Spain: PSOE ‘pardons’ Catalan political prisoners to better fight Catalan rights

By Dick Nichols

July 1, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Who is that attacking Catalonia’s Catholic bishops and the Spanish Confederation of Employer Organisations (CEOE), Spanish big capital’s peak body? An anarchist? An indignado? No, try the other end of the political spectrum: it’s Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative opposition People’s Party (PP).

Ever since news of the impending pardon of the nine Catalan leaders imprisoned over the October 1, 2017 independence referendum became public knowledge in late May, the PP leader has been up in arms, determined to stop anyone, no matter how rich or how holy, from approving Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan for early release of those who flouted Spain’s unity.

On June 21, the PP leader sounded the direst of warnings about this decision of the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP). The goal of the criminal alliance supporting the pardon — Sánchez, UP and “the nationalists” — was the destruction of Spain and the PP.

On the same day, Sánchez justified the pardons in an invitation-only Barcelona event called “Reunion: A Project for the Future of All of Spain”. He said: “With this act we release nine people from prison, but we reconnect with tens of thousands more. I don’t agree with those who say that social harmony is helped by keeping these people in prison.”

Announcing that the time had come for the “rule of politics” and negotiation within the Constitution, Sánchez said he looked forward to a new period of dialogue with the Catalan government, beginning with the recovery of the Spain-Catalonia dialogue table that had been set up as a condition of Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) support for the PSOE-UP government.

Casado, however, said of Sánchez:

He’s using a pardon to deal a coup de grace to the rule of law, perverting the instrument of pardon to confer it for the first time on people who are not asking for it, don’t repent, and are threatening to re-offend…

Instead of implementing the law and reinforcing the shopfront against secessionism’s smash-and-grab operators, he opens the door for them, gets them a cab when they’re leaving with their loot, and tells us that his approach is much more moderate and civilised.

The nationalists want Spain and all it represents to disappear. Sánchez wants the PP and all we represent to disappear. The nationalists need Sánchez to make Spain disappear, and Sánchez needs the nationalists to make the PP disappear. That’s what the pardons scam is about. End of story.

On June 23, the day the imprisoned leaders left prison, the PP leader challenged Sánchez to call early elections. On June 25 he launched an appeal against the pardons with the Spanish Supreme Court’s Third Chamber (appeals), asserting that they would cause him personal damage as a victim of the activities of the independence movement, specifically, of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) who had conducted a Google search of his name.

Outrage shortage?

How did Casado, riding high ever since the PP trounced the PSOE in the May 4 Madrid regional elections, get so far offside so fast with major powers-that-be in Spain?

The underlying reason is that the prospect of pardoning the Catalan leaders didn’t generate the massive popular outrage outside Catalonia that Casado and the rest of the Spanish-patriotic right had been hoping for. Early “polling” by the most anti-Catalan Spanish media showed 80% against, but within a few days this figure had fallen to 55%. At the same time, the pardons have been welcomed by most of the non-independentist Catalan business establishment as a potential circuit-breaker in Catalonia’s conflict with the Spanish state. The CEOE tentatively acknowledged that they could also be positive for businesses elsewhere in the Spanish state, helping recovery as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Recent weeks have also brought evidence that there might even have been political advantage for Sánchez in pressing ahead with the pardons as a “reset” of Spanish state politics.

First, the PP’s petition campaign against them as “unconstitutional” harvested an embarrassingly small crop compared to the four million signatures collected in its campaign against the 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy. (The Statute was negotiated between the Spanish and Catalan governments, led respectively by the PSOE and its Catalan sister organisation, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), and was adopted by the Catalan and Spanish parliaments and by referendum in Catalonia. The Spanish Constitutional Court’s 2010 overturning of key parts of the Statute triggered the ongoing mass movement for Catalan sovereignty.)

In the first week of its 2006 campaign under Casado’s predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, the PP collected 800,000 signatures: after two weeks of this campaign, the haul was just over 300,000. That meant that many members of the 800,000-strong PP didn’t even see a point in signing.

Next, a June 13 demonstration organised by the Spanish-patriotic right against the pardons flopped, attracting only 25,000, in contrast to a February 2019 anti-Sánchez protest that drew 45,000 to the same location, Madrid’s Plaza Colón. The tone of the event was set by the intoxicated Spanish chauvinism of Vox and extremist Francoist sects. Mainstream PP and Citizens supporters were notable for their meagre presence, while Casado and Inés Arrimades, leader of the neoliberal Citizens, kept away from the centre of the Vox-dominated spectacle. Even so, the pressure from Vox told on newly elected Madrid premier Isabel Ayuso: she called on King Philip not to sign the pardons and had to be reminded that this was a request for the monarch to violate the constitution.

The same day, in the preselection for lead PSOE candidate for the next election in Andalusia, Sánchez’s long-term rival and former Andalusian premier Susana Díaz, suspected of opposition to the pardons, lost to Seville mayor Juan Espadas (supported by Sánchez).

Following the flop of the Madrid demonstration, institutional support for the pardons grew. The main trade union confederations, the Workers Commissions (CCOO) and the General Workers Union (UGT) came on board, while CEOE president Antonio Garamendi remarked in a radio interview that if the pardons “led to things getting normalised, blessed be it”.

It was at this point that Casado exploded, telling a sceptical audience at the annual meeting of Catalan business’s Economy Circle on June 17 that “we cannot accept talk of the [Spanish] justice system as vindictive or the sentence of a democratic court as punitive.”

A couple of polls taken since the pardons were implemented showed no new leap in the vote for the PP, which had overtaken the PSOE as lead party after the May 4 Madrid election. The gap between the bloc of right parties (PP, Vox and Citizens) and the all-Spanish left (PSOE, UP and Mas País of former Podemos leader Iñigo Errejón) shows the right still below or just grazing an absolute majority. The Basque, Catalan and Galician parties and other forces from the Spanish state’s regions have been maintaining or slightly increasing their weight, confirming the PSOE-UP government’s dependence upon their support.

The road to ‘pardon’

The left coalition has been running Spain since the first days of January 2020, but it took Sánchez and his chief strategist Ivan Redondo a year and a half to conclude that the release of the nine Catalan political prisoners was a Rubicon they had to cross. The decision kept being postponed despite the PSOE-UP’s agreement for government committing to “dejudicialise” the conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish state, and despite the Sánchez administration’s dependence in the Spanish Congress on the 13 votes of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).

Before his final conversion to the need to free the prisoners, Sánchez had at times been as gung-ho about refusing them early release as the PP itself. Before and during the November 2019 general election campaign, Spain’s slippery prime minister, with his eye on a post-election alliance with Citizens, committed to the Catalan leaders completing their sentences and to reintroducing a prohibition on regional governments holding referenda (repealed in 2005 by the previous PSOE government of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero).

It was only after the near-total destruction of Citizens at the November 12, 2019 general election that the PSOE was left with only one option: to construct a government with UP, supported from without by Catalan and Basque parties and other regional forces. The unavoidable price was commitment to “dejudicialisation” of the Catalan conflict.

However, granting pardons to unrepentant Catalans (“We’ll do it again”, said Òmnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart) would still have been a vote-loser in the Castilian heartlands of the Spanish state, as well as in the south and east (Murcia, Andalusia and Extremadura). It would not be much of a vote-winner in Catalonia itself where majority sentiment remains overwhelmingly in favour of amnesty and a Scottish-style negotiated referendum (both “impossible” and “unconstitutional” for the PSOE).

Even though anonymous PSOE sources cited in the June 27 edition of El Periódico claim an in-principle decision in favour of pardoning the Catalan prisoners had been taken at the beginning of the legislature, Sánchez and attorney-general Juan Carlos Campo showed no signs of wanting to move fast on the issue: the COVID-19 pandemic, which reached Spain in late February 2020, acted as explanation or excuse for delay. It was only in September that Campo indicated he was preparing a reply to the requests for pardon the government had received.

By year’s end, Jaume Asens, the leader of UP’s Catalan partner Together We Can (ECP) and UP’s congress spokesperson, was complaining of the government’s slowness in implementing the pardons and a promised legal reform that would redefine the meaning of “sedition”, the charge with which the Catalan leaders had been jailed for up to 13 years. Asens “hoped the delay wasn’t for electoral considerations”, when it was obvious that it was: the PSOE and PSC were preparing a major offensive against the Catalan parliament’s pro-independence majority in the February 14 Catalan elections.

Inside the PSOE-UP government, Asen’s nagging about the delay could safely be ignored: UP leader Pablo Iglesias was focussed on winning other battles — such as that over a guaranteed minimum income — and, in any case, there was no way UP was going to abandon its cabinet seats just because attorney-general Campo was letting the machinery for organising a pardon grind away while Redondo and Sánchez made up their minds.

The conclusion that the pardons had to be implemented became unavoidable after two events: the  Catalan elections which handed the pro-independence parties their first ever vote majority, and the investiture of a coalition Catalan government on May 21. The last-minute deal between the ERC and Together for Catalonia (Junts) that made this possible was based on an agreement to handle independentism’s fraught debate over strategy separately from that of the program for a Catalan administration.

The PSOE-PSC, frustrated on these two occasions and tainted by its 2017 support for suspension of Catalan self-government, reached the only possible conclusion: maintaining the Catalan leaders in jail — and the whole country in a state of outrage expressed by the omnipresence of the yellow ribbon of solidarity — meant that their strategy for defeating the Catalan movement was dead in the water.

Council of Europe opinion

Adding to the pressure on Sánchez over 2020 and early 2021 was the steady decline in the international reputation of the Spanish judiciary. This was partly due to the reports on the prisoners and exiles of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, but most of all to the consistent refusal of European courts to return exiled Catalan leaders to Spain for trial.

The prospect of exposure of the Spanish justice system increased with the Spanish Constitutional Court’s rejection in late April of the appeal of former minister Jordi Turull against his Supreme Court sentence. In early June, the court repeated this decision in the cases of former minister Josep Rull and social movement leaders Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. In all four cases judges José Antonio Xiol and María Luisa Balaguer issued a dissenting opinion questioning the Spanish Supreme Court’s verdict of “sedition” in the case of peaceful protests and voting, and criticising the severity of the sentences. This opinion could serve as the basis of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The low point for Spain’s judicial reputation was reached on June 21, when the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted 70 to 28, with 12 abstentions, in favour of a motion calling for the freeing of the political prisoners, the return of the exiles and the dropping of all outstanding referendum-related prosecutions. The report supporting the motion (Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate?) had been prepared by Latvian Social Democrat Boriss Cilevičs, who had spent a year investigating the jailing of elected representatives in Turkey and Spain.

It was co-signed by MPs from across the political spectrum, including members of the political groups to which the PP, PSOE, Citizens and Vox belong in European parliamentary forums. Despite dissenting opinions from PP, PSOE and Citizens MPs, the conclusion of the tightly argued and detailed report proved unassailable:

The authorities stress that the mere expression of pro-independence views is not a ground for criminal prosecution in Spain. I could see for myself during my visit that many Catalan politicians who publicly advocate these views and even fly the pro-independence flag in front of public buildings are not criminally prosecuted. Spain is a living democracy with a culture of free and open public debate. The question remains for which facts exactly the former members of the Catalan government were convicted — given that the organisation of an illegal referendum was explicitly de-criminalised not long ago, and that participating in and even organising peaceful demonstrations constitutes the exercise of a fundamental right. Can the exercise of a constitutional right constitute a crime, one that is punished by long prison sentences such as those handed down against the Catalan politicians in Spain? Can organising a peaceful protest turn into a crime because many hundreds of thousands of people follow the organisers’ call? While the approval of the “disconnection laws” and the holding of the referendum were clearly unconstitutional and directly disobeyed injunctions from the constitutional court, they were not violent, or “tumultuous”, at least in my understanding. They might well require some sanctions, for example as “disobedience”, but the long prison terms for “sedition” seem disproportionate.

In my view, the heavy-handed use of criminal law against politicians who used peaceful means to pursue objectives that do not negate fundamental principles of democracy and human rights was disproportionate. The imprisoned Catalan politicians’ objectives — ultimate independence for a democratic Catalonia — and the means used by them the October 2017 referendum and a — for practical purposes — symbolic declaration of independence immediately suspended pending negotiations with the Spanish authorities — were clearly incompatible with the Spanish Constitution, as the Constitutional Court had held beforehand. But should “disobedience” to a judgment of the Constitutional Court be punished as a very heavily sanctioned criminal offense such as “rebellion” or “sedition”?

Damage control

Given all this, the pardons simply had to happen. The question now for Sánchez was how to craft and time them to minimise political damage, especially given that the Supreme Court was due to issue its anti-pardon opinion on May 26. (When published, the court took special umbrage at Cuixart’s statement that “we’ll do it again”, stating that the words “express an anti-democratic attitude in which conscience and social commitment that every citizen would endorse authorises the pulverising of the foundations of social harmony.”)

On May 25, Sánchez indicated the government was considering issuing the pardons in the name of rebuilding “concord” and “social harmony”, in this way deliberately upstaging the release of the Supreme Court’s position. The same consideration determined the formal adoption of the decision on June 22: originally set for June 29, it was brought forward to smother headlines about the Council of Europe vote that would put Spain in the same basket as Turkey as a violator of the rights of elected representatives.

Another problem that required careful handling was the reaction within the ranks of the PSOE, especially the concern not to provide resentful former leaders and regional premiers (“barons”) with any base of renewed membership support. Of most immediate concern was the preselection of the lead candidate for the next Andalusian election: mishandling of the issue might hurt the chances of Sánchez’s candidate Juan Espada.

The news in late May of the impending decision provoked the predictable storm within the PSOE universe. Former prime minister Felipe González said the conditions for granting pardons did not exist “given the composition of the Catalan government”;  his former minister Alfonso Guerra said they were “politically undesirable and juridically illegal”; Extremadura premier Guillermo Fernández Vara said that “no-one who doesn’t want to be pardoned and doesn’t respect the law should be pardoned”; Castilla-La Mancha premier Emiliano García-Page said that “the last thing I want is that an unjustified pardon turns into a sentence against the organisation that supported it”; and Aragón premier Javier Lamban said he was “sceptical” about pardoning “gentlemen who not only are impenitent but have said that they’ll do it again when they get the chance.”

Even Basque socialist Odón Elorza, former mayor of Donostia (San Sebatián) and more sensitive to the national sentiments within the Spanish state was doubtful: “I didn’t swallow the pardons for the coup-mongers [of February 23, 1981], the GAL [Armed Liberation Groups, state-sponsored terrorism against Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA)] and the corrupt. Those for the [Catalan independence] procés are today a controversial decision. They won’t give Sánchez any votes, but problems. Yes, the penalties were excessive, but there can be no doubt that these people will again break the law and attack the Rule of Law.”

The storm, however, proved to be short-lived. It was brought to an end by the following combination: an intense internal campaign of “pedagogy” entrusted to PSOE organisational secretary José-Luis Ábalos; support for the pardons from former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (“It can help to a significant degree what we well-intentioned Spaniards want, that things get better between Catalonia and the rest of Spain and that independentism loses force”); and backing from the PSOE premiers of the Valencian Country, the Balearic Islands and Navarra, the “barons” most sensitive to Catalan sensibilities.

What probably helped most was the decision of the PP to run motions condemning the pardons through all the elected bodies where resistance to the pardons was strongest within the PSOE ranks. This decision turned the issue into a party loyalty test, with the result that the PP’s motions got PSOE support nowhere. The message also increasingly sank in that without the pardons the PSOE had, in the words of former leader Joaquin Almunia, “no other move to make”: if not this, what? In the end the only “baron” to stick to his guns was Castilla-La Mancha’s García-Page.

The Junqueras open letter

Useful for Sánchez in this battle was a June 7 open letter by jailed ERC leader Oriol Junqueras to the Catalan daily Ara. He said:

It was clear that the reaction of the state was perceived by a large part of Catalan society as increasingly illegitimate and distant from democratic principles. But, at the same time, we need to be conscious that a significant part of Spanish society, including Catalan society, did not see our response as fully legitimate. In this sense, I would like to extend my hand once again to all those who may have felt excluded, because our goal must precisely be that of building a future that includes everyone…

And today we continue to believe that the best way to [achieve independence], as we have always defended, is the Scottish way. The road of pacts and agreements, the road of an agreed referendum. It is the option that produces the most guarantees and immediate international recognition. Because we know that other roads are neither viable nor desirable insofar as, in reality, they distance us from the goal to be achieved.

This opinion was read by many as a rejection of the “unilateralism” of the October 1 referendum, and not just within the PSOE. The following day Ara carried two more declarations, one from MPs from the People’s Unity List (CUP) and another from fellow prisoner and Junts national secretary Jordi Sànchez, entitled “October 1 wasn’t a mistake”:

No, it was not a mistake, let alone an illegitimate act. In the autumn of 2017 we knew, as we know now, that there is a part of Catalan citizens who are not only not pro-independence but in no way accept that the independence option can be raised for democratic resolution. Of course, we must work to involve this sector of the citizenry in a democratic outcome, but we cannot get trapped in the fantasy that the exercise of self-determination can only take place when 100% of the population finds it legitimate. We know this will never happen. Therefore, let every hand be outstretched, but without expecting impossible unanimity in an open society like Catalonia’s.

The PSC leadership, in the words of spokesperson Eva Granados, welcomed what it called “ERC’s abandonment of unilateralism”, while Extremadura premier Fernández Vara announced he had changed his opposition to the pardons on the basis of Junqueras’s statement. He tweeted: “Politics isn’t just about gestures, but they are very necessary. And this is very important. A meeting point within the Constitution has to be found.”

It was left to ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta to clarify that her party “doesn’t abandon any democratic path to the Catalan Republic,” a position also contained in the Junts-ERC and ERC-CUP agreements underpinning the Catalan government.

Pardons or parole?

All these pressures came together to mould the final form of the “pardons” which, given the impenitence of the prisoners, were justified on the grounds of their “public usefulness”. In the supposedly secret but partially leaked 34-page documents arguing for pardon, in each individual case the stress was on the contribution that release would make to overcoming “the exceptional situation in Catalonia and the pressing need to respond as soon as possible to the profound social and political crisis that for too long has been conditioning and eroding social peace and democratic social harmony in Catalonia, and by extension, the whole of Spain.”

The leaked rationale for pardoning Jordi Sànchez said:

Maintaining him in prison, irrespective of its legitimacy on judicial grounds, will impede the creation of the necessary conditions for encounter and dialogue …[T]he factors linked to society’s perception of Sànchez do not make him personally worthy of pardon, but must be taken into account at the time of weighing the public usefulness of the decision.

The document stressed how the imprisonment of Sànchez has been seen in Catalonia:

As is well known, his imprisonment has had and has an important symbolic value for the independence movement as well as for those who, while not supporters of independence, consider that situation to be unjust, among other reasons for his being a notable social movement leader who did not occupy any institutional position at the time of the events.

Given that a “good part of Catalan society shares pro-independence positions”, the benefit for the Spanish state would be that “those citizens will be able to freely see their leaders and they will understand that Spanish democracy provides them with a channel to freely express their opinions and defend their ideas in all normality.”

The documents argued in all nine cases that there was a low possibility of recidivism. However, just in case they are tempted, the prisoners were issued with de facto good behaviour notices of between three and six years: if they “reoffended”, they would be back in jail. They were also prohibited from running for public office for the full length of their original sentence — up until 2032 in the case of Oriol Junqueras.

At the same time, to ward off any chance of the appeals chamber of the Supreme Court overturning the pardons on the appeals of the PP, Citizens or Vox, the validity of the original trial and its grotesque sentence of “sedition” was reaffirmed as rigorous and sound in law.

In a TV address explaining the “pardon”, Sánchez stressed this partiality and conditionality, while Campo was at pains to make clear that the pardon did not apply to the Catalan leaders in exile: if Carles Puigdemont put a foot on Spanish soil he would be arrested. Nor did it apply to the 3300-plus people still facing charges over the referendum and protests against the sentences. As for reforming the definition of sedition, that would have to wait.

It was no surprise that the prisoners were greeted with enormous enthusiasm when they left jail at midday, June 23. There was no gratitude for Sánchez and his minimalist “pardon”, only gratitude for those who had never wavered, and whose constancy had left the PSOE-led government with no alternative but to release them.

And now?

The PSOE’s motive in introducing these “pardons” was to rid itself of the chief cause of popular anger in Catalonia in order to better attack the two demands shared by the entire Catalan movement and three quarters of the population: the right to self-determination and amnesty for all those charged with referendum-related “crimes”. The plan is to suffocate these just demands under a thick blanket of rhetoric about a return to “normality”, “concord” and “social harmony”.

So obvious has this operation been that it even led one sector of the movement, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) to call for rejection of the pardons. ANC president Elisenda Paluzie tweeted on May 27, the day after the intention to pardon was announced:

If the pardons arrive, they won’t be any success. In fact, they’ll be an intelligent political decision of the Spanish government against independentism. Not only because the exiles and the 3000 reprisal victims are left out, but also because they disarm us politically and are disastrous internationally.

Pardon (“pardon” in English, “grâce” in French), shows the state as benevolent, and could have the perverse effect of slowing down the appeals to [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg, a court overloaded with appeals which it has to prioritise. If they’re already free, the case isn’t so urgent.

The Spanish state, whether with its cynical face — that of the gesture of pardons — or with its more cadaverous one — that of the courts of the upper judiciary and the Spanish right — has the same goal: to finish off the independence movement because we defeated them on October 1.

All true, but how to act on the new political stage created by the pardons? The ANC didn’t say so explicitly, but the implication of the position was that the prisoners should have found the way to reject the pardons and stay inside jail. A June 22 ANC statement insinuated that the pardons could be the result of a deal between Sánchez and “independentist political leaders” that “might influence the performance of our parliament and government”.

The ANC is in danger of losing the plot. The release of the nine Catalan political prisoners was a victory, irrespective of the motives of the Spanish government and the end to which it is putting the pardons — to continue to deny Catalonia its right to divorce while attempting to reconstruct the broken marriage between it and the state.

In fact, even as the enormous hullaballoo the pardons have generated starts to die down, their insufficiency stands out so starkly that PSOE organisational secretary Ábalos has conceded that there are various “pebbles in the shoe” that must be removed before politics can resume a supposedly normal gait.

The most immediate of these pebbles is the crusade of the PP-dominated Court of Public Accounts against Catalan government expenditure it deems to have been misappropriated to support the “illegal” referendum. This independent (rogue) body, which comes under the control neither of parliament nor of the courts, has fines of over €5 million in mind for 40 former Catalan government ministers, senior officials and overseas representatives, with the goal of ruining them economically. Apart from Puigdemont and Junqueras, the most notorious target is former Catalan finance minister Andreu Mas-Colell, an internationally famous economics professor, who has won the solidarity of a bevy of Nobel Prize of Economics winners. His crime was to speak when finance minister in favour of a Catalan right to self-determination at a meeting in New York.

When asked on June 28 if the government would intervene to stop this operation, Sánchez said it could not: the “separation of powers” was once again invoked to allow a period of PP hard cop thuggery to set the scene for the PSOE-PSC’s next soft cop alternative.

The Spanish social democracy will deploy all the resources at its disposal to force the Catalan government to back away from the movement’s two key demands and confine negotiations to any number of issues except those that most count in Catalonia. The goal, via a gamut of carrot-and-stick tactics, is to convince enough Catalan voters that what the PSOE claims to be “impossible” is indeed impossible, and that the rewards for accepting that “truth” will be considerable — especially in terms of Next Generation EU funding largesse. Divorce remains illegal, but with the PSOE-PSC an unhappy marriage can be made more bearable, especially if independentism is voted out of office at the next Catalan poll.

Having granted its meagre “pardons”, the Sánchez government is in a hurry to show that “normality” is back. With the Spain-Catalonia dialogue table set to resume, Spanish ministers relentlessly hail the benefits of Spain-Catalonia collaboration and King Philip has found himself despatched up to three times a week into Catalonia for photo sessions.

The best answer to this charade is precisely what has been missing during the past 16 months of COVID-19 restrictions: mass mobilisation in support of the right to self-determination and amnesty for the Catalan exiles and those facing referendum-related charges. This year’s Catalan National Day (September 11) will provide an important opportunity for the movement to show that these demands are as present as ever.

Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An initial version of this article has appeared on its web site.