Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Guardian: “Catalonia’s separatists were jailed for sedition, but brought down by hubris” — Giles Tremlett

10 Nov

It could have been very different. But the 2017 declaration of independence threw away the campaign’s moral advantage.

Giles_Tremlett,_LGiles Tremlett

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‘Those now in jail will be hailed as martyrs to their cause and become an inspiration for future generations of separatists.’ Pro-independence protesters hold Catalan flags in Barcelona. Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

[My emphases throughout]

Some things are impossible. Catalan independence is currently one of them. The stiff jail sentences handed down to the leaders of the separatist campaign that peaked in 2017 with a banned referendum, police violence and a fudged declaration of independence make that clearer than ever.

There are huge practical obstacles to independence, starting with the many hurdles written into Spain’s constitution. Overcoming these requires massive support in Catalonia itself; but the separatist leaders who orchestrated a head-on collision with the law never had anything like that. The jail sentences are for sedition, but their real problem is hubris.

That was already obvious on the streets of Barcelona and elsewhere when a unilateral proclamation of independence in the Catalan parliament on 27 October 2017 changed exactly nothing. It was, indeed, the day that an otherwise peaceful and often remarkable separatist campaign derailed itself.

A decision by the separatist Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to flee the country only served to underline that. Now living in Belgium, he was not among those sentenced on Monday, though an international arrest warrant has now been issued. The independence campaign embraced the tactics of civil disobedience, where people who deliberately flout the law know they may go to jail. This is often a key part of the process, since it provokes the outrage that brings change. The nine men and women sentenced to between nine and 13 years of prison have stuck honourably to that tradition. Puigdemont clearly has not.

Those now in jail will be hailed as martyrs to their cause and become an inspiration for future generations of separatists. In court, they were unrepentant. “I would do it all again,” said Jordi Cuixart [ok…], who received a nine-year sentence. As protesters reacted to the sentences by blockading Barcelona’s airport, it was not clear whether calls to avoid violence would be respected. After the events of 2017, the police response will be watched closely.

Yet the fury felt today by Catalan separatists is not shared in the rest of Spain, nor, more crucially, does it extend very far in the rest of Europe – where they had hoped to provoke a sudden flowering of sympathy. Their campaign, in other words, has failed. The only visible result is a divided Catalan society where explicit support for independence remains below 50%.

It could all have ended very differently. Separatists do best when, like the Brexiters who they sometimes resemble, they can claim to be victims of the status quo. In that sense, the police charges during the banned referendum of 1 October 2017 were a gift. The sight of helmeted, baton-wielding officers beating up peaceful voters played directly into their hands. The Spanish state looked, and behaved, like an ogre.

Separatism could have built on that. Instead, it threw its moral advantage away with the independence declaration.

The court sentences concentrate on the referendum and are harsher than expected, and some will argue about the definition of “sedition”, but there is no doubt that the law was deliberately broken. The Catalan parliament does not have the power to declare independence. Nor can it unilaterally call a binding referendum on the subject. In that sense, it is no different to, say, the Scottish parliament. When politicians break the law and cross lines set by the constitution, the courts tell them so. Just as Boris Johnson cannot arbitrarily suspend the Westminster parliament, so Puigdemont could not hold a referendum. And unlike Johnson (so far), his government ignored court rulings – and went ahead with the vote anyway.

Declaring independence ramped up the level of defiance. It was also dishonest, since it was based on a referendum in which only one side campaigned. “Remain in Spain” voters mostly boycotted the illegal vote and, inevitably, the “leave” side won. That is not a solid basis on which to announce an epoch-defining, existential change to the lives of all 7.6 million Catalans.

3500‘When politicians break the law and cross lines set by the constitution, the courts tell them.’ Carles Puigdemont. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Spanish right-wingers are today gloating over the court’s sentencing. Yet they are part of the problem. The anti-Catalan rhetoric that has accompanied their periods in power has only served to boost separatism. And even the socialist left, which talks up the idea of a “pluri-national” Spain, has done little to make Spaniards in other parts of the country proud of the languages and cultures that coexist within it.

[The above is complete bullshit; there is no more decentralized, devolved, regional-cultural-rights-respecting country in Europe.  None.  See: “As prime minister, I refuse to let Catalan separatists undermine Spanish democracy” – Pedro Sánchez]

Paradoxically, an obvious solution is to hold a proper referendum. This would force Catalan voters to face reality. Just the idea of being expelled from the EU would probably be enough to secure a resounding victory for remain. So why won’t Spain do that? The country’s written constitution makes both a referendum and independence theoretically possible, in a process controlled from Madrid. In practical terms, however, it hands a blocking vote to 40% of the senate. Even when the left is in government, the right normally commands that. It will never permit a separate Catalonia.

Since independence is possible in theory, but currently impossible in practice, some separatists may conclude that only violence will achieve their aims. Police last month arrested a group that was allegedly planning to mark this decision with bomb attacks. That is the worst mistake separatists could make. At the first sight of bloodshed, support would likely shrink so far that their cause could take decades to recover.

Their only hope is to keep following the advice of the jailed regional MP and ex-president of the grassroots Catalan National Assembly, Jordi Sànchez. “Let’s express ourselves without fear and move forward, nonviolently, towards freedom,” he said. That is a very long journey.

Giles Tremlett is a journalist and author based in Madrid

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Guardian: “As prime minister, I refuse to let Catalan separatists undermine Spanish democracy” – Pedro Sánchez

10 Nov

My government will act with restraint and moderation to defend peaceful coexistence in our country

Pedro Sánchez is prime minister of Spain

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Demonstrators march in support of Catalonia remaining part of Spain, Barcelona, 27 October 2019. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

[my emphases throughout]

Europe, above all, is about freedom, peace and progress. We must move forward with these values and make it the leading model of integration and social justice, one that protects its citizens. The Europe that we aspire to, the Europe that we need, the Europe we are building is based on democratic stability within our states and cannot accept the unilateral breach of its integrity. The Europe we admire has been built on the principle of overlapping identities and equality for all citizens, and on the rejection of nationalist ideologies and extremism.

For this reason, the challenge of separatism in Catalonia, devised against and outside Spain’s constitutional framework – and silencing the majority of Catalans who are against independence – is a challenge for Europe and Europeans. Preserving these values in Catalonia today means protecting the open and democratic Europe for which we stand.

In 1978, Spain adopted a fully democratic constitution, thus escaping the long and dark shadow of dictatorship. That historic document was endorsed by almost 88% of voters in a referendum. In Catalonia, support and turnout were even higher: 90.5% of Catalans backed the new constitution. Today, the Democracy Index, published by the Economist, rates Spain as one of the world’s 20 full democracies.

Contemporary Spain is Europe’s second most decentralised country, and Catalonia enjoys some of the highest levels of regional self-governance on the continent, with wide-ranging devolved powers over crucial sectors such as media and public communication, health, education and prisons.

Today, however, Catalonia is associated with a profound crisis, caused by the unilateral breach of Spain’s constitutional order brought about by the region’s separatist leaders in the autumn of 2017. Catalonia’s leaders reneged on all the resolutions set out by the constitutional court, passed unconstitutional “disconnection” laws from the Spanish state, held an illegal referendum and declared a purported Catalan republic.

No state would ever allow the unilateral secession of a territory that forms part of its constitutional order. And no democrat should support the path taken by the separatist leaders, who won less than 48% of the votes cast in regional elections.

My government has promoted the expansion of rights and liberties and would never agree to even the smallest restriction of freedom of expression. The president of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalonia’s regional government), Quim Torra, is a radical separatist, but he is not prevented from expressing his views freely, despite the pain and damage they cause to peaceful coexistence in Catalonia. In Spain, everyone may express their opinions as they wish, provided that they do not promote and encourage criminal acts.

The supreme court recently ruled against nine separatist leaders charged for the illegal acts they carried out in the autumn of 2017. The court acted with the greatest transparency: the entire proceedings were televised live.

I fully respect those Catalan citizens who have peacefully exercised fundamental rights to protest and to strike against the ruling. But the organised and intentional acts of violence that have occurred across Catalonia in recent weeks are something else altogether and in no way represent the region’s tolerance and welcoming spirit.

5217A burning barricade in Barcelona, on 19 October 2019. Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP

The illegal effort to bring about Catalonia’s independence has followed a roadmap that is all too familiar in today’s Europe. It has used a web of lies, spun by fake news and viral messaging, to divide societies by exploiting the rhetoric of reaction to encourage polarisation and confrontation.

Recently, the president of the main pro-separatist association, Elisenda Paluzie, stated that images of violent clashes between protesters and police officers had “positive and negative effects” as they “lent visibility to the conflict” and “keep us in the international press”. But if we have learned anything from Europe’s painful and bloody history, it is that no political ambition can ever justify resorting to violence, much less the normalisation of violence as a political tool.

My government has responded with speed and proportion to restore peace and stability to Catalonia’s citizens, a majority of whom reject the current unstable impasse.

I call on the president of the Generalitat to condemn the violence fully and clearly, and to act as president of all Catalans, not only those who share his political beliefs.

I will not allow another extreme nationalist outbreak to undermine the success of Spanish democracy. In the discussion about the future of Catalonia, only the healing and coexistence of the Catalan people and society, not independence, is on the agenda. This is our main challenge: to ensure that all understand and accept that a unilateral path toward independence constitutes a direct affront to fundamental democratic principles.

At this moment, restraint and moderation are imperative. We will act with all the firmness needed to defend peaceful coexistence, all the while recognising that we have an opportunity to start a new chapter.

I know that there are open wounds, pain and frustration. But, despite this, there is an opportunity for dialogue and hope, recognising what we have achieved together and thinking about what we can do, together. I will never turn away from dialogue, but for this to happen the separatist leaders must abide by the constitution and respect the rule of law.

My government has positioned Spain at the forefront of the project of European integration and the fight against our greatest global challenges. These objectives transcend a nationalist vision, and we need Catalonia and Catalan society to help achieve them.

  • Pedro Sánchez is prime minister of Spain. This article was originally published by Project Syndicate

Fintan O’Toole: “The Irish border is a matter of life and death, not technology”

8 Oct

Another great article from O’Toole about the Irish “problem”.

Money quotes:

“Writing about music is said to be like dancing about architecture. Using the language of technology to address the questions of history and belonging on the island of Ireland is geeking about memory – like trying to make an algorithm for grief. It’s a category error that shunts the problem not just into “alternative arrangements” but into a parallel universe.”

“The other irony is that Brexit itself is predicated on the idea that a technocratic discourse is entirely inadequate to the task of understanding how people feel about who they are and where they belong. Its bogeymen are faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who can never appreciate the importance of identity and history to the English. Yet the Irish are invited by the very same people to forget history and identity [my emphasis], to just lie back and think of “maximum facilitation”.”

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comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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