Will the Catalan separatists receive amnesty?

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The Catalan problem is something that has been affecting Spain since the early years of the 18th century. On September 11th 1714, King Phillip V’s troops entered Barcelona after 14 months of sieging the city, which led to the abolition of the Catalan institutions during the Spanish War of Succession. To this day, the Catalan people still commemorate the 11th of September as Catalonia Day, and it is representative of their desire for independence. However, this time around, they might be closer than ever in order to achieve that dream, all this due to a national feud between left and right-wing parties.

The elections in Spain left both sides of the political spectrum at a stalemate. Despite the fact that the People’s Party (Partido Popular) won the elections, it would not be possible to create a government even with the support of Vox, a relatively new far-right party. Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, leader of the PP, was not ready to make any concessions to any parties seeking independence from Spain, as he stated in May 2023 that “Spain is not on sale”. 

However, Pedro Sánchez, leader of Spain’s Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español), has moved fast in his attempt to secure four more years in his position as President. After Feijóo’s failure to create a government, Sánchez was given the chance to create a government by Spanish King Phillip VI. The only way Sánchez could guarantee his victory would be with a deal with Junts per Catalunya, a Catalanist party led by Carles Puigdemont, who rose to fame after his failed attempt to make a referendum on the 1st of October 2017. 

Sánchez changed his discourse by claiming that an amnesty is “in the interest of Spain and in the defence of coexistence between Spaniards.”

Puigdemont would agree on a coalition with Sánchez under two requirements. The first would be an amnesty for all political prisoners who participated in the 2017 referendum and the second, a chance for an independence referendum for Catalonia. Sánchez had previously stated that if he created a government, he would not give an amnesty to any Catalan separatist leaders. However, on 28th October, Sánchez changed his discourse by claiming that an amnesty is “in the interest of Spain and in the defence of coexistence between Spaniards.” However, most of the Spanish people would have none of this political rhetoric, and on 29th October, massive protests sparked all around Spain. 

These protests mainly began targeting the headquarters of the Socialist Party of Spain, in Ferraz. However, ever since, these protests have expanded which has led to the largest protest about this issue taking place on 12th November , where possibly, up to 500,000 have attended, including many major political figures in Spain, such as Isabel Díaz Ayuso, José Luis Martínez Almeida, Santiago Abascal and Feijóo himself. The protesters have mostly chanted statements such as “Spain is not for sale” or “Sánchez to prison”. Even former Spanish presidents have joined in the fight, with José María Aznar stating on 2nd November that Sánchez is a “danger for Spanish constitutional democracy”. However, this opposition has come from both sides of the political spectrum. Former socialist Spanish President, Felipe González stated that he stands firmly against the amnesty and that it should not be given “in exchange for seven votes”.

However, have the protests achieved much until today? Not really. Sánchez still maintains his firm rhetoric that amnesty should and will be given to the Catalan politicians, despite large scholarly and institutional opposition to it, mainly coming from the General Council of the Judiciary as it is perceived as a “legal menace to the rule of law” and “an attack to the separation of powers”. The political accord between Junts per Catalunya and PSOE means that on the week commencing on 13th November , there was an official presentation of the ‘Law of Amnesty’ in the Spanish Parliament. 

These protests indicate nothing else but the beginning of a national mistrust towards the Spanish Socialist Party

The European Union wants to get involved in the topic, and the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders has extended concern to this issue, to which his Spanish counterpart, Pilar Llop, has stated that it is a topic ‘of national interest that should not be brought up in the European Parliament’, again indicating how the Spanish Socialist Party is firmly gripping the chance to form a government again.

These protests indicate nothing else but the beginning of a national mistrust towards the Spanish Socialist Party. President Sánchez’s claims have seen rapid changes depending on the circumstances that he has had to face. His promise, just five months ago, guaranteeing that there was not going to be an amnesty, has swiftly changed to pro-Catalan rhetoric, seeing as it is on the Catalan representatives in the Spanish Parliament to guarantee the formation of a new government. There is still high suspicion of whether the Spanish Constitutional Court, or even the Monarch, will get involved to prevent this Law of Amnesty from going through, however, only time will tell.

Image: Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons

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