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Why Catalonia stood up on July 10

By Dick Nichols

July 12, 2010 -- When up to 1.5 million people flooded the streets of Barcelona on July 10, 2010, in an enormous demonstration -- behind a lead banner proclaiming, “We are a nation, we decide” -- the most optimistic forecasts were exceeded. The huge protest was against the Constitutional Court’s rejection of the  constitutionality of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. Even the most conservative and Spanish-nationalist media had to admit that this was one of the biggest demonstrations since the end of the Franco dictatorship, and the most important in the history of Catalan nationalism.

The demonstration was endorsed by more than 500 groups, including the parties that make up 88% of the Catalan parliament, Catalan trade union organisations large and small, the Peasants Union,and scores of migrant, community and cultural organisations.

The only parties that opposed the demonstration were the right-wing Popular Party (PP), formerly in power in the Spanish state but only the fourth-largest parliamentary force in Catalonia, and Citizens, a movement of Castilian (Spanish) speakers resentful of pro-Catalan language policy.

Why did up to 20% of the entire population of Catalonia take to the streets? The road leading to this immense outpouring began in 2003, in the context of aggressive attacks from the Spanish-centralist PP government of José María Aznar. At that time the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Initiative for Catalonia-Greens, in alliance with the United and Alternative Left (IV-EUiA), pledged to create a “left and Catalan nationalist” government if elected at the November 2003 elections. After success at the polls the new government launched a reform of the 1979 Statute of Autonomy, seeking greater self-government and recognition of Catalonia’s specific national identity on the basis of a liberal reading of the Spanish constitution.

Statute of Autonomy

The first draft of a reformed statute was produced in 2005 and the newly elected prime minister of the Spanish government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), undertook to support the Statute of Autonomy that would be adopted by the Catalan parliament. A few months later, a broad majority of that parliament, including the conservative nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU), adopted a revised statute.

On October 5, the statue was introduced into the Spanish congress. However, as had already happened with the 1932 Statute during the Second Spanish Republic, the Spanish legislature cut it back, ostensibly to make it “fit in with” the Spanish constitution. On March 30, 2006, this “brushed up” Statute of Autonomy was approved in Madrid and a referendum of the people of Catalonia was called for June 18. The text was ratified by a 74% majority, although the 49% participation rate revealed the growing disillusionment with the dilution the statute had undergone as well as with the Catalan politicians most ready to compromise over it.

The PP immediately launched an appeal to Constitutional Court on the grounds that 114 articles and 12 regulations of the Statute of Autonomy were unconstitutional, arguing that it involved a “clandestine constitutional reform” and a “parallel constitution”. Despite the text’s adoption by the Catalan and Spanish parliaments and by popular vote, only one of the 12 judges of the Constitutional Court ruled against the PP appeal being heard. The PP also achieved the removal of one of the judges from the case on the grounds of his having been consulted over the wording of the statute.

This unleashed a scenario of deadlock and rising politicisation of the court’s discussion of the text. In a grisly farce, some judges whose terms had actually ended remained to adjudicate on the statute because the PSOE and PP could not agree on their replacements. Various supposedly confidential draft decisions of the court were also leaked to the press.

Finally, after four years of scandal and manouevre and in a context of rampant economic crisis, the so-called “progressive” sector of the court, headed by president María Emilia Casas, managed to create a majority with two other judges. That majority was based on drawing red lines through many pluralist and federalist aspects of the statute.

When the court published its majority decision on June 28, 2010, it struck down 14 articles of the statute as totally or partially unconstitutional. Many of the parts found null and void regarded points that would be perfectly acceptable in any genuinely federal framework. These included eventual decentralising of the legal system, establishment of a permanent Council of Statute Guarantee with the power to rule on disputes, limitation of the ability of the national state to adopt legislation overriding local powers, and establishment of a financial system that would oblige richer parts of the Spain like Catalonia to help fund development elsewhere, but on a transparent and equitable basis.

Other findings radically undermined measures that have already been enshrined in specific legislation, such as action to overcome the second-class historical status of the Catalan language and to consolidate it as the language of Catalonia.

Provocation!

Although the decision rejected the majority of PP claims of unconstitutionality, it was no wonder that it stirred up intense anger among the people of Catalonia (to the point that La Vanguardia, the country’s equivalent of the Sydney Morning Herald, titled its coverage of the court’s ruling “Provocation!”). This was also because the majority court decision concluded that 27 other precepts in the statute could only be considered constitutional if they were interpreted along lines adopted by the Constitutional Court itself.

So, the obligations of the Spanish state to invest in Catalonia were downgraded to mere suggestions to the Spanish legislature, as were the rights and obligations to speak and learn Catalan. As for the belated recognition of Catalonia as a nation, this was to be empty of any content in law and subordinated to the “indissoluble unity” of the “Spanish Nation” (always placed in capital letters).

Certainly, the majority didn’t adopt the most recalcitrant Spanish nationalist positions. In fact, the most conservative judges, in line with a number of PP leaders, made it clear they believe the statute “collapses the State” and attempts to “impose a language” from “a position of radicalism”, and that concepts such as those of the Catalan “nation” and its “historic rights” should completely disappear from the text.

In essence, the decision was a reflection of the standard “commonsense” view that has ruled in the two major Spanish parties for 30 years since Franco’s death. This remains anchored in obsessive defence of indissoluble “Spanish” unity, and is totally allergic to any federalist or pluralist reading of Spain’s constitution, even though this specifies the country’s national plurality.

While it remains to be seen how the Constitutional Court’s decision will affect Spain’s politics and institutions—especially the reaction of the central government—disillusionment with the constitutional road as a guarantee of the rights of self-government is spreading, with the parties on the left of the Catalan parliamentary spectrum, ERC and ICV-EUiA, explicitly recognising the reality.

Nationalism

From a left viewpoint it is obvious that Catalan society, like any other, is criss-crossed by different class, political and cultural interests and conflicts. For the country’s workers and poor many of these interests are common to those of the rest of the Spanish state and of Europe. In fact, judging by the massive presence of unions and left organisations on the streets of Barcelona on July 10, it is likely that many of those who marched saw the protest as in part a dress rehearsal for the general strike and protests against the austerity policies of the Zapatero government that will take place on September 29. Many of those with whom they marched on July 10 will then be on the other side of the fence.

However, the fact remains that the crass manipulation of the Statute of Autonomy by the two major Spanish parties and by the Constitutional Court was enough to bring together federalists, autonomists, supporters of independence and many people simply demanding respect for Catalonia’s democratic and peacefully expressed national rights.

When the only permissible path for channeling this democratic aspiration is reform of a Spanish constitution that is now regarded as untouchable, it’s no surprise that Catalan independentist positions have grown in strength and visibility, even among people who don’t see themselves as independentists.

During the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries sentiments like those expressed on July 10 inspired the call for an independent Catalan republic. Unless the much-vaunted “second transition” for Spain becomes a reality—which will take, at the very least, a fraternal convergence of all left and democratic forces across the whole Spanish state—these sentiments can only grow.

[Based on “El día que Catalunya dictó su sentencia” (“The day Catalonia brought down its sentence”), by Gerardo Pisarello and Daniel Raventos, on the independent left Spanish web site Sin Permiso (www.sinpermiso.info). The English text of the Catalan Autonomy Statute can be found at www.parlament.cat/porteso/estatut/estatut_angles_100506.pdf.

Comments

Spain's Socialist Moment

The left in Spain is involved in a process that will culminate in a practical political programme, with a focus on social rights

Martyn Richard Jones Guardian UK July 11, 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/11/spain-socialist-mome...

Contrary to published opinion, the "socialist moment" which was supposed to be triggered by the financial crisis is not evaporating. While conservatives and social democrats find themselves mired in the contradictions of neoliberal economics, and in the willful sacrifice of participatory democracy and constitutionality on the altar of market dogma, leftwing movements around Europe, from Estonia to Portugal, are constructing alliances to counter the noxious effects of yet another crisis of capitalism.

The revivalist efforts of the left are clear in Spain, where two complementary initiatives are unfolding. The first, Socialismo 21, is politically and culturally a socialist project - a grassroots thinktank, for want of a better term - whose aim is to bring together broad and diverse elements of the left in order to regenerate socialism. This type of organisation is new in Spain, but Socialismo 21 is already a project of substance, one that benefits from heavyweight support.

The second - and electorally more important - initiative is championed by the United Left (a party originally formed as an electoral coalition) which has recently finalised the first stage of an ambitious two- year project to redefine a plural, democratic and united political force for social change. In contrast to Socialismo 21, the United Left is a political party, and therefore its aim is also to provide clear and compelling reasons why people should vote for it.

Some readers, perhaps more so in the UK and the US, may be surprised by reports of a leftwing revival within the EU, but in the case of Spain there are some historical precedents. The Communist party, led by Santiago Carrillo, was legalised in 1977 and enjoyed some success, relying mainly on a solid base in Andalusia, Madrid and Asturias. By 1982, Felipe Gonzá lez, the charismatic leader of the Socialist Workers party, was dominating national politics and support for the communists waned.

By 1986, constituent members of the organisation opposed to Nato membership formed a broad coalition; it included communists, democratic socialists, ecologists, feminists, humanists, and republicans. With Gerardo Iglesias as leader, the United Left consolidated its vote. Matters improved in 1989, when Córdoba's former mayor, Julio Anguita took over. In the early 1990s, the party tripled its share of parliamentary seats, but ill health forced Anguita to take a back seat, and the party's popularity declined.

Under Anguita's successor, Francisco Frutos, the party won eight seats in 2000. That same year, Gaspar Llamazares took over as leader, with the party winning five seats in 2004 and two seats in 2008 (an electoral trouncing that some attributed to Gaspar's intimate relationship with the Socialist Workers party).

By the end of 2008, Castilian agriculturist Cayo Lara replaced Gaspar as leader, thus bringing to an abrupt end an episode marked by an inexplicable drift towards the centre. It is Cayo, among others such as Julio Anguita, who is driving the initiative to reinvent the left. Indeed, the fact that Cayo shares many of the values and qualities of Anguita - in terms of social justice, democracy and honesty - is winning him a lot of support.

The new beginnings of the left have been a long time coming, and slow in taking off, but now it has finally started it is not to everyone's taste. Some of the complaints are quite legitimate; while other complaints are simply the force of custom. However, there are clear social arguments and imperatives that make a strong leftwing political alternative in Spain more necessary now than at any other time in the last two decades.

The radical left in Spain is currently involved in a process, one that will culminate in a coherent and practical political programme. That process will focus on an environmentally sustainable economic model, social rights and public services, political rights (a model of participatory democracy), feminism, internationalism, reflections on organisational issues and "the appeal to the left".

It's true that the United Left had very little choice but to embrace change. To paraphrase Julio Anguita, it was either going to die as a political force or it would need to successfully reinvent and re-establish itself. The first major hurdle for the new left has already been set: the general strike called for 29 September. This will be the test of the viability, coherence and cohesiveness of the United Left and the leadership of Cayo Lara. What will be the outcome? We can but wait and see.

c Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

demosnstrations in Barcelona.

It's about time we Catalans fight for our Nation. Well done people of Barcelona. Long live Barlelona! Long live the Nation of Catalunya!

Sento molt no haber estat emb vosaltres!!!

Maria d'el Mar

independence now!

Catalonia, the next state of Europe !!*!!

We don't want to pay anymore to be spanish and to be invaded from spanish culture. The constitution says at 8 article that the military should act against division from Spain, but this is against the european right of self-determination.

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