because there was no violence. In fact, what is at stake today in Spain is the very existence of a healthy democratic system, the separation of powers.

I am a member of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a Catalan political party that was banned only during General Franco’s dictatorship, a party that has never concealed that —as its name suggests— it aims to establish a Republic; a political party that wants the kind of free and fair society which —we believe— would be best achieved with Catalonia’s independence.

A democratic vote where people express their views in answer to a clear, concise question is always a democratic success. Dialogue and compromise, which are the paths we have always insisted on, are the instruments of such a democracy. Asking us to renounce the right to self-determination is akin to asking us to renounce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding principles of the UN. And we will never renounce democracy. Even less so today, when —clearly— there is a growing deterioration of basic rights and freedoms, when we can see that authoritarianism and injustice are breaking through. We are people of peace and also hungry for justice and thirsty for liberty. Our actions, words and deeds have proven that much, time and again. So did the hundreds of thousands who marched in the streets Barcelona city, as ever, peacefully and with a smile.

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