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Catalonia’s Indignation

June 30, 2010 6 comments

Estelada

L'Estelada - the Catalan independentist flag


Substituting the “Statute of Sau” dated from 1979, and after having been democratically approved by the Catalan regional parliament as well as by the Spanish national parliament, Catalonia’s new autonomy statute (the “Estatut”; the Catalan regional constitution) was approved in referendum by the Catalan citizens on 18 June 2006 and enacted two days later by the Head of State, King Juan Carlos I, with the following header: “Know: That the Cortes Generales [Spanish national parliament] have approved, the citizens of Catalonia have ratified in referendum, and I come to sanction the following Organic Law“. But Spain’s main opposition party—the right-wing Popular Party (PP; Partido Popular)—challenged the Estatut’s legitimacy and appealed to Spain’s Constitutional Court arguing that 114 of its 233 articles were unconstitutional and that it would jeopardize the unity of the state.

On Monday, 28 June 2010—more than four years after its enactment by King Juan Carlos I—the Constitutional Court endorsed the vast majority of the Estatut’s articles, declaring 14 of them unconstitutional and changing 23 others. Considering the huge difference between the 114 articles they claimed to be unconstitutional, and the 14 deemed to be so by the Constitutional Court, many commentators see this ruling as a slap in the PP’s face. Nevertheless, Catalan parties don’t see this as a victory for Catalonia. The indignation among the Catalan society is huge, as the 14 articles declared unconsitutional are considered a significant trim in Catalonia’s self-rule aspirations in important areas such as Catalan language, justice and taxation. The president of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Ernest Benach, said that the ruling will lead to a crisis of state, as it ignores the will that the Catalan citizens expressed during the referendum. And considering that there will be elections in Catalonia in fall, the ruling indeed comes in a delicate point in time. Many commentators argue that with the Constitutional Court’s decision of truncating the Estatut, the door for Catalonia’s comfortable existence within Spain was shut, and that there’s only one way ahead—Independence from Spain. The political parties in Catalonia are preparing for the regional elections to be held in fall, and the ruling will certainly influence their campaigns and the results. A rise in independentist and nationalist votes can undoubtably be expected.


Image: © bernatff (found on Flickr.com)


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Flaws in Spanish Democracy?


The Spanish case is often referred to as a model of a successful democratic transition. After the civil war of 1936-1939 and the subsequent Franco dictatorship until 1975, the Amnesty Law of 1977 and the new constitution of 1978 contributed to a peaceful transition to democracy. But two developments are causing flaws in it: (1) the politically motivated campaign against Baltasar Garzón, the well-know judge of the Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish high court handling terrorism, genocide, and organized crime), and (2) the crusade against the Catalan autonomy statute.

Image by iasecas (Found on Flickr.com)A special peculiarity of the Spanish judicial system is its principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the Audiencia Nacional to pursue cases of human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and terrorism outside of Spain. And although the universal jurisdiction has recently been limited to cases in which there are Spanish victims or those charged with crime are in Spain, Garzón achieved considerable international successes. The most noted one is certainly the indictment of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his arrest in London in 1998, where he remained under house arrest for more than 500 days before returning to Chile following his release on humanitarian grounds. There, he faced legal action for human rights abuses, but was never convicted. Garzón also forced Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner to end a general amnesty for the military junta after investigating human rights violations committed during the “dirty war” of 1976-1983. In Spain itself, he is highly recognized for his relentless pursuit of ETA, the Basque separatist organization terrorizing the country since the early 1960’s. But today, the General Council of the Judicial Power, Spain’s constitutional body governing all the judiciary of Spain, suspended Garzón from his post at the Audiencia Nacional. Read more…