ANALYSIS: Why the Catalan Republic is a big fat lie

Pretending the will of the masses is above the rule of law is totalitarian. Will separatists continue to vote for leaders selling a secessionist Wonderland?

ANALYSIS: Why the Catalan Republic is a big fat lie
Photo: AFP

Today marks the end of the third week of the trial of twelve Catalan separatists at the Supreme Court in Madrid. I have followed and chronicled every session but I shall not try to work out here if they are guilty or not of rebellion, sedition, criminal organisation or the misuse of public funds, or whether they should face 72 or 25 or 12 or no years in prison. That is for the court to decide: there are still 500 witnesses to listen to, plus the documentary evidence, plus the expert witnesses, and then the judges will take their time to consider it all and write a judgement. It is unlikely we will know the answer before the summer break.

There is however, an enormous political lesson to be learned from the defendants during their testimony, and from comments by others such as Mr. Puigdemont in the media. It is a lesson more than anything else for the voters and supporters of Catalan separatism, in Catalonia and around the world, who are vociferous in their criticism at times like this on Twitter and elsewhere. The lesson is this: you were conned. The political leaders you followed or continue to follow lied, dissembled, hid the truth and led you to believe something was possible or plausible or even legal when it never was.

If we are to believe the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, who has testified this morning in court, on September 20th and October 1st and October 3rd, 2017, two million people in Catalonia just organised themselves, all leaders of all in an exemplary civic manner. If we are to believe Esquerra MP Gabriel Rufián, it was all just an excuse to hop on the high-speed AVE train to Barcelona and go out for lunch. If we are to believe Mr. Rufián's colleague, Joan Tardà, the courts are taking revenge on a civic, peaceful, democratic people who just wanted to vote for their new country. There was never any “intention” to break data protection law, said Artur Mas, and no operational plan to take control of critical infrastructure or the Catalan Police.

READ MORE Catalan separarists' trial: What you need to know

Carles Puigdemont, a fugitive from Spanish justice who characterises himself as being in “self-imposed exile”—so not real exile—told the BBC a few days ago that “obviously we didn't execute the mandatory of the Catalan Parliament but that declaration is there”.

He added that he “regrets” suspending the declaration of independence on October 10th that year, “clearly that was a mistake”. The investigating judge, Pablo Llarena, noted that moment and the suspension in the ruling sending the twelve to trial, along with two others: a written declaration on the same day and another one on October 27th.

It was all apparently a big fat nothing.

“It's a paradox”, Mr. Puigdemont said: “that I'm a free man living here in the European Union and my colleagues are facing trial”.

No, it is not. A paradox implies some logical inconsistency that is difficult to explain, whereas the causal chain of events leading to the former regional leader being in Waterloo is very simple: after the declaration of independence, he went out for some wine and applause in Girona, then got in a car and fled to Belgium, since when he has not returned to Spain.

His colleagues did not flee and they were jailed on remand to await trial for rebellion. The Supreme Court knows this, which is why he is legally a fugitive and that is why he has not returned. On Saturday, when the Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, inexplicably visited Waterloo and stood outside “the house of the Republic”, he did not even have the courage to come out and welcome her, although he did leave the door ajar.

None of the twelve accused seem to know how the logistics of the October 1st vote were organised or where the ballot boxes or ballot papers might have come from, but all of them seem to be very clear that no public money was spent on (not) organising that referendum, and most have argued there was some contradiction, and therefore wriggle room, between the rule of law and what they believe or believed was their “political mandate”, that somehow, in some misguided interpretation of the historical evidence and common sense, the will of what they think “the people” is, was above the will of the courts in a democracy.

That is totalitarian rhetoric. Several have also argued that the declaration of independence was not real, mere “political intentions”.

In countries like the United Kingdom or Germany, it is beyond comprehension that politicians would break or twist or hammer the law in like that to achieve such political aims. If Mr. Cameron had rejected the request for a Scottish referendum, no one I have spoken to believes Alex Salmond would have kept going anyway, with blatant, repeated and very public disregard for court orders.

The former senior legal expert at the Catalan Parliament, Antonio Bayona, who is on the witness list to testify, has given an interview to La Vanguardia this week. “A collective imagination has been generated in Catalonia”, he told the paper: “as if we were in an authoritarian state, creating a bit of a parallel fantasy world”. One of the accused, Omnium Cultural chairman Jordi Cuixart, also used that expression on the stand on Tuesday. “The deal on self-government of Catalonia”, he testified: “the government of Catalonia, is genetically part of this collective imagination that we have as a country”.

If, after the October 27th, 2017 declaration of independence, the Catalan Spring idea had taken hold, if thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of separatist supporters had physically surrounded Mr. Puigdemont in the regional government headquarters building, if they had begun to make their stand and refused to budge, maybe they would have had a chance at turning their shared dream into reality.

But it never did. In the real world, he ran away. In the real world, his former colleagues are now doing everything they can at the Supreme Court to pretend it was not the thing that everybody witnessed at the time. In the real world, Catalonia is still a region of Spain and every citizen in it still Spanish. 

Will separatist voters continue to cast ballots in support of lying leaders selling a fake republic?

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.

ANALYSIS: Gloves come off as Spain begins two-month-long political fist fight

Member comments

  1. One of the better articles I have read on The Local – Spain. It exposes the iresponsible behaviour of Puigdemont, who conveniently fled the country and left others to suffer all the consequences of their collective actions. I hope all of those who are now being judged by the courts, get the maximum penalty.

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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.