What's Up Barcelona? #03

Democracy On Trial  17/10/2015

Democracy on Trial is a slightly histrionic title for What's Up Barcelona #03 but it captures the mood and opinion here in a week completely dominated by the hearings before the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Catalunya (TSJC) of first Education Minister Irene Rigau and former Vice-President Joana Ortega on Tuesday and finally Artur Mas on Thursday for their involvement in organising 9-N, the proxy referendum on Catalan independence that took place on November 9th last year.

The hearing not only had symbolic importance and reinforces the legend surrounding the figure of Artur Mas but will also have political and legal consequences and tactically speaking, was a very bad move by the Partido Popular, in my opinion.


Resignation of Gemma Ubasart

The week actually began with the resignation, on Saturday, of Gemma Ubasart as General Secretary of Podemos Cataluña following the disappointing results gained by the Catalunya Sí que es Pot candidacy, of which Podemos formed part, in the elections to the Parliament of Catalonia on September 27th. Apparently, she was unhappy about the way the campaign had been conducted in Catalonia and some of the unfortunate statements made by the leadership.

Dia de la Hispanidad

Monday October 12th (12-O) was a national holiday because it was Dia de la Hispanidad, Day of Spanishness, which was formerly known as Dia de la Raza, Day of the Race with all the fascist connotations that the name implies, and is known as Columbus Day in English.

Everybody likes a day off but everything about the Dia de la Hispanidad is wrong. On an international level, it provokes criticism of the idea that the 'discovery' of the Americas and the subsequent slaughter and enslavement of the indigenous population, often in the name of Christianity, is anything to celebrate. In Spain, it is centred on some of the most ridiculously ostentatious military parades you'll ever see  and is more in the style of a Banana Republic or North Korea than of a modern European democracy with a limited military influence.

In Barcelona, there's normally a unionist demonstration in Plaça de Catalunya, which this year drew about 5,000 and apparently was shriller and more nationalistic in tone than in previous years. Despite Ciudadanos and Societat Civil Catalana's decision not to attend the Partido Popular were there in force. There's also a far right demonstration on Montjuïc, which is counterproductive to unionism because photos and videos of violent fascists carrying Spanish flags are normally shared on Internet.

Rigau and Ortega Hearings

The main event of the week, though, were the hearings of Mas, Rigau and Ortega before the TSJC for their involvement in 9-N.

There were massive demonstrations outside the Palau de Justicia for Rigau's hearing at 10 am and Ortega's at 4 pm and both politicians were accompanied by 30 or so members of the government and civil pro-independence groups. During the day, the TSJC sent out an official document complaining that the demonstrations were a direct attack on the court's judicial independence.

In the evening, there was a big demonstration in Plaça de Sant Jaume organised by the National Pact for the Right to Decide and led by Barcelona Mayor, Ada Colau. Bringing the argument back to democratic rights is a way to bring federalists, such as Ada Colau and Catalunya, Sí que es Pot back into the pro-independence fold. The same goes for Unió, whose leader Ramon Espadaler was at the demonstrations outside the Palau de Justicia in part to defend Joana Ortega, who is a prominent member of UDC.

Artur Mas Appears Before TSJC

The climax of the week came with Artur Mas's court hearing at 10.30 on Thursday morning. He arrived from the ceremony commemorating the execution of former Catalan President Lluís Companys at the Palau de Justicia accompanied by the whole government, members of political parties in favour of the Right to Decide and 400 mayors from towns all over Catalonia, who were all carrying the sticks that represent their office. A crowd of more than 6,000 lined Passeig Lluís Companys. Epic!

Mas's defence was that it was unjust to put him on criminal trial for allowing people to vote and that the specific accusation of his involvement in the organisation of 9-N is invalid because by the time the proxy referendum had been suspended by the Constitutional Court on November 4th, when the organisation had already been taken over by volunteers. You can read his full argument in the press conference transcribed and translated into English. Incidentally, he answered the presiding judge or magistrate's questions but refused to respond to the Spanish public prosecutor.

After the hearing, he stood on the steps obviously moved by the support of the crowd and then spent a full half hour shaking hands before leaving to give the press conference.

Unfortunate Dates

Tuesday October 13th was the 109th anniversary of the execution of Catalan educationalist Francesc Ferrer i Guardia by firing squad on Montjuïc for his alleged involvement in the violent events of the Setmana Tràgica (Tragic Week). Tuesday was the day Education Minister Irene Rigau appeared before the TSJC

Thursday October 15th was the 75th anniversay of the execution of Lluís Companys also by firing squad on Montjuïc. Companys was President of the Generalitat throughout the Second Republic (1933-36) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and was captured by the Gestapo in France in 1940, having fled into exile following Franco's victory in 193He declared the Catalan Republic on two occasions in 1931 and 1934 and is considered one of the great martyrs of Catalanism. To make matters worse, the Palau de Justicia is located on Passeig de Lluís Companys.

Lack of Respect for Spanish Justice

The problem really is that whatever the decision, by taking what should have been solved by political means to the courts, the Spanish government is encouraging a lack of respect for the legal system. If Mas is found to be responsible and the case proceeds, there will be an uproar in Catalonia and calls to disobey the ruling. If Mas is not found responsible and the case goes no further, there'll be outcry in Spain accusing the Catalan judges of bias. The PP have created a LOSE-LOSE situation.

To add insut to injury, various PP politicians have made it clear that Mas can be suspended from office using the new draconian powers given to the Constitutional Court, and if Catalonia disobeys, Rafael Català, Spanish Justice Minister, has pointed out that the Autonomy of Catalonia can be suspended using Article 155 of the Constition.

Barcelona en Comú

The week finished with more resignations from Podemos Catalonia and the announcement that the left-wing Barcelona en Comú candidacy led by Barcelona mayor will be standing in the Spanish General Elections, probably as part of the Podemos bloc. Colau has insisted though that any elected deputies must have freedom of vote and the idea seems to be to push through reforms on Catalonia in Congress. We'll definitely be hearing more about this in coming weeks.

And by the way, despite the festive atmosphere at Mas's hearing, the CUP are still refusing to invest him as President.

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