Alberto Mingardi  

A Catalan arrest too much?

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How do we draw the line between "sedition" and free speech?

Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia's generalitat who has been living in exile in Belgium since the declaration of independence from Spain last October, has been arrested in Germany, while crossing from Denmark back to Belgium, on an international arrest warrant.

The charges Puigdemont is facing include sedition and rebellion.

Puigdemont's arrest is but the last in a long chain that saw most Catalan leaders ending up in jail.

In a way, secessionists are by definition threatening the existing order in the most upfront way. They aim at breaking it up, making two political entities of one. In this sense, they are undoubtedly "seditious". But Puigdemont and his allies, though certainly threatening to Spain as it currently is, have never wielded a gun. You may question the legitimacy of the referendum they organised and won (for Spanish authorities, the questions belong to those questions that cannot be asked) but they did not start, neither did they preach, to the best of my knowledge, an armed insurrection.

Is this irrelevant? I find such a view quite irreconcilable with my deepest feelings. In a sense, I think we all tend to prefer democracy (with all its imperfections) to other political regimes because, to echo Karl Popper, it is a system that allows us to count heads instead of cutting them. This seems to go together with a commitment to free speech. There is little use in a system that allows us to count heads instead of cutting them, if the heads to be counted are supposed to remain silent.

The Spanish government is being quite transparent in putting the survival of the Spanish state as it is before everything. This 'everything' includes the Catalan governors' personal liberty and indirectly, if imprisonment is the reward, open advocacy of secession.

If the Catalans were going rogue, as the Basques did before, the national government may have the moral high ground. But it's one thing imprisoning terrorists, another imprisoning elected politicians.

The Catalan riddle is not easy to solve - and so far the Spanish government, led by Mariano Rajoy, had the better of its amateurish Catalan opponents. But could it be the case that the Spanish are now pushing their reaction too far? How do we draw the line between "sedition" and free speech?

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Maruja writes:

Spanish libertarians (SFL) have already drawn the line, engaging in censorhip of libertarian groups (SFL) in Barcelona and Italy who denounced Spanish repression.

Jose Luis writes:

The independentist won the legal autonomous elections with a 47,8% of votes (although the political party most voted was antiindependence) while the constitution was aproved by a 90% of catalans that voted (67.8%) in 1978. The constitution has its way of reform with majorities that they do not have and have declared unilaterally the independence with force on the streets (no pacific, althoug not a war. The have tried to buy armament that was intercepted before buy spanish government). The segmentation of the electoral body is a violation of the constitution spaniards approved and that constitution is a garantee of peace, with a level of outogovernment that could not be found even in federal countries. The autonomous government control education, Catalan TV, police, etc. Out of the constitution there is only the caos. Any violation of the rules as they did (you should watch that day session in the parlament) should be punished as everywhere. No rules, no peace. Remember the independentist are supoorted in the street by Contrarevolutionary comitees and are backed by comunist and anarquist. This is not a joke and could spread in the full Europe.

Diego writes:

It is definitely not a free speech issue. There are dozens of separatist politicians that still hold seats in the Spanish Senate and House of Representatives and in the Catalan Parliament. They express their separatist views regularly and forcefully on parliamentary debates, on regional TV channels and on Twitter. Nobody has arrested them, nor have they been charged with any crime.

When it comes to Puigdemont and the rest of its former cabinet, this is an issue of plain disobedience: they were repeatedly warned by courts of law that their actions were unlawful and unconstitutional, they were ordered to cease and desist, and they willfully chose to press ahead. This is a crime in Spain and in any other developed country. "Sedition", under the Spanish Criminal Code, amounts to nothing more than preventing the application of the Law or the execution of judicial orders in a public and tumultuous manner, which they arguably did (the very day of the referendum, when the police had been ordered by a court of law to prevent the opening of voting venues).

Mr. Puigdemont and the others were completely free to pursue independence by any lawful means available to them (i.e., constitutional reform). What they could not do is unilaterally ignore existing laws and show a striking contempt for Spanish courts. At the very least, they could not do that with just 47% of the population supporting them and with a Spanish constitutional framework that allows them political autonomy equal or greater than that of a German Land or a US State. If 90% of the Catalan population were separatists and they were being repressed by an authoritarian, centralized Spanish government, they could play the legitimacy card. Given the state of affairs, they just can't.

EB writes:

Alberto, please read this

and tell me what you would recommend the federal government to do with California.


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