Thursday, October 15, 2015

Catalan President accused of aiding non-official independence vote

Several thousand people demonstrated in front of Spain's Superior Court of Justice in Catalonia this morning, while current president Artur Mas arrived, flanked by 400 mayors from all over Catalonia, and gave testimony on charges that he misused his office in order to allow a 'participatory process' that allowed Catalans to overwhelming vote in favor of Catalan independence last November 9, 2014. About 2.3 million people (out of 5.5 million) voted, despite scorn and threats from the government, as well as its non-official nature.

The testimony comes on the 75th anniversary, to the day, of the execution by firing squad of Catalonia's earlier president Lluís Companys, who was dragged back from France by the Gestapo and then summarily tried and executed by Francisco Franco's troops. These had the gall to try the president for rebellion, despite that it was Franco and his followers who took up arms against their own government, and that Companys was a democratically elected president, indeed the only incumbent president in Europe to ever be executed. France and Germany apologized for their part in capturing Companys; Spain has repeatedly refused to annul the sentence or apologize for its actions. Whether calling the current president to testify on this date was intentional or not, we do not know, but they evidently saw no need to change the date, once they learned of its significance.

President Mas made a statement at the Catalan Government building a little while later in which he took full responsibility for the vote, but refused to accept that any criminal charges should be brought in consequence. He explained that the Catalan government's actions on the vote could be divided into three periods: First, the government had passed legislation allowing for a non-binding referendum and that he had signed a decree to hold the vote on September 27, but that the Spanish Constitutional Court had suspended the legislation and the decree in record time on September 28 and 29.

On October 14, the president announced that the government would carry out a 'participatory process' with the help of citizen volunteers, and the Spanish government limited itself to scornful comments about said process over the course of the next 15 days. The Catalan government did help organize during those 15 days, but there was no prohibition against it.

When the Spanish government realized that the vote would be successful, the Constitutional Court disallowed the new format as well, but that didn't happen until four or five days before the vote. The President said that after that point, the Catalan government issued no additional orders nor instructions, thereby complying with the prohibition, and that it was volunteers who carried out all actions related to the vote. He also asked whether any Spanish government body had made any move to stop the participatory process and wondered why only the Catalan government was being held to account. He also noted that the Spanish government had disobeyed the Constitutional Court rulings on many occasions with no consequences.

You can find my Storify of the President's remarks.

Former Vice President Joana Ortega, and current Education Minister Irene Rigau gave testimony on Tuesday, another infamous day, the anniversary of the execution of Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, the promoter of the Modern School (Escola Modern) in Barcelona.

It's enough to make you think Spain is itching for a confrontation. And to convince you that it doesn't know a lot about democracy.