Professor Clara Ponsatí is the Director of the Economics and Finance Department at our university. A serious criminal, she has been actively encouraging violent uprisings against the Spanish state, deploying propaganda and misinformation, and actively engaging in sedition against her fellow Spaniards. This 61-year-old Economics professor is a rebel and a traitor, a threat to the established order.
Or so the Spanish government would like to have you believe. The reality is that she is accused of inciting violence only because the Spanish state injured 1000 of its own citizens. She is accused of sedition because she served as Minister of Education in the Catalan cabinet when independence was declared. She is accused of rebellion because she wants the Catalan people to have the right to choose their own future.
For those unfamiliar with Catalan independence or the complexities of Spanish history and politics, this episode may seem unusual in a twenty-first century European liberal democracy. Yet, the events of recent months – the referendum on October 1st 2017, the suspended declaration of independence and subsequent suspension of the Catalan parliament, the incarceration of political leaders and issuing of European Arrest Warrants – are but the most recent events in a long struggle for Catalan independence.
The Catalan language, the Sardana, Catalan nationalists – all have at one point or another been banned, repressed, or executed by the Spanish state. Even the football club, FC Barcelona, has been attacked for its solidarity with Catalan identity.
When democracy returned to Spain in 1978 it was hoped that Catalan identity would be respected. To an extent this happened with the Statute of Autonomy of 1979 which gave some powers to the Catalan parliament. Yet power devolved is power retained, and when the Constitutional Court amended several key articles of the Statute in 2010, Catalans were once again fearful of a return to the dark days of the past. This, along with the continued economic crisis which plagues Spain, brought us to the events of October 1st 2017 and the day Spain reminded the world that Franco’s legacy lives on.
Despite winning the Catalan Regional Election in 2015 on a manifesto promising to hold a referendum on independence, the request of the pro-independence parties to hold one was rejected by Madrid and the Constitutional Court. When faced with democracy, Rajoy’s government replied with autocracy.
When the day of the vote came, the Spanish state brought blood to the streets of Barcelona. Old and young, men and women, everyone who sought to vote was a target for the Spanish state.
Voting centres were attacked by the Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional. Riot police charged non-violent voters. The full force of the Spanish state swung its fist at democracy and citizens. The world was silent. The European Union, the bastion of democracy, liberty and human rights chose to focus on the rule of law. The UN expressed concern but took no action. Whilst a 1000 innocents were beaten, bloodied and bruised at the hands of their state, the world ticked on.
Since that day the Spanish government has behaved more like an authoritarian state than a liberal democracy. Within weeks, direct rule was imposed from Madrid. Catalan political leaders (including Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart) were arrested and incarcerated without a trial. Many have since fled into exile with European Arrest Warrants issued for their arrest. Today, Spain has political prisoners and it wants our professor to join the list.
Perhaps Spain has a point though. The Spanish state claims that Professor Ponsatí broke the law, something that the Spanish state would never do. Apparently, she engaged in sedition when she served as Minister of Education in President Puigdemont’s cabinet. She allegedly incited in rebellion when she used public funds to give the Catalan people a chance to decide their future on October 1st. She did her duty in serving her country, and for that reason Spain calls her a criminal.
Is she guilty? Is it now a crime to represent the people who democratically elected you? Perhaps in Franco’s Spain but surely President Rajoy would never dare go down that route! Today Spain has political prisoners, has used police brutality to silence voters and continues to act as if nothing has changed. In the courtroom here are the facts. Rajoy’s government has admitted that President Puigdemont’s government did not misuse public funds in staging a referendum. It was the Spanish state that instigated the violence of October 1st. It is the Spanish state that has broken the international treaties and covenants it has signed which include the Charter of the United Nations, Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights – all of which allow for the right of self-determination of peoples and/or the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Ultimately there is only one party that is guilty of rebellion and sedition against humanity. In seeking to represent her people in a legitimate and democratic manner, Professor Ponsatí is forced to abandon the country she loves and faces a jail time of up to 30years. We in St Andrews who have been actively campaigning for Clara and the Catalan people know that we are on the side of justice. We stand up for those who cannot do so themselves not because we are rabid nationalists but because we are citizens of the world, defending the rights of our fellow citizens. Clara Ponsatí will not go gently into the darkness of a Spanish prison and we the people will stand against this injustice, for we have seen the promised land of liberty, equality and fraternity.