Last week, The Times of Malta published a contribution entitled ‘The Catalonian uprising’ (October 31). Allow me to clarify the situation to your readers and dispel some misconceptions introduced by the author, Cristina Costa.

Let me go straight to the point from the very beginning: the truth is not that “Catalan rights have been stepped over too many times”, as the author wrongly says, but that some Catalans are trying to impose by force a political scenario to the rest of the Catalans and to the rest of Spain. What is at stake is the fracture of the plural and multifaceted reality of Catalan society.

The nine Catalan political leaders recently sentenced by the Supreme Court have not been convicted because of their opinions. In Spain, secessionist political parties are legal, and all politicians may express their views freely. Politicians express themselves everyday about all kinds of matters, in Parliament, in the media, and wherever they please.

Meetings and demonstrations are also legal in Spain. But the Supreme Court sentenced these leaders for actions – again, not for their views or expressions – that amounted to organising tumultuous and public uprisings to avoid the implementation of the rule of law.

Physical force and de facto coercion were used to turn around the legality, and rulings of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts were disobeyed by them. These conducts are typified in the Spanish Criminal Code and the sentences respond individually to proven crimes of sedition, misuse of public funds, and disobedience.

Catalans can vote and have done it many times. The Spanish Constitution was ratified on a referendum in 1978, with a backing of 90 per cent in favour of the 68 per cent of Catalans who took part in it. Catalans vote regularly to elect their representatives for the regional Parliament and government, and at national level.

I probably do not need to tell Maltese readers that Catalonia enjoys a high level of self-government recognised by the 1978 Constitution, including areas such as education, health, the use of the Catalan language, a Catalan police force and the management of penitentiary institutions.

But the Constitution establishes as well the integrity of the Spanish territory and protects the unity of the country in the same way that other European Constitutions do. The protection of the unity and indivisibility of the country, unambiguously stated in Art 2 of the Spanish Constitution, is not an extravaganza that makes unique our constitutional system, but a common principle established in almost all European Constitutions.

The Maltese Constitution also provides protection to the sovereignty, independence, neutrality, unity and territorial integrity of the Republic of Malta, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individuals are to be enjoyed in a way that does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.

The Spanish Judiciary is independent and the trial against the secessionist leaders was carried with all guarantees. 

As the judges themselves said in the ruling, “passionate advocacy for the independence of Catalonia forms part of a normal democratic life”, but it is incorrect to frame the situation as a conflict between legitimacy and legality, or “as a collision between the principles of rule of law and democracy”, because only the respect of the law can provide for the safeguards for a democratic coexistence of different views.

The reality is that the Catalans themselves are being polarised and divided over their future

There was no legal referendum held on October 1, 2017 held in Catalonia, but a voting organised against our legal and constitutional framework and without the minimum democratic safeguards.

There was no register of voters and no proper “no” campaign. The organisers claimed that the so-called referendum showed a pro-independence support of 90 per cent, but how credible is that result when the support of Catalans for secession has constantly been below 50 per cent? Catalan pro-independentism had been traditionally under 25 per cent but grew up to around 45 per cent as a consequence of the economic crisis experienced in the last decade.

All over Europe we see that the crisis created new, difficult political tensions, and Spain was no exception: there is a direct correlation between the economic hardships and the statistical growth of Catalan pro-independentism. 

It’s a delusion to talk about “centuries of antipathy” from Catalonia toward the Spanish government and monarchy – as Costa puts it – when Catalonia has been part of the state since the very origin of Spain more than 500 years ago. Catalonia was not an oppressed colony, but an integral part of the country.

Throughout history, Spain experienced successes and failures, terrible wars, long periods of decay as well as the capacity to bounce forward and recover. Nowadays we are part of a greater Union – the European Union – we enjoy high levels of freedom and multiple political options in an advanced democracy, and the nation has been able to overcome the hardest times of the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the reality is that the Catalans themselves are being polarised and divided over their future while the downsides of the independentist process are often overlooked. The impact of it all is reduced growth in Catalonia, increased poverty for Catalans, political instability in the Catalan government and high levels of public debt with a low international credit reputation and ranking.

It has created a fantasy where some have been led to believe that they are better democrats than the others. It’s a movement that failed to gain internal support and international recognition.

We frequently hear that the Catalan movement is peaceful and non-violent.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to turn the page and recover the dialogue and coexistence within Catalonia. We witnessed, however, an unjustified level of riots and violence in Barcelona during many nights.

The riots have gone beyond the mere dislike of the sentence towards extremism, and sometimes have had nothing to do with it.  I regret to hear that Maltese travellers might have experienced inconveniences or cancellations of flights due to the protests.

But while some incident still cannot be ruled out, the public order is being ensured by the Mossos (the Catalan Police) and the Spanish police in full cooperation.

Consuelo Femenía is Ambassador of Spain to Malta.

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