Catalonia braces to resist Spanish state war on its self-rule
By Dick Nichols The Spanish People’s Party (PP) government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has decided to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the Spanish constitution. This clause allows the central government to take over the powers of a regional government if it “does not carry out its constitutional and legal obligations or acts in a way that seriously damages Spain’s general interest". Rajoy announced the package enforcing the intervention on Saturday, October 21. The main measures are: sacking Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, deputy premier and treasurer Oriol Junqueras and all other ministers and having their departments run from Madrid; prohibiting the Catalan parliament from appointing any replacement Catalan premier or adopting any legislation unacceptable to the Spanish government; and holding elections when the Catalan political and social situation has "normalised", in six months at most. “Normalisation” is to be achieved by establishing central control over the main institutions identified as sustaining the Catalan secessionist threat — the Catalan police force (Mossos d’Esquadra) and the country’s public broadcasting and education systems (for detail see the section subhead “the occupation plan” later in this article). Rajoy had previously negotiated the full support of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the new-right party Citizens for his government’s unprecedented stripping of regional powers, the first such intervention since the present Spanish constitution was adopted in 1978. This was despite the fact that as little as one month ago the PSOE had opposed any such intervention. The most immediate result of Rajoy’s announcement was to turn the October 21 Barcelona demonstration in support of detained Catalan mass movement leaders Jordi Sànchez (Catalan National Assembly) and Jordi Cuixart (Omnium Cultural) into a vast 450,000-strong protest against the Spanish establishment’s assault on Catalan self-rule.
What is clear is that someone wants to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy by saying that something happened that didn’t happen, and that is absolutely incomprehensible for the majority of the population, to all citizens and is incomprehensible at the level of Europe.
Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu (of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party) had the same reaction:
A Unilateral Declaration of Independence never took place, so in no way at all should the application of article 155 of the constitution go ahead … Let the possibilities of a process of dialogue via a formula agreed by members of both governments be explored, unconditionally and without humiliations.
This will not happen: despite secondary differences the three main Spanish centralist parties are itching to get control of the government apparatus in Catalonia and to organise elections in conditions favouring a loss by the pro-independence forces (including the possibility of their parties being outlawed if they don’t conveniently fall out among themselves).
Thus Miquel Iceta, the secretary of the Party of Catalan Socialists (PSC), justified maintaining the article 155 operation even while noting that Puigdemont had said independence had not been declared. The “problem” for Iceta was Puigdemont’s threat to declare independence if article 155 were applied: that attitude, concluded Iceta, “makes it inevitable that the Spanish government will apply article 155.”
The PSC secretary was careful to avoid drawing too much attention to the 100% support that the PSC’s big brother party, the PSOE, was giving to Rajoy’s operation. Indeed, PSOE secretary Pedro Sánchez was in Brussels last week to clarify the minds of fellow European social democrats who might still have been feeling disoriented by the sight of police bashing grandmothers on October 1. He set them straight:
You may have thought that what is happening in Catalonia is due to a lack of democracy on the part of the Spanish political system. The opposite is the case. We are seeing the material expression of anti-politics, that which is being experienced in other parts of Europe, such as Hungary or Poland. What we are doing is defending European values in a part of our country.
That is, “populism” in Catalonia, where solidarity with refugees has mobilised most massively and where progressive sentiment is probably more widespread than in any other region of Europe, is the equivalent to Hungarian “populism”, which builds fences to keep refugees out. Sánchez’s effort in Brussels was simply another example of the Goebbelsian methods of Spanish nationalism, crusher of basic democratic rights in the name of “Democracy”, the Law” and “the Constitution”. Elections in the worst conditions, with an intervention into the Catalan government and institutions, would be elections in anomalous conditions for democracy, with a lot of tension and polarisation. I doubt whether elections held in such conditions would help solve anything.
The only tendency within the pro-independence camp that favours an early poll is that fraction of PDeCAT members most exposed to pressure from Catalan enterprise, most notably business minister Santi Vila. This trend is either convinced that Madrid’s assault will easily crush Catalan institutions (including those that support business) and/or is afraid that the more resistance lasts, the more it will come to be dominated by the radical wing of the pro-independence movement.
This is a realistic concern. The broad pattern of struggle since the September 20 police raids is that every weakening of the Catalan governmental and institutional sphere has been offset by strengthened mass movement organising. In the process the forces of resistance have given rise to the Committees to Defend the Referendum (or Republic, CDR) and the peaceful mass resistance platform En Peu de Pau (“On a Peaceful Footing”). At the same time the traditional pro-independence mass organisations ANC and Omnium Cultural have turned to more active organising since the days immediately before the October 1 referendum (when they helped organise the community occupations of polling centres).
In addition, the Democracy Roundtable—covering over 70 business, union, social, cultural and sporting organisations—now occupies the position of “lowest common denominator” of the movement and was important in drawing new layers of the Catalan population to the 450,000-strong Barcelona demonstration on October 21.
According to an October 23 report in the web-based daily el.diario, the PDeCAT forces getting cold feet about making an independence declaration made a last-ditch attempt on that day to persuade Puigdemont not to cross the Rubicon, sending a leadership delegation led by ex-premier Artur Mas to urge the premier to build a defence line including all anti-155 forces, if necessary by keeping independence on hold.
This stance has combined in recent hours with an exponential increase in the pressure on the government to commit to elections. From the Economy Circle [big-business thinktank] to the PSC, passing through the majority of dailies edited in Catalonia, all have called on Puigdemont to dissolve parliament and call elections. It is an option that is on the rise in order to avoid 155 and Rajoy’s taking control of the Catalan institutions.
However, the article also reported that internal PDeCAT polling had showed that only 38% thought early elections a good idea, with 49% against. This reality has produced splits in the conservative nationalist organisation that have reached as high as the Puigdemont cabinet itself, where the pro-elections position of Santi Vila is not only opposed by all non-aligned and Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) ministers but by other PDeCAT ministers, such as minister of state Jordi Turull and minister for territories Josep Rull.
The CUP-CC [Constituent Call, organisations that participated alongside the CUP in the 2015 Catalan election] wants to make clear, in this crucial week for the future of Catalonia, that the decision of the Rajoy government—with the support of Citizens, the PSOE and the Borbon king—to eliminate self-government and intervene in the main Catalan institutions including Parliament, is the greatest aggression against the civil, individual and collective rights of the Catalan people since the Franco dictatorship. An aggression aimed against the pro-independence majority, but also against the rest of the citizens not supportive of independence.
An aggression that will find a response in the form of mass civil disobedience by the citizens.
In this sense, we understand that self-organisation, self-defense and resistance on the basis of municipalism and internationalism are the spearheads of this non-violent struggle to turn back the application of article 155 of the Spanish constitution and to achieve freedom for all...
On the other hand, we in the CUP-CC have insisted in every possible way that we do not share the strategy of tailing behind the decisions taken by the Spanish government. We believe that the declaration of the Republic is fully justified by the results of the October 1 referendum and, as we have said on many occasions, we are committed to making the proclamation in parliament as soon as possible.
On this basis, CUP members are presently throwing all their energies into strengthening the “front lines” of the resistance movement—in the unions, neighbourhoods and social organisations. The next step of the Catalan government must be to proclaim the Catalan Republic. [At the same time] a constituent process must be opened to maintain the unity of the pro-independence and pro-democracy front that mobilised on October 1. This is a broad political framework that goes beyond the basis of the usual pro-independence forces to include Podemos Catalonia, the social base of the commons and activists from anarchism.
It also gives us a perspective for confronting the application of 155 that isn’t just anti-repression but also strategic and political. When the government announced the referendum it committed to implementing the result. That’s why if we want to be recognised as a republic we have to proclaim ourselves as such.
That doesn’t mean implementing the republic tomorrow: it will imply a series of measures the possibility of whose implementation will have to be seen. Now more than ever the dynamic between the street and the institutions becomes fundamental. Also key will be a sustained mobilisation to confront the repression of the State.
Such are the pressures on Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont as he prepares to make the most fateful decision in Catalan history since his processor Lluís Companys declared “the Catalan state in the Spanish Republic” on October 6 83 years ago.
The Rajoy government will be hoping for a 21st century replay of that episode, which ended with the imprisonment of Companys and his cabinet after a brief skirmish between the Catalan police and the Spanish army. For its part the movement for Catalan sovereignty will be fighting to make the activation of article 155 the starting point of the Spanish establishment’s Vietnam.
Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An initial version of this article has appeared on its web site. For up-to-the-minute information on the Catalan struggle go to Green Left’s live blog.
The unionist allianceAnnouncement of the in-principle decision to invoke article 155 had come two days earlier, on October 19, and only 30 minutes after the Spanish cabinet had received a reply from premier Puigdemont about whether the Catalan parliament had formally declared independence in its session of October 10. In this answer to the summons he had received under article 155, Puigdemont made clear that the Catalan parliament had not formally declared independence on that day. By then, however, it was too late: the Spanish government had already decided to “end the agony” (the prime minister’s words to the October 11 session of the Spanish parliament). Under article 155, the premier of a targeted regional administration is given a chance to explain its behaviour and intentions: if the central government finds the answer unsatisfactory it puts together an intervention package for Spanish Senate approval. The Rajoy government will have no problem obtaining that: under Spain’s rigged electoral system the PP, with 30%-35% support, has an absolute majority. In reality, short of a total surrender declaration the actual content of Puigdemont’s answer wouldn’t have mattered. The Rajoy government, with the backing of the entire Spanish establishment, has been on the war path against the Catalan movement and government since September 6. That was the day the Catalan government showed with the adoption of its referendum legislation that it was determined to give Catalans the chance to decide whether they wanted to remain in the Spanish state. The defeat the Rajoy government experienced when mass citizen organisation and resistance made sure the October 1 Catalan referendum actually went ahead—despite the presence of 10,000 Spanish police and Civil Guard—only increased Madrid’s determination to act against the “separatist challenge”.
Crush the Catalan movementThe decision to invoke article 155 irrespective of Puigdemont’s reply was immediately denounced by En Comú Podem, the largest Catalan force in the Spanish parliament. Spokesperson Xavier Domènech said:
The occupation planAfter Rajoy had spoken, deputy prime minister Saenz de Santamaria announced more detail about the central takeover. The plan the Spanish government will put to the Senate on October 27 amounts to a comprehensive toolkit for repression of Catalan self-rule, to which further tools can always be added on request to the Senate. Here are the main aspects:
• Removal of premier Puigdemont. Once the Senate authorises the dismissal of Puigdemont all his powers, including the power to call early elections, are taken over by the central government. It is not yet clear how exactly the central government will try to exercise its powers—by remote control from Madrid or by imposing a provincial governor and/or cabinet.
• Sacking of the Catalan cabinet. In addition to the removal of all Catalan ministers, all senior departmental officials (“political appointees”) will also be sacked. In addition, Madrid reserves the right to remove or create any position within the Catalan government.
• Parliament stripped of its powers. While the Catalan parliament will continue to meet, it will become a shell, with the Senate empowered at bi-monthly control sessions to veto Catalan legislation. Parliament will not be able to propose a new government (because of its pro-independence majority) nor hear no-confidence motions. Parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell will not need to be sacked because she is facing charges of disobedience in the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) and is sure to be found guilty.
• Early elections. Rajoy said that he would like to see “elections as soon as possible” and within six months at maximum. However, since the PP-dominated Senate can decide to extend the time-frame of the intervention, this amounts to saying to Catalonia: “You’ll get elections if you behave and if we are certain of getting a unionist majority.”
• Catalan police. The Mossos d’Esquadra will come under the control of the Spanish interior ministry, and its first decision will be to sack police chief Josep Lluís Trapero. If the Catalan police do not obey orders, they will be replaced by Spanish National Police or the Civil Guard.
• Public broadcasting media. The Spanish government will make changes at the executive level of the public Catalan Corporation of Audio-visual Media (CCMA), including sacking the head of public TV Channel 3. This is to be done in the name of “guaranteeing the transmission of truthful, objective and balanced information, respectful of political, social and cultural pluralism.” Anyone who has had experience of the public media of PP-run administrations (as in Madrid and Valencia) knows what that means.
• Economy. The goal is to guarantee that no public money is devoted to “activities or goals linked or related to the secessionist process”. This is a catch-all concept that will enable Madrid to cut funding to any business, social, cultural and sporting activity that it finds suspicious and to redirect funding to reliable unionist organisations.
• Internet. The intervention will seize control of all the Catalan government’s telecommunications and digital services.
• Loyalty of public servants. Any public servant that refuses to obey an instruction will be charged with “not fulfilling their duty to the Constitution and the Statute”. The consequences could include loss of income and assets.