The difference between China and Spain
There are two kinds of authoritarian regimes. Some of them violate democratic rights without much ado. Think of China and North-Korea. But most authoritarian states belong to a second category : they attempt to hide their authoritarian practices behind a democratic façade. These are labelled ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ in the academic literature.
Spain is well under way to become a case in point of such a regime. Just look at the imprisonment of the two main leaders of the peaceful Catalan independence movement, Jordi Cuixart en Jordi Sànchez. They are already behind bars for nine days. They find themselves amongst ordinary criminals, at more than 600 kilometres from their wives and children. It is a nightmare come true.
In China, the two would simply have been locked up because they are separatists, period. In Spain, by contrast, a complex legal construction is set up. No, they are not imprisoned because of their separatist convictions. They are guilty of ‘sedicion’. They have set up the people against the state. An obsolete legal provision, with an echo from the Middle Ages or Game of Thrones, is dusted off. In this way, a flagrant violation of fundamental rights is given a semblance of democratic legitimacy.
Most frightening of all is that even journalists of the Spanish quality press collaborate with this sickening sham. Take for instance Jacobo de Regoyos, Brussels correspondent for Onda Cero, in the De Standaard (24/10). Those who consider Spanish democracy “imperfect” are misled by the propaganda of Catalan independentistas, he claims.
Yet the facts are what they are. Innocent voters were brutalised by the police. Websites of the independence movement were shut down. Democratic debates were forbidden. Media were censored. Campaign material was confiscated. While, amazingly, the worshippers of war criminal Franco in falangist associations have never faced such judicial obstructions.
De Regoyos criticises Puigdemont for having staged a “postmodern coup d’état”. The coup which Madrid is now preparing via article 155 is not postmodern at all, but very traditional. Catalan civil servants and public network journalists will be subject to a Stalinist purge. Executive power will shift to a Junta, appointed by the Partido Popular (PP), and controlled by the indirectly elected Senate, where this party has an absolute majority.
By the way, the PP obtained a mere 8,5 percent of the vote in the most recent Catalan elections. De Regoyos has a problem with the organisation of a democratic referendum by an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament. But if a reactionary dwarf party grabs power, that is just fine.
And yet, no one can deny that Puigdemont has adopted a conciliatory attitude during the past weeks. In doing so, he has even disenchanted his radical rank and file. But this offer of dialogue has been rejected, as it has always been during the past ten years.
And why ? The answer is very simple. Spanish nationalists have an aversion to the existence of a Catalan nation, even within Spain. That is why the 2006 statute of autonomy had to be abrogated. That is why a colonial government is now being installed in Catalonia. It is still “España una, grande, libre”, even after 42 years.
(This is a translation, by the author, of a column in De Standaard of 25/10)