Crackdown on democracy

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Sign reads 'Democracy on trial'. Pic: Flickr/omniumcultural

The trial against the leader of last year’s campaign for Catalan independence brings to the fore a murky history of undemocratic manoeuvering by the Spanish state. Sara Garcia reveals worrying developments.

On 12 February, after they’ve spent more than a year in preventive custody, the trial against the 12 Catalan politicians and civil movement leaders began. They may be sentenced to more than 25 years in jail, facing charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds among others.

The same charges of sedition and rebellion were dismissed by the judiciary power in Germany, Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland. These ruled in favour of former president Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsati and other Catalan MPs as they fled to these countries to avoid imprisonment. The fact that some members of the Catalan government can move freely within European countries but not enter the Spanish state is irrefutable evidence that the nine in jail are imprisoned for political reasons.

After Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, a so-called transition, from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy, took place. The judiciary power and the Spanish Supreme Court kept the same structures and most judges. These judges have perpetuated this nationalist right wing mind-set over the years. Under these conditions, the idea of a fair trial is a mere illusion.

It is remarkable that the “popular prosecutor” in this trial is the far right party VOX. Lots of questions arise. How can a state allow an openly racist and misogynistic party to be leading the case against politicians and activists whose only fault was to give voice to the wish of the people in Catalonia?

The Spanish government has recently started an international campaign to promote the “exemplary” Spanish democracy. They have been promoting the unbiased nature of the Spanish judiciary and separation of powers. The efforts put into showing the rest of the world that Spain is a democratic state, and that freedom of speech is not compromised, speaks for itself.

In an effort to win over international opinion the Spanish secretary for this campaign compared on Sky TV, the Catalan Referendum to rape. However, this trial has produced a lot of negative commentary in the international media, questioning the health of Spanish democracy.

It did not come as a surprise to many that the Spanish Supreme Court banned international observers at the trial, claiming that it will be televised and that this should provide enough assurances.

But why are so many people concerned about the lack of democracy and freedom of speech in Spain? It is not just against Catalan independentists. There has been much repression in Spain during recent years.

In 2018, rapper Valtònyc fled to Brussels to avoid a prison term for his lyrics against the royal family. Some months ago, comedian Dani Mateo had to appear in court for blowing his nose with a Spanish flag during a show. Last year actor Willy Toledo was arrested for mocking God and the Virgin Mary in a Facebook post. But one of the most notorious examples is the Altsasu case.

A group of eight youngsters from Altsasu, a village in the north of Spain which was heavily involved in the Basque conflict, have been in jail for nearly two years. They are accused of terrorism in a highly controversial case after engaging in a pub fight with two undercover Guardia Civil police officers. Some face up to 13 years in jail.

The conservatives and the far right have recently demonstrated in the village to condemn the “terrorist attacks” on Guardia Civil. These examples and many more, show the worrying course that the Spanish state is taking.

As recently exposed in the last regional elections in Andalucía, the Catalanophobic rhetoric has gained popularity in Spain. For the first time since Franco’s dictatorship, a far right party (VOX) has entered parliament in Andalucía using anti-immigration, anti-feminism, anti-Catalan and nationalist speech to win over voters.

Catalan pro-independence parties support for Pedro Sánchez’s (PSOE) weak government was recently revoked. PSOE annouced that an independence referendum will never be allowed. Some see this as a concession to neoliberals, conservatives and the far right along with renowned fascist organisations, which organised a protest in Madrid to stop any sort of dialogue with “the enemies of Spain”.

The pressure from the right, along with the withdrawal of the Catalan parties’ support, forced Sánchez to call a general election on 28 April in order to gain legitimacy. Sanchez blamed the Catalan pro-independence parties for this decision, accusing them of awakening the far right.

During the coming months we will witness a TV trial that has been more like a pantomime so far. The Spanish King himself recently interfered in the trial by declaring that the law is above any challenge from democracy.

Since the referendum the level of struggle in Catalonia has been fluctuating. Nonetheless, there was a successful general strike and other big demonstrations recently. With the upcoming European and general election in Spain, keeping up the struggle and engaging with the wider working class movement, will be the key to unmask the undemocratic nature of the Spanish state and force the Catalan establishment to implement the popular mandate of the referendum.