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

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16 comentarios en “Spanish democracy in question

  1. Well done. Just a little detail: President Companys was not captured by the Gestapo. Gestapo had not yet been deployed in France at that time. It was the German army military police as they were scanning the territory around what was going to be their main U-boat base in the Atlantic coast of France. Companys was a possibly hostile foreigner living just a couple of miles from the base site.
    And, indeed, Spanish democracy is just nominal. The lack of real separation of powers and the attitudes of the central government and their cohort of public officials entrenched in power knot points, particularly the “abogados del estado”, government legal advisors who act as a sect, makes very difficult to accept Spanish democracy at face value.

  2. És curiós com els mitjans més prestigiosos internacionals insisteixen en la manca de qualitat o manca simplement de democràcia a les espanyes quan el gallec acaba de dir què tenim una democràcia de lo més avançada (diran què ens tenen mania com en els temps de l’altre gallec que ens va sotmetre tants anys?)

  3. Gustau,

    There have been plenty, over 20, elections since democracy began in Spain. We, catalans, have been able to voice our opinions. Because Spain is a well-established democracy is part of the Euopean Union.

    Catalans have the right to express their opinion and do so constantly. But they cannot decide alone things that affect deeply to all the citizens of Spain. ALL. Your idea is to deny all those other citizens their right to have a say in the whole process. Democracy is also being loyal to the law. Having a Catalan government come up with all sorts of euphemisms ( a is “the right to decide” when they want to talk about a non-existing right to self-determination) to circumvent the law and being completely one-sided on a potential referendum is not very democratic.

    Of course there are problems with the quality of our instititions but Is is interesting and sad how all the blame is put only on the Spanish side. Why didn’t you mention Jordi Pujol, or the ITV, or Fèlix Millet, or Casino, or Treballl, all these being extremely serious corruption cases in Catalonia? Also, why don’t we discuss how the Consell de Garanties Estatutaries, an embryo of a potentila Catalan Constitutional Court, is nominated by Catalan political parties? We could very easily question their independence.

    Because Spain has accepted its diversity we have become the most decentralized state in the European Union. The most. Since democracy began we have only become more and more decentralized. The problem for nationalists is accepting that there is a limit to it and this will end up in huge frustrations. The fact that you cry wolf regarding Spain being a very poor democracy is proof.

    Una abraçada

    • Guess what? Quebec citizens could decide about something that affected all Canadian citizens. And Scotland could decide about something that affected all British citizens. When there’s political will, there’s a way, but Spanish politicians are still living in Franco’s days. Democracy is not voting every 4 years, it’s much more. And the whole world knows about Spain’s awful political practices.

    • “Because Spain has accepted its diversity we have become the most decentralized state in the European Union”. Is it for what you say that Spain don’t let us to vote and forbids our legal referendums law? Decentralized? Who has the money and who distribute it between the regions, punishing the rebels? Who fight against the Catalan language? No. Spain never has accepted the diversity and the present and the history says so.

      • Collonsisiá,

        1 – Yes, decentralized. Tell me a country in the European Union more decentralized.
        2 – Sorry but the law is illegal if you ask about things over which you can’t. Everybody knows it (even the famous CATN) and this was passed by the Catalan government only to portray Spain as an awful country.
        3 – Fight against the Catalan language? Can tou tell me a time when Catalan was better known and used properly, when people knew how to write it better? Evev nationalists scholars will admit that now is the best time for Catalan…under the Spanish democracy.

    • Javi, when there are elections in Andalucia, Basque contry, Galicia, etc. who votes? people who live there. I don’t have any right to decide what is best for them, they are the ones who live there and must decide what is best for them. So, I strongly disagree when you say that regarding the catalan process every spanish person should decide. We catalans have to decide what’s better for us and it would be nice that everybody else respected our choice, whatever it is.

      • EFP,

        I could respond to ll the comments (beginning with the references to Franco who are really tiresome) but letme ask you something: at waht point can you decide? For instance, the city hall of Lleida (one of Catalonia’s 4 provincial capitals) decided to forbid the use of the burka. Later, that decision was reversed by Catalonia’s regional upper Court. Why do we have the right to interfere on the decission that a well and very old established location voted? Could Lleida decide to establish the capital punishment if they voted so? Why do people from Barcelona or Tarragona have a say? We do, and rightfully so, have a say because those decissions affect all the larger Catalan community.

  4. Why not go to the root of legitimacy of the Spanish democracy? The 1978 Constitution that is always the reason why unionist doesn’t allow Catalans to vote. Have they forgotten that this Constituion was written under the Francosit militars shadow? That was folowed by a coup d’etat in 1981 that motivated a regressive reform to limit powers to autonomies like Catalonia?
    Spanish governments present their Constitution as a model of democracy, but unfortunately is not… Catalans know vety well!

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