“No Pasaran”: Catalan Political Prisoners, Rising Fascism And Spain’s Show Trial

“The prosecution brief states, [as part of its] charge against Jordi Cuixart, that on 20 September 2017 he said ‘No Pasaran’ (They shall not pass) emulating those Spanish democrats who fought to defend the Republic,” said Marina Roig, Cuixart’s lawyer, as her closing defense in the Spanish trial of Catalonia’s political prisoners.

Cuixart is one of 12 people charged with rebellion and sedition. The leader of Omnium, an organization that advances Catalonian language and culture, Cuixart, alongside Jordi Sànchez, has now spent more than 500 days in pre-trial prison. Ten Catalan politicians have faced a four-month trial on the same charges plus misuse of public funds. Seven of them have also faced pre-trail detention. Sentencing is expected later this year.

The independentistas assert they have a democratic mandate from the 2015 elections, in which pro-independence parties won a majority in the Catalan parliament, to hold the referendum. Spain has refused any negotiations and criminalized democratic moves toward the region’s self determination.

The Spanish prosecutor is calling for 25- to 17-year prison sentences for the accused. The decision will define the next chapter of the Catalan independence project, and will have implications beyond Spain as the issues run in tandem with battles between democracy and authoritarianism worldwide.

No Pasaran is an assertion from the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascism. It connects to accusations that Spain never really transitioned to democracy, which is a central claim within the independence cause — backed by the fact that the same men stayed in power and went unpunished. Spanish violence against the peaceful, bottom-up Catalan referendum only substantiates this argument.

Spain’s 21st century show trial

Globally, the trial has been widely seen as political, hence its “show trial” status. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has meanwhile demanded the immediate release of the defendants. The Spanish state has also faced criticism from respected voices including Amnesty International, The World Organization Against Torture and International Trial Watch, which said in a statement:

“The prosecutor’s arguments denote a non-democratic conception regarding the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the right of assembly and demonstration, the right to freedom of expression or the free exercise of public office. It shows the fact that his argument was based on a political argument.”

Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez are being charged for their actions carried out on Sept. 20. Sànchez leads the Catalan National Assembly, which organized the largest peaceful demonstrations in Europe for independence.

Film from that day shows how the two Jordis were mediating between the police and authorities. They acted to keep calm an already peaceful crowd that was protesting by the thousands after Spanish police raided Catalan institutions and the radical-left CUP Party headquarters. Since his imprisonment, Sànchez was elected to the Spanish Parliament.

The 10 other democratically elected Catalan politicians have been charged for the Catalan government’s role in pushing a national vote on self determination. Crucially, Catalan citizens co-organized this referendum. The Spanish state charges the politicians with sedition and rebellion — charges that have only ever been used before against plotters in a violent 1981 military led coup.

In Spanish law, rebellions are by definition violent, making the charge sound something quite Orwellian. In 2017, the world watched in horror the images of Spanish cops beating people who were trying to vote. Witnessing the events myself, I have never seen a nation come together so tightly with peaceful civil disobedience.

During the trial, the defense were only allowed to show videos as evidence at the end, so they went uncontextualized. The citizen-led, anti-corruption group Xnet has written a thorough analysis of how the trial has breached fundamental EU rights, including freedom of expression, criminalizing political opinion, the right to assembly and the right to a fair trial. Xnet also points out that imprisoning political leaders in pre-trial detention invalidates their voters’ votes.

No Pasaran

The No Pasaran message from history ties directly to the referendum and trial. On Sept. 20, mass protests against Spanish police raids, which were conducted without warrant, demanded “No Pasaran” (Catalan). When neighborhood assemblies spontaneously organized to protect the referendum voting schools through peaceful civil disobedience, they repeated the demand.

Another way the current trial is about the resistance to fascism is the Catalan independence movement’s response to an increasingly authoritarian Spain. Before the referendum, a toxic politics was taking place behind closed doors, in the fold of old Francoists who, in words at least, publicly embraced democracy. Now, fascists in Spain are out in the open, unashamed and running for office, aided by the Hitler salutes at pro-Spanish unity rallies.

The rise of Vox — a far-right, misogynist and homophobic Spanish Union party, is perhaps the clearest example. Vox, after a local election triumph, tweeted an image with the words “Ya hemos pasado” (we have passed). Vox is now joining established Spanish parties in electoral pacts.

Spain is by no means the only place where fascists are feeling comfortable on the streets. This trial has catalyzed the anti-Catalan sentiment that is central to Spain’s far right. Additionally, Vox has used the trial to showcase its own views. A Vox lawyer is participating in the prosecution case, something independent entities, even parties, can do within the Spanish legal system.

Coming to a head

The sentencing, and its consequences, will shape many futures. The likely long prison terms will regalvanize the Catalan independence movement, mass civil disobedience and more general strikes. Catalonia will likely call elections to substantiate its parliamentary majority for self-determination.

What happens next may only make the Spain of today further echo the Spain of the 1930s, which locked up the democratic government in a prelude to Francoism. Historic parallels can also be drawn between the international community’s reaction. Back then, people from around the world went to fight democracy against Franco, while the international powers appeased him to stay.

The political trial makes the European Union’s current position on Spain all the more untenable if democratically elected (and re-elected) European, Spanish and Catalan parliamentarians sit behind bars. The verdict will only create more pressure towards a breaking point, especially as the trial is moved towards the European Court of Human Rights.

If the West has learned anything over the past century, inaction in the face of rising authoritarianism only breeds more authoritarianism. This is the message Europe needs to grapple with. In a world where democratic values are threatened, Catalonia offers an alternative pathway. This time we can say: No Pasaran.

As Jordi Cuixart said in the trial: “If police violence could not stop thousands of people from voting in the referendum, does anyone believe that a sentence will cause Catalans to stop fighting for their rights?”

Originally published at https://www.occupy.com on June 20, 2019.

Freelance journalist focused on political alternatives, universal rights and ecological survival

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