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‟Catalonia is a Nation” — Closing remarks of Santiago Vila in the political show trial of Madrid

Prof. Dr. Axel Schönberger

Aug 1, 2019 — 

‟Catalonia is a nation” — Closing remarks of the Minister of Economy and Science of the Government of Catalonia, Santiago Vila, who resigned on 26. 10. 2017, in the political show trial of Madrid on 12. June 2019

On 27 October 2017, at the request of the Spanish Government and without sufficient basis in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Spain, the Spanish Senate decided to dismiss the Catalan Government, abusing Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. The day before, on 26 October 2017, the Catalan Minister of Economy and Science, Santi Vila, had declared his resignation. He was accused, as were the other members of the Catalan government, but was initially the only one of the nine ministers who had followed the summons of the Spanish judiciary in Spain — the other members of the government followed the summons in accordance with the law of the European Union in other Member States of the European Union, no one escaped the summons by 'fleeing', as some notorious liars publicly erroneously claimed — to avoid his so-called ‘pre-trial detention’ on payment of a deposit of 50.000 euros. The charges against him are ‘misuse of public funds’ and ‘disobedience’, with a seven-year prison sentence demanded.

In Catalonia, a distinction is made between the executive government, led by Quim Torra, and the legitimate government, led by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. With his resignation, Santi Vila no longer belongs to the legitimate government of Catalonia under Carles Puigdemont. Both during the trial and in the light of his closing remarks, one could get the impression that he was trying to avoid a harsh prison sentence by appropriate behaviour and statements. Nevertheless, he also finds clear words and calls Catalonia a «nation» without any ifs and buts, which right-wing extremist Spaniards already regard as a ‘violation’ of the Spanish constitution.

The criminal proceedings against him, which are conducted in the first and only (!) instance before the Supreme Court in Madrid, have no basis. It violates mandatory international law (ius cogens), European law and Spanish law.

Santi Vila is on trial in Spain for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, assembly and political participation. The criminal proceedings brought against him do not even provide the basic guarantees for a proper and fair trial before a competent and impartial tribunal and for adequate defence. The trial against him, a cheap farce, is a disgrace to Spain and to the European Union as a whole, which tacitly tolerates these serious violations of human rights.

And Europe is silent and watching!

Closing remarks by Santiago Vila i Vicente before the Supreme Court in Madrid on 12 June 2019:

«Thank you very much, Your Excellency Mr President, Your Excellency Madam, Your Excellencies, dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen!

I will begin my concluding remarks with a rhetorical question. I suffer and feel the pain of the speeches we have just heard together, I witness the testimony of so many people and so many broken families who suffer from a society, a Catalan society which suffers, which also saw their coexistence questioned, from [another] society, the Spanish society, which also lives with this suffering and feels it too, and I wonder, perhaps in a rhetorical way, how we got to this point, to this confusion, and perhaps to try to raise our sights to see how we can put it right again.

I think — I don't know any ‘previous convictions’ of my former government colleagues, I know mine — ,but I don't think I'm wrong when I say that in the worst case we were fined for speeding, or that we had to pay a fine for inappropriately throwing away garbage at some point, in violation of local regulations. But now we are faced with very serious charges which can result in long prison sentences.

Personally, I believe that we — and certainly in most, if not all cases — have always acted in good faith in Catalonia, particularly during the previous parliamentary term. I have always been faithful to my deep convictions and believe that I have always been law-abiding and respected the law. In this sense, I believe that I have always been involved in my actions as a politician, respecting the spirit and the letter of the 1978 Constitution, which defined Spain as a nation, but as a ‘nation of nations’. To describe it in the conceptuality of the Constitution: of ‘nationalities’ and ‘regions’. I have tried to remain faithful to this conviction, and I have represented it in the private sphere and publicly. Because I defended this loyalty to the Constitution, I also attracted some criticism in Catalonia. I also got my ‘beating’ for recognising that you see an arbitrator in the Constitutional Court and for always strongly opposing any kind of unilateral decision. But that, I insist, has always been compatible with my inner conviction that Catalonia is a nation and that Spain should be able to make its diversity, including its national diversity, a value and not a problem. We had made it to this day, to a date in the recent past.

I also believe that it was not naïve; it was not naïve to believe that dialogue and agreement would finally be possible between the Spanish Government and the Government of Catalonia. As the [Basque] Lehedakari Urkullu confirmed, as his statement, but also the files in the Poblet archive proved, an agreement was almost reached. It was in the air during the months of January, February and March 2017, and many of my companions were committed to it, and I personally supported this agreement with the Spanish government to avoid the collapse or institutional crisis we experienced in October. We tried in spring 2017 and also in October 2017. Until the last day, until the last minute. And in this sense, the memory of a justification is very valuable to me, and I always remember it, given to me by a minister, why the agreement would not be possible: ‟Because, Santi, there is simply a lack of confidence”. Not because we asked for the impossible. Not because we had made our demands — even in 2017 — outside the law or the constitutional framework. Simply because we had all broken the framework and thus the conditions necessary at that time for trust in a mature democracy, as ours should have been. There was no such thing as trust. That is why I finally resigned. There's been a lot of talk about my resignation. In any case, I did not resign because I feared that my former government colleagues were preparing to commit any illegal act.

To also mention and complete the quotes from Kelsen: I was convinced, given the facts of this legislature, that none of the initiatives taken could have any effectiveness or validity. I was absolutely convinced that they would not have them. But I resigned in disappointment, because I noticed that the President, the very honourable President Carles Puigdemont, was not in a position, in accordance with the law, to set new parliamentary elections, that he couldn't or didn't want to do it. That is why I have resigned, and in this spirit I would like to use my final remark to make two final observations.

On the one hand, we want to take the liberty, so to speak, of refuting the very excellent prosecutor, Mr Cadena, insofar as he said that in order to understand the ‟independence process”, one had to understand it with a picture, the picture of a mosaic, and in order to understand this mosaic, in order to interpret this mosaic, I believed from the words of the very excellent prosecutor to understand that it is a matter of analyzing and understanding all his mosaic stones.

Perhaps [my refutation] is not a consideration, let alone a legal one. Maybe it's not even political. It's only academic, because I used to work as a professor of contemporary history at the university: beware of making the mistake of anachronism, of being contemporary, and of believing that there is a logical sequence between events once we know how those events ended!

Since October 27, we have retroactively reconstructed a line of argument that leads us at this time, but I can assure you that nowhere was written that things would end as they ended on September 27 [translator's note: he probably means "October"]. What would have happened if the option to call new elections had been implemented? If we, as the [Basque] Lehendakari Urkullu testified on the 25th or 26th, if many of us went to sleep convinced that we would remain within the bounds of legality. And that we would hold elections and that we would all have a new opportunity to calm down and redirect an institutional and political discussion typical of a mature society. Or why was the electoral programme for the September 2015 elections not questioned by anyone? Or why did many of us publicly express it on that fateful, miserable day in Parliament on 6 and 7 September, a day of unfortunate remembrance? — and I believe we are all agreed today. Why was it not decided then, on those dates, 6 and 7 September, to dismiss the Parliament or to apply Article 155 of the Constitution and to suspend the [Catalan] self-government? Because at that time, no good, reasonable and understanding person would believe that this could end so absurdly. And because the enlightened, reasonable people — they existed! — who were in favour of dialogue, of negotiation — they existed! —, in Barcelona and Madrid, for the umpteenth time, they wanted to give dialogue, negotiation and agreement an opportunity.

That wasn't possible in the end, but I really think that we would be making a mistake to see the incidents from the present perspective (‘presenteeism’) and to evaluate them anachronistically if, like at a missed ball, we saw the chaos into which we got, then we actually claimed from day one that we knew from day one where we wanted to go. To find out where we wanted to go, we did it badly.

Finally, my second point: I do not share the view that Spain, as a democracy, as a constitutional state, is not a constitutional state, not a democracy comparable to the surrounding democracies. Spain as a democracy may have its limits, its shortcomings, its 'ghosts'. But it also has its strengths, its virtues. In this sense I have always fought against the ‘black legend’. In 2019 we will once again be at a crossroads. At a crossroads where we can choose our worst tradition or our best tradition, the liberal tradition that began, at the latest, with the Cortes de Cádiz of 1812. In this good tradition, bad governments are only a bad business of the people, but they are not ‘metaphysics’, as Jaime Gil de Biedma said.

It is in this sense that I am following the reflections of Professor Santos Julià, and I will conclude with that. Nothing of a black legend in Spain, no disastrous blows of fate that prevented us from being a progressive, modern democracy in which diversity, including national diversity, is a value and not a problem. Not fatal strokes of fate, but too many setbacks in our history.

I’m confident, I have full confidence in the judiciary, I have full confidence in this court, and I hope that your verdict will be part of the solution and not part of the aggravation of the problem we should never have gotten into.

Thank you very much!»

A transcription of the Castilian original on which the English translation was based was kindly provided to me by the magazine L'Unilateral — El digital de la República Catalana.

Translator's note: Some terms are used in the Castilian original with a certain fuzziness and not in their actual meaning (e.g. «Metaphysics»). That such places may sound somewhat bumpy in English is due to the original. Some terms that would hardly have been understandable were paraphrased and dissolved. Also the syntax is sometimes fragile, and sometimes it is not quite clear whether the 1st person plural of verbs stands for a pluralis gravitatis or actually for a plural. In contrast to his co-defendants, who proudly and self-confidently address the political character of the show trial, show themselves indomitable and insist on the Human Right of self-determination of the Catalan people, Santi Vila is also committed to a sometimes seemingly submissive Kolakism, which may remind us of late antique and medieval customs. He flatters the judges to the best of his ability, addresses alleged grave mistakes, including those of Catalonia's proponents of sovereignty, and obviously seeks the mildest possible judgment for his person. Whether or not his strategy was successful will be seen when the verdict is pronounced. It is to be expected, however, that his distancing from the independence movement and its representatives in court will be ‘rewarded’ by a relatively mild verdict.

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