Catalonia Vows to Resist Madrid’s Direct Rule
Expect to see acts of civil disobedience, resistance from public servants, and election boycotts in the weeks ahead – as well as criminal persecution of Catalonia’s political leaders, says Sebastiaan Faber of Oberlin College
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a dramatic move, the Spanish Senate voted to strip the region of Catalonia of its autonomy on Friday. The vote came just hours after Catalonia’s regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain. When the Catalonian parliament decision was announced, supporters of independence cheered in the streets of Barcelona and Catalonia. The two conflicting votes, one in Madrid National Senate and the other in Barcelona’s regional parliament, represent an intensification of clashes that has been brewing for a while now.
On October 1, the region of Catalonia held a referendum on whether it should become independent. Ninety percent voted in favor of independence, but the turnout was only 43 percent. The low turnout was at least partly because Spain’s central government actively tried to prevent the vote from happening. It is uncertain exactly what will happen next but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked the never-before-used Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which states that the central government can take over a regional government if it undermines the interests of Spain. Rajoy has now dissolved the Catalan region of parliament, threatened to arrest anyone resisting the order, and says new elections will take place. Here is what Rajoy had to say following the Senate’s vote to invoke Article 155.
MARIANO RAJOY: I want to tell Spaniards and all Catalans to be calm, that things will be fine. They will be measured, they will be done with effectiveness, as we have done until now. That Spain is a serious country, it is a great nation and we will not tolerate a few people who try to liquidate our constitution.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now joining us is Sebastiaan Faber. He’s professor of Hispanic Studies at Oberlin College, author of the forthcoming book, “Memory Battles of Spanish Civil War,” and co-author of The Nation article “Have Spain and Catalonia Reached a Point of No Return?” Sebastiaan, good to have you back.
SEBASTIAAN FABER: Great to be back.
SHARMINI PERIES: Sebastian, we’ve seen images of people celebrating, presumably opponents are not so happy. What’s the mood in Catalonia today and what has this decision from Madrid evoked?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: I think the mood is mixed. It’s true that people who have long dreamed of the Catalonian independence break out the Cabba, the Catalonian Champaign, and are toasting to their independence. It’s not clear how long this independence will last, or rather, it’s clear that the independence won’t last long at all because Rajoy, today, the Spanish Prime Minister, as you showed, has invoked Article 155, basically revoking Catalan self government, self government that has been in place since 1978, and has also dissolved the Catalan parliament and has called new regional elections on December 21st. So the mood is mixed, even among those celebrating now the awareness that bad things are about to happen will be in the background.
It’s unclear to what extent Spain’s in position to its legal framework on the now newly declared independent Catalonia, how that will affect public services, public servants, security forces, basically the nuts and bolts of the framework of public services in Catalonia and, not even mentioning the economy, that will also take a hit. I think what we’re looking at in the weeks ahead are acts of civil disobedience, maybe acts of resistances from public servants, boycotting up these elections from Madrid by some of the independence party, and maybe most seriously, criminal prosecution of political leaders in Catalonia. The Attorney General in Madrid has already said that he will not hesitate to accuse the people responsible for the declaration of independence this morning of rebellion, which is a crime in Spain that carries a 30 year prison sentence.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Sebastiaan, Catalan’s president, Carles Puigdemont, said he wanted to negotiate with Rajoy, but Rajoy did not give the offer much chance, it seems. To what extent has this crisis been intensified instead of diffused by Madrid?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: It has been intensified by Madrid for the past 9 years at least, if not longer. The pre-history of the current moment starts, you could say in 2006, when Catalonia successfully passes a newly defined statute of autonomy, kinda an original constitution that is approved by the Catalan Parliament by referendum in Catalonia and by the parliament in Madrid as well. It is then that Partido Popular, Rajoy’s party, which is currently governing, which then initiated an appeals process with Spain’s Constitutional Court that finally after 4 years succeeded in declaring a large part of that newly defined statute unconstitutional. That really set off a reaction in Catalonia that ballooned the support for the independence cause but especially also for the cause of self determination tremendously. By latest polls, about 80% of people in Catalonia believed that Catalonia should be asked whether it wants to belong Spain or whether it wants to be independent. A kind of referendum like we saw in Scotland, or like we’ve seen in Quebec and Canada.
That is also the only political solution for this problem. What we saw happen today, both declaration of independence, that’s kinda doomed to die soon after it came to life and the revocation of Catalan self government by Madrid. Neither of those will solve the political problem. The political problem is that a large part of Catalonia, maybe more than 2 million Catalans do not feel they want to live in Spain as it’s currently configured. The real crisis here is a crisis of the Spanish political system as it was built in the late 1970’s and as it has evolved of the last 40 years. That is what is at the heart of this problem.
For some people in Catalonia, the independence movement has been a channel to voice their discontent with Spain’s current political system, which they see as lacking in democracy, as being deeply corrupt, as being built on an unhealthy collusion between economic elites, political elites, and media elites. That’s what they want to break away from. This tragic thing in my view is that, the stand of over the status Catalonian over Spain, the stand over the independence movement, and the stand over this morning declaration of independence has managed to divide the political forces in Spain that have been fighting to reform Spanish democracy and to make it healthier and better.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now do you think that the 43% turnout on the referendum is the wedge that Rajoy expects to benefit from?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: I think the 43% turnout has been used by Madrid as a way to explain that the referendum did not translate into a real political mandate. The stronger and more frequently invoked argument about Madrid that said that the referendum was illegal to begin with because the Spanish constitution does not allow for referendum on self determination within regions. The 40% turnout I don’t think is very significant figure within the framework of the argument to present by Madrid at all. However, I think what it did show is the nature of the political problem, which is that up to half of people in Catalonia do not feel that the state housed in Madrid has legitimacy and that is a real political problem and that is not gonna go away by the measure implemented today. It will not go away by the elections that were called December 21st through the legitimacy in itself is now being questioned because of the circumstance under which they are called. So that is a long term issue that only dialog can solve and, in my view, only a referendum like we saw in Scotland can resolve in Spain in the long term.
The Spanish constitution has to be reformed, that means that Spain has to come to terms in a different way with the fact that it’s a multinational state, where there’s large parts of the population identify as both Spanish and Catalan, or both Spanish and Bask, or as only Bask and only Catalan not Spanish at all really.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now it seems that Prime Minister Rajoy believes that new parliamentary elections in Catalonia will resolve all these issues. Is there any reason to believe that this is the case?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: No, I don’t think so. I can think of a couple different scenarios. One is, if the elections were normal regional elections, legitimate regional elections, then they even wouldn’t solve the problem because likely the division of seats in the Catalan parliament between pro-independence and parties against independence would remain more or less the same, or maybe thanks to escalation of the past couple months, the independence representation would grow and they might actually have now a majority of the popular vote they didn’t have in 2015 in the last regional election.
The problem is that the election as currently called with political leaders of pro-independence party likely to be persecuted by the judiciary in Madrid with the far left assembly based party likely boycotting the elections, I don’t think will solve the political problem in any way at all.
SHARMINI PERIES: Sebastiaan, Josep Lluís Cleries, who is a Podemos regional representative in Catalan, has argued that at this time it would be best to give up on the unilateral declaration of independence. Why is the Podemos representative saying that?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: The Podemos official position, as defined by the Podemos Madrid, has been that they’re against unilateral declaration of independence and they’re in favor of negotiations that will lead to an official binding referendum on self determination in Catalonia. They see that as the only viable political solution for this problem, and I think they’re right in that. The problem is that the current climate makes that an unattractive option for most other parties involved in this dispute. It is also important to point out that the question of Catalan independence has cost divisions within Podemos, both between Podemos Cataluna, Podemos Madrid but also within Podemos Cataluna and within Podemos Madrid, where there’s some who reject nationalism from the get go as a [inaudible 00:12:50] ideology that can only lead to bad things while others see nationalism and independence as legitimate vehicles for emancipation port of establishment of an independent republic that can implement more socialist policies.
Even today in the vote in the Catalan parliament this division was clear, at least 2 members of the Podemos factions appeared to vote in favor of independence whereas the official line of Podemos was to vote not in favor of independence.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Sebastian, what are your opinions on the roots or causes of this conflict? I know you said Den cited the constitution and then regional differences between Catalans and the Spaniards, but what is the real beef here?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: I think there’s 2. One is the one that I said, that Spain as nation state, has to find a way of organizing itself, which could be for example federal, that better fits its multinational makeup and that multinational is centuries old, but it has evolved over the past 40 years thanks to the current systems of autonomous regions. Now there is new generations of Spaniards who proudly feel Catalan or proudly feel Bask and who demand a different kind of self government. Spain, if it wants to survive as a democratic nation, has the obligation to come to terms and find ways to make that happen and that can only happen through democratic dialog.
The other big cause behind the current situation I think is the deep crisis of legitimacy of Spanish democracy as a whole. We saw an awareness of that crisis come out strongly in May 2011 with the Indignados Movement, the initiation of Podemos in 2014 is another clear indication of the crisis and the strong showing of Podemos in the first national elections in which they participated also showed that the 2 party system that has dominated Spanish politics since late 1970’s or at least since the 1980’s, has outlived its usefulness and has lost legitimacy in a major way. In some perverse way, the behavior of the Partido Popular, Rajoy so far in the Catalan crisis can be explained as a desperate attempt to maintain this outdated political system. Sadly, I think the polarization has short up the conservative base of the Spanish government and has even, in a scary way, revealed the continued presence in Spain 40 years after Franco’s death of extreme right wing Spanish nationalism that isn’t afraid to dig up symbols and gestures and flags and hand salutes that go straight back to Francoism.
SHARMINI PERIES: One more question. If the Catalan leaders are arrested, will this further escalate the situation obviously and will it become violent?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: I hope not. There’s two ways that I think it can become violent. One is civil resistance versus state violence of the type that we saw October 1. Another way is civil versus civil violence, and we’ve seen a little bit of that today where for example, groups in favor of Spanish unity attack institution seeing as defending Catalan independence and vice versa, that might happen to. There’s a political gamesmanship and political game of chicken has trickled down into civil society and has caused deep divisions that, I hope not, but could well manifest themselves in violent confrontations in the street. I know there has been plenty of verbal violence.I hope that physical can be maintained at a minimum. I think the lack of responsibility, especially for Madrid and the way they’ve handled this crisis and the ways in which the hardcore right wing of their governing party in Spain, has taken advantage of this opportunity to fan the flames of anti-Catalan sentiment and to call for severe punishment for Catalan leadership, I think, has not helped the situation in any bit.
SHARMINI PERIES: Sebastiaan, what will it take to defuse the situation now?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: That’s very hard to say. I think both parties have moved past the moment where they can sit down and dialog with each other without losing face. I think the mood in Madrid is a desire for punishment of the Catalan leaders who dare to challenge the constitutional order in Spain, and I think that desire for revenge or for punishment from Madrid will poison the political climate in Spain, but especially in Catalonia. So as Catalonia prepares for December 21st election, which were just called by the Madrid government evoking its new power to do that. I think it’s unlikely that those elections on December 21st will yield, in the short term, a solution to a situation in which a solution can be found through dialog. Eventually, new national elections in Spain, so a renewal of the government in Madrid, that might lead to a situation of which both parties can sit down and negotiate.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Sebastiaan Faber, I thank you so much for joining us today and look forward to further analysis from you.
SEBASTIAAN FABER: My pleasure.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.