Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Catalan Spring: Which way forward for the independence movement?


‘Free the political prisoners!’ April 15 demonstration in Barcelona.


The Spanish state’s prosecution of Catalan independence leaders suffered a serious setback April 5 when a German court rejected Spain’s request that former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont be extradited to face a charge of “rebellion,” subject to a jail term of up to 30 years.

The Schleswig-Holstein regional court freed Puigdemont, saying it could find no evidence that he was guilty of “high treason,” the equivalent for rebellion in German law. And the judges asked Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena to provide more information on his further charge against Puigdemont of embezzlement for using public funds to finance the October 1 referendum on independence.

Here again, evidence is lacking. On April 19, in response to an order from Llarena, the Spanish treasury minister sent a senior official to the Congress to confirm that not one euro of public money was spent organizing the referendum. Many of the exiled and jailed Catalan political leaders face similar charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

“Puigdemont’s release,” writes Barcelona correspondent Dick Nichols in Green Left Weekly,

“has thrown into question at a European level the independence of the upper echelons of the Spanish judiciary, in particular Llarena. His rulings, the subject of caustic criticism by legal professionals within Spain, are now being exposed to scrutiny internationally....

“It is becoming increasingly hard to maintain the line, repeated ad nauseam by European Commission spokespeople, that Catalonia is an internal Spanish concern that will be solved within the framework of a European Union member state governed by the ‘rule of law’.”

The German court decision, says Nichols, “has buoyed the Catalan independence movement, including most Catalan parliament deputies.”

As noted in the article below, mass mobilizations in support of the political prisoners and exiles have revived in Catalonia. On April 15, at least 315,000 demonstrators (the police figure; organizers’ estimate was 750,000) overflowed the two-kilometre route they had been assigned.

The march was organized by the civil-society Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and the 400-plus grassroots Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs). The latter have now become a major target of the Rajoy government’s repression. On April 10, heavily armed Civil Guards arrested Tamara Carrasco, the alleged “ringleader” of the CDRs. She faces charges of “terrorism” and “rebellion.”

In the following article two militants from the Anticapitalists current, which is active in Podemos, analyze the strategic dilemmas now facing the Catalan movements. They call for “a change in paradigm” with a new emphasis on social, political and economic rights that could increase popular “support for a constituent project among those who are not pro-independence” with the prospect in the long term of winning solidarity with this progressive agenda in the rest of Spain.

My translation of the article as published in Viento Sur. The footnotes are mine.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Blockade or Return to Normality?

by Óscar Blanco and Laia Facet

An icy winter followed the Catalan October that had generated what is surely the greatest crisis of the state since the Transition. The harshest blow delivered by the state to the independence movement and the rest of the bloc looking for how to unfold the mandate of the October 1 referendum was not the repression, the imprisonments or the application of article 155. Those blows fueled the strike of November 8 when, for the first time, the Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR) took the lead over the ANC and Omnium. However, the main blow had less to do with that harsh treatment but was part of the article 155 package: the calling of the December 21 election. An election that the independence movement had no choice but to accept after timid resistance initially by some sectors. How was a movement that since 2012 had been saying the ballot boxes were the solution going to call for a boycott of the election? This signified a recognition of the failure of the Declaration of the Republic and the forcible imposition of the Spanish state. In what state are elections called by the government of the neighboring country?

Electoral interests prevailed, and determined even the mobilization agenda. The CDRs adopted campaign logic, calling for a vote for Junts per Catalunya, ERC and the CUP, which posed ratification of the republican mandate but without being able to put forward a new road map. As in 2015, the polarization between the Yes and No to independence left little space for grays, and the topic of what had happened on October 1 and 3[1] did not gain any traction. There have ensued months of give and take between the political forces, failed agreements on how to install a government and a certain retreat from the mobilization that had absorbed so many intense months.

With spring, the thaw has arrived. The street is heating up again in response to the repression under the baton of Judge Llarena in a sort of judicial Causa General.[2] An entire generation of Catalan pro-independence politicians is being hounded by jail or exile. The CDRs have taken center stage again. First, through confrontations with BRIMO and ARRO (anti-riot and support units of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police), that are once again displaying their most brutal face. Then by road blocks and slow marches and by an “operation return” on Holy Week, in which they opened toll barriers on various highways. Massive and decentralized civil disobedience actions like those launched previously, which (perhaps because they have affected the interests of a stock-exchange listed company such as Abertis) have unleashed a new criminalization campaign by the Prosecutor’s Office, the newspaper La Razón, and the jerifaltes past and present of the PSOE such as Ábalos or Solana.[3] The arrest of the activist Tamara Carrasco by the Audiencia Nacional[4] has proved that these spaces for popular self-organization are the target and the huge mobilization of April 15 was seen as the great milestone of this spring.

However, with the attempt to install Jordi Turull as Catalan President the countdown to new elections has begun.[5] A complicated tactical dilemma is superimposed: the second investiture, more complicated still without a clear strategic horizon and with the repression hanging like a Democles sword over the Catalan parliament and the new President. Recent weeks have forcefully revived the hypothesis of installing Puigdemont among such actors as the CUP or the ANC (after the latter’s renewal of its leadership) who are relying on the strategy of blockade. The legitimacy of the independence movement to propose the candidate that it considers as the bloc that won the December 21 elections should not be questioned under any pretext. However, the debate should be focused on whether this is an adequate tactic for advancing the struggle for self-determination. To where does the hypothetical institutional blockade lead? Who is really being worn down?

A new frontal clash with the state would now occur without resolving any of the weaknesses that were expressed in the post-October 1 period, which allowed the state to gain the upper hand: the need to broaden the social base in favour of the Republic and to overcome the lack of counter-powers capable of sustaining the conflict over time without leaving anyone behind. Accordingly, the tactic in the investiture debate should be linked to the need for sovereign power to reorganize and explore new ways to force the state to sit down and give concrete form to the rupture with the regime. The other main position in the investiture debate, fundamentally embodied by the ERC, which consists of installing an effective “governance,” suffers from the opposite risk because it seems to abandon the path of institutional disobedience and poses a certain return to normality.

The bulk of the independence and federalist movement up to 2010 had opted for constitutional paths. After the Constitutional Court’s ruling against the Catalan Status the challenge to the regime began to take root for some, but for others it was total disorientation. Paradoxically, the independentist challenge leaves the door to a (con)federalist solution more open than the attempts of most of the federalist forces in recent decades.

October 1 was a situation of bifurcation in which the rupture was on the table. However, Elisenda Paluzie herself (the new president of the ANC) said that the momentum had been wasted. After the defeat it is necessary to think within a medium and long term logic: to think out how to organize ourselves to take advantage of new openings in a better correlation of forces.

It is safe to say that the independence movement today does not have the strength to bring about an independent republic. But it may have the strength to keep open the challenge to the regime and to force negotiation that fights the outcome longed-for by the state — a regressive shutdown and isolation of Catalonia with the conflict festering within. In this context, regaining control of the Generalitat can be another tool in the democratic conflict but the solution does not go through the narrow margin of effective management of an autonomy already achieved prior to the implementation of article 155.

How to find a way that does not hang on the blockade or on a return to normality? What role does disobedience play in this? As the CDRs have been implementing, disobedience must be able to mount actions, campaigns and mobilizations that do not normalize this barbarism and that continue to involve grassroots activists, unlike the pre-October process. On the other hand, institutional disobedience must abandon the phase of symbolism and rhetorical declarations and develop a strategy that prepares the ground to lead in better conditions to another crisis situation.

One of the major challenges of Catalan politics is to think out a social and economic program capable of resolving simultaneously the obstacles and material weaknesses expressed in the post-October 1 period, and the precarious conditions and poverty afflicting the popular classes. That is to say, the pro-sovereignty movement has to stop promising an Ithaca of social rights[6] and put in place mechanisms to guarantee them in conflict with the state. To achieve this, it is essential to recover the spirit of October 1 and 3 when one could sense the possibility of a subject that went beyond the independentism of the last decade with the ability to create spaces of mass self-organization in defense of self-determination. However, a certain tactical rigidity has not helped to maintain that unity and give it a political embodiment with the possibility — who knows? — of reversing the situation.

The Catalan October pointed to a surmounting of the orthodox process: a change in paradigm in which the defense of social, political and economic rights could become the centre of the movement and not an appendix displacing any kind of identitarian considerations. This transformation would help to increase the support for a constituent project among those who are not pro-independence and could have a necessary contagious effect in the rest of the state that would weaken the regime’s positions and therefore its ability to use coercion and impose itself in Catalonia at virtually no political cost.

Óscar Blanco and Laia Facet are members of the Anticapitalists in the Spanish state

[1] The reference is to the massive public resistance to police attempts to bar voters from the ballot boxes on October 1, followed by the mass general strike on October 3 against repression of the voters and denial of Catalonia’s right to self-determination.

[2] The Causa General refers to the legal proceedings taken by Franco after the Fascist victory in the Civil War against “criminal offenses committed throughout the national territory during the Red domination.” See https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causa_General.

[3]Jerifaltes past and present” is apparently a reference to Gerifaltes de antaño (1909), the third and last volume of a trio of novels by the Spanish playwright, poet and novelist Ramón Maria de Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) devoted to the 19th century Carlist Wars between contenders to the Spanish throne, in which the Carlists, defenders of traditionalism and Catholicism against liberalism and later republicanism, were victorious. (Today’s post-Franco Spanish royal family are their direct descendants.) The word “Gerifaltes,” from ancient Spanish literature, is now understood as a synonym for caciques (local despots), entendidos (the cognoscenti) and even ladrones (thieves), but above all jefes (bosses) by the aural similarity of both words. Ramón Maria del Valle-Inclán is generally considered one of the leading authors of 20th century Spanish literature.

José Luis Ábalos was appointed provisional spokesman in 2017 for the PSOE, the Spanish Social-Democratic party, in the Congress of Deputies. Javier Solana, also a PSOE leader, is a former secretary general of NATO.

[4] Tamara Carrasco is a CDR activist. The Audiencia Nacional is a special high court created in 1977 when the Public Order Tribunal (Tribunal de Orden Público), a Francoist institution, ceased to exist.

[5] Jordi Turull, a jailed PDeCat leader and Carles Puigdemont’s former chief of staff, was prevented by Judge Llarena from attending the Catalan investiture and now faces rebellion charges. See “Spanish court remands Catalan presidential candidate in custody.”

[6] The Greek island of Ithaca is generally identified with Homer’s Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is the plot of the classical Greek tale The Odyssey.

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