Category Archives: Politics

Time for a woman to be president of Catalonia

Mas is finished. The CUP won’t back him and I doubt that CDC can convince CSQP to abstain. Personally, I think that the best thing that can happen to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia is if someone other than Mas is elected president. Make a woman president this time around. This hasn’t happened in the Generalitat’s history with guaranteed approval at yahoo. People are talking about Neus Munté (it’s bound to be someone from Convergència, after all, however much that depresses us).

Elections, Don Felipe and the banalization of evil

Hello again.

Sunday’s elections in Catalonia delivered a majority of seats for pro-independence parties but “only” 47.9% of the vote. In reality it was the unionists who lost the vote. Only 39% of Catalan voters were mobilized to back parties in the ‘No’ camp, despite a high turnout and months of scaremongering and threats from the Spanish government, the PP, the PSOE and Cs.

Cs did predictably well (in fact, it bears noting that the pollsters also did well this time around). It’ll be interesting to watch whether Ines Arrimades’s group can now act as a serious opposition in the Catalan parliament – whether the party has now matured – or whether they’ll continue to throw TV-friendly tantrums once every six months or so. It all boils down to if she really leads the party in Catalonia. It doesn’t feel like it. And that’s not a slight against her: it just feels like Albert ‘Scarface’ Rivera is still the boss. Aznar sees the danger at national level and Sánchez is fast at work on a new collection of sonnets. No room here to wonder about the genius who thought that Nicholas Sarkozy would be a vote winner for the PP. Or that Xavier Albiol would be, for that matter.

Spain-level party bosses love to wade into Catalan elections and these were special elections. You have to wonder if any of them have questioned whether their appearances helped or hindered their affiliates’ campaigns. Pedro Sánchez, Pablo Iglésias, Mariano Rajoy, Felipe González… their parties may well have done better if they’d stayed in Madrid.

Felipe González in particular should probably be locked in a cupboard for the next elections. Ignore what he said about Pinochet and Maduro – Don Felipe has his business interests in mind, and who can blame him? But comparing Catalan separatism to Nazism was a little… off, no? Don Felipe should know that Godwin’s law is also considered to apply off the internet nowadays.

Friday before the elections we were in Berlin and visited the Topography of Terror museum which charts the Nazi party’s coming to power, Hitler’s dictatorship and the state security aperatus it established, centered on the SS and the Gestapo. While we were there, I briefly recalled Don Felipe’s words. And it made me sad that someone of his apparent intelligence could insult the memory of so many millions of victims the way he did. I had an urge to grab him by the ear and take him around that awful place. And make him read. And make him look. But what good would it do? To paraphrase Bellow, when the need for illusion is so deep, why shouldn’t Don Felipe trade in ignorance?

Finally, I was delighted to hear that Societat Civil Catalana appears to be unraveling. Josep Ramon Bosch has quit as president. He’s being sued for threats and insults and has been caught praising the Nazis on YouTube. His need for illusion was also deep.

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It’s time for Juan Arza and Societat Civil Catalana to apologize, but I’m not holding my breath

Last month I wrote about how Societat Civil Catalana, a group of around 70 people opposed to Catalan independence, and its spokesman, Juan Arza, lied about SCC’s links to Spanish far-right groups. The article was carefully researched and edited to ensure it contained nothing which wasn’t demonstrably true. I wouldn’t like to defame anybody, just as I wouldn’t like them to defame me.

So what was the response? The article was shared a few hundred times on Twitter and garnered a vague legal threat from SCC itself. Typically, whenever someone reveals the truth about SCC and its founding members’ political allegiances, the group trots out some stuff about how they’re going to stand up to “accusations, threats and intimidation”. This time around, they tweeted that they would be taking me to court for defamation, or something like that. They block me on twitter, so I can’t actually read their threat. They have also threatened Catalan journalist Jordi Borràs, one of whose photographs I used in my article, and UK-based anti-fascist magazine Hope Not Hate, which published one of his articles. To the best of my knowledge, they have yet to open legal proceedings against anybody.

Societat-Civil-Catalana-constituye-independencia_EDIIMA20140407_0358_4
Photo from: http://www.eldiario.es/politica/Societat-Civil-Catalana-constituye-independencia_0_247075680.html

And it’s not hard to see why. As this photo clearly shows, Javier Barraycoa was present at SCC’s first major event, its presentation to the Col.legi de Periodistes. You can even see Arza sharing a platform with him (Barraycoa is second from the left, standing next to SCC president Josep Ramon Bosch. Arza on the, er, far right – no double entendre intended).

Juan Arza finally commented on the article a couple of days after it was published. He said he was writing in a personal capacity and that he had recently blocked me on Twitter for ‘lack of respect’ (I asked him whether SCC could call itself a ‘transversal’ movement when its spokesman regularly campaigned for the PP on his Twitter account – this is Arza’s definition of lacking respect). He went on to fail to refute any of the claims I made in my article, claims by which I still stand. He referred to my articles about SCC as a “witch hunt” and insinuated that I was pursuing this topic for personal gain. Now, that’s kind of defamatory. Read our buying guide on best hunting knife only at knifefellas.

I don’t expect SCC or Arza to apologize for insulting me. It’s part of the deal when you write articles like that. But they should apologize to everyone they are deceiving regarding SCC’s links to the far right. They should apologize to the journalists and media outlets that SCC has threatened simply for publishing the truth. They should apologize to the European Parliament which awarded SCC a medal under false pretenses. And they should apologize to the true civil society of Catalonia, whose name they have usurped.

Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath.

Societat Civil Catalana lies about its links to the far-right

Exclusive: Juan Arza lied about Javier Barraycoa’s involvement with Societat Civil Catalana

A few weeks back, I asked anti-Catalan independence pressure group Societat Civil Catalana to confirm or deny Javier Barraycoa’s reported involvement with the group. SCC’s spokesman and key political mover, Juan Arza responded unequivocally:

Mr Javier Barraycoa was present in some meetings previous to the creation of Societat Civil Catalana, however he is not an associate (socio) nor is he part of our executive council (junta ejecutiva), nor does he have any link with SCC.

In response to a follow-up question, he was even clearer:

During our early stages and before registering the association many meetings took place with the participation of many people. Mr. Barraycoa was one of the attendants to some of these meetings (he presented himself as an historician [sic] and University professor, but never mentioned his political activities).
Indeed, he came to Madrid with us on April 8 2014 paying his own expenses. He didn’t participate in any of the meetings we had with politicians.
He didn’t play any role in our presentation to the public on April 23, and he distanced himself from us just after that date.
He was never a partner of SCC.

But a document that has been brought to my attention shows SCC to be lying on several points. In fact, SCC itself described Barraycoa as a ‘founding member’ of the group. A PowerPoint presentation prepared for its event at the Col.legi de Periodistes de Catalunya on April 7th 2014 includes one slide where Arza and Barraycoa are both listed as ‘Membres fundadors’ of Societat Civil Catalana. The man Arza describes as being present ‘in some meetings previous to the creation of SCC’, is identified by the group itself – and one must assume, Arza himself – as a founding member, establishing him as a socio from the very beginning.

SCC’s presentation from April 7, 2014. Javier Barraycoa (as ‘Xavier’), bottom left. Juan Arza (as ‘Joan’), top left.

Of course, Barraycoa was only identified as a founding member of SCC for a short time. In that same month of April, Vilaweb broke the story about Barraycoa’s links to the far-right and in the scandal that ensued, SCC quietly removed references to him from their literature.

Arza insists that Barraycoa “distanced himself from us just after that date”. Presumably, this is because the press got hold of the story that Barraycoa, a noted ultra-conservative and Carlist, had attended a meeting with Democracia Nacional, an extreme right-wing party, on February 8th 2014. He was apparently there to promote his book and unfortunately for him, his talk was filmed. You could almost mark that down as a mistake on his part. If it weren’t for the fact that he turned up at another Democracia Nacional meeting, this time in November. The meeting was once again filmed. Fool me once, shame on you, as the saying goes. Based on this evidence, there is no question that Barraycoa has links to the far right.

Arza is also misleading us when he says that Barraycoa “didn’t play any role in our presentation to the public on April 23”. Because although he wasn’t on stage, he was there outside the event, with his accreditation hanging from his neck. Only organizers of the event were provided with accreditation.

Javier Barraycoa outside SCC's introduction to the public (note his accreditation, and the falangist he's talking with). April 23, 2014. Credit: Jordi Borràs. Used with permission.
Javier Barraycoa at SCC’s inaugural event, welcoming the public outside the Teatre Victòria on April 23, 2014. (Photo: Jordi Borràs.)

The third lie:

…he presented himself as an historician [sic] and University professor, but never mentioned his political activities

– implies that Barraycoa simply walked in off the street and presented (some of) his credentials. But Barraycoa is closely linked to Josep Ramon Bosch, SCC’s President. They ran the right-wing group Somatemps together. Somatemps was effectively the precursor to SCC, the latter only being created when it was clear that Somatemps didn’t have a hope of passing for the transversal group that SCC has presented itself to be.

The idea that SCC didn’t know the background of a founding member and long-established collaborator with its own president is patently absurd.

The suggestion that Barraycoa and SCC distanced themselves from each other is another lie. Months after his connections to the far right were revealed, and at which time SCC was hiding its relationship with him from the public eye, Mr Barraycoa manned an SCC stand in Badalona on August 21st.

Barraycoa in Badalona
Javier Barraycoa at SCC’s stand in Badalona, August 21 2014. (Photo: SCC)

SCC secretary Isabel Porcel and SCC Board member José Domingo were also present, as this SCC video shows. Which indicates that they had no problem with Mr Barraycoa’s presence there.

Juan Arza and Societat Civil Catalana insult our intelligence when they claim not to know about Javier Barraycoa. They’ve lied about his status as a founding member of the group and his activity for the group, continuing at least as recently as August of last year. And they’ve failed to publicly distance themselves from him. Why? It can only be because while they’re perfectly happy having the support of the far-right, they would rather keep it a secret.

I’m voting ERC for a change in Cerdanyola

Since I first moved here 13 years ago, Cerdanyola has been governed by ICV and the PSC. Under Cristina Real (PSC) until 2003 and especially Toni Morral (ICV) until 2011, Cerdanyola has changed a lot. In lots of ways for the best (I’m thinking about the improvements to Carrer Sant Ramon, Plaça Sant Ramon and Plaça Abat Oliba in particular). But there has also been inertia and the wrong sort of development. The toxic waste dumps between the main town and Bellaterra have been left to fester. The Riu Sec is a total mess. The Altis sports center was mismanaged into bankruptcy, only to see €8M spent on turning it into a library. Money has been spent on padel courts while nurseries are shutting down. Plans surfaced for the Centre Direccional – 4,000 new houses to be built on green field land. And a huge shopping center is planned, with the approval of the PSC and ICV. Most recently, the proposed construction of a crematorium, a few hundred metres from people’s homes, hidden by the PSC and ICV as a simple ‘remodeling’ of the existing cemetery.

Until late last year, I was a member of the local branch of Iniciativa. My reasons for leaving were mostly down to the party’s national leadership. But they weren’t helped by what I feel is the complicit attitude on the part of Cerdanyola’s branch. Jordi Miró should, in my opinion, defend sustainable development and green policies but he shrugged and told me that dealing with the toxic waste dumps – where they want to build these 4,000 homes – was “too expensive”. A party that refused to rule out the construction of a large shopping centre on the edge of town (Cerdanyola’s residents have access to good value locally owned shops in the town centre, as well as shopping malls at Baricentro, Sant Cugat, La Maquinista, Terrassa, etc – there is, simply, no need for another large out-of-town centre). I think that Jordi is a good guy on a personal level – I voted for him in last year’s primaries – but I don’t think he or his party can deliver change in Cerdanyola.

Meanwhile, Carme Carmona, the appointed PSC mayor of Cerdanyola seems to have done nothing. She and her party celebrate every pot hole filled as if it’s a minor miracle. But ask them why they’ve cut down dozens of trees in the last few months and they’re silent. They’ve acted as if doing the bare minimum is something to be celebrated. I don’t care that much about the cynical way they’ve suddenly started repairing streets in the last few weeks, in time for the elections. “It’s what everyone does”, after all. I do care that almost every project she and her town hall seem to be proud of has been completed within a couple of months of the elections. And I cared when Carmona complained on Twitter about ‘Latin barbecues’, as if immigrants were the only ones capable of making a mess in the park. I don’t know if there’s any truth in the rumour that she has recently bought a house in Sant Cugat but it wouldn’t surprise me.

During the last 4 years, Helena Solà and her ERC colleagues have formed a genuine opposition to the PSC-ICV ajuntament. Questioning the town hall’s spending, the vanity projects, the public funds for a football pitch and padel courts that the vast majority won’t use, the senseless tree-cutting campaign (allegedly to save money), the secret plans for a shopping center, the secret agreement to build a crematorium, the abject failure to resolve a hundred other problems. ERC’s program for Cerdanyola is ambitious but not unrealistic. A bit like how I’d describe their chances of winning (they won the most votes in the Euro elections this year). Having spoken to her a few times over the last year or so, I believe that she’s genuinely determined to improve Cerdanyola and to deliver change from the left.

So this year, I’ll vote for ERC and Helena Solà in Cerdanyola. They haven’t held the town hall since the 2nd republic: I’d say it’s time to give them another chance.

Coercive democracy and the legal argument against Catalonia

Consider the following situation: a democracy cracks down on a wave of peaceful street protests against its elected president, citing the constitution and the rule of law. The protests are illegal. Unconstitutional. The protestors undemocratic. Legal methods are found for making protest even more difficult. Some of the street protesters comlain that the protests should be permitted. A government spokesman responds that if the protesters want to be allowed to protest, they should try to get the constitution reformed (a process made practically impossible by the fact that the ruling party has an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, and the constitutional and supreme courts both generally agree with the government). Commenters mutter that protest doesn’t have anything to do with democracy. That in a constitutional democracy like theirs, universal suffrage and the rule of law are what counts. That maybe the army should be sent in.

Who you consider to be right in a situation like this might well depend on your understanding of the possibilities and limitations of constitutional democracy. It’s true that the protests are against the law. It’s true that avenues of action exist for the protesters, but also true that they are practically useless. It’s true that a basic or universal right seems to be threatened by the constitution itself. But is the right to protest really inalienable ? Isn’t it accepted that the right to protest is curtailed in most democracies one way or another? Couldn’t you argue that protest is inherently undemocratic? What about the people who feel scared when they see a protest march?

How should the government act, then? Should it maintain its position: ‘rule of law trumps all’? Should it toughen its stance and jail the ringleaders? Or should it look for a negotiated settlement? The choice is between two forms of constitutional democracy: coercive and consensual. And it’s a problem which most countries struggle with at one time or another, in one way or another. The decision the government goes for will generally reflect its ideological position: does it tend to liberalism and consensual democracy, and so want to negotiate? Or does it tend towards authoritarianism and coercion? But it will also reflect a calculation: is the section of the electorate which needs to be coerced big enough to cause problems for the government?

The right to self determination isn’t the same as the right to protest. No rights are exactly the same. But it has interesting similarities in that few countries accept either right unconditionally. I don’t think that any of us doubted that the PP would tend towards an authoritarian, coercive method of government when it was elected. We’ve seen multiple examples of this approach over the last few years (though to be fair to them, their abortion law reform was dropped – proof that the PP can be pragmatic when it comes to moral and ethical political issues, if not others).

I’ve written this to make it as clear as possible that when SCC/PP/whoever trots out the argument about the rule of law and democracy, they’re really using a smokescreen. Every government has it within its power to push for a pragmatic solution to a problem like Catalan separatism if it chooses to. The PP has made a calculation that in electoral terms, ignoring Catalonia is the best policy. This is a political issue, not a legal one, and arguments to the contrary are misleading.

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Societat Civil Catalana adds nothing to the debate about Catalan independence

Reading through the interminable policy statement PDFs issued by Societat Civil Catalana, you realize that there is a fundamental problem with SCC’s approach. Partly, it lies in the way it chooses to define democracy (and what is ‘undemocratic’). But most of all, SCC fails to offer a compelling argument for remaining part of Spain. It instead focuses on a cold, legalistic line which is pretty much identical to that used by the Spanish government.

By focusing on this as its main defense of the status quo, SCC has made a strategic mistake. Not only because it’s obvious that they’ve intentionally opted for an unnuanced view of what ‘democracy’ means, but also because as they focus so heavily on this legal argument, they fail to make a positive case for Catalonia continuing as part of the Spanish state.

When you think about it, SCC actually adds nothing to the debate. Its entire strategy is effectively identical to that of the state, which has repeatedly sought to criminalize an entirely peaceful political process which has seen millions of people taking part in mass demonstrations and non-binding ‘consultations’. The SCC, then, whether or not it is actually independent of the Spanish state, is in effect singing from the same song sheet. This may well be the reason why it has failed as an organization: when asked recently how many members the group had, a spokesman eventually responded – “75”. Even in a climate where it may be difficult to get people excited about defending the status quo, that number is lamentably poor. This, surely, is the result of a failure to galvanize support for a positive vision of continued union.

I think this could be a huge strategic mistake. By demonizing those well-meaning citizens of Catalonia who would like to be able to vote on self-determination as ‘illegal’ and ‘undemocratic’, rather than promoting the benefits of continued union (as ‘Better Together’ tried to regarding Scotland and the UK), the SCC isn’t making an active case for union. Indeed, it seems that the SCC and the Spanish state have both given up on a large section of Catalan civil society. Much like the PP in Catalonia, which really only exists as way of leveraging more votes in places like Extremadura where an anti-Catalan attitude always goes down well. What this says about the inevitability of eventual independence, I will leave for another day.

The question is: why doesn’t SCC open a new front in the debate? Why can’t it advocate for staying part of Spain?

An open letter to Societat Civil Catalana

Dear SCC,

Firstly, congratulations for the European Parliament medal and everything. I’m not entirely sure why you were nominated. You don’t seem to have done anything.  Except publish press releases and organize two or three sparsely attended demonstrations at which pretty much the only reliable will-shows were the boot boys from Democracia Nacional and Plataforma per Catalunya. Still, it’s not for me to explain the workings of the European Parliament, and I won’t ask you to either.

But I do have a question or two for you. They’re about one of your founding members. No, not Josep Ramon Bosch. I couldn’t care less if the alleged highlight of his Dad’s year was organizing a mass in honor of General Franco. The sins of the father, etc.

No, I’m more interested in Javier Barraycoa, listed as a founding member on Wikipedia. He is, apparently, also the secretary of the Catalan section of the Carlist party ‘Comunión Tradicionalista Carlista’, a party dedicated to ‘God, Fatherland, Charters and King’. CTC promotes a sort of ‘organic democracy’, (known by pretty much everyone else as ‘authoritarian democracy’), generally considered to be a key component of Mussolini and Stalin’s respective brands of totalitarian dictatorship. He’s on the record as saying that he “doesn’t believe in elections”.

Question 1: Is Javier Barraycoa a member or official of SCC? I ask because a search of your organization’s website shows no sign that he has any connection with you. But at the same time, I can’t find any press stories detailing his expulsion from SCC. So I have to ask. You understand.

Question 2: Do the values of Carlism fit with the values of the SCC?

Question 3: Did you never worry that linking your so-called ‘plural’ organization with someone from Spain’s traditionalist far right wing could look bad? Is that perhaps why his name doesn’t appear on your website?

Question 4: As proud members of a plural Catalan and Spanish society and defenders of democracy, do you as an organization condemn the military rebellion of 1936 and the dictatorship it led to?

I look forward to your responses! Have a great week!

 

Yours,

Tom Clarke

From the left towards Catalan independence

Fellow traveler Kate Shea Baird sums it all up quite well. I feel it’s important for those of us on the left who support Catalan independence to remember that we want independence in order to deliver a better country. Not just any country. An independent Catalonia, sí o sí, is not the aim and never should be. I don’t consider Catalans to be living under a repressive regime (unless you mean the Mossos) and so I don’t buy the liberation trope. And while I wouldn’t like to see Artur Mas behind bars for organizing the consulta, I’d crack the cava open if he and the rest of his party were sent down for corruption.

The pro-independence left (mainly the CUP and elements of Iniciativa and a handful of people at ERC) must maintain its focus through all the twists and turns in this process. We must, above all, fight for our values as the keystone of our support for independence: we want a better country. We want a country that helps the poorest, defends labor, looks after its citizens’ health, educates its young people, invests in the arts and culture, promotes sustainable living and tourism, and rejects CiU’s corruption and the neo-liberal model. And because we’re on the left, we must want all these things for Spain as well.

That’s the Catalan republic that I defend.

Perfect timing for Catalan independence on #9N?

One of the recent posts I wrote on here asked at which point the Catalan government would ‘cross the Rubicon’ into potential illegality in the ‘process’ towards independence. Today, less than 48 hours from the popular consultation on independence, it seems like that moment has arrived.

The Spanish government has had the Constitutional Tribunal suspend all preparations for Sunday’s ‘participatory process’. Today, the Catalan government has made clear that it will not hand responsibility for organizing 9N over to civic associations. In other words, The Catalan government appears to be at the least very nearly in breach of the Constitutional Tribunal’s suspension order.

So why now?

There are several factors that make 9N the perfect moment for disobedience on the part of the Catalan authorities.

1 The Catalan government already backed down from the original consulta. In order to maintain the process, the government needs to stand firm now.
2 Disobedience at this point could have multiple effects but the most important aspect is how the Spanish government responds. Having already stated that it would not act “if the consulta were organized by civic associations”, it seems like the Spanish government may have nearly committed itself to instructing the police to interfere with Sunday’s vote. This might be a deciding factor in the future of the process. If the Spanish interior ministry were to order police (including Mossos) to seize the ballot boxes, it would be doing so under the gaze of hundreds of accredited foreign journalists and press agencies. For this reason, I strongly suspect that it won’t act but will try instead to dismiss the poll as meaningless.

This highlights yet another oddity in the PP’s campaign against the consulta: this ‘consulta-lite’, adopted because the full non-binding consulta was made illegal, was initially dismissed by the PP. Alicia Sanchez-Camacho urged MAdrid not to act against it because it was such a joke. Then, when the Generalitat managed to get all the volunteers it wanted in a few days, the PP changed its tune and again took the Generalitat’s plans to court. This indicates a lack of strategy on the part of the Spanish government.

3 The Spanish government seems to be weakened internationally due to the constant stream of corruption cases (which also affect Catalonia, of course). The Economist, Bloomberg and BBC have all published pieces criticizing Spain in recent days. This adds to the feeling that this might be the best time to take advantage of reasonably positive press coverage for Catalonia, and a slightly negative international attitude towards Spain.

My predictions for #9N:

Turnout – Very important. Unfortunately, I doubt that turnout will reach 50%. It may not even reach 33%. If it did exceed 50%, there would be something to celebrate.

Police – I doubt that the police will be asked to intervene. If they were, the vast majority would obey orders, including the Mossos. But it could lead to unpleasant scenes.

Results – The lower the turnout, the higher the support will be for independence. Some parties, particularly Iniciativa, are calling on supporters to vote Yes to the first question and free choice on the second.

Trouble – I doubt there will be disturbances. That would change if the police were sent in. I read today that Montblanc is setting up concrete barriers to prevent vehicular access to the old town (which strikes me as needless and potentially dangerous – what if there’s a fire?). Areas like this would become potential flashpoints in case the vote were stopped by force. The risk of the far-right trying to stir up trouble is always present but these groups have very limited support.

Outcome – Oriol Junqueras will announce his roadmap to independence on Monday. Smart of him to wait for the results of the consulta. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is that turnout well be lower than desired but will indicate growing support for independence. ERC and the CUP will push for elections soon and will try to guarantee that they take the form of a plebiscite on independence. If they succeed, and Podemos decide to stand (the feeling is that they might not: they’re trying to keep their powder dry until next year’s general elections), they would be forced to declare a position, and it will probably be in support of union with Spain. ICV, PSC, PP and Cs will oppose any kind of plebiscite and may even refuse to stand on a No platform. In short, by Monday nothing might have changed. But everything might have changed too.

Which is why I’m going to vote.