03.06.2019 00:00 h.
Lluís Rabell (Barcelona, 1954) lived from very close up, as a MP of the leftist party Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot (CSQEP), the convulsive autumn of 2017, when the pro-independence parties of the Parliament of Catalonia approved the so-called “disconnection laws”, They carried out the illegal 1-O referendum and the 27-O DUI. Almost two years later, a resolution of the European Court of Human Rights (TEDH) last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by the 76 secessionist MPs against the decision of the Constitutional Court (TC) to suspend a plenary session on October 9 in which, presumably, they were going to declare independence. In this interview Rabell values, among others, all these questions.
What do you think about the resolution of the ECHR?
It is a very good resolution and worthy of being read. It comforts those who at that time were crushed by the independence parliamentary majority. It is very well argued, very well worked. I’ve got the impression that it is a warning for navigators, overflowing and dealing with some topics that it did not need to develop further. It also takes a stance on the 1-O, on its illegal character and contrary to the principles of the Venice Commission. And that putting in question or trying to draw mandates and conclusions of an illegal act like this is in contradiction with the democratic tradition and European legislation. It also addresses the plenary sessions of September 6 and 7, 2017. It is as if the resolution did not speak only about the suspension of the plenary session on October 9. In a way, it warns the pro-independence world: be careful, because if you want to make many appeals having to do with the management that the TC has made of your breaches of the legal framework, you can be left chastened.
Does this resolution discredit the 1-O and the plenary sessions on September 6 and 7?
Yes. It gives a very well documented vision of the Parliament’s resolutions, of political moments and contexts, and offers a reading that even a neophyte would understand. It is very rigorous and severe with the pretensions of the independence world. He dismantled the barracks and warned them not to insist on this road. The ECHR places itself in the recognition of Spain as a democracy, to begin with. And from that point we can start discussing. And they read a priori everything that is unilaterally breaking the legal framework read as an attack on democracy. Quite a different thing are specific events. What they do not admit is that in a lawsuit would be put in question to ignore the law because “it is the legality of an oppressive State”. That is dismantled. Just the contrary. They make it clear that the democratic rights of the citizens of Catalonia were defended by the Constitutional Court, and not by the parliamentary majority of that time. That is very serious.
How did you live, as a MP, the plenary sessions of September 6 and 7, 2017, in which the so-called “disconnection laws” were approved?
Time had to go by, and not enough time has passed, to see in all its dimension those days. Because in the retina of many people the 1-O is more present, and the 6 and 7 of September is remembered more like a parliamentary fight. When, in reality, those days were decisive. There, a meager majority of the Parliament, without legality or legitimacy, broke the legal system of the country, which is exceptionally serious. And to do so, trampled the rights of representation of the social majority. That is an undemocratic act.
How would have been the new Catalan state emerged from these laws?
The project of country they presented was also very serious. For the first time, the independence movement had to define its project, in a synthetic way, with the Law of Transition. It was a kind of proto-constitution, of how they imagined that republic they wanted to constitute. And that republic was a less democratic state than the autonomous state. It was a state, not only presidential, but without separation of powers. And that was not a design error, I believe that in its inner self the independence movement knew that only in this way could a republic be established, compressing the diversity and social complexity of the country. And that it would need a State of authoritarian characteristics to exist.
Because they know that they are not the majority of the country. This idea that nobody expresses and everyone denies, is basically in that design. And in parallel, what was being thought was to transform Catalonia into a kind of Andorra with a view to the sea, which would be the viability of a small State that is born indebted, weakened and isolated. Become a puppet of the great financial powers internationally and change master. It would not be a more sovereign State with more development potential. All that was revealed in those days, and has been covered by the events of 1-O, when the Spanish Government violently and horribly managed that day. But the underlying political problem was this breakup, and that design of what independence meant. A magical and mythical projection, linked to a desire and a feeling that becomes practically a religion, which at the same time is its weakness and its strength. Despite the failures and lies. It is hardly imaginable a political movement that has deceived people as clearly as the proces, and that keeps dragging the same people. It has a very strong emotional component. It is an impossible thing that leads us to the pedregar [expression equivalent “to the precipice”, in Catalan]; and despite everything they keep trying.
Do you see parallels with the Brexit?
In the most flagrant case, yes. The disconnection of the British economy with the European and world economy is impossible. It is impossible to approach an autarky, a customs isolation. But despite this, an important sector of British society wants to try, madly. There is a nihilistic part in this reaction of the middle classes that has to do with the weakening of national sovereignties and the traditional role of the elites. In Catalonia, traditional bourgeois elites have changed their register and the management of their interests. They are not as territorialized as before. Now, the big families, the usual ones, have abandoned, or left in the background, the traditional institutions of civil society. That explains why four geeks can appropriate the Chamber of Commerce. And why they can climb on the beards of the lifelong great families, who wonder what has happened. The elites have withdrawn from their traditional role, they are in other registers of politics and the internationalized economy and the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie are boiling. And hence those phenomena of madness, as in England. Everything has gone out of their hands.
Has it also gone out of their hands here?
Here, in Catalonia, the old leadership of Convergència rode the tiger of an invention that now has its own life and a dynamic that has immersed them. And it has made them to have to play radicalism, and enter a dynamic of which they are no longer masters. They have played a bit of sorcerer’s apprentices. And we have it also because the left has not lived up to it. This would not have been possible if the left had not suffered the crisis it has had. The socialists before and the comuns now. Until the left does not rediscover its horizon and has the capacity for political leadership with a clear project, such as federalism, which can be a common denominator, it will not be able to redress the situation. A situation dominated by this feverish agitation of the middle classes that has no way out, but can keep this scene going on forever.
However, Puigdemont, Torra and the leaders of the procés, in general, insist on continuing to speak of the “democratic mandate” of 1-O, as if the result had to be fulfilled.
There is no mandate. It is the mental framework of the independence movement. They have not retreated. But they cannot either. Because when you do not have a project and you only have the epic … The strength of 1-O is the emotional epic. The moment when a part of the town went out to say that they wanted to vote. Losing sight of a very serious thing: that the other half of the town went out to the streets a few days later taking for the first time Spanish flags, people from the metropolitan area and from the poor neighborhoods of Barcelona, something that had never happened. And many were our voters, socialists and communists, who asked us: “Why are not you here?” The independence epic does not see the other half, which feels Catalan and also Spanish. Pasqual Maragall said that Spain is part of Catalonia, not that Catalonia is part of Spain. And that is a reality of the complexity of Catalan society. And wanting to force a pure identity is a break from the national reality of the country. The independence movement is an anti-national project, contrary to the complex reality of this diverse society.
Why do they see it unwaiverable?
It is their foundational moment. You will not be able to cause them to dismount. However, we would have to force to dismount some sectors of the left that have given legitimacy and credibility to this discourse. The 1-O was a mobilization of the pro-independence part of society, to which even people indignant by the blows (of the police) were added. But it did not have any democratic legitimacy. There was a part of Catalan society that felt threatened by this referendum. And there is a part of that society, not rightist nor reactionary, that felt protected and sheltered by the speech of the King. A part of society had a well-founded fear. And that also explains the angry vote of the autonomic elections of the 21-D, the success of Citizens was because it made the speech more of “attack incensantly”, and took many socialist votes. The feeling of many people was that they took us to the precipice, that they will take us on an adventure, they will ruin the country and plunge us into misery. This feeling has gone a long way. And the independence movement does not see it, or they do not want to see it, or they think this is not Catalonia. It is difficult to redirect a situation that has been polarized like this.
And with the appointment of Quim Torra as president of the Generalitat, it still seems more difficult, right?
Yes, because he represents exactly that. They know that their strength is to maintain tension. Puigdemont, too, and he is aware that all his possibilities go through that, waiting for a critical moment to come when a new attempt could be made. And this adventurism is very typical of the bourgeoisie. They take their exaltation for reality, moments of euphoria and depression … it is very characteristic of the middle classes everywhere. That is why it is very dangerous to leave the country’s direction in your hands. And also in Barcelona.
How do you like his style of management?
There is no government. They only worry about agitation. The Generalitat works with the administrative inertia of the civil service, and with budgets carried over. That is, drowned financially from the point of view of work performance. And bleeding things happen like the Income Guarantee for Citizens, which is a scandal. It does not constitute the center of their concerns. They do not have budgets because they do not want to, nor have they done anything to have them, and those of the State were not approved because of them. Because that is not their concern. Their concern is agitation. And if some people worry more, there are others who accuse them of being lukewarm. They watch each other, it is unsustainable. When you have two partners who are continually fighting, that is the metaphor of what the country is. It is governed by two who dispute the hegemony of their camp and who are fighting, but cannot stop governing together. This is corrosive for a country, it leads to paralysis and decay. It is a competition for power. The crisis of the elites has made ERC believe that it was their time.
Were you not surprised by Torra’s assertion during the last election campaign, when he said that “Barcelona has not exercised” as the capital of Catalonia, but Girona did? Are not such statements a disdain for Barcelona?
Yes, it is. And also to Girona (laughs). Because he only imagines it as the capital of General Cabrera. He has a point of sincerity, it comes out of his soul. The Catalonia that he imagines is the Catalonia of folklore, the ratafía, and with Girona as a beautiful, traditional, traditionalist, Catholic capital and of the Carlist communion.
And what do you think about the report of the UN working group saying the government should free the pro-independence politicians now on remand?
It is not relevant. That work commission points out what many of us point out: that the provisional prison seems abusive and that it is not justified. Saying that is one thing. But quite another is to pretend, as the independence movement has tried to inflate in the media, that it is the UN or its Assembly who say so. They have spoken about a situation, legitimately subject to criticism, of excessive and abusive imprisonment. But it is not the UN asking for their release. The Spanish Government cannot do it. In a democratic state there is a separation of powers. And this is so, as much as it hurts, for good and for bad. Another different thing is that the Government and the parliamentary majority could politically manage the sentence after its publication. In certain circumstances, a modification of the legal framework which might give an exit. Everything will be complicated. You have to respect the separation of powers and you cannot do things in whatever the way.
The problem goes for long?
Yes. Because, in the best of cases, it will cost to redirect it. The wounds will bleed for a long time. There is a part of people who felt mistreated, wounded or even beaten, and another part that has been afraid and distrustful with the 1-O. It will be difficult to solve it. There is no solution, in the next few years it will be difficult to discuss anything. It will be necessary to try to look for the reduction of the flames and to generate the conditions to be able to discuss proposals with tranquility. Now any alternative is submerged by conflict. From the central government things can be done, I guess they will try to continue doing them.
What exits would there be now?
A referendum would not make sense. When possible, a constitutional reform debate can be held. It can be more or less ambitious. But that has as its purpose a reform of a federalizing type, shielding self-governments, as governments of proximity, with well-defined and non-extendable competencies, combined with federal competences. With a Senate that is a true Chamber of territorial representation, as in Germany. That would be the exit. And a referendum to endorse that agreed-upon reform. In the end, not at the beginning. The referendum, contrary to what many people think, is not the most complete form of democracy. They often end up being plebiscite acts. And often authoritarian regimes are the ones who are most in favor of referendums. And sometimes they aggravate problems, like the Brexit.