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Catalonia: in a black hole

The Catalan crisis has seen the rule of law and democracy cornered in Spain, leaving the central government in turmoil

Catalan Regional Premier Carles Puigdemont arrives at a meeting with his PDeCat party.
Catalan Regional Premier Carles Puigdemont arrives at a meeting with his PDeCat party.GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS

For the last 40 days, Catalonia has lived in a state of legal and institutional limbo: it lacks judicial security, and it is debatable whether democracy is still operational in the region. This limbo stems from a parliamentary coup that took place on September 6 and September 8 (in the early hours of the morning) with the passing of (suspended) breakaway laws – an initiative of the secessionist bloc of Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and his allies. And it was completed after the contradictory referendum vote of October 1 and the premier’s subsequent and pathetic declaration of independence, which wasn’t a full declaration, and which was immediately suspended in any case.

The disconcerted and disconcerting reaction by the government of Mariano Rajoy, who has been ill-advised in his alliance with the equally disconcerted and disconcerting Pedro Sánchez, has put the finishing touches to this transgression. Spanish society as a whole, not just Catalan society, was irritated at first, but now is descending into discouragement and frustration. And it looks like the lengthy political crisis in Catalonia, which is seriously undermining the reputation of our democracy and that of all our institutions, could be prolonged for a long while yet.

At stake are values such as respect for the rules of the game in democracy; principles such as loyalty to the Constitution; and feelings linked to a social relationship that is rational, not spasmodic. Also at stake are the material foundations of an advanced society able to consolidate and expand both economic and social well-being for all.

All of this is currently endangered. As our two main political leaders hesitatingly look on, keeping mum most of the time to conceal their own inability to rise to the occasion, Spain’s rule of law, democratic system and even market economy are being called into question.

The rule of law is under fire because nobody knows which laws are currently in force: secessionists have abrogated the Constitution and the Statute of Catalonia, yet have not dared activate their breakaway laws. Legal insecurity is rife at the top of the normative hierarchy, even if the constitutional order is still the de facto framework of reference.

Meanwhile, the democratic system has been hobbled. The institutions of self-government are non-functioning (a fact to be blamed entirely on their irresponsible leaders). The Catalan government is focused on nothing other than breakaway agitation.

The Catalan parliament, shut down following orders from above, is incapable of carrying out its functions, reduced to playing the puppet role that legislative power has in a dictatorship. Even the regional police have been left lame, as their chiefs are being investigated for nothing less than alleged sedition. How can we call this Catalan executive that has been so degraded by its leaders a democracy?

And while the CUP threatens fiscal blackmail, the deputy premier and regional economics chief, Oriol Junqueras, remains silent and impassive in the face of the flight of 803 businesses from the region: a wake-up call and a fatal omen for the economic life of people in Catalonia, and all Spaniards.

In the face of these disasters, the central government appears to believe that if the declaration of independence is not on visible display, everything has been fixed and there is no problem. Aren’t the state’s multiple injuries in its most important region a problem? Don’t the street displays of citizen disaffection also represent a problem? And isn’t the shameful image displayed on the international media – which the government looks upon without batting an eyelash – also a problem?

English version by Susana Urra and George Mills.