Juan Luis Cebrián, 14 November 2022
Image: Eva Vázquez
When all those convicted of the “procés” trial have declared ad nauseam that they will try again, Pedro Sánchez’s manoeuvre only shows submission to pro-independence paranoia.
In a criminal trial “the purpose of punishment is to ensure that the guilty party will not repeat the crime and to ensure that others refrain from committing it.” More than 250 years ago, the Marquis de Beccaria signed this reflection, the basis and essence of his essay On Crimes and Punishments. It is an idea that is still valid in many penal codes today. I went to look for the quotation in the wake of the US election day. Among other things, the abolition of forced labour in prisons in five states was being put to a referendum. One of them, Louisiana, decided to maintain this type of punishment, paradoxically allowed by the Constitution in the wording of the same amendment that abolished slavery. Little did I know that such venerable legal and moral principles enshrined in the above-mentioned essay would be crushed by the immediate decisions of the secretary general of the Spanish socialist party.
I am not going to go into the correctness or otherwise of the wording of article 544 of the Penal Code, which for the moment defines sedition. Since the Romans, sedition has always been considered a revolt against the existing order: a rebellion or an incitement to rebellion. Regardless of the legal architecture that is established, it consists of a challenge to the established power. As in Spain’s case it emanates from popular sovereignty, sedition is at the very least a conspiracy to replace legitimate democratic power with an illegitimate and illegal one, no matter how much armed or popular force accompanies it: a genuine crime against the Constitution. That is why many described the unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan Parliament as a coup d’état. And no matter how the drafters of the mess of a law presented to the Cortes may put it, this does not necessarily have anything to do with public disorder. History is full of seditions and rebellions that are consummated in the corridors and even in the palace bedrooms.
The government’s shamelessness in announcing its intention to eliminate the crime of sedition has to do with the content of the proposal, but also with its manner. With regard to the former, there is not much to study, as the Constitution itself, in its second article, states that it is based “on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”. The buffoonery of Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and company was a frontal assault on democracy and the rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution. The public disorder originated during the illegal referendum vote, but the sedition itself, the revolt against the established power, took place in the parliamentary seat with the declaration of independence. Paradoxically, by now eliminating sedition, the only article that can be applied to those who violently and publicly declare the independence of a part of the national territory is the one that condemns rebellion. It does not specify that the violence must necessarily be physical, it can be moral. The violation of laws by those who have sworn to them falls squarely within that consideration. So President Pere Aragonés, who is so happy, should be wary of possible trickery. Pedro Sánchez’s ability to turn his back on his most loyal followers is well known, and his stark pragmatism comes to the fore when he considers his personal position to be at risk.
The mention of the master Beccaria highlights the political and ethical fraud that the proposal sent to the Cortes entails; according to him, penalties should not so much be a punishment for sins committed as a way of preventing them from happening again. For the same reason, when all those convicted in the trial have declared ad nauseam that they will try again, Sánchez’s manoeuvre only shows submission to pro-independence paranoia.
But worse than the content of the proposal are the forms surrounding it, which reveal the prime minister’s continued contempt for Parliament. This is nothing new. In his memoirs, the former president of the Cortes and hard-working socialist leader Gregorio Peces Barba already criticised the tendency to diminish Parliament’s power as much as possible, which for any democrat is the key to the system. The combination of electoral laws, party clientelism, the rules of procedure of the Chambers and the partiality of their presidents has ensured that the fundamental organ of control of the Executive is in reality controlled by the governments in power, based on the behaviour of the majorities that tries to overrule the minorities. The fact that a reform of the Penal Code of this calibre is being agreed in the darkness of a dialogue table, that it is being kept from the knowledge of the central parties in the House and that it is being agreed with the same criminals who broke the law is absurd. On top of that, it is announced by the president on a television programme with his on-camera interviewer, a regular on the chat shows of the police and journalistic mafia stirred up by Commissioner José Manuel Villarejo. And he presented it as a bill and not as a government project in order to avoid the necessary mandatory reports. As if that were not enough, on the same day the government spokeswoman showed her animosity towards professional journalism by calling for the news to become the voice of their master, as if many of them were not already so. Not even Donald Trump’s press chief could think of such a thing. One can only hope that the Me Too ministers will call fascists all those who do not agree with this flagrant aggression against the values of our democracy. But “the primary duty of the socialist representatives elected at the ballot box is to defend the interests of their respective local or regional sector with no other limitations than those imposed by the supreme interest of the homeland”. This is the plea that Indalecio Prieto made in the Ortuella fronton in 1911. Fascism had not yet been invented.
I don’t know if PSOE summer schools teach such things, but another Basque socialist, Patxi López, has declared that socialist voters will understand the desirability of this bill. Perhaps some voters do, but three regional presidents, as socialist as any other, do not seem to understand and have openly criticised it. As for the claim that Catalonia is better off today than in 2017, suggested by Sánchez to defend his policy, it is not sustainable. It has lost its leadership of the Spanish economy and has generated a deep gap between the average per capita income and that of Madrid, which is now more than 5,000 euros a year ahead of it. This is largely due to the business and brain drain in the wake of the “procés” and to a rise in public insecurity in the capital of the autonomous region, where there has been a repetition of serious public disorder. I don’t know if they are aggravated, as this is such an imprecise term that it doesn’t deserve to be included among the criminal offences.
Sánchez would do well to review the chapter in Don Quixote where he recounts his decision to free some galley slaves imprisoned in an inhumane and perhaps unjust manner. Having granted their freedom, he asks them to pay tribute to Doña Dulcinea from their chains in gratitude, to which the most ruffian of the pardoned men refuses on behalf of them all. Don Quixote is so irritated that he calls him a son of a whore. As a result, the prisoners who had already been released, throw a real hail of stones at Don Quixote, his squire and his horse. As a result, Don Quixote “was left pouting at being so badly beaten by the very people he had done so well for”. Let us pray to God that this does not happen to our generous socialist heroes.