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7.14.2019

Liberté-Egalité-Fraternité


We write this on July 14, which as the reader knows all too well, is not France's Independence Day but rather the day the Bastille prison, the symbol of the Ancien Régime, was stormed and taken in Paris, and the monarchy toppled. There followed on the one hand a period of bloodthirsty political cleansing about which, of course, the French have no reason to be nostalgic; but also, on the other, three universal values that have inspired the "Western world"'s far from obstacle-free path towards the recognition, and respect for, fundamental human rights.

Within the category of "egalité" we find a key principle: that all citizens are equal before the law. This principle, or value, has many ramifications, and we would like to underline on this occasion equality on the basis not of social class (the clochard deserves the same treatment as the banker or the millionaire, before the police or the courts) but of national identity. A Scottish citizen or the person of Pakistani origin deserves the same treatment as the Londoner or an Italian. Of course.

Sadly, though, we have no alternative but to acknowledge, on objective grounds, that judges, being humans like anyone else, share stereotypes and prejudice much the same as any other citizen. However, unless they are aware of this and counter it in their deliberations and judgments, the impact of this bias can be immeasurably greater in their activity than if they were farmers, factory workers or shop assistants. Judges send people to prison or fine them. In some less-developed parts of the world, they can issue death sentences. Farmers cannot.

Among these personal factors some may be aimed at particular groups, while others may be summed up as markers of patriotism, jingoism or nationalism which, as Michael Billig reminds us, is often so banal as to make us unaware of these feelings, and hostile towards people who have an identical bias... but with regard to another nation.

In Spain, in particular, numerous authors have pointed out that the longstanding negative stereotype of the Catalans is akin to that of the Jewish people. This, coupled with a doctrinaire, almost fanatical, belief that the unity of Spain is sacred (the reader would be surprised to find even Spanish prime ministers using this term), whipped up by nearly all the media, would make it almost impossible for a judge in the High Court of Catalonia to be truly neutral in trying twelve peace-loving Catalan politicians and social leaders on ridiculous charges of rebellion. And given Spain's strategy to have them put on trial not in the court of first instance, but in Madrid - where they have not even dared to speak in their own language! - makes the principle of neutrality a quimera. So in such a case egalité is quite impossible. Had it been possible, in the first place, the Catalonia-Spain political conflict would have been solved around a negotiating table, which is the way politicians are expected to resolve problems before they reach the level of a crisis or a conflict. Around a table, not in a courtroom.

This severe affirmation has, unfortunately, plenty of evidence to  back it up. On the one hand, the Spanish courts have arrogantly refused to heed the clear messages from courts in Belgium, Germany and Scotland: the charges of rebellion and sedition against the promoters of Catalonia's self-determination referendum are ludicrous.

Even more clearly, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued two reports - as we are sure the reader knows - stating extremely clearly that the political prisoners are to be released, listing a dozen violated fundamental rights. Spain - that had no problem being vociferous when the same working group called for the release of Venezuelan political prisoners - not only refuses to comply, but has made serious but unfounded extemporaneous aspersions on several of its members.

So, basically, Spain's continued to repress the Catalan leadership instead of seeking a political way forward. And it is not only the leadership that it suffering. The reader is reminded that over a thousand Catalan citizens received medical attention because of the assaults of polling stations by Spanish police on voting day, 1 October, 2017. 

We are referring to a period during which investigations of clear violations of fundamental rights (such as privacy, assembly, freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial...) have come to nought, while (for instance) Catalans accused - rightly or wrongly - of criticizing the police have found themselves accused by the public prosecutor of hate speech! Clowns, car mechanics, teachers, local councillors and mayors have been dragged through court proceedings, with the anguish of Damocles' sword just above them. Some of the people injured on voting day, having reported the police excesses (dozens of these police officers face charges), have then been reported for "disobedience".

The State is being ruthless and it clearly does not matter who is in power in the Spanish government: the repressive machinery continues unabated, using whatever methods it can, legal or otherwise, short of actually killing anyone, to try and repress the Catalans' will for freedom. And even opponents of Catalonia's national emancipation warn that this strategy only further enlarges the majority of Catalans who aspire to liberté. And egalité. And fraternité.

7.06.2019

Laureà Prats i Cateura

Extractes biogràfics del doctor Laureà Prats i Cateura.
Click here if need be to access the whole text.
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