SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 218 May 2018

EU backs Catalan clampdown

The arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Germany on 25 March was part of a new authoritarian escalation by the Spanish government and state apparatus. It followed the imprisonment for ‘rebellion’ (punishable by up to 30 years in prison) of Jordi Turull, the third candidate to attempt election as Catalonia’s President since pro-independence parties won the December snap elections. Both previous candidates (Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras) are also in prison or exile, charged with the same crime.

Even more recently, activists from the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) have been arrested and accused not only of rebellion but of terrorism. The basis for this is their alleged preparation of plans for road blockades and strikes!

Terrorism, rebellion (an armed uprising) and sedition have become the go-to accusations in a series of stitch-ups, not only in Catalonia but throughout the Spanish state. The Spanish capitalist state, historically rooted in the Franco dictatorship, is showing its true colours to millions of workers and youth. In true form, three high-ranking Partido Popular (PP) government ministers were filmed singing the fascistic anthem of Franco’s foreign legion – ‘I am the lover of death’ – during a reactionary Easter military/religious ceremony.

The authoritarian turn has not been confined to Catalonia, where in reality a situation of semi-dictatorship has been installed. All autonomous rule has been suspended and the PP government – which won only 4% in the elections – is exercising direct rule in all spheres.

Rappers, writers, tweeters and activists have been sentenced to four-, five- and six-year jail sentences for the ‘crime’ of mocking the Spanish royal family – Franco’s handpicked successors. Censorship, police violence and jailings have become the new ‘democratic’ normality as the PP and capitalist class increasingly discard ‘civilised’ democratic norms, desperately trying to keep their rotten, decaying and widely questioned ‘regime of 1978’ afloat.

The rise of Ciudadanos, a right-wing populist party which champions an even tougher line on Catalonia, largely at the PP’s expense, is another expression of this tendency. It is ahead in the polls and increasingly looked to by sections of the establishment.

Puigdemont’s arrest – while returning from Scandinavia to his place of exile, Belgium – was greeted triumphantly by the Spanish government and establishment. The Spanish state’s ‘special friendship’ with Germany and Mariano Rajoy’s special subservience to Angela Merkel and her government’s diktats, were the reason Germany was chosen – Puigdemont’s car had been fitted with tracking devices. His extradition to long-term imprisonment in Spain was to be a mere formality.

Indeed, the German attorney general fully backed the extradition proceedings, initially. Merkel’s government – along with the other major EU powers – has been clear in its backing of the Spanish government’s authoritarianism. As recently as 10 April it repeated that Catalonia was an issue to be solved within the confines of the Spanish constitution – which oppresses the right of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia to self-determination.

It therefore came as a humiliating blow when on 5 April the German regional court of Schleswig-Holstein released Puigdemont – though on €25,000 bail – and declared ‘inadmissible’ the charges of rebellion and sedition upon which extradition was sought, alongside charges of ‘corruption’ linked to spending money on the referendum.

Their reasoning is a great exposé of the farcical, false, stitched-up nature of the charges against Puigdemont and others. The tribunal simply stated that there was no evidence of any violence on the part of Puigdemont, necessary in order to justify charges of rebellion. Don’t forget that in the legal accusations presented by the Spanish state against Puigdemont and others, the 1 October peaceful mass independence referendum is compared to the 1981 coup attempt which saw armed fascist generals invade the Spanish parliament!

This judgement was followed by statements by German politicians in which even the justice minister, Katarina Barley, and a vice-president of the German SPD gave credence to the tribunal’s judgment. Some even called for an EU ‘mediation’ to solve the Catalan crisis or compared the case to the repressive measures of the Turkish state. To its credit, Die Linke (The Left, in which SAV – CWI in Germany – participates) has maintained opposition to Puigdemont’s arrest and extradition all along.

The response of the Spanish state was suitably dour. PP European spokesperson Esteban González Pons even questioned the wider Schengen ‘free movement’ arrangement in the EU: "If someone tries to carry out a coup and is not returned to the country where he tried the coup d’état, maybe opening the borders has become a bad decision". Puigdemont’s situation also puts a question mark over whether the Spanish state will be able to extradite exiles in Switzerland and Scotland on the same basis. Reportedly, the Swiss government has already said it will not extradite CUP leader, Ana Gabriel, and others on political charges.

The worst possible conclusion that Catalan workers and young people could draw from these events, however, is that European governments, or the EU itself, can be part of the solution. Pro-capitalist leaders of the Catalan government – including Puigdemont – have tried their best to sow such illusions over years, with endless, fruitless appeals to ‘Europe’ to intervene in favour of their rights.

These attempts have been a calamitous failure. Raül Romeva, the ‘foreign minister’ appointed by the Catalan government last year to lead this campaign, could not convince one major European leader even to meet him! The EU remains a straightforward enemy of the struggle for democratic rights, freedoms and social change in Catalonia and throughout the Spanish state. This is the same EU which imposed years of brutal austerity on Catalan, Basque, Galician and Spanish workers and poor.

In any case, with headlines dominated by Germany’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont on rebellion charges, it has escaped similar attention that the same tribunal indicated its willingness to uphold extradition on the lesser ‘corruption’ charges. It still seems highly likely that Germany and the other powers will hand him and others over to the Francoist jailers in Spain.

Especially pathetic has been the position adopted by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland, where Catalan education minister, Clara Ponsati, is also currently on bail. Despite mealy-mouthed declarations of ‘support’ for Ponsati, SNP Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, simply declared the government ‘powerless’ to stop the process. A workers’ government in Scotland or elsewhere would offer clear political asylum to exiled Catalan activists.

Do Germany’s court rulings and the position of the Swiss state indicate a certain nervousness and frustration among sections of Europe’s elite with the Spanish state taking such a brutal authoritarian turn in dealing with Catalonia? This could well be so. In the pages of liberal capitalist papers around the world, commentators have sometimes despaired over why Spanish capitalism cannot emulate their British counterparts in their management of the Scottish independence movement.

While such an approach can seem to make political sense to liberal commentators, it flies in the face of the nature of the Spanish state and ruling class which have anti-Catalan Francoism woven into their DNA. Ceding the right of Catalonia or the Basque Country to separate from the Spanish state is anathema to the Spanish right-wing establishment and its social base.

There is also a material basis to their intransigence. While losing Scotland would have been a brutal blow to the prestige and weight of UK capitalism, it does not present the same apocalyptic scenario as weak Spanish capitalism losing relatively industrialised regions in the Basque country and Catalonia which account for a third of the state’s GDP.

These contradictions are also what give the struggle for national rights in the Spanish state its revolutionary cutting edge, as we have seen over the last six months and more. They further clarify the essential point made by Esquerra Revolucionaria (our co-thinkers in Catalonia, together with Izquierda Revolucionaria in the Spanish state), that only by defying capitalist logic and building a socialist workers’ republic in Catalonia can lasting democratic and national rights be won. Such a workers’ republic would have no place in the capitalist EU bosses’ club. It would look to establish equal, free and voluntary ties of class unity with socialist republics throughout the Iberian peninsula and Europe.

Danny Byrne

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