Opinions of Carles Puigdemont and Guy Verhofstadt
This is not just about Catalonia. This is about democracy itself
Carles Puigdemont * – The Guardian
Spain has imposed a political agenda that goes against the will of the majority of Catalans. We will defend our rights to the end
Catalonia is right now the only territory in the European Union that has been denied the supreme law its citizens voted for; the parliament that its citizens elected; the president that this parliament elected; and the government that this president appointed in the exercise of his powers. Acting in an arbitrary, undemocratic, and in my view, unlawful manner, the Spanish state decided to dissolve the Catalan parliament in the middle of the legislative term, to dismiss the president and the Catalan government, to intervene in our self-government and the institutions that the Catalans have been building in our nation for centuries.
It committed a brutal judicial offensive to bring about the mass imprisonment and criminalisation of candidates promoting political ideas that, just two years ago, obtained historically high levels of public support.
Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code – the same as for cases of terrorism or murder: 30 years in prison. The vice-president and seven Catalan government ministers have been in prison since last Thursday, as well as two Catalan civic leaders, while orders for the rest of the Catalan government to be detained have been issued. This is a colossal outrage that will have serious consequences.
Let us remember one key fact: in the elections of 27 September 2015, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the undisputed winner, stood on a manifesto where it explicitly pledged to declare independence and to convene constituent elections. The voters who supported us knew at all times what our purpose was. Yet two years after those elections we are accused of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion for delivering on an electoral programme that we never concealed.
It’s an odd conspiracy, one that receives the popular vote. The 2015 elections delivered a clear majority in favour of Catalan independence: 72 seats out of 135. Only 52 of the 135 seats went to candidates who explicitly rejected the idea of an independence referendum. Yet the legitimate Catalan government has now been outlawed, the Catalan parliament dissolved and a political agenda that has nothing to do with the will of the majority has been imposed.
This is why we will continue denouncing to the entire world the serious democratic shortcomings that are now evident in Spain.
Surely, what must prevail is the will of the majority of the citizens and the respect for fundamental rights included in international treaties signed by the kingdom of Spain, and also incorporated into its constitution. What we have instead are two levels of democracy in Spain: you can be a pro-independence party, but only if you do not rule. You will be charged with rebellion if you comply with your electoral commitment. And if you are against independence but you lack a parliamentary force to govern, the almighty state will come to your defence.
The Spanish judicial system has its own, particularly serious, shortcomings. There is a clear lack of independence and neutrality, with the links between the judiciary and the government visible for all to see. Even at the procedural level, the legal cases against Catalan leaders contain so many irregularities that it is difficult to believe that the accused can rely on any formal guarantees.
The state has demonstrated its determination to strip public officials of their rights, and Spanish justice has been placed at the service of the government’s political agenda. No crime committed in the name of the unity of the country will ever be prosecuted: not the violations of the secrecy of postal correspondence, nor the repeated restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, the blocking of websites without judicial authorisation, arrests made without judicial order, nor the certification of a police brigade outside the law to illegally pursue pro-independence political leaders and the Spanish left.
In demonstrations convened by the governing party of Spain, ultra-right radical groups (direct heirs of the Franco regime, such as the Spanish Falange) have marched, some brandishing fascist banners and making Nazi salutes, while songs demanding my imprisonment and execution have been widely sung. The climate of hostility is summed up by the scream, “Go for them!” from many Spanish citizens as they cheered the police patrols from around the state deployed to prevent the 1 October referendum, an effort by land, sea and air that resembled a military campaign to occupy rebel territory.
Does anyone think that the sacked Catalan government can expect a fair and independent hearing, uninfluenced by political and media pressure? I do not. We will continue to seek the independence of Catalonia, and defend a model of society in which no one is afraid of the power of the state.
I have a duty to demand justice for all of us. Real justice. To bring light to all the dark areas in which the state is allowed to commit unacceptable abuses. And to do this we need to allow in scrutiny from abroad. This attention must above all serve to demand a political rather than judicial solution to the problem.
The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence – on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie when we were told that everything was up for discussion.
It may be uncomfortable for those who have given their uncritical and unconditional support to Mariano Rajoy’s government, but we will defend our rights to the end. Because we’re playing with much more than our personal futures: we’re playing with democracy itself.
* Carles Puigdemont became the 130th president of Catalonia in 2016
Catalonia’s referendum lacked democratic legitimacy
Guy Verhofstadt* – Irish Examiner
Ihave always been a profound admirer of Spanish democracy, but especially since February 23, 1981. On that dramatic day, Colonel Antonio Tejero attempted a coup d’état against the young democratic regime.
In his acclaimed book Anatomía de un Instante (The Anatomy of a Moment), Javier Cercas describes how, under the threat of Tejero’s pistol, three Spanish political leaders sat upright in their seats, refusing to hide under their benches.
Not one of them — Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo; Adolfo Suárez, the first prime minister of post-Franco democratic Spain; and Suárez’s deputy, General Gutiérrez Mellado — blinked.
It was an act of courage and determination that anchored democracy forever in the soul of Spain. Under the pistol of Tejero, Spanish democracy was born.
Today, 36 years later, Spanish democracy must steel itself once more if it is to overcome the deep division created by the Catalan regional government’s unconstitutional bid to secede from the Spanish Republic.
Today’s democrats will need to show the same disciplined determination as Carillo, Suárez, and Mellado to resolve Spain’s gravest political crisis since Tejero’s attempted coup. Spain’s democrats must not believe that law and the judiciary can address all of the problems with Catalonia on their own.
Certainly, the Spanish authorities will not overcome the crisis with police violence, even though the national government’s efforts to halt the Catalan independence referendum were based on a court ruling.
What is needed now is a renewed political vision, an inclusive dialogue. Realistically, that vision can only be of a multicultural, multilingual, federal state embedded in a multicultural, multilingual, and federal Europe.
Catalan separatists were wrong to call an illegal referendum. No one can govern democratically without the rule of law.
But it is also true that the existing legal framework is incapable of healing such deep political division. Sustained dialogue — the real strength of effective politicians and statesmen — between Spain’s leaders and Catalonia’s separatists is the only way to find solutions.
I do not believe it is in the interests of Catalonia’s people to pursue separatism at all costs. The fact that the referendum clearly violated the Spanish Constitution is not the main reason that I could not support it.
The point for me is that the referendum lacked any democratic legitimacy whatsoever. It was clear well in advance that a majority of Catalans, recognizing the illegal nature of the exercise, would not participate. Indeed, from all the evidence that has emerged, it seems likely that a majority of Catalans, including those who stayed home, are against separation.
By refusing to establish a minimum turnout threshold for a secession vote to be declared valid, the pro-independence leaders of Catalonia’s regional government revealed how they would portray the result before anyone cast a ballot.
Their deceptive tactic reflected a disturbing willingness to manipulate their citizens. To declare independence on the basis of a defective referendum was a politically irresponsible act of contempt for democratic norms.
Such irresponsibility is a threat not only for Spain, and not just for Europe, but also for Catalonia itself. As with so many referendums, this fake independence vote has opened a deep fracture in Catalan society.
Families and neighbours now stand divided — bitterly so in many cases. The only people who will benefit from this legal charade, as we know, are those who want to destroy the EU and who have already started to exploit the cause of Catalonian independence for their own ends.
It is therefore vital that all the people of Spain act to stop any further escalation and instead begin negotiating. The future of Catalonia, and the future of my own Flemish community in Belgium, where some are also agitating for independence, lies not in brutal separation, but in co-operation within federal structures, in a federal Europe.
The experience of the Basque country is illustrative in this regard. Under Spain’s democracy, the Basques have developed their region for the benefit of its inhabitants, not only defeating terrorism, but also reinventing themselves as proud and autonomous.
In politics, there is no shame in compromise. Quite the contrary: When a choice must be made between a constructive bargain and ideological purity, it is always better to choose the path of unity, however small the steps may be.
In her famous book The March of Folly, the American historian Barbara Tuchman warned against the urge to “throw away the greater for the less” and to “pursue the unworkable at the sacrifice of the possible”.
Leaders on both sides of Spain’s secession crisis would be wise to heed her words.
*Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, is president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament. © Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved