Catalan Separatists Win Slim Electoral Majority Despite Jailing & Exile of Pro-Independence Leaders

StoryDecember 22, 2017
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In a major setback for Spain, Catalan separatist parties have won a slim majority in the Catalan Parliament. Voters went to the polls Thursday in a snap election called for by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had sacked the previous separatist government. Thursday’s vote comes after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted in October for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. The Spanish Senate in Madrid swiftly responded by granting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the Constitution, which had never been used before in modern Spain’s democratic history. The move stripped the northeastern region of its autonomy in efforts to crush Catalonia’s growing independence movement. Rajoy then called for new elections, counting on Catalan voters to support pro-unity parties. We speak with Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the new book “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.”

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. In a major setback for the government of Spain, Catalan separatist parties have won a slim majority in the Catalan Parliament. Voters went to the polls Thursday in a snap election called for by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who had sacked the previous separatist government. The deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont spoke Thursday from Belgium, where he’s been living in exile along with other members of the Catalan government, those who haven’t been jailed.

CARLES PUIGDEMONT: [translated] The Spanish state has been defeated. Rajoy and his allies have lost and have received a slap in the face from the Catalan people. They have lost the plebiscite, through which they wanted to legalize their coup d’état of the 155, and Catalonia has not helped them to make that possible. Rajoy has sunk in Catalonia. The prisoners must leave the prison right away, and the legitimate government must return right away to the Generalitat palace, which is our home, where our citizens want us to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Thursday’s vote comes after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted in October for independence by a margin of 70 to 10. The Spanish Senate, in Madrid, swiftly responded by granting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the Constitution, which had never been used before in modern Spain’s democratic history. The move stripped the northeastern region of its autonomy in efforts to crush Catalonia’s growing independence movement. Rajoy then called for new elections, counting on Catalan voters to support pro-unity parties. Now Puigdemont has asked Rajoy for a meeting in Brussels or any place of his choice to hold talks, quote, “with no pre-existing conditions” about the future of Catalonia.

For more, we go to Cleveland, Ohio. We’re joined by Sebastiaan Faber, who is professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the new book Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.

Professor Faber, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain the significance of this vote.

SEBASTIAAN FABER: Well, you have to understand, these elections took place under very unusual circumstances. Like you just said, they were called by the government in Madrid after it had revoked Catalan autonomy. And they are—they happened against a backdrop of increased judicial persecution of the leaders of the independence movement. So, it’s really remarkable that despite the fact that the leaders of both the two largest pro-independence parties were either in exile or in prison—that despite that, the pro-independence parties continued to gain—win a majority of seats in the Catalan Parliament.

The other significant data point here is that the party of Prime Minister Rajoy, the Partido Popular, lost two-thirds of its support in Catalonia. It really had very little support. It’s now reduced to a mere three seats in Parliament—a little over 4 percent of the vote. So, you could say that currently, still, under Article 155 of the Constitution, the party that’s governing in Catalonia, which is Rajoy’s Partido Popular, is a party that currently enjoys a little over 4 percent of electoral support.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what’s happening, Professor Faber, for people who are not paying attention to this at all. Talk about the leadership, the governing leadership of Catalonia in jail.

SEBASTIAAN FABER: Well, so, in the beginning of September, the Catalan Parliament put in process a motion, a process to move toward a declaration of independence. On October 1st, there was a referendum, which was held despite
the fact that the Spanish state did what it could to stop it. And in the
referendum, a majority of people voted for independence. And then the Catalan
Parliament went ahead and finally came to something of a declaration of
independence at the end of October.

Because all this is considered to be a violation of the Spanish Constitution, at the same time, a judicial process was put in place that basically ended up persecuting everybody who had worked toward independence, including the leadership of these pro-independence parties. So, the—Junqueras, the leader of the Izquierda Republicana party, the Left Republican Catalan party, has been in prison since then, while the leader of the—what used to be really the largest conservative party in Catalonia decided to not run any risk and leave the country. And he’s been in Brussels in exile since then.

So, it’s really important to understand that despite the fact that what—despite what happened yesterday, where the pro-independence parties continued to hold onto a majority of seats, this judicial process is continuing. In fact, this very morning, so the morning after the elections, the Spanish Supreme Court announced that it was further indicting a bunch of other leaders of the pro-independence movement, of all the different pro-independence parties, as well as the civil society movement that has been supporting independence.

And you can describe this as a kind of McCarthyism, where what is, in principle, a legitimate political position, which is the idea that Catalonia is better off on its own as an independent republic, has become criminalized. And in the same way that in the 1950s communism was a reason to persecute political ideas, the same is happening now in Spain, where the judicial branch of the Spanish state is applying pressure and sort of setting boundaries to what is sayable and thinkable politically.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Puigdemont saying he wants to meet with Rajoy, he’ll meet with him anywhere outside of Spain with no precondition?

SEBASTIAAN FABER: Rajoy has said already, this morning in a press conference, that he is not going to talk with Puigdemont anywhere. Rajoy, in his typical stubborn denial fashion, has said he is not going to do that. It’s really—one could wonder how long this attitude of Rajoy, this kind of denialism of Rajoy, can withstand reality, the political reality of the fact that at least about half of people in Catalonia do not see the Spanish state as their state and want to leave. It’s really unclear whether Rajoy can keep this up, but he’s going to, for sure, try.

Currently, the Catalan self-government continues to be revoked. Roy said this morning he will—the self-government will be reinstituted as soon as a new government has been formed. And now the question is whether the three pro-independence parties will be able to actually form a government. They do have a majority of seats, but there’s three of them, and they don’t see eye to eye on everything. So it’s still up for question whether this government can be formed. And it’s up to question how the government will look, because of the 70 pro-independence deputies that were elected yesterday, eight are either in exile or in prison currently.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Sebastiaan Faber, for joining us, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College, author of the new book Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.

Tune in Monday for our holiday special, when we speak with Noam Chomsky for the hour. We’ll talk about climate change, nuclear weapons, North Korea, Iran and the Republican Party. He says the Republican Party in the United States today is the most dangerous organization on Earth. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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