Democracy in Spain and Catalonia

Photo by Feral78

To read the original letter to the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, go here.

Dear Dr Azmanova and co-signatories,

I have read the letter and I am shocked. Truly.

As academics we always tell our students to be balanced, to try to understand both sides in a conflict, to be measured and cautious. This letter is far from that.

I wonder where does your understanding of the crisis in Catalonia come from. Reading the letter it seems that it is mostly coming from the independentist camp.

Did you have the chance to read my trilogy on the subject? I urge you to do it… (there are many links to sources throughout the text).

Context is important to understand and certainly to judge any police and judicial action. There is no context in your letter. Are you aware what happened on the 6–7 September in the Catalan Parliament?

Then a small majority rammed through the disconnection laws without considering the view of the Parliamentary minority that actually represented the popular majority of Catalans. Usually you need 2/3s of the House to change the Catalan statute of autonomy. To even change the director of the Catalan public broadcaster. Here the independentists forced the celebration of a referendum and the binding declaration of independence if the result was yes with a tiny majority and with half of the Parliament empty (in an act of protest). If you care about democracy as you state in your letter, you should denounce this too.

You have finally included in your final version of the letter (after our insistence after reading earlier drafts) the sentence that you are “cognizant of procedural deficiencies in the organisation of the referendum”. This is far from being critical enough with the events described above, and certainly not balanced enough considering the extent of your letter. By these laws, the indepedentists have curtailed the fundamental rights of the majority of Catalans. They were stripped of their right to participate in the decision-making process of their region. Why don’t you denounce that too in the strongest terms possible as you rightly denounce the excessive force used by the Police on the 1st of October?

But it is not only this, the context did not start in October. You write in the letter this:

“The arrest and imprisonment on 16 October of the activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez (Presidents, respectively, of the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural) on charges of sedition is a miscarriage of justice. The facts resulting in this incrimination cannot possibly be qualified as sedition, but rather as the free exercise of the right to peaceful public manifestation, codified in article 21 of the Spanish Constitution”.

Have you read the judge’s order? There the summary of the first evidence collected is quite robust. For someone following events very closely there is substantial evidence to call this an act of sedition (rebellion, for the civil society leaders and the former Catalan Government is in my view excessive). At least from a political point of view. That is why I have entitled my trilogy of articles: “Sedition in Catalonia”.

Do not be mistaken. What we have witnessed since 2015 is not just the right to “peaceful public manifestation”. This is not being fair to the truth. It has been an orchestrated attempt to built parallel institutions (like tax authorities and social security, and of course diplomatic services) to create a new state, and in many occasions, like on the 20–21 September in Barcelona and in many poll stations on the 1st of October, this involved acts of “tumultuous violence” to impede the work of police agents. This is sedition in the eyes of many legal experts and judges. We will see what the final sentence of the trial will show.

Again, the use of disproportionate force by the Spanish police on the 1st of October can be denounced in the strongest terms and so might be the closure of websites, printing presses etc. used to organise the illegal referendum (although it is important to highlight that these actions were ordered by a judge not the Government; and that webpages not the internet were shut down), but the same should be done with acts of sedition. If we omit them, we tell only one side of the story and of course then we could come to the conclusion that in this case the Spanish State applies the “rule by law” and not “the rule of law”, which is not the case. (And let me be clear here, I am not saying that the conflict starts with the process of sedition in 2015, far from it, it goes way back, see again my trilogy for that).

Finally. It is important to bear in mind that in every country where there is rule of law, the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly, and even disobedience, end when the fundamental rights of others start. As a scholar, I asume that you had the best intentions when drafting this letter. But as a scholar, I would have liked that you would have been as much concerned for the rights of the non-independentist catalans as you are for those of the independentists.

With best regards,

Dr Miguel Otero Iglesias



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Miguel Otero Iglesias

Miguel Otero Iglesias


Senior Analyst, International Political Economy, Elcano Royal Institute. Also at IE University & ESSCA School of Management