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Catalan quest for independence loses its way as populism takes over

  • Alfons Lopez Tena
  • 12 Mar 2019

Pro-independence Catalan leaders that flout the law are turning the question of independence into a counterproductive binary of good versus evil.

People demonstrate carrying "esteladas" or independence flags ahead of the Catalan National Day in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday Sept. 10, 2017. ( AP )

The ongoing trial by Spain’s Supreme Court of several Catalan politicians, indicted for the actions they are accused of having commited related to the failed independence of Catalonia, raises the question of the legal treatment of secession, which comes in two ways.

First, when secession is allowed by the country whose territorial integrity is affected, no legal problems whatsoever arise.

Second, when secession is not allowed, pushing it through nevertheless results in criminal charges if it fails.

Both Germany’s and Italy’s Constitutional Courts hastily dismissed in 2016 and 2017 the pretence of holding referendums for Bavaria and Veneto to secede: “There is no room under the constitution for individual states to attempt to secede. This violates the constitutional order.” They are, “institutional subversions radically incompatible with the fundamental principles of unity and indivisibility of the Republic.”

Canada’s Supreme Court stated in 1998: “Secession of a province ‘under the Constitution’ could not be achieved unilaterally. Quebec could not, despite a clear referendum result, dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties of the federation. The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on his own.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1869 – Texas v. White – that “the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law… the union is complete, perpetual, indissoluble. No place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.”

The Catalan politicians on trial attempted, and continue to try, to force the consent of the Spanish State as a gift that will be bestowed upon them by a warm-hearted international community that will coerce Spain to allow a legally-binding referendum on Catalan independence. That's sheer nonsense.

There’s no way whatsoever to get Spain’s consent, and the overwhelming majority of Catalans are against “revolution” to achieve independence. The point is not the referendum but what happens if the majority of Catalans vote for independence but Spain doesn't abide by it. This scenario is not a matter of goodwill and pink unicorns but a high-risk game of potentially unleashing widespread violence, even civil war among Catalans themselves.

The Council of Europe has declared: “The judgments of Constitutional Courts have a final and binding character and have to be respected by all public bodies and individuals. When a public official refuses to execute a judgment of the Constitutional Court, he or she violates the principles of the rule of law, the separation of powers and loyal cooperation of state organs. Measures to enforce these judgments are therefore legitimate.”

Unlike Texans, Quebeckers, Venetians, and Bavarians, who abided by their Courts’ decision, the indicted Catalan politicians consciously failed to obey several Court orders. Catalan politicians who flouted the ruling have been condemned for Contempt of Court.

Nevertheless, nobody has been indicted over a speech supporting Catalonia's independence, even if the spin and propaganda concocted by the Catalan government and its supine media feigns they are persecuted on the grounds of speech alone.

Trying to hide it all from their astonished voters, the response of those Catalan politicians has taken a unmistakable Trumpian whiff, a populist illiberal stance upholding people's will as being paramount, above laws and judges, putting themselves as the embodiment of that alleged people's will and therefore above the law, the judges, and the judgments that they dislike and denounce as illegitimate.

A paradise for authoritarians and autocrats-in-the-making: a democracy that is above the law means arbitrary rule by the authorities. A country is either governed by the rule of law or by the law of the ruler.

A relentless campaign from the Catalan government, paid by taxpayers’ money, negates judicial review and vilifies judges as mere Spanish government’s stooges and minions — the very same judges who have given ample evidence of independence by condemning and jailing politicians of Spain’s ruling party, even the king’s brother-in-law himself.

Putting “the will of the people" above the law, attacking the judiciary, sowing scorn for experts and rational arguments, and bullying dissenters to reduce them into silence: Trumpism reigns in Catalonia, happily spread by the very same politicians now on trial, leading their supporters to discount, dismiss, endorse, excuse, ignore, indulge, or justify their lies.

This appalling show could lead to the Catalan government's collapse because truth and decency are buried under a Manichaean fight of good versus evil where the only meaningful question standing is: Which side are you on?

Ultimately, a nation cannot be built on a foundation of lies. A wobbling nation such as Catalonia utterly falls into a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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