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Post Catalonia Independence and the Spanish Government's Reaction
Created by John Eipper on 10/05/17 3:26 PM

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Catalonia Independence and the Spanish Government's Reaction (Angel Vinas, Belgium, 10/05/17 3:26 pm)

The steps by the Catalan Government which have led to the current situation are relatively clear. They were taken last September but had been announced well before. What is not clear to me is the rationale behind the reaction by the Spanish Government.

Formally, the first secessionist step was the approval by the Catalan Parliament of two laws on 7-8 September. Their main text had been known for several months. They amounted to the imposition of a new "legality" which would derogate the Spanish Constitution. This was simply the equivalent to a coup d' Etat. The two laws were approved disregarding not only the Spanish but also the Catalan Constitution, the advice of the Parliament's lawyers and all parliamentary procedures. They were to be submitted to a popular referendum. Needless to say, the parliamentary opposition absented itself so as not to give an atom of legitimacy to the proceedings.

For the lawyers in the central Government it was clear that two opposing legalities could not coexist. However, the Government did not address this issue squarely. The possibility of applying direct rule to an obviously highly undemocratic Parliament was apparently considered but dismissed. This remains the greatest mystery for me. The Government preferred to concentrate on impeding the announced referendum.

I' m not well versed in the techniques of a coup d' Etat. To me, the course followed by the secessionists was redolent of the one followed by the Germans in February-March 1933. (In saying this I' m well aware of Godwin' s Law according to which as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 100 per cent.)

It has been stated that the current Spanish Government is an authoritarian one, bent on repressing the thirst for liberty of the Catalan people. This isn't true. The Spanish Government on the contrary has been weak, misguided and unimaginative. In particular, it has been reactive, lacking any credible strategy to take the initiative to prevent the logical consequences of the decisions taken in Barcelona.

We don't know what kind of arguments were put on the table in Madrid while discussing how to react to the announced break of the Constitution. Perhaps historians in the future might look at this and see in this moment one of the turning points in the further development of the crisis. Certainly, there are legal and historical minds (García Fernández) who assert that the Government should have taken action last June so as to prevent the need to introduce direct rule in Catalonia which might arise in September (https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/07/08/opinion/1499528675_292407.html ). However, not even in September did the Government do so.

Through the judicial apparatus, action was concentrated on a secondary goal instead of aiming at the main target, i.e. the situation created by the coup d' Etat. In so doing Rajoy played into the hands of secessionists. To achieve this aim, insurmountable obstacles to the logistics of the "referendum" were to be put.

Perhaps this would have been possible if the Catalan police had played ball, although I personally doubted it. Furthermore, in El País of October 3, a disturbing piece of information has been published: the plan was not tight enough and it took into consideration the possibility that the Catalan police did not act as required. Apparently, a new political aim was superimposed: if that was the case the Catalan police would then show its partisan character. If this thesis were true, I cannot imagine a more stupid kind of thinking. As is well known, the illegal consultation could not be totally prevented. There was never any doubt that the Catalan Government and its social mobilization agencies would try to go ahead.

The subsequent scenes of police violence have created the impression of a Government willing to impose its will on a people bent on attaining its freedom by peaceful means. However, more than half of the Catalan population did not vote (the first official statement about turnout was a mere 42 percent). Anyway, the new "law" was so designed that if 3 Catalans out of 4 had voted yes to it, the outcome would have been considered "valid."  In any case, its results cannot be accepted at face value. Numerous examples of manipulation of the census, multiple voting, tampering with ballot boxes within a total vacuum regarding the most elementary guarantees and supervision in the counting procedures have come to light. This has been perhaps the greatest pucherazo in Spanish contemporary history.

My favorite case is a little village in the Girona province, one of the high temples of secessionism. There is a hamlet called Palol de Revardit. If you go the website of the council (http://www.palol.cat/el-municipi.html ) the population is 487 souls. However, according to the official returns published for that little village (http://www.lavanguardia.com/referendum/resultados-demarcacion-girona.html ) no less than 982 votes in favor of secession were counted. Out of the secessionist heavens 495 angels must have come to earth, doubling the local population and giving a divine push to the great cause.

[Topic for research: i) compare the provisional electoral returns of the villages of deep Catalonia, where the national police and civil guard never went with the local censuses and identify the multiplying factor of pucherazo; ii) compare this with the results with the official results not yet announced and look for "improvements." Perhaps some angels even went back to heaven.]

All this notwithstanding, the reality was never important.  What mattered was the narrative built upon it. Given the images and videos broadcast world-wide, the battle for a great part of foreign public opinion has squarely been won by secessionists. Their aim to expose the repressive nature of the Spanish Government has been successful. Which Government would recognize that it played into the hands of a rebel minority, which was shown to be shorn of any preventive strategy and guilty of applying utterly wrong tactics?  Don' t expect Rajoy to make any act of contrition.

Let me tell you two personal anecdotes. When I was in Government service and Mr Rajoy was dubbed as PP candidate for the top job, I asked one colleague who had been working for him about his personality. He replied, do you remember the joke about people from Galicia? If you find them on some stairs you never know whether they are going upstairs or downstairs. Well, in his case you don' t even know whether he is on the stairs or not. So went my friend's assessment. Ambiguity, prudence, guile, procrastination, managing excruciatingly slowly the political tempi with his cards against his chest may be good for a politician in certain cases. In the present circumstances those features have turned against the PM and the Spanish Government.

When I left Government service, several friends and I met a high-ranking military officer in Madrid. It was at the time when secessionism was becoming a rather serious issue. He told us that the Army command had suggested through the political chain to be given authorization to prepare a contingency plan. Just in case. They had never received any reply. Perhaps H.E. the Spanish Ambassador to the US, who was minister of Defense at that time, would care to explain in his memoirs, if he ever writes them, what happened.

If no contingency plan was prepared (and nothing suggests that it would have involved a military intervention) one should ask why. What was certainly prepared after the coup d' Etat seems to have been based on assumptions which did not correspond to reality.

And now, one of the current questions is what the Spanish Government is prepared to do to protect the rights of those Catalan and other citizens living and working in Catalonia who are not secessionist and did not vote in the past referendum? This is the main concern of one of the Catalan parties which is squarely against Independence (https://elpais.com/ccaa/2017/10/02/catalunya/1506947112_624552.html#?id_externo_nwl=newsletter_diaria_manana20171003m ).

In a sign reminiscent of the times before the civil war, unity of action of the opponents to secession has only precariously been achieved.

What are the consequences going to be? For those who read Spanish I refer to a very recent article. See https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/10/02/opinion/1506957279_594068.html . Obviously Spain isn't the only case in this time of populisms, fake truths and Russian hackers. To quote a great Catalan historian, Ferran Gallego on the route which the radical Catalan nationalism has followed:

"Ocupar las calles. Forzar tensión irrespirable. Declaración de independencia con una mayoría parlamentaria que no serviría ni para reformar el Estatut. Imaginar una mayoría social sobre la base de los dos millones de independentistas contabilizados en 2014, 2015 y 2017. Y en las elecciones generales de 2015 y 2016, menos que eso (...) Levantar a sus simpatizantes, muy bien organizados (...) a la protesta masiva. No dejar respirar. Dañar cuanto se pueda la economía española y catalana (...). Dar impresión de colapso. Actuar como si todos fuéramos independentistas. Un solo pueblo clamando por su libertad. Presentarse en Europa bajo la represión. Pedir la mediación europea y obtenerla, tras un proceso largo de enquistamiento y de sufrimiento generalizado..."

Many, many factors explain this process. Some believe there is something in what a great Catalan newspaper has made public a piece of news (see http://www.lavanguardia.com/economia/20161211/412533819276/final-secreto-bancario-andorra-dispara-regularizaciones.html ) What does this mean? The possibility for the financial authorities of all EU member states to find out how much money has illegally been transferred to Andorra. The rumor mill propagates that an "independent" Catalonia might be tempted to protect those patriots (authorities, oligarchs, entrepreneurs, politicians) who evaded money. Among the precautionary measures mentioned in the article, giving some millions to the cause would also have helped.

How to proceed? I think the recent diagnosis and advice of a former PSOE leader are more than welcome https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/10/02/opinion/1506970962_280459.html

JE comments:  If I may sum up Ferran Gallego's quote, the independentist strategy is to "act like everyone is in favor of independence, and ... represent the cause to Europe as that of a people under repression."

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, former Secretary General of the opposition PSOE, urges a new Constitution for Spain which renegotiates the relationship with the Autonomous regions (final link above).  It may be too late, as Pérez Rubalcaba himself acknowledges.

Thank you, Ángel, for your excellent three-part analysis.  Should Catalonia declare independence, historians will long debate how Rajoy could have stopped it.  Perhaps I have Galician DNA, as I haven't the faintest idea what he could have done short of imposing "direct rule" over the Catalan Parliament for abrogating the Constitution.  But how could this have been achieved without violence?  To his credit, Rajoy has--so far--spared the nation(s) of bloodshed.

WAISer Jordi Molins has been writing pro-independence pieces for WAIS since the mid-2000s.  These are very exciting times for him.  Jordi's comment is next.

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  • Were There Voting Irregularities in Catalonia Referendum? (Jordi Molins, -Spain 10/08/17 7:55 AM)
    Ángel Viñas wrote on October 5th: "Palol de Revardit [has a population of] 487 souls. However ... no less than 982 votes in favor of secession were counted. Out of the secessionist heavens 495 angels must have come to earth, doubling the local population and giving a divine push to the great cause."

    Palol de Revardit is the closest village to Sant Julià de Ramis. Catalan President Puigdemont should have voted in Sant Julià de Ramis. However, the first violent action of the Spanish police was precisely in Sant Julià. The Spanish police completely destroyed the public facility where the voting should have taken place. As a consequence, most of the Sant Julià population went to vote to Palol de Revardit. This is the reason for the 982 votes in Palol, despite a population of 487. Let me emphasize the Catalan government took into consideration the possibility of violent actions by the Spanish police, and decided to go for "universal vote," i.e. any Catalan with the right to vote could vote anywhere (for a fascinating account of the actions of the Catalan hackers hired by the Catalan government that allowed this universal vote to happen, defeating the Spanish intelligence services, please read https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/els-hackers-que-van-fer-possible-el-cens-universal/ ).

    Ángel further wrote of "numerous examples of manipulation of the census, multiple voting, tampering with ballot boxes within a total vacuum regarding the most elementary guarantees and supervision in the counting procedures have come to light."

    Can Ángel Viñas give us his sources for such a claim?

    Helena Catt, the Head of a team of international observers specialized in elections, wrote: "We saw numerous and repeated violations of civil and human rights ... it was a centrally orchestrated, military-style operation carefully planned ... We repeatedly saw that those who worked in the polling stations did so in good faith, and we saw no sign of attempts to manipulate the vote. Everyone we saw was doing the best they could under difficult circumstance. In conclusion, across Catalonia we noted persistence in the effort to vote including significant turnout despite enormous obstacle and fear. The process should be respected."

    The school where I was supposed to vote had long queues (due to the Spanish intelligence services actions). I went to another school nearby. I voted, and my national ID was introduced into the system. Later, I tried to vote again, but I was not allowed to, since the IT system stated (correctly) I had already voted before. Also, I asked to introduce the national ID of a person that I knew had no right to vote; the IT system stated again correctly that person could not vote.

    Ángel also wrote: "The rumor mill propagates that an 'independent' Catalonia might be tempted to protect those patriots (authorities, oligarchs, entrepreneurs, politicians) who evaded money."

    Oligarchs in Catalonia are almost always Unionist (since they have many vested interests in Madrid). Catalan business unions of large corporations are unionist; instead, Catalan business unions representing SMEs are independentists. Let me recall the unionist Popular Party led to a "tax amnesty" just a few years ago. The Popular Party argued the reason for that action was to raise more tax. Most Catalans believe the main reason was to allow the Spanish elites to "legalize" their wealth in tax havens such as Andorra.

    I think it is ignominious that unionists accuse Catalan of "evading money," when the Popular Party is, by far, the most corrupt political party in Europe (with the top ranking shared by the Socialists). Let me recall that the Popular Party has not even asked for forgiveness for its numerous cases of corruption. Instead, Catalonia, with a much lower number of corruption cases, forced the disappearance of its main and historical political party CDC, and its long time leader (and corrupt), Jordi Pujol, is ostracized in Catalan society. Many Catalans do not understand why Pujol is still not in prison. The rumor goes that he knows lots of secrets about illegal financing of both the Popular Party and the Socialists (Pujol's court case is managed by Spain, not Catalonia, and the Spanish justice system systematically bows to the Executive power).

    Voting polls show that ERC (left-wing independentists) would clearly win the next Catalan Parliament elections. ERC is a long-time enemy of Jordi Pujol and the Catalan oligarchs around Pujol. It seems fascinating to me that somebody could write that a ERC government would protect those Catalan oligarchs. The opposite is likely to be true. For sure, most Catalan oligarchs have clearly sided on the Unionist camp, in order to protect their vested interests in Madrid.

    A CEO of a famous Spanish newspaper said: "The unity of Spain is a value higher than the [information] truth." The Madrid media are distributing all kinds of lies to its own population, which is unprotected from this massive blockade against the truth. Instead, Catalan people can read news from both sides of the conflict. Let me recall this week, the last two independentist writers for El País, Joan B. Culla and Francesc Cerès, have had to decline writing for El País anymore, due to censorship to their articles.

    JE comments:  Jordi Molins tested the the integrity of the voting technology, and double-voting was not allowed.  (Or were you really trying to vote twice, Jordi?  Just kidding...)

    It seems there is no question that the outcome was strongly in favor of independence...among those who cast votes.  Unionists overwhelmingly stayed away, because they saw the vote itself as illegal.  I see no way to resolve this.

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    • Voting Irregularities in Catalonia Referendum (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 10/08/17 4:30 PM)
      Jordi Molins never ceases to surprise me. In his post of 8 October Jordi claimed the Catalonia referendum result was legitimate and valid, representing the will of the Catalan people despite police brutality.

      Apparently he is ignoring many facts disclosed by the press, social networks and even TV3 Catalonia, the official government independentista TV network.

      There were irregularities in several areas:

      • The number of times a person could vote, as many pictures published in the media revealed (see below).

      • The Universal Voting mode was adopted without proper digital control, allowing people to vote in any centre disregarding the ID, the electoral census and their location.

      • The digital system to control voter IDs was disabled in most of the places, allowing indiscriminate and uncontrolled manual process only with the presentation of an ID.

      • People presenting their votes indiscriminately in polling stations, even without an ID.

      • Accidental discovery of polling booth full of ballots when they were taking them to the electoral centers before the process started.

      • A lack of legal authorities to control, audit, and validate the counting, in general a shameless manipulation.

      • A lack of official and impartial observers and perhaps many other irregularities.

      Furthermore, Jordi fails to mention that the international observers were mostly academics, journalists and foreign private and non-official representatives invited by the Generalitat, obviously attracted by their independentist or Europhobic ideologies. As such, their opinions are certainly biased. Nevertheless, on the topic of the legitimacy and credibility of the referendum results, one of the so-called "observers," Dan Everst, a Europhobic diplomat from the Netherlands, declared, "La Misión debe concluir que el referéndum, tal y como se hizo, no puede cumplir con los estándares internacionales," and that "era .... improbable" que se dieran... las garantías de un referéndum bien hecho," which is to say the referendum did not comply with international standards and it was hardly a well-executed process. Of course he also nuanced his remark, stressing that this situation was caused by "police brutality."


      Attached are images of same people voting several times. I suppose Jordi might argue that these photos are manipulations of the Spanish government conspiracy.

      JE comments: My translations of the above: "The Mission must conclude that the Referendum as it was carried out, cannot comply with the international standards," and "it was unlikely that the proper guarantees were in place."

      What do we know about the chubby guy with the "vote earlier, vote often" philosophy?  (Second photo)  Was he really trying to vote several times, or to prove that there were irregularities?

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      • In Catalonia Referendum, Voting Irregularities were Minimal (Jordi Molins, -Spain 10/10/17 9:10 AM)
        Here are some highlights from the preliminary statement on the Catalonia referendum by ILOC's Dan Everst, from which José Ignacio Soler quoted on 8 October:

        "The ILOM strongly condemns the violence that injured hundreds of people and has been widely reported on in the international media. The use of force displayed by the Spanish police has no place in established democracies (...) The Election Administration, which organized the voting, struggled with its preparations for the referendum due to concerns about repercussions from the Spanish government, which led them to work in anonymity and without transparency (...) Because of the adverse circumstances under which the event took place, the ILOM has to conclude that the referendum, as held, could not comply with key international standards. At the same time, the ILOM observed that, despite these circumstances, polling station staff performed to the best of their ability in trying to cope, and in trying to follow electoral procedures."


        In other words: Dan Everst, as well as Helena Catt, argue the "international accepted guarantees of a properly conducted referendum" were not met. But this is not due to lack of a proper process by the Catalan authorities, but rather because of "The use of force displayed by the Spanish police [which] has no place in established democracies," and "The Election Administration, which organized the voting, struggled with its preparations for the referendum due to concerns about repercussions from the Spanish government."

        After proper investigations, it can be concluded that a correct process whereby nobody could vote more than once with the same national ID was properly established. I reported in WAIS my own personal experience, and Twitter is full of pictures of computer screens denying the vote to a person, due to a previous vote in another school. There are videos of Catalans showing the whole process, from queuing, to presenting their ID, to introducing the vote into the ballot. And once the process is repeated somewhere else, the electoral system does not allow that person to cast a vote.

        How is it possible then to explain the images of the same person voting four times, which José Ignacio Soler posted on WAIS?

        There are at least three possibilities:

        The first one is that person went with friends to vote. And then the friend, with the right to vote, asked if his friend (maybe arguing he was a foreigner, and wanted to cast a vote to show a cool picture to his friends at home?) could cast the vote. There is a tradition in Catalonia that children cast the vote of one of the parents. As a consequence, it is not far-fetched to assume that it is possible that the person that casts the vote is not necessary to be the person who officially votes.

        A second possibility is for somebody to take national IDs from friends, of the same age and sex, and a not too dissimilar physical appearance. Nowadays, people change of haircut quite often, there is plastic surgery, etc. so it seems to make sense that the control of the picture of the national ID is not very strict, unless there is an outrageous difference (for example, a man with a beard voting with the ID of a woman with feminine features).

        Let me stress these two first possibilities can happen in any election. In fact, it is known they happen from time to time. Also, it is important to emphasize that, at least as far as I know, no report of multiple voting in the Catalan referendum shows a video with the whole process (queuing, presenting the ID, and introducing the vote into the ballot). I think this is quite suspect, since if somebody wanted to show the process itself is flawed, why just giving a series of pictures, and not the whole process with a video?

        A third possibility is the following: when the Spanish intelligence services were attacking the IT systems of the Catalan government, people at schools could not introduce the name of the people willing to vote, in order to check through the universal voting system that that person had not voted before elsewhere. Since queues were very long, some schools decided to take the names of the people by hand. Then, once the IT systems were online again (due to the good work of the Catalan hackers), they introduced these names into the system.

        What could have happened is that somebody could have voted more than once, knowing this weakness of the system. But the electoral process had a way to deal with it: once the voting ended, and they checked there was one more envelope in the ballot box than it should be, an envelope was taken at random, and it was destroyed. Let me recall this is the standard procedure in normal elections, when for example somebody introduces two envelopes at the same time into the ballot box, inadvertently to the people in charge of the ballot box.

        It is important to emphasize that, if anything, this elimination at random of an envelope skewed the numbers in favor of the "No": since it is overwhelmingly likely that the people in the images of Ignacio Soler voted "No" several times, and the "No" only had a 7% of the votes, the envelope at random had a more than 90% probability to be a "Yes" vote. So, with a high likelihood a "No" vote remained in the urn, and a "Yes" vote was eliminated.

        Taking into account the proportion of votes in relation to the census (all the people with the right to vote), the proportion in the Catalan referendum was higher than for Brexit, the Spanish vote for the European Constitution ... or the votes that the Popular Party obtained in the last Spanish general elections (close to double).

        Finally, I would like to highlight my moral support to Socialist sympathizers: the PSOE attended the demonstration in favor of the unity of Spain, celebrated in Barcelona on October 8, as well as La Falange, Democracia Nacional and other 14 extreme right, Francoist and neo-Nazi organizations. This is the first time in history the Socialist party has shared its name with this kind of people. I assume it has to be a hard pill to swallow for those Socialists who fought against Francoism in favour of civil liberties, now to see their own party is joining forces with those who killed their parents and grandparents, and forced them into exile ... just not to allow the Catalans to vote. My prayers are with them.

        As is usual when these kinds of organizations meet in Barcelona, there were several violent incidents, with journalists and photographers being brutally attacked, people with blood in their heads, racist attacks against immigrants in the city center and in the metro, assault into the Parc de la Ciutadella (which was blocked by the police), constant shouting about "Puigdemont to prison," "Kill Puigdemont" (Puigdemont al paredón), "una estelada, una pedrada" ("for each Catalan independentist flag, a blow with a stone") people with Francoist flags, swastika tattoos, Nazi salutes (at least once, by a Spanish policeman in uniform) etc. despite the organization of the event was very clear that people should not bring Francoist or neo-Nazi flags (for sure, the organization knew very well which kind of people would attend this demonstration)--but to no avail.

        See for example:


        This Francoist and neo-Nazi event reached the United States, with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan giving public support to his mates in Spain.

        Even more violent events happened in Valencia, with Spanish Francoists and neo-Nazis massively attacking Valencians celebrating the Valencian official day, and shouting "Sieg Heil!" In Zaragoza a few days ago, the leader of La Falange was allowed to speak in front of a pro-Spanish demonstration of thousands of people, with people cheering him up massively.

        Finally, the official spokesman of the Spanish government yesterday threatened the Catalan President Puigdemont that he would be killed as was Catalan President Companys, who has shot down by the Francoists after having been detained by the Gestapo, and delivered to the Francoists due to the good relationship between the Francoists and the Nazis.

        JE comments:  As of this writing, still no declaration from Barcelona.  Spanish police are reportedly waiting in the wings to arrest Puigdemont.  These are very tense times.

        Jordi Molins writes of the strange political bedfellows in the Unionist alliance.  Isn't the case the same for the Independentists, who run the full spectrum from extreme Right to extreme Left?

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        • Catalonia Independence Update; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 10/10/17 2:53 PM)
          Ric Mauricio writes:

          Jordi Molins (10 October) discussed three possibilities to explain the alleged voting irregularities in the Catalonia referendum. I venture forth a fourth possibility. It was staged. Perhaps it was staged as a stunt. Or perhaps staged by anti-independents provoking a discussion that the election was a fraud. Without further investigation of the gentlemen in the pictures, we will really never know.

          Several posts have indicated that a dire economic scenario is in the offing, with banks and corporations moving their headquarters out of Catalonia. Interesting. This seems to be truly a "blood in the streets" and "maximum pessimism" scenario.

          This is very much a Catalexit type of event. So perhaps we should look at the UK's Brexit and its effect on the UK market in dollar terms to guide us in investment decisions. When the vote on Brexit happened, the UK markets reacted by dropping 15%. Since then, the UK market (again, in US dollars) has appreciated 30%. Not a bad return for 14 months.

          The problem in Catalonia, though, is that there is no pure play on Catalan. No Catalan ETF. Jordi, here's an opportunity for you.

          JE mentioned a China-Catalonia play, but I put forth another, more geographic play: a UK-Catalan economic partnership. After all, on the other end of Spain is Gibraltar. And none of them belong to the EU.

          On a different topic, has anyone noticed that Switzerland's flag (JE's comment on flags) is an inversion of the Knights Templar insignia? This explains the wealth and militaristic regimented culture of the Swiss. If one is to look at successful breakaways, one only need to look at Switzerland and its breaking from the Hapsburg Empire on August 1st, 1291, less than a month after the Knights Templar lost its last stronghold in the Holy Land on May 18th, 1291.

          JE comments:  This evening the expected clarity on Catalonian independence is possibly even less so, after the Parliament signed an independence document but Puigdemont expressed a desire for further talks.  Was he intimidated by threats of arrest?  Reason and moderation seem to be prevailing for now, but the independentista firebellies are not happy.

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      • Catalonia Referendum, Constitutionality, and Election Standards (Angel Vinas, Belgium 10/11/17 9:11 AM)
        Such as things stand at present, I fear we are in for a long discussion on Catalonia. It will be fruitless. The dice have started rolling. We can say something about the past; the future is cloudy.

        I agree with José Ignacio Soler (8 October), and will add the following. The referendum issue is important because the Catalan Government is using it to support its claim to legitimacy. Let me pinpoint something which remains a mystery to me. The Catalan Government and the Parliament have repeatedly proclaimed that an independent Catalonia will remain within the EU (this is pure fantasy, but this isn't my line of reasoning).

        If they really believe that, it stands to reason that the referendum should have complied with generally accepted standards of supervision in Europe. The Commission of Venice of the Council of Europe (nothing to do with the EU) considered that the referendum wouldn't comply with them. Obviously, the Catalan Government couldn't appeal to an electoral supervision by the EU itself.

        The abandonment of any kind of control by these two organizations should have led to the conclusion that the outcome would lack legitimacy. And this is what has happened.

        Nobody but the secessionists believes that the referendum had any value as such. This is why I called it the biggest pucherazo in Spanish history. Some guys have now taken upon themselves to put in foreign languages the legal situation as seen by a number of Spanish experts in constitutional law.  Please refer to the Manifest by Spanish Constitutional Law professors in favour of respecting the Constitution:


        I don´t want to toot my own horn, but I feel a bit strongly about it. After all it was Yours Truly who started polishing and updating the EU policies in electoral observation more than fifteen years ago.

        JE comments:  Would the Venice Commission have sent observers if Catalonia had asked?  The constitutional question admits no ambiguity:  Spain's constitution did not permit the Referendum.  Yet Catalonia's separatists argue that the constitution is unfair, and was written by Francoist holdovers to serve their own interests. 

        I have yet to see an answer to this question:  Why wasn't Catalonia granted the same privilege Scotland received when it voted on independence?  To answer that the "constitution disallows it" is not fully satisfactory.

        Please toot your horn, Ángel!  Many of us on WAIS would be fascinated to learn more about your work with electoral rules and observation.

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        • Why Catalonia and Scotland Referenda Were Different (Jose Manuel de Prada, -Spain 10/12/17 5:10 AM)
          JE asked on October 11th: "Why wasn't Catalonia granted the same privilege Scotland received when it voted on independence?"

          Well, the peculiar "unwritten" Constitution of the UK grants it more flexibility for such arrangements than is the case for a written constitution such as a Spanish one.

          Reforming our fundamental law is no easy matter and requires a consensus that was impossible to achieve when all this began.

          (Although yesterday Mr. Rajoy announced that he and the leader of the opposition had agreed to start such a process of reform.)

          Then, as far as I know, the Scottish nationalists did not blackmail London into agreeing to do a referendum, as the Catalan government did.

          The strategy of fait accompli and threats followed by A. Mas and then C. Puigdemont has done little to help the Catalan cause.  Much less their willful disregard for the substantial part of the population that does not want independence.

          (No wonder El País calls Mr. Puigdemont's nationalism "xenophobic.")

          I wonder how David Cameron would have reacted had the SNP adopted such tactics!

          Then, turning to the US, how would the US Federal Government react if one of the bigger states (say, California or Texas) started today a process of secession?  What would happen if such a state threatened to secede unilaterally?  As far as I know, the US Constitution does not allow states to secede, and there was a long and bloody civil war in 1861-1865 when several of them did so unilaterally.

          Would the seceding state claim that the constitution is unfair?  Or consider it "not fully satisfactory," invoking the Constitution to argue against secession?

          (Perhaps the old Texas v. White Supreme Court decision would also be invoked? See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_v._White )  Does the Federal Government have any legal means to prevent a state from seceding?  Is there something in the US law books equivalent to the Spanish Constitution's Section 155?

          By the way, while looking for information for this post I saw that there is indeed a Texan secession movement, apparently stoked by Russia!



          JE comments:  Yesterday in my Spanish III class we discussed Catalan secession.  Only about 2 of my 15 students were aware of the referendum and subsequent controversy.  When I mentioned the analogy of California hypothetically seceding, some of my students (I suspect they were the Righties) replied with "let 'em go."  Had I cited Texas instead, I'm confident the Lefties would have said "let 'em go."

          Yesterday I characterized the constitutional argument against the Catalonia referendum as "not fully satisfactory."  Several WAISers have responded in chastisement.  First, José Manuel de Prada, and next, José Ignacio Soler.  Ángel Viñas has also replied.

          The NPR news guy last night really butchered Mr Rajoy's name:  "Muh RYE uh-no RAY-joy."  Yuck.  Did anyone else hear it?

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          • Catalonia and Scotland Referenda: No Middle Ground? (Istvan Simon, USA 10/13/17 8:40 AM)
            I much appreciate José Manuel de Prada's somewhat legalistic attempt (12 October) to explain the difference between the Scotland Referendum and the Catalonia referendum, but in my view José Manuel misses the main point of this discussion. As I said before, I have no preference regarding the outcome of these referenda. I am happy either way, if Catalonia becomes independent, and also if it remains in Spain, provided the majority of its population can be persuaded of the wisdom of either outcome.

            The Spanish Constitution forcing Catalonia to remain Spanish no matter what is wrong. Period. So the main issue is not the referendum, but the lack of opportunity for those that desire independence from expressing themselves in an effective and consequential way. If it is true what José Manuel says that the "silent majority" desires Union with Spain, and frankly I doubt that it is true, then the attempt to suppress the referendum on legalistic grounds and with violence was a giant political blunder. A majority that is silent is a majority that has no right to complain. They should have voted in the (supposedly illegal) election so that it would be clear that they are a majority. They did not do so, leaving the impression that the "majority" is in fact a minority.

            Quite apart from deciding whether unionists or independentists are a majority or not, is the fact that neither José Manuel de Prada nor José Ignacio Soler, nor the Spanish government have a good answer to the fact that there is certainly a very large number of Catalans, even if we were to accept their thesis that they are only a minority, who are unhappy with Spain and desire independence. All I have read in WAIS about this from those that support the union with Spain is a demonization of those who believe in independence. This is a self-defeating and ineffective strategy. Our WAISer colleague Jordi Molins is not a socialist, nor do any of the other aspersions that were cast on people for independence in these pages apply to him. So José Manuel and the other WAISers that are for Union with Spain need to address this lack of dialogue and respect for the opposing point of view. Maybe if they try talking to each other rather than casting aspersions not just in WAIS but in Catalonia, the two sides could come back to a common solution acceptable to both. This is not happening, and the result is conflict that perhaps could have been avoided with more intelligent politics in Spain.

            JE comments:  In cases of divorce, I know of no middle ground.  Either you split, or you stay together.  But you can control the amount of acrimony involved.

            The Spanish constitution could indeed be wrong, but it's also the law.  Their are legal processes to change laws.  But often it takes disobedience to jump-start the process.

            Who can update us on the present state of the stand-off between Catalonia and Madrid?  What about Rajoy's 8-day ultimatum?

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            • Secession and Constitutionality (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 10/17/17 2:41 PM)

              Istvan Simon wrote on October 13th: "The Spanish Constitution forcing Catalonia to remain Spanish no matter what is wrong. Period."

              This is a very strong and categorical opinion. Respectfully, I would say that Istvan is wrong about this. Period.

              If what Istvan says is true, then all democratic constitutions in the world would be "wrong" in principle, because all of them contain basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

              But suppose--just suppose!--that the constitutions of the world were to allow any region to claim its independence, assuming of course that it is not ruled by an autocratic government or they are colonies, in which case this claim is certainly natural. Let us suppose that any time when the people feel like it or are promoted by an even small unrepresentative number of citizens, the constitution granted this institutional right. Then, what would stop any other region, in cascade, to ask for the same, and then another and so on, with the likely result of independence or autonomy?

              Is it not true that the state, the nation, the country would be in risk of disappearing very soon as a national entity, being replaced by a multi-state of nationalistic smaller states competing with each other for borders and resources?  Preventing this risk is why in all constitutions such principles of inviolability territorial integrity must exist. Is it not basic social and political logic?

              I might understand the liberal ideological tendency of Itsvan, but the reason for having constitutional provisions to prevent secessionism is fundamental survival logic of any state and nation, and not irrational at all.

              When commenting on Istvan's post, John E asked, "who can update us on the present state of the stand-off between Catalonia and Madrid? What about Rajoy's 8-day ultimatum?"  Unfortunately, the situation seems to have changed little. What is known in the press is that Rajoy has given 5 days to Puigdemont to clarify whether he really declared independence or not, and because the Catalonian president is under high pressure from radicals on his side, he most likely will confirm the independence declaration.  Then, the government must give him 3 more days to offer the opportunity to rectify. The most likely scenario is that they then will apply to the Spanish senate for the suspension of autonomy, under Article 155, and that the senate will authorize it, with the final result a call for general elections shortly after.

              One final comment.  Massoud Malek says in his last post, "Some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason, while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (like the case of Catalonia)." I would really hope Massoud will clarify what the "grave injustices" are in the case of Catalonia. I invite him to mention them and to educate us ignorant Spanish about the subject.

              JE comments:  Should any region be coerced to belong to a nation it doesn't want to be in?  Territorial integrity is one of the Westphalian "truths" of nation-states, but shouldn't nations work harder to keep their regions from wanting to leave?  José Ignacio Soler has perhaps identified the central problem of a "let 'em go" free-for-all:  minority regions are never homogeneous, and a minority that secedes and becomes a majority will suddenly have its own disgruntled minorities who'll want to secede.

              José Manuel de Prada has also sent an update on the Catalonia question.  Tune in, first thing tomorrow!

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            • Catalonia Update (Jose Manuel de Prada, -Spain 10/18/17 3:22 AM)
              Istvan Simon's comments of October 14th show how successful the Catalonia pro-independence propaganda abroad is proving to be.

              This is helped by the lousy reporting the crisis is receiving in the US, even from such newspapers as the Washington Post and the New York Times, in which simplification and a tendency to romanticize the situation are rife.

              An article trying to explain the back story, remote and recent, of the situation, couldn't be more disastrous.

              However, this piece, written by a Canadian scholar, is quite decent:


              Even our esteemed editor, JE, shows signs of having allowed emotions-based on propaganda get the better of him.  The whole thing is far, far more complex than most people are capable of seeing from abroad.

              Instead of blaming the "silent majority" for its silence, Istvan Simon should ask himself why this mass of people (perhaps indeed a majority, certainly about half the population) has remained relatively inactive in politics in the past few decades.

              He should also make an effort to check the credentials of those who claim to speak for the whole of Catalan society.

              I am too busy now to explain the complex back story of the present crisis, but can at least point to a relevant parallel to convey the frustration and anxiety many here feel about a situation that we feel jeopardizes our future and in the not-too-distant future may even threaten our very physical integrity.

              The example, as I have pointed in other posts, is the US political situation after Donald Trump's victory in the latest presidential elections.

              Does Donald Trump represent the majority of the US population?  Did he tell the truth when campaigning for the presidency?  Is he governing having in mind not only those who voted for him, but the whole of the population as true statesman should?

              I don't know what you think, but for me the answer to all these questions is a rotund NO.

              Well, the same is happening here.

              The pro-independence block does not represent the majority of the population, and in the 2015 regional elections, which initially they described as "plebiscitary," they got only the 47.74 % of the vote.

              As Trump did before, during and after the 2016 election, the pro-independence movement is lying shamelessly to attract supporters (everything is going to be wonderful when Catalonia is independent, we will be in Europe when that happens, the Spanish state is not democratic, etc.).

              As Trump is doing now, the regional government has been governing since 2015 just for their pro-independence constituency.  It has also invested a huge amount of public funds for this sectarian cause.

              Am I demonizing those who believe in independence or treating them with disrespect when saying this?  Certainly not; I am just describing things as they are.

              And part of this reality is that separatist are just treating those who do not think like them as if they just didn't exist.  Can one imagine greater disrespect?

              I don't know what you may think, but as for me, being considered invisible by those in power does not contribute to my peace of mind.

              We are just saying: We are here, we are also Catalans, this is just a scam of which we don't want to be part.

              Because that is what it is: a scam promoted by politicians that, as has been widely proven, for almost 25 years got a 3% "mordida" from all public tenders and that started all this madness in 2012 when things were beginning to look grim for them because of this.

              Sadly, the Spanish government is not at present in the cleverest hands, but I think their basic position is quite reasonable: return to legality and we will talk. No dialogue can exist if you persist in your blackmail.

              This said: the latest about the crisis is that yesterday a judge sent to prison, accused of sedition, the leaders of Omnium Cultural and the ANC (Assemblea Nacional Catalana), the two organizations which, with generous backing from the regional government, have been essential in organizing the whole scam.

              An idiotic move, in my opinion, that only will make things worse.  (Although, you bet, I think the charge of sedition is completely justified!)

              Meanwhile, companies are fleeing Catalonia in droves, and tourist bookings are down by 30%.

              JE comments:  The 3% "mordida" (bribe or "bite") claim, if true, is extremely revealing.  José Manuel, when time permits can you give more details?  Are you talking about Pujol and his clique?

              Might the over-romanticization of the situation stem from the belief that Spain does things, well, romantically?  This was more or less the point of Antonio Muñoz Molina's essay in El País (see Ángel Viñas, 17 October).  If so, Catalonia's separatism from Spain is the most "Spanish" of acts.  I do recognize the irony here.

              Jordi Molins (next) weighs in with the opposite view from Barcelona.

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        • Catalonia and Scotland Referenda Compared (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 10/11/17 5:00 PM)
          I confess I was a little surprised by John E's questions. When commenting on Ángel Viñas's post of 11 October, John first asked, "Would the Venice Commission have sent observers to the Catalonia Referendum... if Catalonia had asked?" He followed this up with, "Why wasn't Catalonia granted the same privilege Scotland received when it voted on independence?"

          John further wrote, "to answer that the 'constitution disallows it' is not fully satisfactory," and finally, "Catalonia's separatists argue that the constitution is unfair, and was written by Francoist holdovers to serve their own interests."

          I was surprised because in several previous posts, I fully addressed these questions. If I remember correctly, several other participants in WAIS did so as well. But let me try again to clarify my points and first address a more immediate and basic question.

          The October 1st referendum result in Catalonia, besides not being a legal referendum, did not comply with basic standards of any kind. It is therefore not possible to claim legitimacy or credibility. There are other more technical reasons to reach this conclusion, despite what the Catalonian Generalitat, or WAISer Jordi Molins for that matter, argue to the contrary.

          But suppose--just suppose!--the Referendum result was legitimate.  I then ask, is it reasonable to claim that 36% of population is a valid measure to justify independence? I believe that such a massive social transition, the separation of a society, with its economic, political, legal, and social impacts, should be decided by a great majority of the population, not a minority voicing its opinion, perhaps or most probably against the will of the majority.

          Regrettably, yesterday the Catalonian Generalitat, in an absurd and ridiculous ceremony based on this assumption, declared independence but also its immediate suspension--yes but no at the same time! The declaration reminded me of the Mexican comedian Cantinflas, who is perhaps not so well known by many non-Spanish-speaking WAISers but famous for his frequently absurd, contradictory and ambiguous speaking style.

          Well, let me now try to answer JE's questions, regarding the Venice Commission, which for those unfamiliar with it is the EU entity in charge of solving legal matters regarding internal constitutional affairs. This body already stated, in response to a specific consultation from the Generalitat, that the Referendum could not be held in conflict with constitutional law. For this reason it would have been very difficult, and most likely impossible, for them to send or authorize observers.

          I am not a lawyer, but regarding the question as to why Catalonia was not granted the same privileges as Scotland--well, it is already clear.  It would have been against the constitution to grant such privileges.  This is not the case for British law, which I presume does not explicitly have anything against such procedures if it is agreed to among the British regions.

          But suppose again--just suppose!--that permission had been granted by the Spanish government. In that case, unfortunately they too would have been acting against the law, and being accomplices, they would immediately be legally accountable and most likely accused of prevarication, which would have been unacceptable and politically suicidal.

          Finally, it is true that Catalonian separatists argue that the Spanish Constitution is Francoist, but they should remember that this same constitution was approved by 90% of the Catalonian population in a legal--this time it was!--referendum. Catalonia by the way gave it the largest approval percentage of all the Spanish regions. Therefore the "Francoist constitution" argument is just one more of the hackneyed and oft-repeated historical manipulations of the independentistas.

          JE comments:  I fully understand the legal argument, but it still is not--sorry!--fully satisfactory.  One could counter the "it's the law" interpretation with many Godwinesque case precedents, such as Dred Scott and Plessy v Ferguson in their day, or Citizens United at present.  Is the right (the legal) always the good

          I'm neutral on Catalonian independence, and there are solid points on both sides.  But it's problematic to argue that the Referendum results were wrong on procedural grounds, when the vote itself never had the chance to operate otherwise--read, legitimately with observers and universal participation.  There can only be one result from this:  intransigence on both sides.

          Next, Ángel Viñas seconds José Ignacio Soler's view--or thirds it, if we include José Manuel de Prada.

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        • My Work with EU Election Policies (Angel Vinas, Belgium 10/12/17 10:56 AM)
          In reply to John E's questions of October 11th:

          1. As far as one can trust newspaper reports, the Catalan secessionists explored the possibility of the Carter Foundation supervising their referendum.  Apparently it didn't reply.

          2. The Venice Commission published an answer according to which the planned referendum had to fulfill certain conditions. It did not.

          3. What I said in my previous post about the allegation that such a pucherazo-prone referendum would serve to provide a sort of "legitimacy" to the secession was highlighted yesterday by none other than His Excellency the president of the Catalan Government.

          About tooting my horn: the EU through the European Commission had started some electoral observation exercises at the end of the 1980s. The EU was also involved in supervising not elections per se, but developments on the ground in the Serbian and Bosnian war. It was done in scarcely a well-defined and systematic way. When I returned to Brussels from the UN I started agitating in favor of updating in certain areas: electoral observation was one of them. I was responsible for a melange of files concerning security policy (in its infancy), multilateral political relations, human rights and, crucially, assistance to democratization.

          I was fortunately helped by a very good Spanish civil servant, Carmen Marques, who did the ground work. We had a draft policy document ready when the crisis of the Santer Commission blew up and we left it for its successor, the Prodi Commission. After a lot of bureaucratic wrangling we pushed the file to completion. I must say, for the record, that we had held open the choice of leaders of the electoral observation missions but the Commissioners thought that pride of place should be given to MEPs. It became a growing field later on and everybody was very happy. Carmen and I fell into oblivion. Such is the fate of civil servants.

          All of this I related in my book Al servicio de Europa (In Europe's Service).  In the EU I learned how one could combine national inputs with supranational approaches. Don't ask me please about what I feel about right-wing or left-wing nationalisms, from here or there.

          JE comments:  Getting a policy change through the EU bureaucracy must be a massive undertaking.  It's hard enough in a tiny academic department.  Ángel Viñas has my deep admiration.

          But to say Ángel "fell into oblivion"?  We cannot be talking about the same person!

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    • Is Spain Going Down the Road of Yugoslavia? (Jose Manuel de Prada, -Spain 10/10/17 7:02 AM)
      Fervent nationalists can easily they lose touch with reality. At some point, if not from the very beginning, they start to believe their own propaganda. This is unfortunately the case with Jordi Molins's post of 8 October.

      Look at Slobodan Milosevic, whose sick dreams about a Greater Serbia ended up with Serbia reduced to a minimum and thousands of lives lost or terribly disrupted after years of wars and ethnic strife.

      I am afraid Mr. Puigdemont, Mr. Junqueras and their accomplices have now reached the stage in which they are completely engulfed in their own lies and equivocations.

      And I am afraid that if they don't step soon on the brake, we run the risk of ending up as badly as the former Yugoslavia.

      Yesterday's anti-independence demonstration in Barcelona was a great success and effectively demolishes one of the pillars of their bizarre project: the proposition that there is a single Catalonian people united in the struggle for independence.

      It is not only that the "silent majority" has spoken. The shameless machinations of Puigdemont and accomplices have actually awoken a part of the Catalan population that usually did not participate much in local politics, thus greatly facilitating the electoral victories of the nationalists.

      I predict that the outcome of the next Catalan elections will reflect this, and that the representation of non-nationalist parties will increase.

      Turning to the events of 1 October, the so-called "international observers" mentioned by Jordi Molins are far from being independent and neutral.

      As the "process" itself, they are quite unreliable.

      The corruption of the Partido Popular is indeed shameful, but even at its grossest, it does not reach the level of CiU (revamped later as PEdCat), the coalition that was in power in Catalonia for almost 25 years and now forms the bulk of the pro-independence coalition Junts pel Si.

      The canard "Espanya ens roba" (Spain robs us), once a favorite mantra of the "process," is not heard very much in the official nationalist propaganda since in 2014 the "Honorable" Jordi Pujol (Artur Mas's mentor) was forced to confess that he had a fortune in Andorra.

      Even before this, some of his many children had begun to be investigated for the dubious business activities, which include massive evasion of millions of euros.

      No wonder the judge considers that the Pujol family constitutes and organized criminal clan!

      Then, is ERC a "left-wing independentist" party as Jordi Molins claims? I doubt that very much.

      Maybe Jordi Molins can explain to us "la alianza espuria entre los intereses del capitalismo proteccionista de la burguesía catalana con los objetivos del anticapitalismo nihilista y tantas veces violento que representa la CUP," to use the words of a recent editorial in El País (https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/10/01/opinion/1506880075_521544.html ).

      My translation: "[T]he spurious alliance between the interests of the protectionist capitalism of the Catalan bourgeoisie and the objectives of the nihilist anticapitalism, so often violent, represented by the CUP."

      The international press does not often mention this party, and I suspect some correspondents may not even know it exists.

      Yet the fact is that Puigdemont, Junqueras and accomplices are hostage to this anti-system group which represents only 8% of the vote of 2015 elections, and have been shamelessly doing their bidding for most of the "process."

      If, apparently, Puigdemont and accomplices cannot step on the brakes even if they wanted to, is precisely because of this lot of tough guys, whose reaction to the predictable failure of the "process" is much to be feared.

      (Apparently, they are now planning how to control sea ports and airports once independence is declared: http://www.europapress.es/nacional/noticia-cup-llama-analizar-controlar-puertos-aeropuertos-catalanes-hacer-efectiva-independencia-20171005121026.html )

      Turning now to JE's comments, it being clear that the vote of 1 October is invalid and that the pro-independence coalition of parties does not represent the will of the majority of the population, new elections would be the democratic way to solve the matter, if possible without having to resort to the suspension of Catalonia's autonomy.

      Mr. Rajoy should now rack his brains (if indeed he has any) and find a way to give a more or less honorable way out for the nationalist leadership.

      Otherwise things are going to turn really ugly around here.

      JE comments:  Milosevic might be the new Godwin/Hitler of our age, but the cherubic-looking Puigdemont doesn't strike me as the ethnic cleansing type.  Still, no one can doubt José Manuel de Prada's prediction that things will get ugly.

      As of this writing (10 AM Eastern), still no declaration from Barcelona.  Big news is expected in an hour or two.  In the meantime, we'll hear again from Jordi Molins.

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