I am planting beans today, but I am taking a break to read the Spanish Sunday papers and bring myself up to date with the political crisis. So, I’ll try to convey something of the atmosphere here in Spain and summarise a complex situation in a simple form – as far as possible – for those readers of this blog who live in the UK, USA and elsewhere.
For those of you receiving your news outside of Spain, the Catalonia crisis may be difficult to understand; compounded also by a flock of media birds bearing fake news.* There was an excellent article in El País yesterday (available in English) about the damage to the free press as a consequence of “fake news” infecting this conflict; just as happened with the Brexit referendum and the Trump election.
First, however, let me tell you about my beans. I am planting habas (broad beans) of the variety Muchamiel. The autumn planting last year produced a very good crop. And I am also planting judías (green runner beans) of the variety Perfección. What a claim by the seed producers to suggest these will be perfect beans! I hope so, but I doubt it, for reasons which will become apparent.
Let’s continue with the political crisis and explain quite simply what is the situation now. Spain since 1978 – after Franco’s dictatorship – has a number of autonomous regions including Catalonia. Like Northern Ireland, Catalonia has its own parliament and devolved powers. Unlike Northern Ireland it has control of its own police force, numbering 17,000 Mossos d’Escuadra.
Following several decades of increasing demands by a segment of Catalan society for greater independence from Spain (a regional nationalist project which goes back into the 19th and 20th centuries and has produced political and social crises before), the torch of Catalan nationalism was passed to Carles Puigdemont and he has led the movement into an illegal “referendum” on independence which had no legal basis under the Spanish Constitution.
In the October 1st vote, which went ahead despite all the red lights from Madrid and the sending of thousands of Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil to Cataluña from all over Spain, a minority of Catalans took part in the vote. Unsurprisingly, the majority of those who turned out to vote in an illegal “referendum” supported the nationalist project, so Puigdemont and the secessionists claimed victory. A lot of international media focus was on the police action of that day and the claim of 900 victims of police brutality. The excellent article by Peter Preston in the Guardian, reflecting on the way the international media fell into the Catalan separatist propaganda trap should be read by everyone (including Australian walkers on the pilgrim route to Santiago who – for reasons unknown – find themselves contrbuting to my blog!) He says, rightly, that in the era of fake news the media need to be very careful before rushing into judgment in such a scenario.
The simple truth is that the political police of Catalonia, the Mossos d’Escuadra, by ignoring the order of the day (to close the voting stations at 6 am), led the Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil into a trap when they had to turn up and do the job three or four hours later when there were many people on the streets and queuing to “vote” in the illegal referendum. The scenes were very rough. In fact they were very rough in London whenever the Special Patrol Group or the ordinary riot police lashed into us when I was a student protester! In Paris, Rome and Berlin similar scenes can be witnessed at times. A football match sometimes produces similar scenes of crowd control. The state has always policed its laws with force to equal those who oppose it. Catalonia is like the boy in the school playground who starts a fight, then cries foul when he begins to lose the fight, and finally claims victim status when the fight is lost.
That is where we are now: Catalonia is screaming victimisation! The Partido Popular government, with the full support of the socialist PSOE and the liberal Ciudadanos party, has implemented article 155 of the Constitution, with the intention of taking control of the Catalan parliamentary process (NOT suspending it – which is fake news), control of the economy, control of the Ctalan police, and possibly the control of the TV3 television channel which has been used for propaganda purposes by the nationalists. This is for a limited period. Autonomy has not been suspended but the intervention is designed to repair damage done to the autonomy by a wilfully anti-constitutional movement that has divided Catalan society.
Carles Puigdemont will possibly attempt a unilateral declaration of independence this week (Friday would be a likely moment). This should render him subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment without bail until his case has been prepared for trial. The charge of sedition may be upgraded to a charge of rebellion, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
My main concern, as I am planting my beans today, is the damage this is doing to Catalonia and to the whole of Spain. As I drive to work each day I see more houses where the Spanish flag (the rojigualda) is flying. In Alicante, the nearest city here, flags are hanging from balconies. In the bars the talk is about stopping “these Catalan bastards”. The more extreme view is that the head of the Catalan police (mayor Trapero) should be shot for rebellion against the state. In Catalonia itself, horror stories are emerging of children bullied at school by their teachers because their parents are Guardia Civil officers; there are mobs daubing the houses of non-separatist politicians with hate slogans; Spanish media are being attacked daily, reporters feel unsafe on the streets of Barcelona; and families do not sit down at the table to eat because they cannot have a civil conversation any longer.
I have known this country since I was eleven, in school in Ibiza where we had a portrait of the Generalissimo above the teacher’s desk, and a uniformed army officer (Capitán Nuñez) teaching us history. I have followed the progress of this country into the present, and I have admired its fast development, socially and politically, into the advanced democratic state we now have. It is a country I aspire to join fully as a citizen – after the Brexit disaster which leaves me no other option of remaining a European citizen – and I have some pride in my new country. I feel more of an identity with Spain than with the UK – particularly after watching Boris Johnson and the other Brexit clowns insulting Europe for the past year.
But I fear for Spain, in the present Catalan crisis, and the danger of opposing nationalisms is the greatest danger. This might once again poison the soil of Spain. And I return to my beans. I am planting in raised beds now, trying to recover my garden from the long-term damage done by the previous owner who used industrial strength weedkiller to poison the soil. The Spanish government is acting on the Catalan situation with article 155 of the constitution but the resulting return to the law will not heal Catalonia overnight. The Catalan soil has been poisoned by nationalism and the counter-reaction is raising the ghost of Spanish nationalism too.
I doubt if I’ll have perfect beans and I doubt the present crisis will be solved before my beans are harvested. I hope the winter rains will once again wash the poison from my garden, and similarly I hope when Puigdemont and Junqueras et al are swept away by article 155 (and the resulting street demonstrators have got tired) Catalonia may resume its autonomy having learned a lesson. Spain could be heading for a recession and it will need someone more decisive than Mariano Rajoy to guide the country. His handling of the Catalan crisis has been appalling.
Finally, for those of you following news of Aitana’s progress, here is a photo of her from today, looking very alert. She ran down the slope to level 2 this morning for her breakfast and her front hooves are looking decidedly forward-pointing.
*NOTE: It was Victor Hugo in his novel Notre Dame de Paris who used the image of the political leaflets rolling off the printing presses as a “flock of birds” which can be scattered to the four winds. The Catalan propaganda machines of the ANC and Omniúm Cultural have been dispensing lies on an industrial scale, and today’s equivalent of the political leaflet is the more powerful weapon of social media. Just as with the disemination of fake news in the successes of Brexit and Trump.
As I completed this blog post, I listened to the BBC “World This Weekend” programme. It had an excellent summary of the Catalan crisis which is really worth listening to. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b099v2d6