Madrid has pressed the constitutional nuclear button and has announced that it’s going to dissolve the institutions of Catalan self-government and impose direct rule. The pro-independence Catalan media is describing it as a cop d’estat – a coup d’etat – against Catalonia by a Spanish government which is already holding two high profile independentistas as political prisoners. Today the streets of Barcelona were filled with half a million demonstrators protesting against Rajoy’s unilateral abolition of Catalan self-government and against the imprisonment of Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana. Both have been denied bail on charges of sedition for helping to organise October’s independence referendum. Due to the slow and labyrinthine workings of the Spanish legal system, they could be imprisoned for four years before coming to trial.
The Partido Popular minority government in Madrid has announced that the Catalan Parliament will now have to face fresh elections. And if the people of Catalonia decide that they’re going to elect another pro-independence majority in their parliament – then what? Rajoy has no answer. He has nothing to say to Catalonia except no. He has no answers except to scream at the people that “This is the law!” Catalans must bow to a political decision made 40 years ago. There will be no compromises, no negotiations.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy only knows one word of Catalan, and that word is no. He’s happy to create a catastrophe out of a crisis in Catalonia, anything to distract attention from the corruption scandals which enmesh his party and which reach even to his own office. His party said no to a new statute of autonomy for Catalonia over ten years ago even though the text of it had been approved by a large majority of Catalan voters in a referendum. It was struck down by a Spanish Supreme Court whose judges are political appointees.
Rajoy’s party said no to the Catalan education system claiming it discriminated against Spanish speakers, even though Catalonia’s bilingual education system regularly came top in Spanish educational league tables for achievement in – wait for it – the Spanish language. The Partido Popular wants to replace Catalonia’s educational system, which has been successful in creating fluency in Catalan in children who come to school without a command of the language with the system used in the Partido Popular controlled Valencian Community, which is also majority Catalan speaking, but whose education system has proven incapable of halting, never mind reversing, the language shift from Catalan to Spanish. The large cities of the Valencian Community, which only a few decades ago were majority Catalan speaking, are now overwhelmingly Spanish speaking. That suits the Partido Popular just fine, and that’s what they’ve got in mind for Barcelona, Girona, and Tarragona too. Now Madrid is going to take direct control of Catalan education. Many in Catalonia regard this as an existential threat to the future of their language, and of the Catalan people as a nation.
In 2012 Rajoy said no to a new financial settlement for Catalonia which would have given Catalonia greater control over its own resources, income and economy. He said no to a referendum in 2014. He said no again in 2017. At every turn, Catalan attempts to increase their autonomy within the Spanish state have been rebuffed and repelled. They’ve been insulted and demonised. They’ve been accused by the heirs to Franco of fascism and ethnic nationalism.
Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the central government to take direct control over an autonomous region like Catalonia. It permits Madrid to dissolve the Catalan government and remove Catalan President Carles Puigdemont from office. Rajoy claims that by activating Article 155 that he’s not stripping Catalonia of its autonomy, and he’s stopped short of dissolving the Catalan Parliament, but Saturday’s events are seen in Catalonia as a desperate attempt by Madrid to impose its will on a Catalonia that only wants the right to decide its own future for itself. Madrid has told Barcelona no, we will decide your future for you. Rajoy’s decision has to be ratified by the Spanish parliament, but in this respect he enjoys the support of the main Spanish opposition party, the PSOE (roughly equivalent to the British Labour party) who are expected to vote in support of Rajoy’s minority government.
By activating Article 155, the central government has unilaterally given itself the right to take control of Catalan finances, government administration, the devolved Catalan broadcaster, and the Catalan police force the Mossos d’Esquadra. Madrid will have the right to remove any official in the employ of the Catalan government and replace them with someone more to their liking. Further, any government employees who refuse to obey instructions coming directly from the central goverment or its agents can be sacked or even fined or find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.
The Catalan public service broadcaster TV3 will now come under the direct control of Madrid. The likelihood is that the Catalan broadcaster will now find itself taking a new direction in its reporting on the Catalan independence movement. Expect a lot more stories in the Catalan news about murrdurrs, kittens, and the fitba and a lot fewer that paint the central government in a bad light.
The crunch will come when Madrid attempts to take direct control of the Catalan police force the Mossos d’Esquadra. The Mossos intervened during the brutal and violent crackdown during the independence referendum to protect voters from the excesses of the Guardia Civil, who come under the direct control of the Spanish Interior Ministry. The chief of the Mossos d’Esquadra is currently facing charges of sedition. It is widely expected that when push comes to shove and the Mossos have to choose between Madrid or Barcelona, that they will choose Barcelona. That could lead to Madrid flooding Catalonia with yet more brutal and violent Guardia Civil officers, and yet more confrontations.
Rajoy might claim that by not dissolving the Catalan parliament he is respecting Catalan autonomy, but by invoking Article 155 he is putting severe limits on the Catalan parliament, and giving himself a veto over any motion or decision made by that parliament. All decisions of the Catalan parliament will have to be approved by an authority designated by the Spanish government.
Puigdemont is due to make an announcement at 8pm our time this evening. He’s not expected to make an unequivocal declararion of independence this evening, but he is expected to restate the right of Catalonia to self-determination and to choose its own future. Catalonia is a more uncertain place this weekend. The only certainty is that Madrid’s fresh elections will not solve this crisis, only a referendum can do that, but Mariano Rajoy remains as intransigent as ever. His intransigence risks transforming this crisis into a tragedy and all of Spain, not just Catalonia, would be a loser from that. It’s time that Rajoy learned to say more than no.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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