Catalan separatist cause fueled and united by jailings
MADRID — The jailing of eight former members of the secessionist Catalan Cabinet has shaken the unstable political scene in Catalonia — promising to unite the ranks of the separatists, provide a new electoral narrative and galvanize supporters ahead of the regional ballot on December 21.
The Spanish High Court on Thursday granted the prosecutors’ request to jail eight former members of the Catalan government without bail pending trial. The maneuver came just as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Cabinet celebrated the smoothness with which it took direct control of Catalonia last weekend, while supporters of secession were struggling to digest the failure to implement their previous independence declaration.
Insiders forecast that the detentions will invigorate the ranks of secessionists. “A feeling of defeat was sinking in on independence supporters, but this feeling has been replaced by rage,” said a national lawmaker for the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) of ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. “This has an enormous potential to mobilize people if used smartly.”
“It’s electoral dynamite,” said Ferran Casas, the deputy editor of Catalan pro-independence digital newspaper Nació Digital. “Independence supporters were in low spirits, doubting whether the project was actually feasible,” he said, arguing that the jailing has provided a new tool for electoral mobilization. “To get people out to vote you either have an exciting project or you rely on people being really angry … Outrage can work as an electoral engine too.”
“I’m convinced that we won’t surrender, we won’t do it, we will fight till the end” — Marta Rovira, second-in-command of the Catalan Republican Left
Marta Rovira, the second-in-command of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) — coalition partners of Puigdemont — set the tone of what may be to come in an emotional statement to reporters outside the High Court after Judge Carmen Lamela’s decision on the jailing Thursday evening.
“I’m convinced that we won’t surrender, we won’t do it, we will fight till the end,” she said with tears in her eyes, after calling on all “democrats” of the country to rally together against the measure.
Pro-independence civil groups will try to ensure the outrage is felt on the streets of Catalonia. They are promoting what they’ve called “the freedom’s week,” including a strike next Wednesday and a massive demonstration for the Catalan Republic and against the detention of Catalan officials on November 11.
The outrage at the imprisonment of Catalan leaders is something detractors of independence may be wise not to underestimate given the tight fight ahead. A poll by the Catalan Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió released this week gives pro-independence forces a ruling majority similar to the one they got in 2015. Back then, they obtained 48 percent of the vote and an absolute majority of the seats in the regional chamber, a result that paved the way for the current crisis.
Former members of the Catalan government, from left to right, Joaquin Forn, Raul Romeva, Josep Rull, Carles Mundo, Jordi Turull, Dolors Bassa and Meritxel Borras arrive at Spain’s National High Court | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Supporters and detractors of independence in Catalonia acknowledge that both blocks are pretty stable at the moment, with the key being the ability to mobilize ranks.
Lamela issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four members of his Cabinet late Friday. The group failed to attend the hearing in Madrid on Thursday and are believed to still be in Belgium. Things could get complicated if, as expected, Puigdemont fights the order in Belgian court.
“I’ve told my lawyers to tell the Belgian justice system that I’m completely available to cooperate,” he said Friday.
Catalan separatists uniting
The detentions are also smoothing once tense relationships among separatist forces. Marta Pascal, the head of Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), advocated Friday for a joint list after a few days of hesitation in her party.
The final word will come from ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras’ ERC, which has become the biggest player in the independence camp — and has so far been reluctant to endorse a new common front like the one it joined in 2015 under the name Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes).
Puigdemont in a TV interview on Friday evening stepped in to announce he’s ready to be part of such a united front. “I’m ready to be a candidate,” he said.
The judicial decision may also boost independence forces’ appeal beyond their usual constituencies. Criticism of the judge’s resolution on Thursday wasn’t limited to the ranks of pro-independence forces.
“It’s not any more secessionism against unionism,” said Catalan writer Josep Ramoneda, referring to the ballot in December. “It will be a sort of plebiscite on the Spanish response to the independence movement in Catalonia.”
Some Catalan Socialists are also showing signals of discomfort with their party’s support for the central government’s line.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, whose leftist coalition Catalunya en Comú hasn’t taken a stance on independence, said the jailed Catalan officials are “political prisoners,” and urged Rajoy to rein in “repression.” She called for a common front to oppose the detentions.
Catalunya en Comú has discounted running a joint list with pro-independence forces. It does advocate for including common points in the electoral programs of different parties, such as a petition to liberate Catalan leaders from prison or the rejection of Madrid’s direct rule.
Some Catalan Socialists are also showing signals of discomfort with their party’s support for the central government’s line. For example, the Socialist mayor of the Catalan city of Terrassa, Jordi Ballart, resigned from his post Thursday and quit the party in protest against the application of direct rule over Catalonia.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Rajoy has so far relied on the support of his Popular Party, the main opposition Socialists and the liberal Ciudadanos party to tackle the Catalan independence push. These parties represent around 70 percent of voters in Spain and around 40 percent in Catalonia.
But some argue that the secessionists’ apparent lack of strategy since the disputed referendum vote has harmed their cause. Pro-independence forces “had everything planned until [the vote on] October 1, but nothing later,” said journalist Casas, arguing that the “brutal improvisation” after the vote damaged the credibility of the movement and led to “reasonable doubts” about the project.
The detentions allow them to again use Madrid as a foil and polish the narrative of oppression that supporters of independence are trying to promote on the international stage, portraying Spain as an “authoritarian” country.
“The engine has now changed to outrage,” he said.