On the same day Europe’s highest court ruled in favor of the imprisoned former Catalan vice president and separatist leader Oriol Junqueras, who has been prevented by Spain from taking his seat in the European Parliament, the Catalan High Court banned the region’s president, Quim Torra, from public office for refusing to remove separatist symbols from government buildings during the most recent election campaign.
Torra is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court and will remain in office until it has ruled.
Junqueras remains in prison, but the European ruling gives hope to self-exiled Catalan politicians Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont, who like him were elected to the European Parliament in May but haven’t been allowed by Spain to take their seats.
Since I moved to Barcelona and started writing about Catalan independence three years ago, I’ve worried that Spain’s refusal to engage with the movement would radicalize it and hollow out the middle in Catalan politics.
Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, has argued in favor of Catalan politicians who were elected to the European Parliament in May but have been prevented by the Spanish government from taking their seats.
Former regional president Carles Puigdemont and former regional health minister Toni Comín, both of the center-right Together for Catalonia party, have been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2017 to avoid arrest for leading a failed independence bid that year.
Demonstrations for Catalan independence have always have been peaceful — until Tuesday, when a sit-in outside the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona led to acts of vandalism and altercations with riot police.
While most separatists, who were protesting the long prison sentences given to their leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court, left around dinner time, some donned masks and threw bottles and firecrackers at police. Later in the evening, trash cans were set on fire and barricades erected on the Passeig de Gràcia, a luxury shopping street. It took until early Wednesday morning to clear the avenue.
The knee-jerk reaction from the Spanish right is to clamp down. Pablo Casado, the leader of the largest right-wing party in Congress, has called on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a social democrat, to declare an emergency and take command of the Catalan regional police.
That is the worst thing he could do. Tensions are running high. The mossos (troopers) are at least seen as fellow Catalans by most protesters. Send in the National Police or the gendarmerie and the riots are bound to get worse.
Let Sánchez come to Barcelona instead, meet with members of the regional government and start listening to their demands; something he promised to do when he came to power a year ago, but still hasn’t.
Asked to judge such dirty tricks as spreading false information about an opponent or removing yard signs, both Democrats and Republicans in the United States are far more forgiving if their own party is to blame — and outraged if such misdeeds are perpetrated by the other side.