The Spanish Supreme Court has ruled that Quim Torra should be removed from his position as the democratically elected President of the Government of Catalonia. President Torra had served in this position since the 16th of May 2018. The court upheld the decision of a lower court that had found him guilty of disobedience. His alleged crime is that he did not remove banners and symbols from public buildings during last year’s general election campaign. The banners demanded “Freedom for political prisoners and exiles” and the symbols were the often used yellow ribbons synonymous with the release of prisoners around the world.
President Torra has said that he does not accept the ruling and described it as an “attempt to overthrow the government of Catalonia”. He went further and stated “We want to achieve our independence, we want to exercise self-determination and, above all, we want a democracy of the highest standards for our country. We will have the opportunity to further move in this direction in the upcoming election which will be held in the next few months. This needs to be a turning point.”
Rather than dampen the calls for independence it would appear that this latest action by Spain’s Supreme Court has only succeeded in fanning the flames and has once again focused Catalan minds on their desire for self-determination and a move away from the power base of Madrid.
Democratically elected politicians should not have to fight for the right to declare their disgust when people are imprisoned for their political views. Declaring that political prisoners should be freed isn’t a crime it’s a duty. And where better to make that declaration than at the heart of their own Government?
I took part in a protest in George Square, October 2019, along with Gavin Newlands MP and the Catalan academic and lawyer Clara Ponsati. Gavin and I were joined by John McNally MP and Douglas Chapman MP in a protest outside the Spanish Embassy in London. We did that without any fear of prosecution. Such banners were freely displayed, nobody was overly concerned, nobody was arrested. The same banners are draped over balconies throughout Catalonia. They don’t say anything offensive or even controversial. The issue that the Spanish Government has, which is being acted out through the Spanish Supreme Court, is that Spain has sentenced nine Catalan civic and political leaders to collectively over 100 years in jail for their role in organising a 2017 referendum on independence. The issue here is that the Spanish Government is the one being scrutinized and they are retaliating by persecuting the Catalan President via the Spanish supreme court.
Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchéz, has defended the Court’s decision but he has also committed to the Catalan government’s request for talks to try and resolve the Catalan question. I fear the removal of President Torra can only endanger such talks. And only by sitting down together and talking can the constitutional crisis ever be resolved.
In Catalonia three Presidents in a row have now been removed from office by judicial actions. This verdict will open up old wounds and can only revive memories of recent and past repression, including General Franco’s execution of President Lluis Companys in 1940.
Meanwhile ex-King Juan Carlos (in hiding in the UAE after being accused of taking millions in backhanders) and former Franco ministers accused of authorising police actions including the killing of anti-fascist resisters, remain untouchable.
Spain is a magnificent country which attracts tourists and travelers from all over the world. It is rich in history and culture. Its food and its climate is the envy of many. Its people are warm and engaging but politically it still has one foot stuck in the past. A past shamed by fascism. It is time for Spain to step forward into the light and recognise the democratic choices being made by the people of Catalonia.
Ronnie Cowan MP
Vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group on Catalonia