The extremism at the heart of the Spanish national project
The sentences issued by the Constitutional Court in Madrid today were surprising even to close observers of the Spanish justice system. Yet the writing has been on this particular courtroom wall for a long time. The Spanish state has engineered a crisis in Catalonia for its own political capital, and it has rallied right wing forces inside and outside the state to do so.
The verdicts were timed deliberately to be announced on the same day in 1940 that the Franco regime condemned the President of Catalonia, Lluis Companys to death.
This time the sentences were perhaps not quite so harsh. But they are harsh enough for us to demand to know exactly what on earth is going in Spain. Sentences of up to 13 years were handed down for organising peaceful protests and the referendum on Catalan independence on the 1st October 2017. Those sentences are incredible not least since, as the defence lawyers in the case pointed out, no police officer is yet to come in front of the courts for the brutal violence on the day of the referendum. This trial is stretching the boundaries of the Spanish state’s ability to face the rest of the world unashamedly, and of the rest of world’s ability to accept what is going on in Spain unashamedly.
One of the most chilling features of this trial in which 12 people were convicted of offences is that the far-right VOX party were inside the court. The legal process Spain permitted VOX to present charges and demand long prison sentences. Of course the court did not have to listen, but certainly this set the tone for what has just happened. VOX’s election rally last week opened with a song threatening the ex-Catalan President in exile: “Puigdemont, we’re going to put you in prison!”
The problem with the ‘justice’ system in Spain is not just that it is hopelessly corrupted by political influence. It is that there are very influential political forces inside the system, like VOX, that either claim the mantle of the Franco dictatorship, or see themselves as the torch carriers for a Spanish nationalist project. At least 7 key witnesses, judges and legal counsel at the trial were either former supporters of the Dictatorship or have close family ties to the Franco dynasty. Those sentences demonstrate the principle of Spanish nationalism at the heart of the justice system.
It is a moment of extreme Spanish nationalism in which principles of Spanish unity are enforced, without mercy, by the legal apparatuses of the state. This deep residual nationalism at the heart of the Spanish state has its roots in the Franco period, and has never been adequately purged after the dictatorship. But it is a reaction that also betrays the fundamental fragility of Spanish national unity.
This is indicated by the strategic attempt by the Spanish state to link any opposition to the state to the language and practice of ‘terrrorism’ in advance of the trials. Over the weekend, road blocks were set up by the Guardia Civil at on Catalan border points, and Spanish national police increased security measures at airports, rail stations and bus stations, adding to the sense that Catalonia is in rebellion and this rebellion can only be quelled by force.
The recent rounding up and jailing of 7 non-violent pro-independence activists was accompanied by a raid on a fireworks warehouse preparing the local fiesta in a failed attempt to concoct ‘explosives’ charges and link the activists to terror attacks. Police raids on peaceful activists are now routine events in Catalonia and will certainly continue to be after today’s verdicts. Two years on from the referendum and the Spanish state still looks decidedly vulnerable.
We reported last February that a growing trend in courts summons being issues to those who have spoken publicly about police violence in Catalonia. The charges? ‘Hate crimes against the police!’ And an increasing number of comedians, artists and singers have been sentenced to imprisonment in recent years for ‘offences against the Crown’. Apparently artists are making the authorities even more nervous these days. This summer, the anti-capitalist rapper Valtonyc currently in exile in Brussels to escape a jail sentence for rapping against the King reported that there are another 16 Spanish rappers currently facing the threat of jail for their lyrics.
Those sentences show us not only that the Spanish state is out of control, but that the extreme right within the state remains in control. It is one of a number of countries across Europe that for differing reasons are exhibiting a similar brand of extreme, residual, state nationalism in Poland, Hungary, Germany, Italy, France. In England, a similar brand of residual state nationalism will almost certainly hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Spanish Constitutional Court today has, in its extreme reaction, betrayed the vulnerability of the Spanish national project. It may have inadvertently have accelerated the break-up of Spain.