What's Up Barcelona? #04

Crimes and Punishments  24/10/2015

In What's Up Barcelona? #4, the two main events of the week are a UEFA fine on FC Barcelona for Catalan Estelada flags at games and the Civil Guard raid on CDC offices and the arrest of party treasurer over corruption charges.

Whilst in both cases, there may be reasons for taking some kind of action, the reactions of the authorities have been completely disproportionate. I don't really want to get too much into Catalan victimism but it's difficult not to suspect some ulterior political motive.

Remember! Just because we're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not after us!


A Quiet Start

Agreement with the CUP remains difficult. On Monday, former Interior Minister during the Indignats, Felip Puig, suggested that the economic views of CUP and CDC are incompatible to a group of businessmen. The nomination of Artur Mas as president remains the main stumbling block.

The first glimmer of hope came on Tuessday came when Carme Forcadell, former ANC president, was designated President of the Parliament and also the Mesa del Parliament, which is like a standing committee with seven members, who are designated proportionately according to the number of seats the parties have. In this legislature Junts pel Sí will have four representatives whilst Ciudadanos, PSC and Catalonia Sí que es Pot will have one representative each. Partido Popular and the CUP, the two least voted parties, won't have a representative on the Mesa.

Barça, Estelades and the UEFA

On Tuesday news broke that the UEFA would be fining FC Barcelona €40,000 for the presence of Catalan estelada flags and shouts of "Independència!" at Camp Nou in the Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen on September 29th. The club was already fined for the same crime, after fans waved pro-independence estelada flag at the Champions League final last year.

There are lots of reasons why this is stupid. Firstly, the behaviour of Barça fans at both games was completely peaceful and good humoured. In fact, Atlético de Madrid were fined only €30,000 because their fans set off flares in a match against Benfica so UEFA have no real sense of proportion.

Secondly, UEFA have created a precedent for a problem that didn't exist and has no real solution. I'm not really a flag waver but if I was and somebody tried to stop me taking my perfectly legal non-violent flag into Camp Nou, I'd be pretty upset about it. The situation pitches either the club, which is openly Catalanist, or the local police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, against fans and might actually cause confrontations where none existed previously. If the club does nothing, now the precedent is set, the UEFA, which happens to be corrupt to the core, is going to have to carry on increasing the fines.

This is the second UEFA sanction. Barça currently can't make any signings until the winter transfer window because they sidestepped UEFA rules about the signing of foreign players for their youth academy, La Masia. The club is also in the courts over irregularities in the signing of Neymar, and various players, most notably Messi,  are being hounded by the taxman. I'm not saying the club is completely innocent, but the number of open cases seems disproportionate for a club normally considered a model of good behaviour.

It's hard not to imagine that the Spanish government hasn't exerted pressure over the esteladas. Miguel Cardenal, Spanish Minister for Education, Culture and Sport, was obviously pleased after the first fine and Angel Villar, president of the Spanish Football Federation, is currently substituting Michel Platini as presedent of UEFA because the latter has been suspended and is facing corruption charges.

Fortunately, Barça beat Rayo 2-0 in the Liga at the weekend and Bate Borisov 5-2 in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Civil Guard Raid on CDC Offices

At the Palau de la Generaliat on Wednesday morning, Artur Mas signed the decree calling for the constitution of the new Parliament on Monday 26th October. Meanwhile at  his party, CDC, headquarters on Carrer Còrsega, the Civil Guard had begun a corruption investigation into the so-called 3% commission paid to the party for the adjudication of public works. They had raided and cordoned off the building for the second time in two months. The first was on September 14th just as the Junts pel Sí election campaign was starting.

The Civil Guard stayed very visibly outside the building for about ten hours and made 10 arrests, including the CDC Treasurer Andreu Viloca and various businessmen suspected of making donations to the party in return for contracts. Once again there's no smoke without fire as the Cas Palau, Cas Pretoria and the Pujol scandal all testify but once again, the reaction is disproportionate and one can't help but think that, at such a sensitive moment in Spain-Catalonia relations, it's politically motivated. As the saying goes, "Shit Sticks" and we have last week's 9-N hearing as a precedent.

Firstly, the 3% accusation was made more than 10 years ago by former PSC President of the Generalitat, Pasqual Maragall, who later retracted it, and since then no evidence has been found or arrests made. Secondly, the Civil Guard had raided the same offices just six weeks earlier and took away the same material. It's also suspicious and not very democratic that the press were tipped off about both raids. In fact, on September 15th, Spanish daily La Razón led with a headline saying the raid was going to happen.

Various arrests were made and in most cases the suspects were released. However, Andreu Viloca was detained and kept in prison, apparently for fear that he might destroy evidence. Such a flimsy reason is not normal in Spain, where preventative prison is normally given in case the suspect flees the country or does physical harm to someone.

In the press conference called originally to comment on the calling of Parliament, Artur Mas said that both he and CDC were the object of a Big Game Hunt. He also offered to appear in Parliament, which he did on Friday, where he explained once again that the system of adjudicating contracts is completely transparent and reiterated his confidence in CDC administrators.

The effect, though, is to give fuel to Artur Mas's political opponents and the the anti-Catalan press and further disqualify Mas and his party before the Catalan public, even more in the rest of Spain, and abroad. Most people don't believe that accusations are made unless there's at least a germ of truth. This happen before when El Mundo accused Mas and former Barcelona Mayor, Xavier Trias, of having money in foreign tax havens.

Agreement with the CUP

The investiture of Artur Mas remains the main stumbling block to Junts pel Sí and the CUP reaching an agreement. However, on Monday after the constitution of Parliament there will be a symbolic statement declaring the beginning of the process that will create a Catalan Republic. Various Spanish right-wingers have already started calling for the suspension of Catalonia's autonomy, which can be done through Article 155 of the constitution so it will be interesting to see how the Spanish government reacts.

The Great Johann Cruyff

Before we close, I want to send heartfelt best wishes to former FC Barcelona player and coach, Dutch genius, Johan Cryuff. In the seventies, with Cruyff as a player, Barça won their first Liga in over a decade and more importantly beat Real Madrid 5-nil in the Bernabéu for the first time. The Dream Team, which Cruyff coached, won Barça's first European Cup in 1992 and were so much part of the good vibe Barcelona of the 1990s, which is the basis of the city's success today.

For somebody like me, becoming a culer was the first step I took to becoming a Catalanist and I might never have taken that step were it not for Johan Cruyff. So Johan. Hang in there, Johan. I know you know that there a lot of people here who love and respect you, and I count myself amongst them.

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