Washington, DC. – Nowadays, being a democratic state does not guarantee that decisions are made democratically or transparently, even within the European Union. Spain, a country in the middle of a huge crisis, has serious concerns regarding the quality of its democracy and transparency of its institutions.
There is general discredit of the key Spanish institutions, from the top to lower levels of the administration. Last June, King Juan Carlos abdicated the throne to his son, Felipe, due to several scandals within the Royal Household. The People’s Party –currently in power in Madrid with absolute majority in Parliament– is under investigation for having a slush fund that took donations from construction magnates and redistributed them in cash-payments to party leaders, including the President of the country, Mariano Rajoy. Moreover, the current chief of the Constitutional Court (Spanish Supreme Court) took the oath while being member of the conservative People’s Party putting in question the independence of the Tribunal.
Given the situation, over the past few months Spaniards have taken to the streets asking for reforms but the Spanish government in Madrid seems is not listening to the people. This attitude has its best example in the response to the hundreds of thousands of Catalans that, year after year since 2012, have been demonstrating in the streets asking for a referendum to decide their political future within the European Union as an independent state. No matter the strong, permanent, and solid movement that has support across sociocultural lines, the response of the Spanish government is denying Catalan citizens their right to voice their opinion, using the Constitutional text as a pretext for political purposes when, in fact —with political will— there are current legal ways to allow Catalans to vote.
To make matters worse, in recent months the level of response of the Spanish political establishment to this popular and democratic-based movement in Catalonia has escalated to unacceptable levels. Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former government spokesman to José Ma. Aznar and right-wing commentator said that the Catalan President, Artur Mas, was «missing a firing squad execution». The remarks came on the 74th anniversary of the execution by firing squad of another Catalan President, Lluís Companys, who was captured and handed over by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, to the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco who executed him by firing squad in 1940. Another conservative Spanish politician and leader of the UPyD party, compared the Catalan process with the terrorism of the ETA Basque organization. «If it were not because they kill us in the Basque Country, what is happening today in Catalonia is worst,» she said. Furthermore, one MEP of Diez’s party, Beatriz Becerra sent a letter to all members of the European Parliament where she compares the Catalan referendum with the rise of fascism in «Italy and Germany during the 20s and 30s». Moreover, and on the other side of the political spectrum, a high politician of the Spanish Socialist Party and former president of the Extremadura region, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, equated the Catalan independence to Nazism and fascism, to name a few.
Transparency, a system of check and balances among branches, and democratic and respectful responses to the people are basic principles of democracy. Deep reforms to the Spanish political system are needed, protection and respect for an independent judiciary should be assured, and responses to the people should find ways to be accommodated, as the governments are also accountable for the minority. When these basic principles are not respected, the legitimacy of a government and the quality of its democracy are called into question.
Foto: Daniel Ochoa de Olza
[in Spanish] Published on 26/10/14 in Diari de Tarragona