LEFT Party (Die Linke) MP Diether Dehm’s warning that extraditing deposed Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont from Germany to Spain carries unfortunate reminders of the past should be heeded by the Schleswig-Holstein legal authorities.
It is facile to declare that today’s Germany and Spain are not the fascist dictatorships they were in 1940 when the Gestapo rendered then exiled Catalan prime minister Lluis Companys to the Franco regime to be murdered.
No-one expects Madrid to dispense with Puigdemont in like manner if returned to Spain, but the reality is that an extradited Puigdemont would face trial for “rebellion,” equating to high treason, if the German regional state finds in favour of the case made by the Spanish conservative government.
The battle to defend democracy in Spain against a fascist military revolt backed with warplanes, artillery, troops and supplies from Germany and Italy was defeated less than 80 years ago.
Cities, towns and villages across Spain suffered horrendous reprisals with hundreds of thousands of working-class or peasant men and boys mown down by firing squads before burial in unidentified mass graves.
Political autonomy enjoyed under the Second Spanish Republic by Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia was abolished by Franco’s fascist dictatorship.
Today’s main conservative formation, the People’s Party/Partido Popular (PP) developed out of Franco’s Falange when Spain chose democracy after the dictator’s death.
The new democratic constitution comprised an uneasy compromise between the centralised state desired by Franco’s heirs and the autonomous model favoured by regional nationalities.
It laid down in its second article that it was “based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards,” while at the same time recognising and guaranteeing “the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed.”
The problem with constitutional articles that declare secession by regions impossible is that they run up against national grievances.
Sentiment in Catalonia is divided between those committed to remaining within Spain and advocates of independence.
That is a political question that divides Catalans of both left and right, with the likes of Puigdemont stressing that Catalans are still denied the autonomy they had in the Second Republic and others saying that it is difficult to view Spain’s most prosperous region as being oppressed and suggesting that independence is motivated by a greedy determination to keep all Catalonia’s wealth rather than share it in solidarity with Spain’s poorer regions.
Both are valid positions to argue and should have been debated openly and fully once Puigdemont floated his independence plan.
Instead, the Madrid government, backed by the European Union, treated the controversy as a law and order issue, sending the paramilitary Guardia Civil and Spanish National Police into Catalonia to disrupt the October 1 2017 referendum by brute force.
Newspapers, TV screens and radio waves captured the horror as uniformed bully-boys fired rubber bullets, threw percussion grenades, clubbed and kicked men and women, young and old while smashing up polling stations.
The response of PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was to praise his thugs for acting so “calmly.”
Combined with his spin doctor Pablo Casado’s arch reference to hoping that Puigdemont did not suffer Companys’s fate, Rajoy’s obvious joy in wallowing in violent repression ought to have put all democrats on guard.
Puigdemont should not be extradited. His supporters currently in jail should be released and the government should be told to drop its old-fashioned habits and to engage its opponents in Catalonia politically to work for a peaceful and just outcome.
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