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Secessionist fraud

The Catalan government’s authoritarian plans violate laws as well as the rights of Catalans

Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont and Raul Romeva in Madrid on Monday.
Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont and Raul Romeva in Madrid on Monday.GERARD JULIEN (AFP)

There are few times in the history of Spanish democracy when there was such a wide gap between words and facts as there was this past Monday. Thanks to an EL PAÍS exclusive, citizens learned about the contents of a secret draft “rupture” or “disconnect” law being prepared by Catalan secessionist parties – Junts pel Sí and the anti-establishment CUP – to launch unilateral independence for the region.

The contents of this piece of legislation are extraordinarily troubling, and indeed run counter to the Catalan Statute and the Spanish Constitution. But it gets worse: there is an authoritarian, antidemocratic air to the bill, one that will prove deeply divisive for Catalan citizens.

No matter how viable or impossible the proposals the government must not fall back on inaction

Yet on the same day as the story broke, Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont was in Madrid, formulating what sounded like a friendly proposal for a negotiated referendum on self-rule. Which is exactly the opposite of what the (still officially under wraps) bill proposes.

This rupture law is a legal absurdity and fraudulent. It aims to regulate a “transition” yet calls itself “foundational,” two terms that are antithetical. It is an ordinary piece of legislation that seeks to repeal the supreme laws of Catalonia (the Estatut) and of Spain (the Constitution) without even respecting the requirement of a reinforced quorum for minor statutory reforms. And the aim is to submit it to a sudden, fast-track vote via a deceitful change to the regional parliament’s rules, in order to smother the opposition. And it foresees holding an illegal referendum (other types might be legal) with no neutrality, no rules, and overseen by a (still) secret and partisan watchdog.

It is a democratic scandal of huge proportions, which in the first place violates the rights and liberties of Catalans as expressed in current legislation. As for the rest of it, the type of Catalan state it proposes (for whose creation the referendum would merely serve to “ratify” facts on the ground, which are not even neutrally and freely an option for voters) is not just low on democratic quality; it is also a head-on violation of the pillars of advanced democracies based on the rule of law.

In this scenario, justice would not be independent, but follow partisan and authoritarian guidelines

In this scenario, justice would not be independent, but follow partisan (selection of judges) and authoritarian (top judicial authority appointed by the executive) guidelines, as former judge Santiago Vidal very precisely warned. Freedom of information would be restricted for unofficial media outlets, watched over by the sanctioning spirit of Lluís Llach (a songwriter-turned-independence-activist who now sits in the regional assembly with the Junts pel Sí bloc). And the Catalan state would appropriate roles legitimately attributable to the Spanish state and to the EU.

Puigdemont failed to explain any of this. He asked the central government for a sincere will for dialogue, an agreement for a referendum, and the kind of greatness shown by former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, when he provisionally restored the republican Catalan government in 1977.

No matter how viable or impossible the proposals – there is a bit of everything – the government must not fall back on inaction: it has a duty to help redress the problem. And the head of the Catalan Generalitat can only certify his own sincerity in one way: through an absolute and honest repeal of this authoritarian text, eliminating all evidence of what constitutes a tool to blackmail the state and an unprecedented threat against the democratic rights of all Catalans.

English version by Susana Urra.

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