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In the face of Catalan insurrection, the law but not just the law

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy must explain what he is prepared to do to ensure a peaceful and democratic future for the current Spanish system of autonomous regions

Referendum Cataluña
Riot officers with the Spanish National Police in Barcelona on Sunday. EFE

The Spanish government and the Catalan regional government both took great pains to claim victory yesterday after a shameful day that the people of Catalonia were obliged to live through because of the xenophobic arrogance – in alliance with anti-capitalist forces – that Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont represents, and because of the absolute inability on the part of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to deal with the problem since the beginning of the crisis.

But far from a victory for either of the two (what can now sadly be called) camps in the conflict, yesterday was a defeat for our country: for the interests and the rights of all Spaniards whether Catalans or from any other part of Spain; for the destiny of our democracy; and for the future stability of our system of coexistence that we granted ourselves almost 40 years ago.

Yesterday was a defeat for our country, and for the interests and the rights of all Spaniards whether Catalans or from any other part of Spain

Let us be quite clear that we have no doubts when it comes to the responsibilities that have to be demanded of those who caused this damage to our democracy, which will take us years to recover from. The chief guilty parties are the Catalan premier and the speaker of the regional Catalan parliament, who started some time ago down a path destined to lead to confrontation among Catalans and between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Far from behaving like leaders who represent all citizens, they have shamelessly displayed their factionalism, as well as incredible sectarianism. And they have done this disrespecting the Spanish Constitution, the Catalan Estatut and the spirit of the letter of the Spanish penal code.

But neither their flagrant crimes nor their boasting can justify the passivity and lack of skill of Rajoy, his political aphasia, his repeated failure to appear in public, and his cowardly delegation of the responsibilities of his administration to the judiciary, even twisting the statute of the Constitutional Court for his purposes and hiding behind the decisions of others because of a lack of desire to make decisions that were his to make.

Neither the flagrant crimes of the Catalan leadership, nor their boasting can justify the passivity and lack of skill of Rajoy

Two recent claims from Rajoy suffice to demonstrate what we are saying – firstly, the claim that nobody could have imagined that things would go so far, and, second, his repeated assertion – even expressed yesterday by the interior minister – that the attitude of the Catalan government is forcing them to do what they don’t want to do. If Rajoy has never been able to imagine that things would go so far it must be because he hasn’t been reading the Madrid newspapers or Spanish newspapers, or watching television, for years now. There are hundreds – thousands – of articles and declarations from politicians, intellectuals, business people, civil leaders, journals and observers of all types that have for years, on the one hand, clearly seen what the pro-independence movement in Catalonia was preparing and announcing, and on the other hand the need to take the initiative to tackle unresolved questions on territorial organization in Spain.

In terms of Rajoy’s statement about the Spanish government being obliged to do what it doesn’t want to do, this puts in sharp relief the fact that the government has never known what it wanted, or what it should do on this issue. Maybe it will now, by contrast, see itself obliged to do what it has evidently never wanted: to contribute to the reform of the Constitution, embrace the federal principles the underlie the Spanish system of autonomous regions and seek the political consensus necessary to prevent division among Spaniards – divisions dramatically on display yesterday and in previous days.

Almost five years ago our newspaper published a reflection, the result of a debate among members of our editorial board, entitled ‘Cómo reconstruir el future’ (How to rebuild the future). In that piece it was stated “no matter how serious the economic crisis that Spain is facing with six million people unemployed and a general worsening in the standard of living, its importance pales in comparison with the political and institutional crisis that the country is facing.” And we proposed a raft of measures, among which the standout was the urgency of the need for a reform of the Constitution and the reorganization of the system of autonomous regions into a federal model. Our editorial then highlighted the fact that it was the task of political leaders to head up such a process, warning that “if, bullied by opinion and the long shadow of the past, they clung to self-absorption and failed to listen to the demands of the citizenry, the regime of the Constitution of 1978 would come up against unnecessary risks in the near future.”

Maybe the Spanish government will now be obliged to do what it has evidently never wanted: contribute to the reform of the Constitution

So now the future has arrived and the so-called 1978 regime is facing a serious crisis of state, but it is not because of the rampant populism of hardcore Leninists or the radicals in parliament who have joined the system in an attempt to blow it apart. The lion’s share of responsibility lies with the traditional, constitutionalist parties that have been incapable of reaching agreement on matters of state in order to push through urgent and necessary reforms: the Socialist Party (PSOE) has been wrapped up in the leadership ambitions of its leaders and being on the defensive against the ruling Popular Party, justly accused of being the most corrupt party to ever govern us.

Perhaps Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz Santamaría was right to criticize the head of the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) for calling for the resignation of Rajoy yesterday, accusing Iceta of making the statement for purely electoral reasons. But today there are many people from across the ideological spectrum and from all walks of life, and who have never stood for any kind of election, who are clearly worried about the inability and the failure to assume responsibilities on the part of the head of the Spanish government – a leader disposed to lumbering others (judges, prosecutors, police and the Civil Guard) with a job that is his to do.

We are still waiting for Rajoy to make a formal request to the Catalan premier – and not just a statement to the media – challenging him to cease all seditious activity – and for Rajoy to face up to the political problem that he really faces: not the holding of a non-binding vote on the issue of independence suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court but the incitement to a unilateral declaration of independence on the part of someone who, paradoxically, is the top-most representative of the Spanish state in the autonomous region of Catalonia. And someone who, in his crazy rush forward has not failed to promote what is an insurrectionist movement, with what is at least the passive support of an armed force in the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

Today, it is all about knowing how the government of Rajoy will continue to face this enormous challenge

The actions of the regional police are particularly serious. If the Mossos had, as they had been ordered, stopped the polling stations from being opened and seized the ballot papers, this job would not have needed to be carried out later by the Spanish National Police and the Civil Guard, and we would have been spared many of yesterday’s deplorable scenes that were beamed around the world. Obviously, this was a chief objective of the Catalan government, which had no qualms about situating the Mossos in the same rebel territory as itself. We don’t want this to be interpreted as a justification in advance for the conduct of the remainder of the forces who took their orders from the Spanish state. Their actions were, of course, taken within the framework of the law, as is correct in a state where the rule of law is in force – and as befits a state where this is the case, to the extent to which excesses were committed, this was in terms of excessive use of force and the deployment of unsanctioned material: their actions will examined by the courts, and where appropriate, sanctioned.

From the very beginning there have been more players in the crisis. And there will be time to debate the spurious alliance between the protectionist capitalists of the Catalan bourgeoisie and the often violent radical left of Catalonia’s CUP party. There will also be time to lament the ambiguity and the lack of presence of the Socialists in the Catalan independence process – something which has its origins in several misguided decisions on the part of former Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Today, it is all about knowing how the government of Rajoy, legitimately voted for by the Spanish people, will continue to face this enormous challenge. These voters have the right to hear Rajoy explain himself without repeating what we already know – that the rule of law must be guaranteed, because this is as obvious as the sun coming up every day. What the prime minister must clarify, if he is capable of doing so, is what he really wants and what he is prepared to do so that this country of 17 autonomous regions has a future based on democratic and peaceful coexistence.

English version by George Mills.

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