Catalonia: from street power to state power

Introduction

This is the second part of a series of three on the theme of “from street to state power”. The first was on Kenya, the third will be on Venezuela. This last segment will also draw overall lessons for peoples’ struggles against the global systemic oppression and exploitation.

Parties and party affiliations and ideologies in Spain

For the general reader it is necessary, first, to explain the political terrain, and the numerous parties and coalitions in Spain including Catalonia.  Just to give you an idea, here is a partial list of 21 parties – and there are many more parties and coalitions! The list below also provides the parties’ general political and ideological leanings. (For the purpose of our analysis in this paper, take note that the PP and the PDeCat are the main adversaries in the present tussle over Catalonian independence. Take note also that besides, Catalonia, there are other regions seeking self-determination – such as Basque, Aragons and Galicia).

  1. *PP – People’s Party: Centre right-wing – led by Mariano Rajoy (present Prime Minister of Spain)
  2. *PDeCat – Catalan European Democratic party, led by Carles Puigdemont (leader of Catalan independence)
  3. PSOE – Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party: Centre left; Social-Democratic
  4. United We Can (Podemos): Centre-Left, internationalist
  5. PCPE – Communist Party of the People of Spain
  6. Citizens (Ciudadanos) – Centre to right wing; pro-European
  7. Republican Left of Catalonia-Catalonia Yes (ERC) – Left Wing nationalism; for Catalan independence.
  8. CDC – Democratic Convergence of Catalonia – Centre-right; for Catalan independence.
  9. DiL – Democracy and Liberty: right-nationalist alliance based around the CDC
  10. ERC – Catalan Republican Party: Left republican; main sponsor of the independence movement from France and Spain.
  11. Together for Yes – Big tent; for Catalan independence
  12. Yes We Can- CSQEP: Coalition of Catalonian parties for self-determination
  13. Popular Unity Candidacy – Far Left-wing; Catalan independence; Eurosceptic
  14. CUP-CC Popular Unity Candidacy: Leftist pro-Catalan independence; traditionally focused on municipal politics
  15. Basque Nationalist – Centre-right; Basque nationalism Christian democracy
  16. Basque Country Unite (EHB) – Far-left nationalism; Basque separatism
  17. Aragonese Union – Left-wing; Eco-socialism, Aragonese nationalism
  18. Asturias Forum (FAC) – Centre Right; Christian democracy; Regionalism
  19. Unitarian Candidacy of Workers – Far Left; Libertarian communism,  Andalusia nationalism
  20. Galician Nationalist Bloc – Left-wing; Galician nationalism; socialism; Eurosceptic
  21. Yes to the Future – Centre-left; Basque nationalism

Catalonian declaration of independence

In Catalonia, the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) – Centre-right, pro-Catalan independence – has been the main ruling party since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975. The CDC has been marred by allegations of corruption, with a former leader and six-time premier, Jordi Pujol, facing tax-evasion charges. At the January 10, 2017 elections, Charles Puigdemont, CDC mayor of the regional capital, was elected premier of a Together For Yes government. This has brought Catalonia and the Central government in Madrid on a face-to-face political confrontation.

Here is a brief chronology of the main events leading to the declaration of Catalan independence and its aftermath.

  • January 2015: After a non-binding referendum-style opinion poll showed high support for independence, Catalan President Artur Mas calls for new regional elections as a further test of support.
  • September 2015: Catalonia’s regional parliament votes for independence, pledging “disconnection from the Spanish state”.
  • December 2015: Spain’s constitutional court in Madrid rules that the Catalan parliament’s vote for independence infringes the national constitution.
  • January 2016: Carles Puigdemont takes over from Artur Mas as president of the Catalan regional government.
  • June 2017: The Catalan government calls an independence referendum for October 2017.
  • September 7, 2017: The Spanish constitutional court declares the Catalonian referendum illegal.
  • September 15 – October 1, 2017: Spanish police seize ballot boxes hidden by the Catalonian government, and occupy Catalan government ministries in search of evidence that the Catalan government is breaking the law. In response, thousands of Catalans take to the street occupying polling stations, keeping them open amid police crackdown. 92 % of people who vote in the referendum back independence on a 43 % turnout in spite of Central Government crackdown.
  • October 3, 2017: King Felipe VI condemns the Catalan government in a strongly-worded television address, followed by protests and a general strike in Catalonia.
  • October 11, 2017: Spanish Prime Minister Mario Rajoy sets the Catalan government a deadline of 19 October to clarify whether they have declared independence or not.
  • October 21, 2017: Spanish government suspends Catalonia’s autonomy and says it will impose direct rule.
  • October 26, 2017: President Carles Puigdemont of Catalan says he will leave the decision to secede (or not) to the MPs.
  • October 27, 2017: Catalan parliament meets and unilaterally declares independence by 70 votes to 10, in a vote boycotted by the opposition.
  • Later that day, by 214 votes to 47, Spain’s senate approves new powers for the Madrid government to impose direct rule on Catalonia. The Government arrests eight former members of Catalonia’s dismissed regional government. Carles Puigdemont and six members of his regional government escape to Brussels in a self-imposed exile. They are subject to an arrest warrant from Spain for “rebellion and misuse of public funds”.
  • The Belgian court defers a decision on extradition of Puigdemont and colleagues. (At the time of writing, the decision is still pending).

Is Catalonia a “nation”, and has it a right to self-determination?

In the Spanish Constitution of 1978 Catalonia – along with the Basque Country and Galicia – was defined as a “nationality”. The same constitution gave Catalonia the automatic right to autonomy, which resulted in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 1979. The Statute is the fundamental organic law, second only to the Spanish Constitution from which the Statute originates. The Preamble of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia states that the Parliament of Catalonia has defined Catalonia as a “nation”, but that the Spanish Constitution recognizes Catalonia a “nationality“. If it is simply a play on words, it has nonetheless raised a complex array of legal conundrums.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, described the declaration of independence as “a criminal act”. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, have said the Catalonian crisis must be resolved within Spain’s constitutional order. They are for the status quo. On the other hand, there are those who argue that it is a political, not a legal, issue. They support Catalonia’s right to self-determination, a basic principle of the United Nations Charter. Aidan Hehir, Director of the Security and International Relations Programme at the University of Westminster, UK, poses the question: “Is a host state’s approval essential if a country is to declare independence?” He says: “The answer must be no, because to argue otherwise is contradictory – and clashes both with international law and common sense”. Even if Spanish government abides by its constitution, he argues, to say that this alone disqualifies Catalonia’s claims is deeply flawed. This is not to say, he adds, that Catalonia should secede; this is only to say that they have a right to self-determination.[1]

Disobedience and Resistance

As tension increases in Spain, there is widespread civil disobedience against the Spanish government.  Among those who support disobedience and resistance is the Platform for the Mortgage-Affected (PAH).  The PAH was founded in Barcelona in 2009 in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The movement arose as a response to hundreds of thousands of Spanish households facing mortgage defaults, evictions, homelessness and lifelong debt. PAH now has around 200 groups across Spain

On 15 November 2017, a pro-independence general strike in Catalonia  brought chaos to dozens of the region’s roads as protesters blocked traffic with sit-down protests.[2] The strike was originally about minimum wage levels, but was quickly adopted by secessionist associations. On the high-speed train link between Barcelona and France, protesters in the city of Girona – a Catalan nationalist stronghold – moved onto the railway lines chanting “Freedom, Freedom”. At one of Barcelona’s biggest stations, Sants, trains stopped when protesters occupied eight different platforms until well into the evening.

The exiled Catalan leaders are in Belgium. Belgium has its own potentially separatist “nations”.  Jan Jambon, a Belgian politician affiliated to the New Flemish Alliance, has criticised the “silence” of the European Union on the issue of Catalonia.[3] Carles Puigdemont is charged by the Spanish government with sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds and perjury – which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment on conviction. In defiance, Puigdemont has called for a coalition of the separatist political parties to present a united front in elections to be held in December 2017. An online petition calling for unity for the independence movement had gathered, it was claimed, 50,000 signatures within a few hours.

Conclusion: whither Catalonia?

It is early to say how the situation will evolve itself. The old CDC ministers in Catalonia were associated with cuts, austerity, corruption, cover-ups and police violence. They are now gone. They have been replaced with younger, more female, independence activists. It looks that Puigdemont’s popularity will increase, and that Catalonia might well win its independence from Spain, sending shockwaves to political forces in Europe that fear similar breakaway nations in the continent.

It is not surprising that the European Union is so alarmed at the prospect of Catalonian independence. If this happens, could it be the end of the EU?  It is a question not to be taken lightly.

@Yash Tandon

[1] https://theconversation.com/self-determination-is-legal-under-international-law-its-hypocritical-to-argue-otherwise-for-catalonia

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalonia-general-strike-catalan-roads-pro-independence-supporters-schools-traffic-jams

[3] http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/Politics/1.3076825

 

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