When the attempted coup d’etat of February 23, 1981 was in its first hours and in the midst of general uncertainty, this newspaper rushed out a special edition. Without waiting to see how the crisis was going to conclude, the newspaper made a commitment to democracy with a message underneath its masthead that was as brief as it was forceful: “EL PAÍS, with the Constitution.”
We have managed to stay faithful to that badge of identity all these years without falling into relativisms about the values of the Constitutional democratic legal system. It is that same identity that today summons us to come out in defense of the Catalan Autonomy Statute, which is at the same time the Internal Constitution of Catalonia, a key organic law from the state that guarantees self-governance. With all of its imperfections, this instrument has organized the most fertile period of prosperity and freedoms in Catalonia and in Spain as a whole.
What is happening here is the demolition of the maximum levels of coexistence
The Estatut needs to be defended at all costs, given the danger today posed by those who are trying to use it against the Catalan people and who want to later abolish it. A group of political leaders, led by the Catalan regional premier, after making several threats agreed that their coup in the parliament on September 6 and 7 with the approval of the laws that would break with the Constitution (the calling of the self-determination referendum for today) and that would take primacy over the Estatut and the Constitution, and that are to be used to abolish both fundamental sets of laws.
The illegal vote that derives from those texts, and which have been suspended by the courts, culminates today with a vote with no guarantees, and are likely to be followed by a unilateral proclamation or declaration of independence.
What is happening here is the demolition of the maximum levels of coexistence – hiding behind the unhappiness of a part of the population that has been induced and manipulated by the very institutions of self-government – and as such this vote should not take place. The state and the authorities – including the regional police force the Mossos – must stop this outrage from happening. It is unheard of for a government to incite its public employees to break the law, to create dangerous situations or altercations, and to rebel against the democratic order – one that could be improved, but that is formidable and internationally homologated.
The Catalan regional government should instantly halt this rush to the abyss in a bid to minimize the damage. Because the damage that has been done so far is already excessive: not just in terms of the fractures in Catalan society, but also in the harm in some of its genuine creations that were most celebrated: the Mossos regional police force, public broadcasters (TV-3/Catalunya Radio) and its schools.
We have considered the response by the central government in Madrid to this kind of disobedience as inadequate
The partisan use of the former; the manipulation of the second, which has even seen calls to publicly identify locations of the Civil Guard (with a level 4 terrorist alert in place!); and the immoral pressure being placed on school principals and even calls for minors to get involved, must stop immediately. If not, the state should take them over, which would mean that the future of the very same institutions would be in doubt.
For some time we have considered the response by the central government in Madrid to this kind of disobedience as inadequate. In the future, a more detailed analysis will have to be made of these mistakes and in the corresponding need for responsibilities to be assumed. But at the current time, it is important to point out that by no means can the behaviors of those who are subverting the Constitution be compared with the government, which more or less clumsily has tried to respond. This has not been a train crash. This has been, from the start, an all-out irrational onslaught against the state by thrill-seeking opportunists.
While some of the instruments that the state has at its disposal to defend the law have been used in a balanced manner, the central government has never put into danger the rule of law in Catalonia. What is today being played out in the streets of Catalonia is not the questioning of freedom of expression of pro-independence citizens: they enjoy that as anyone in a democratic state does, despite what their leaders claim. What is in play today is whether a breakaway is consummated with the collapse of the statutory order, which has already been diminished by the regional government and parliament. Or if, on the contrary, the Estatut and the Constitution are restored.
There is a narrow opportunity for that to be achieved with the smallest damage possible for Catalan self-government (and for the economy, as the Bank of Spain has sensibly warned). And it needs to happen in the next few hours with maximum containment.
With the Estatut, anything is possible. Against the Estatut, nothing
Of course, restoring the Estatut is not inevitably a point of arrival. It could be a point of departure, to extend self-government. It is not impossible – it is happening in the Basque Country – if we return to the legal means that should never have been exceeded. Nor is it impossible to widen the decentralizing reach of the Constitution in a federal sense, which would offer a better fit for the legitimate hopes of many citizens in Catalonia (and other regions).
If there is a will to do so, the mechanisms with which to implement it would not be difficult: mixed work groups, parliamentary commissions, the design of a new statutory pact, and even a constitutional one that could be put to a referendum to be ratified. It would be a complex path to take, but it would not be traumatic compared to what is currently being put to us. And above all else, it would be a better messenger for the future and for global recognition. But all of this needs to be done once the Constitutional order has been re-established, not before. Dyed-in-the-wool participants in a coup cannot be negotiated with. It is, however, possible to dialogue with those who want more self-government for Catalonia. With the Estatut, anything is possible. Against the Estatut, nothing.
English version by Simon Hunter.