By Gerardo Pisarello and Jaume Asens
For over a year, a section of 15-M movement proposed surrounding the Catalan Parliament to protest against the most drastic social cuts approved since time of Franco. The organizers claimed that the pro-austerity political parties had betrayed campaign promises and had subordinated public institutions to private power, completely illegitimately. At one point during the protest, some parliamentarians were insulted and pushed, but this was all. The response of the government of Artur Mas and much of the opposition was however angry. Since then, the protesters have been accused of seeking a ‘coup’, of being golpistas, and the Minister of Interior Felip Puig promised to use against them all that the law allowed, and more if necessary. The operation of criminalization was so brutal that within days it provoked a large mobilization of opposition in the streets of Barcelona.
Repression in Madrid over the last week was a more drastic version of the events of June 2011. And it has happened in a much more serious context that a year and half ago. During this time, indeed, impotence and government complicity with the cuts imposed by the troika have grown ever greater. Most austerity measures are approved by decree laws, with little or no parliamentary discussion. Even the supposedly untouchable Constitution has been put at the service of large creditors with the shameful express reform of Article 135 [that introduced the EU’s balanced budget rule]. However, the proposal of some groups to peacefully encircle Congress to ‘rescue it from a kidnapping that have rendered it superfluous’ has been treated like an act against national security.
The Popular Party deployed a preventive criminalization campaign accusing the organizers of being ‘dangerous hotheads’, ‘uncontrolled mobs’ and even ‘Nazis’. The government’s delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, the party’s general secretary, Dolores Cospedal, and even some members of the Socialist Party did not hesitate to raise the spectre of a coup. This manufacture of the demonstration of 25 September as a criminal act even before it had taken place, paved the way for the perpetration of a string of arbitrary actions, many of which were clearly illegal. People were arrested for simply unfurling banners. Others who by the mere act of assembly, were subjected to the unusual charge of having committed crimes ‘against the high organs of the State’. The barricaded hemicycle of nearly two thousand anti-riot police, the indiscriminate blows laid in Neptune square and attacks on the Atocha station platforms have highlighted that institutions are deaf to citizens’ demands.
This tendency to dismiss as a ‘coup’ any protest that could overwhelm what the government interprets as the ‘interests of the state’ has not been limited to demonstrations such as that of 25 September. Even the Catalonian government, the former inquisitor, has been added to the list of the ‘seditious’, accused of illegitimately challenging the constitutional legality. Far from being a simple concoction of the Catalan Executive, the initiative is closely linked to public consultations for the right to decide, celebrated in numerous towns in recent years and in the massive mobilization of 11 September, and has broad support in the regional parliament. However, it has been treated as a dark conspiracy that deserves to be stopped by all means.
Many of the leaders of the Popular Party who in the morning demanded a hardline against the protesters of 25 September in afternoon dusted down Articles 2, 8 and 155 of the 1978 Constitution to recall that the use of force, including military, was one of the possible ‘legal’ answers to the Catalan proposal. A far cry from the attitude of appeasement in the UK with the Scottish self-determination referendum called for 2014, this reaction has evoked the worst of the savageness and authoritarianism of Spain of 1934 and 1981. The confidence that the armed forces can play a role in carrying through the more restrictive interpretations of the constitutional framework is probably what led the Conservative MEP Alejo Vidal Quadras to extreme bravado and urge the central government to ‘prepare a brigadier general from the Civil Guard’ in case of an invasion of Catalonia.
The government, in any case, has had no difficulty in recruiting allies both from among the Socialists and other state forces centrally and at regional level. In the Catalan Parliament, Albert Rivera, of the pro-Spanish Citizen’s party moved closer to the Popular Party when the ‘coup’ was unveiled, this time against the Catalonian government leader Artur Mas. Taking a similar line was his comrade Rosa Díez of the UPyD; she demanded the criminalization of the right to decide, in a similar vein to that pursued by [former prime minister] José María Aznar in his time.
The way they have been rejecting and ignoring the many proposals and demonstrations sparked by the crisis is not just a matter of arrogance or political intransigence. Certainly, the anti-social, repressive and recentralizing offensive of recent years has to do with the financial crisis and the mercantile drift of the European integration process. But it is also rooted in a constitutional framework that was born under the conditions of saber rattling [as part of the transition from dictatorship]; it has lost over time its already limited democratizing potential, both in terms of social and territorial organization.
This uniqueness of the Spanish case, in fact, has some not inconsiderable differences with other constitutional frameworks with clearly anti-fascist origins, such as the Portuguese case, born of the Carnation Revolution. In fact, it is not unreasonable that these differences have some weight in explaining why the Portuguese police reaction to the anti-austerity protests has been less virulent. Or the existence of sectors of the armed forces that, instead releasing veiled threats, have shown their solidarity with protests that have managed to force Passos Coelho’s government to commit to rethink its programme of cuts.
From that perspective, it is undeniable that in the demonstrations and protests taking place in these weeks, there is an undercurrent which is starting to seriously question the future of the Bourbon restoration that began three decades ago. But such impulses, which partly take refuge in the current legislation but also aim to break with it, are not a threat to democracy. They represent, on the contrary, the only hope that it can survive and be revived, here and in Europe, from constituent processes capable of reversing the real oligarchic ‘coup’, with more violence than arguments, that has been brewing for some time before our eyes.
Gerardo Pisarello and Jaume Asens are Jurists and authors of ‘No Right (s): the illegality of power in times of crisis.’
October 1, 2012
Translation Revolting Europe