In response to Carles Puigdemont’s article in The Washington Post, titled Sorry, Spain. Catalonia is voting on independence whether you like it or not. You can read this article in Spanish here. Thanks to Christian Caryl, editor at The Washington Post, for his attention and kindness.
Democracy is the rule of the many, with due respect to the few. Both sides of the coin are indispensable, and neither of them can break the other. The rule of the many, called majority, is granted by the rules of the game: the set of agreements which the political community, on its very foundational moment, agreed on. And the due respect to the few, called rights, is also granted in the same set of rules, because if the majority were to be always right and its will always sovereign, there would be no point in having rules at all.
Mr. Puigdemont, what is happening in Catalonia this last weeks is exactly the breakdown of such simple explanation that you understand even better than I do, because you have been elected and I have not. In fact, you were not elected for the office you are holding; you were elected as the third representative of Gerona while you were the mayor of the city. But the parliamentary rules allowed your party to propose you as head of the regional government, when your predecessor was unable to pass the investiture vote, and here we are: nobody challenges your legitimacy to hold your office, because you got it lawfully.
However, you and your Government have decided that the due respect to the few was not a part of the game anymore. And since day one of your administration, you denied any negotiation about a referendum. Because, look, another easy concept: you cannot negotiate a referendum if you are not willing to, eventually, give up on it. The very same applies to everything else. Because if you want to negotiate something in the only ground that you will have that thing regardless the outcome of the process, then you are not actually negotiating. You are imposing your will.
And in that path of misguided concepts, you discovered that the parliamentary opposition –meaning, the few– was unpleasant. Understandable: everybody is annoyed when someone, day after day, reminds them of their mistakes. Therefore, you took an obvious decision: you turned them off. You shut them down. As if they were a TV channel, you pressured the button of the speaker of the Parliament and she crushed the minority in two plenaries where they were not allowed to speak, not allowed to amend, not allowed to trigger the rules of the Chamber, not allowed to protest and once, even not allowed to vote. The worse part: it is all in video, streamed live to the world. You took the Parliament that represents the Catalan people, you whipped the voices against you and with a tiny majority of seats you broke down democracy with the only purpose of passing a law that was illegal, unconstitutional and impossible to enforce.
Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1864: «My oath to preserve the Constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government –that nation– of which that Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the Constitution? […] I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it».
President Lincoln declared the first state of emergency of constitutional history, assumed immense powers and got a triple approval: Congress, the Supreme Court and History gave him the blessing for his decision to preserve the unity of the nation against a secession. Let’s not forget that the Confederation seceded the Union because slavery was going to be abolished by a Congress elected by the people. Meaning, one part of the country decided that the law upheld by the legitimate power to approve it was not acceptable, and simply left instead of fight for the majority needed to prevent it.
Spain, of course, is not going to start a civil war only because of your ruthless use of an institution which belongs to all the people, not only those who voted for you(r party). But Spanish democracy will not bend the knee either to the misguided use of the word freedom that you and your colleagues have used to confuse the voters and the world.
A referendum is not always an act of freedom by itself: Franco held two referendums, and so did many dictatorships; I do not believe you dare to say Franco was a democrat. A referendum cannot be an act of democracy if the leaders of one of the sides lie constantly and heartlessly to the people, telling them tales when the brutal truth is completely different. A referendum will never be an act of freedom if you steal the taxpayer’s money to pay ads. A referendum will never be legitimate when in order to win you take the children out of the primary school classrooms and put them in the streets protesting and chanting slogans they do not understand.
A referendum like this one is not a referendum. It is a coup. Because you are trying to change the rules of the game by the path of the facts instead of by the path we all voted for. You could have activated a constitutional reform, and you chose not to. Instead, you have enforced a de facto legality which is not only a façade, but a crooked way to keep you in power regardless of the crimes you have committed along the way, and regardless of what the courts will say: that you are unfit for office because you abused your power.
And what all of this demonstrates, is that you are the same as your predecessor: a bad leader, an incompetent ruler, and the worst, a coward. Because you shot down Parliament to avoid the opposition, opposition that has triggered a non-confidence vote which you do not dare to take to the floor. Because you bankrupted the Catalan treasury and you asked Madrid for seventeen thousand millions of euros only this year to pay your civil service, your teachers –the teachers that take the children to demonstrations– and your doctors while at the same time you call Madrid an authoritarian regime. And because you are incapable to lead your people to independence without using an immense amount of lies.
Democracy will not bend the knee because democracy cannot lose. The rule of law will prevail because it cannot be revoked. The equality before the law will not collapse, because it cannot be repealed by the 47.8% of the votes. You can like it or not, but if you keep moving towards a fake referendum, and the central Government finally suspends your powers and Catalonia’s autonomy, make no mistake: it is no other than democracy knocking on your door.