Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Catalan President opts for new formulation for vote; other parties not happy

Background (jump to today's news)
There are four political formations, two coalitions of two parties each, plus two additional parties, that are trying to negotiate the celebration of a vote on Catalonia's political future. These are CiU (CDC + UDC), ERC, ICV+EUiA, and the CUP.

All 6 parties had agreed on Dec 12, 2013 on the question and date for a Catalan vote: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" and "If so, do you want it to be an independent State?" and November 9th, 2014.

There were several attempts at having a legal referendum. But they died quickly. The Spanish Constitution doesn't really allow for binding referendums, and it also states that referendums about important topics must be voted on by entire Spanish electorate—and suggested from Spanish Congress, neither of which are real options. A large majority of the Catalan Parliament voted in favor of going to Madrid to ask for power to hold a real referendum (and this caused much strife within the Catalan Socialists). They went in April and their request was roundly rejected.

Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy also refused to consider any kind of legitimate referendum on Catalonia's future.

Next piece of plan was to pass a Catalan Law of Consultations (not referendums, and thus not conflicting with Spanish Constitution), which happened on September 19. Laws in Spain don't go into effect until they are published, so the Catalan Government delayed the laws' publication for another week to try to gain time before Constitutional Court could suspend it. A little chess playing.

So, Saturday, September 27, the President signed a decree convening the vote on November 9th. Saturday afternoon, the first advertisements began to run on TV and appeared in the paper. On Sunday morning, the vice president held a news conference to explain the preparations being made to hold the vote, including how the electoral rolls were going to be generated, who would be called to vote, where the polling places would be, who would organize them, what the policy for foreigners was, and so on.

The Spanish Government, immortalized in Mariano José de Larra's "Vuelva Usted Mañana" [Come Back Tomorrow] miraculously held an emergency Executive Council meeting on an unheard of Sunday evening, a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning, filed the complaint about the Law of Consultations on Monday, and by Monday evening the Constitutional Court had met and accepted the review of the law—which resulted in its immediate suspension. They also wrote that any preparation of the decree which convened the vote were unlawful. This was backed up a few days later by the Spanish Delegate in Catalonia's letter to each and every municipality warning them that any actions they took in defense of the vote were against the law.

The Catalan Government immediately suspended all preparations for the vote, which was to take place just six weeks later. The TV spot was changed, with a blacked out screen and information about the suspension instead of the vote. The foreign registrars were closed, ostensibly to shield civil servants from legal jeopardy.

Given the short period of time in which foreigners had to register (from Oct 1-7), there was considerable consternation that they would not be allowed to vote. The Catalan Government was frankly unhelpful in providing timely, complete information about how that would be resolved. They finally decided on October 6 that they could skirt the law by using a different law that gave them the right to attend to all citizen petitions and thus accept the foreigners' petitions without officially saying they were enabling them to vote. Those of us with ties to foreigners' communities frantically passed information around the internet in an attempt to apprise them of the situation.

The Catalan Government also voted to designate the members of the Electoral Commission—after the suspension. President Mas signed the decree. I heard that everything was prepared beforehand so that no clerk had to be involved after the suspension.

For the cherry, Judge Santi Vidal, who had admitted several months earlier that he was working on a sample draft of a future Catalan Constitution in his spare time, was ordered before the General Council of Judicial Power (CGPJ) in Barcelona and threatened with suspension for six months because of his writings. Though a few days later they voted 3-4 to not yet discipline him, the matter will continue through the court system until a final ruling is made in six months or so.

All of these prohibitions and loopholes have generated an aura of confusion and disarray and frustration. This was somewhat allayed by the overwhelming display from 920 out of 947 Catalan municipalities—a whopping 97%—voting resolutions of support for the November 9 referendum.

And then the good dissipated somewhat as Joaquim Brugué, the Electoral Commission member nominated by ICV, resigned after two days on the job decrying the lack of "democratic guarantees". He did not elaborate, though he did complain a lot about the reaction he got on Twitter.

And then the summits began. On Friday, October 3, the first summit meeting took place with representatives from all six parties. Journalists camped out all day around the Catalan Government Hall (Generalitat) but when they emerged that night and one after one promised that they were still united, you could almost feel the relief on Twitter. The spectre of the splinterization of Catalonia's left that Orwell wrote about still haunts people. There's also a general feeling that Catalans are defeatists conditioned by years of Barça losses and more years still under Spain's control. Unity is a big issue.

Third Summit and new Consultation

There was a second summit without the declarations, and then yesterday there was a third, in an undisclosed location which was quickly disclosed by journalists climbing trees (Hi, Quico!) At the end of this last summit, we learned that ICV had left early, that the unity had been broken, and that the Government and Mas had called off the Nov 9th consultation. Well, that's what Twitter (and the AFP) said.

But it wasn't quite true. ERC released a four point statement and the CUP held an impromptu assembly in the middle of Sant Jaume Square (at 11:30pm) which attracted 500 people in less than half an hour. They described what had happened in the last summit: that the Government had proposed changing the consultation to a "participatory process" based on existing Catalan law in order to skirt Constitutional Court suspension. The CUP reported excess partisanship but said the game wasn't over. Mas scheduled a press conference for 10am Tuesday morning.

I collected viewpoints and information from many major sources.

At 10am Tuesday, President Mas explained that going up against the Constitutional Court was like bashing one's head against a wall, and that only result was getting a headache. He preferred bypass Court by not using the suspended law and suggested that consultation rely on existing Catalan law (which he refused to name so as to not "make it easier for Spain"). He said that consultation was never meant as definitive answer, and since in Spain a negotiated binding referendum was not possible, the only definitive answer could be found in a plebiscite with a single unitary list encompassing all pro-indy parties. This is something new that he hasn't said before. He had only mentioned a plebiscite as a last resort to having Catalan people vote, but this was the first time he said it was a necessary step.

• Instead of using existing electoral rolls, voters will register (with official ID) at the door on the day of the election. The President suggested that this might even enable more people to be able to vote, including Catalans who are currently registered in Catalonia but who live in other parts of Spain.

The President mentioned that electoral rolls were a big issue and that he was worried about violating data protection laws by using existing census, given the suspension. He said if people who didn't want to be on the lists began to sue the government, it would cause international embarrassment.

• Instead of randomly selected citizens to serve on official electoral tables at polling places, the President said the government would ask for the support and help of 20,000 volunteers. They decided to use Catalan Government buildings for polling places to bypass any issues with local municipalities who didn't want to participate (as is the case of three or four large towns in Barcelona's industrial belt).

You can read my full account of President Mas' press conference here, including his answer to my question about how referendum/consultation confusion would play out internationally. He didn't answer my or others' questions about who would be on unitary list that he proposed for plebiscite.

Joan Herrera, one of the co-leaders of ICV, the eco-socialist Green party held a press conference in the middle of the day. He said the new formulation converted the vote into nothing more than a 'happening' or an 'event' that was designed solely to "rescue Mas' himself and his promises". Herrera's coalition partner Joan Josep Nuet echoed his sentiments.

Trying to get a handle on people's reaction to the news, I asked a few questions on Twitter. One in particular resonated: Are you more disappointed with lack of unity or with different formulation of the consultation. You can read the answers here.

Finally, Oriol Junqueras, the president of Esquerra, made an appearance at 6pm to explain his party's reaction. He said that the Government had broken the unity of the parties in favor of the referendum and he asked them to go back to the earlier formulation in order to restore that unity. He repeated Mas' assertion that the real adversary was the Spanish State, not the other Catalan political parties. And though he insisted that best option was for the Catalan Government to return to united position with existing pact, and lamented that it was hard to trust people who didn't keep their promises. He also said that he and Esquerra would continue to help the Government in any way it could. It was the biggest anti-ultimatum I've ever seen. It is clear that Junqueras will do whatever necessary so that a referendum is held. He also said that the main priority was helping the Catalan people, the only way to do that was with independence, and that is why the referendum is so important.

Junqueras pointed out two major differences between old and new formulations for the consultation. First that with the first method, which follows the regular election process, there would be 4000 polling places, while in the new model there would only be 600. He also said that a 'participatory' process does not result in a democratic mandate, and that it would be better to maintain original model, which did.

President Mas' explanation of new formulation of #9N Catalan vote

Photo: Lluís Brunet

Question: International community is already somewhat confused about difference between "referendum" and "consultation", and now you are proposing this third option, that, if I understand correctly, is preliminary answer to "definitive" referendum which you said could only be result of a plebiscite election. How will you explain this to international community?

#CatalanPresident Artur Mas "Some months ago, we asked the Spanish Government to allow a referendum in Catalonia and they were not willing to accept a referendum in Catalonia in agreement with Spanish institutions. After that, we decided to pass a law on consultations in Catalonia. We approved it some weeks ago, and I signed the decree to hold this consultation.

"A consultation is not exactly the same as a referendum. Well, it is more or less the same. In fact, the final purpose is to know the opinion of the Catalan people. And this is something that you can organize through a consultation or through a referendum. This is what we are trying to maintain for November 9, to maintain this consultation, so that people will be able to go to the polling stations and vote. We'll have to change the way to do it. But the aim is exactly as before, to know the opinion of the Catalan people, about the political future of Catalonia according to the two-part question that was agreed on some months ago. So this is also a consultation but held through other ways.

"And my final statement would be that the definitive referendum in Spain can only be held through elections. In other parts of Europe and the world, there are other possibilities of doing that, other chances. For example in the UK, the British government accepted negotiations with the Scottish government to agree on the terms of the referendum in Scotland. But that is something that is not possible in Spain. It is just not possible. It's a pity of course. It's a big pity but that's just the way it is. That's just the way it is. Unluckily.

"So, in the Spanish State, the only way to hold a definitive referendum is via elections. In my personal opinion, in order to make sure that the international community will understand the outcome of this referendum well through or via elections, the only way is with one list and one program. And if this list, and this electoral program shapes the absolute majority in the Parliament, then the outcome is clear: the referendum has been won.

Here's my live-tweeted, translated into English on the fly, transcript of the rest of President Mas' press conference which preceded the above question:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

We can't even cry

by Francesc Canosa
Originally published in ARA. Translated and republished here with permission.

In 1939 the building located at 30 Carme Street in Barcelona was burning. On Xipreret street in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat (just south of Barcelona), there was a bonfire of books. In Terrassa, Figueres, Sénia, Blanes, Cervera, Igualada, Golmés, Móra d’Ebre, Sant Boi, Lleida, Sallent, Gandesa, la Fuliola, Palafrugell, Mataró, Ordal, Sitges, Caldes de Montbui... Let's stop. Our fingers can't go so high. Burning. And among them, the pyromaniacs of plunder: the DERD (State Delegation for Document Recovery). From January 28 to April 3, 1939, 1,690 searches. 25 each day. 160 tons of documentation was the bounty of war. Just in Barcelona. We don't know anything else. We don't know anything. They took it all away: papers, documents, books, frames, tables, chairs, bank accounts... Everything. They occupied buildings, properties. They persecuted, repressed and eliminated people. They performed arquitectural lobotomies. In Igualada they called it National Center. In L'Hospitalet, the Falange headquarters. In Caldes de Montbui, the offices of the Social Aid. In Sant Cugat, in Canet de Mar, in Alforja, in Llagostera, in Sant Adrià, in Masquefa, in Sant Pere de Ribes, in Guiamets... Stop. Some have died. Others limp, or have just one eye. And many have resuscitated. We don't anything about the athenaeums (community centers), the cooperatives, the associations that were smothered in 1939.

The athenaeums are the lungs of the country (today there are about 400). An oxygen pump against asphyxiation. Catalonia begins to breathe in the 19th century. In each town an athenaeum is born. They formed, educated, taught... They were the school, the university, for the Catalan people. They supplied what the State did not provide. Catalonia is a pioneer in creating a state without having a state. This artificial existential respiratory system. The athenaeums of the left, of the right, of the republicans, of the anarchists, workers, conservatives, spiritualists, naturalists... Athenaeums like the one that burned on 30 Carme Street: the Popular Encyclopedic Athenaeum. 25,000 members. They offered from hiking excursions to Esperanto and had night classes for workers. Athenaeums that were left without books (2,500) like the Popular Culture Athenaeum on Xipreret Street in L'Hospitalet: dances, French classes, drafting, calculus, chemistry... Centers like the CADCI (Autonomist Center of Commercial and Industrial Clerks). 20,000 members. It suffered the second worst sacking after the Generalitat: 169 sacks of documentation, 55 buildings decommissioned and dozens still not located today.  Popular Athenaeum of La Garriga, Catalan Athenaeum of Sallent, Acàcia Athenaeum, Athenaeum of Sant Just, Foment Martinenc, Societat Unió Gandesana... We can't stop. We're starting to count. After 75 years, we have a first listing. About 70 athenaeums and associations all over Catalonia could be affected by the smothering of 1939 according to the Athenaeum Network (XarxaAteneu). The figure could double, triple... We don't know anything. The documents, the buildings, the objects, the money, it's all simply unquantifiable... This Saturday at the Barcelona Athenaeum there is a zero moment to begin to breathe: the Table of Entities Affected by the Francoist Regime. We need to know. We need oxygen. The asphyxia of 1939 is also the asphyxia of 2014.

The same day (Tuesday) that the Partido Popular once again asphyxiated us as it rejected the return of more of the "Salamanca papers", Teresa Rovira stopped breathing. The librarian who saved pieces of the country by hiding Catalan books in the "hell" of the library. The children's books: the spark of life. The daughter of journalist and politician Antoni Rovira i Virgili. The 95-year-old woman died without being able to recover part of her father's archive. They have burned us, they have stolen our ashes, and the coffin, the tomb, the stone, the niche and the flowers. We are in a place that has no name. And we are not here for 16 billion euros. We are here because we have nothing. We are here because of a cry that doesn't die: we have no papers, no stones, stained with our tears.