Thomas Pringle TD

Thomas Pringle TD – Solidarity With Catalonia

Two years after democratically elected Catalan ministers, politicians and civil activists held a peaceful referendum on the question of self-determination for Catalonia, severe penalties were handed down by the Spanish Supreme Court to former Catalan leaders. Penalties ranged between nine and 13 years for the leaders, under trumped up charges, including sedition, disobedience and the misuse of public funds. Catalonia’s question on the self-determination of its 7.5 million people has been quashed by a so-called democratic nation belonging to the European Union. What has happened throughout the course of Catalonia’s self-determination process has raised questions as to the true nature of the European Union, primarily as to how it can allow one of its nation states to hold political prisoners while not explicitly recognising Catalonia’s right to self-determination and claiming it is an internal political matter.

As many commentators have pointed out, the European project finds itself threatened by terrorism and an upsurge in xenophobic nationalism, and as a result simply cannot adopt a passive stance on the question of Catalonia. Catalan citizens are also EU citizens and deserve equal recognition under the EU. If Europe has any democratic mettle, it must defend and advocate for the rights of Catalan citizens against the Spanish police state. The European Commission must also open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan Governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict once and for all, but we know that it will not do that. Spain’s response to Catalonia’s self-determination raises questions over what has been termed the judicialisation of politics, where a nation state excessively outsources its political decision making and public policy to the courts on matters of great political importance, rather than allowing the people through democratically elected representatives to follow the course for themselves. In the case of Spain, the Supreme Court has been given an all-too bloated role in determining the course of events pursued by Catalonia. The over-reliance on the supreme judiciary to determine the course of events has doubtless led to an over-reliance on the use of force to attack the civilian population through the use of the security forces and the threat of imprisonment.

As part of its efforts to stop the referendum, the Spanish Government has blocked Catalan websites, seized pro-succession material, detained officials involved in the referendum, threatened to arrest 700 mayors, held a crackdown on information, and seized 1.3 million posters, flyers, and pamphlets at the time of the referendum. Meanwhile, the Spanish Prime Minister stated, “The state will always guarantee the rights of those who wish to protest their ideas peacefully.” What the Spanish Government is doing would be a joke if it were not so serious. Much attention has been paid to the violence and unrest surrounding the most recent march when, in fact, it had been preceded by an overwhelmingly peaceful march of more than 500,000 people. Approximately 525,000 people had congregated in the city, many of them having marched there from around Catalonia to display their discontent with Spain’s Supreme Court ruling on the penalties to be given to the former Catalan leaders for carrying out the referendum on Catalonia’s independence.

Europe continues to ignore the developments. Most recently the Commission stated it fully respects the Spanish constitutional order, including decisions of the Spanish judiciary, and that it remains an internal matter for Spain. It probably had a similar stance in respect of the British occupation of the North for years and years. It supports us now in that regard but that is only because it suits it to give the Brits a kicking.

Perhaps if the Commission wants to give the Spanish a kicking, it will support the Catalan people as well. Meanwhile Europe fails to realise that by ignoring the situation in Catalonia, it is eroding democracy in a profound way. This is a dangerous situation if the European Union’s self-conception as a supposedly democratic institution is to have any hope of surviving the challenges of the 21st century.