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Serious offenses

While the incarceration of former members of the Catalan government may cause political problems, the justice system has an obligation to act

Former members of the Catalan government, who have now been incarcerated, on Thursday at the High Court.
Former members of the Catalan government, who have now been incarcerated, on Thursday at the High Court.Luis Sevillano Arribas (EL PAÍS)

It is easy to understand why the placement in pre-trial custody of half of the sacked Catalan government would cause concern, given the logical desire shared by most to see normality return as soon as possible. But at this serious moment in time it is worth remembering that the only people responsible for the fact that the justice system has reacted in such a forceful manner are the politicians and civic leaders, who, as part of a well-organized civil coup plot, have been repeatedly and deliberately breaking the law. The only people responsible for the fact that the justice system is – already unavoidably – participating in the campaign for the December 21 regional elections are those alleged to have committed extremely serious crimes.

This is not about sending politicians to prison for their ideas; is about repeated failure to comply with the Constitutional Court 

The writ from High Court judge Carmen Lamela leaves almost no room for doubt about the obstinate and recidivist crimes of those who, skirting around the law, were already proposing a well-planned road map toward independence as far back as 2015. This is not about sending politicians to prison for their ideas, as some are arguing. Rather, this is about repeated failure to comply with Constitutional Court rulings against the laws the independence movement has been passing. The suspects have not hesitated in stirring up social unrest, aimed at, as the legal writ states, “generating political and economic instability to force the [Spanish] state to accept negotiations on separation.”

The principle that states the “the worse things are, the better they are” is going to be the motto of choice for pro-separatist forces in the upcoming election campaign. The secessionist bloc has not hesitated to disparage Spain (a country it wants to destroy) sowing doubt about the independence of the Spanish judicial system and describing the pro-independence civic leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart – necessary agitators in their independence plan – as political prisoners. The eight politicians that the judge has now sent to prison are not the first to suffer from being jailed in this country. It is worth remembering that many of those who have ended up behind bars in the past belong to the Popular Party (PP) of the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which proves that the judicial system is, indeed, independent. Politicians cannot avoid the full force of the law as spelled out in the Spanish Penal Code.

Paradoxically, the forcefulness of the justice system plays into the hands of the independence cause and its logic of victim-hood, but it is essential to understand that the wheels of justice turn at a speed that is independent of politics, and there is no other option in a democracy than to comply. Only politics will be able to solve the Catalan crisis permanently; but politics and democracy are not possible without justice, and without respect for the application of the full weight of the law.

Spain’s democratic system cannot allow itself to be intimidated by the thuggish threats of the Catalan independence movement

The dramatic denouement of the judicial process highlights the extreme situation in which we find ourselves. Even so, there should be no room for fear. Spain’s democratic system cannot allow itself to be intimidated by the thuggish threats of the Catalan independence movement, which is always airing the possibility of a massive and violent revolt against the decisions made within the framework of the rule of law. The former Catalan premier Artur Mas resorted to this strategy again when, outside the High Court, he warned: “The more gasoline you throw on the fire, the bigger it gets.”

These are threats that are now backfiring on the suspects, in that they point to the possible crime of rebellion of which they are being accused. As Judge Lamela points out, inciting the tumultuous protests involving the use of brute force – like those seen September 21, when police searches were being carried out ahead of the illegal independence referendum – could constitute a crime. “If there is good will and if the new reality is accepted, there will be no conflict between police forces,” Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn went as far as saying after October 1, in statements included in the judicial writ.

We can expect a difficult period ahead in which we must ensure we are not dragged along by the crude dynamic of Puigdemont and his followers. A democracy that has demonstrated its maturity in this crisis cannot let itself be intimidated by the boasts of politicians who are prepared to destroy legal order. It should be even less intimidated by legal rulings in line with the law, no matter how inopportune they appear in the context of high political tension.

We must ensure we are not dragged along by the crude dynamic of Puigdemont and his followers

Carles Puigdemont and his ministers are also responsible for this political and social tension; they have ignored the fact they were sacked and have defied the Spanish state since Saturday, acting as if they were still in power. The ex-president Puigdement is, in addition, doubly responsible in as much as the judge has taken into account his ridiculous flight to Belgium by ordering pre-trial custody for the rest of his government on the basis they pose a flight risk.

Former minister Santi Vila was clear-sighted enough to resign so that he would not see himself involved in the universal declaration of independence. This is why he is receiving different treatment and has been able to pay bail to avoid pre-trial custody. The other ministers could have copied him by resigning or calling elections, as was offered to them insistently. But they preferred to continue, in full knowledge of the gravity of the crimes they were committing, and now we are mired in a serious political and judicial problem that politicians will have to deal with as intelligently as possible.

English version by George Mills.

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