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The lies of the Catalan regional premier

In a democracy, leaders cannot tell untruths with impunity

Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont.
Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont.

After learning about the searches and arrests made on Wednesday morning by the Civil Guard at various Catalan government agencies, regional premier Carles Puigdemont called a news conference to convey his position to the public opinion and the media. The gravity, but above all the falseness of the accusations that he made, now force us to debunk them one by one, for the sake of rigor and freedom of information. We believe it to be a basic tenet of democracy that public authorities cannot lie to citizens with impunity.

1. “The government of the Generalitat has today been the target of a coordinated aggression by the Interior Ministry’s police forces.” False: the searches and arrests conducted on Wednesday inside various government agencies were carried out by the Civil Guard, not on the orders of the Interior Ministry or of the Prosecutor’s Office – rather, it was on the order of the judge at Barcelona’s 13th investigative court, as a result of legal proceedings that began a long time ago. As such, the Civil Guard acted in its role of “judicial police.”

2. The goal of the operation was to “suspend the activities of the (Catalan) government,” a government that holds “democratic legitimacy.” False. The Catalan government’s activities in all areas where it has devolved powers by virtue of the regional charter, the Estatut (education, health and so on), have not been suspended. The Catalan government has no power to organize a secessionist referendum and it knows this; the Constitutional Court has informed it of this fact. So there has been no suspension of the Catalan government’s activities. On the other hand, while it is true that the Catalan government was appointed by a majority of the deputies who were elected at the regional election of September 27, 2015, this kind of legitimacy (which does not even represent a majority of the people who voted that day) does not give them a mandate to repeal the Estatut or to organize activities that violate the law, as the Constitutional Court has also reminded the Govern. What defines a democracy is not the existence of majorities – all political regimes have them – but rather the fact that democracies cannot disobey the law with impunity.

The Catalan government has no power to organize a secessionist referendum and it knows this

3.This aggression lacks legal backing,” it “violates the rule of law” and the European Charter of Rights, and is “a de facto suspension of self-government and a de facto application of a state of exception.” It is all false. The police intervention not only took place under the aegis of the judiciary, it was in fact ordered by the latter and has the backing of the Constitutional Court. It therefore falls within the boundaries of the rule of law, of which the independence of the judiciary is a basic pillar (in contrast with the aim of the breakaway laws that were dictated by the secessionist bloc and later suspended by the courts). Nor can one say that Catalan home rule has been suspended, since nobody has invoked Section 155 of the Constitution, which would allow central authorities to temporarily intervene in Catalonia’s affairs. What’s not been applied either is the National Security Law, which would allow the government to take over all law enforcement agencies. There is no state of exception, because not a single civil right has been suspended, as shown by the freely exercised freedom of demonstration on the streets of Barcelona to protest acts ordered by the judiciary.

4. Various acts including “indiscriminate raids, even inside private homes” and other measures such as “the closure and blocking of websites” represent “an assault on democracy.” False: the searches on Wednesday were not indiscriminate, they were individualized as part of the judicial police’s operation. And it was the prosecutor’s office, following the Constitutional Court’s resolutions, that ordered the closure of a website that aimed to apply a law (passed on September 6 to facilitate the referendum) that had already been suspended by the Constitutional Court; the website provided details about the illegal ballot and instructions on how to carry it out.

5. “We condemn and reject the totalitarian and antidemocratic attitude of the Spanish State” and after its actions “we consider that the (central) government has crossed the red line separating it from authoritarian and repressive regimes” and that “it doesn’t respect the chief elements of democracy.” This accusation is not new. Carles Puigdemont has previously argued that, politically speaking, Spain is like Turkey. But the reverse is the case: Puigdemont is, like Erdogan, the one who is shielding himself behind the majority, ignoring the separation of powers and breaking the law, violating the Constitution and the Estatut and using the institutions to push forward an illegal referendum without guarantees. Spain, a member of the European Union, is recognized as a democracy by all the relevant international organizations.

The announcement of the ballot is the culmination of a project to repeal constitutional democracy

6. “We citizens have been called to the polls on October 1 to defend democracy in the face of a repressive and intimidating regime.” False: the announcement of the ballot is not about defending democracy, but rather about the culmination of a project to repeal constitutional democracy, to repeal the charter of self-government; and to cause the fragmentation of the Spanish rule of law, as embodied in the suspended breakaway laws paving the way for a referendum and for the transition to an independent republic, which were approved in the regional Catalan parliament on September 6 and September 8, 2017 inside a chamber that was half empty as most opposition deputies walked out in protest against the fact that their parliamentary rights were being denied. Intimidation has been carried out by secessionist groups, among them the radical left-wing CUP party, which has put up posters with photos of Catalan mayors and councilors who are in favor of compliance with democratic law.

7. “We are defending the right of Catalans to freely decide their future” The assumption that Catalans currently cannot decide their future in free elections is false: they have participated in 35 fully democratic elections since 1977 (at the local, regional, national and European levels) and in three referendums (the ratification of the Spanish Constitution and, on two occasions, of the Catalan Estatut); they enjoy self-government; and the region’s parties are fully present inside the Spanish Congress and Senate (and in the European Parliament, as Spaniards), as well as in many other public institutions.

8. “What is happening in Catalonia isn’t happening anywhere else in the European Union” This is the only assertion by Puigdemont that is actually accurate. Unfortunately, in the European Union we have nationalist leaders in both Hungary and Poland who want to put an end to the separation of powers and revoke the systems of laws and liberties currently in force. Luckily, as is also the case with Catalonia, this type of behavior has no place in the EU. 

English version by Susana Urra and George Mills.

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