In October 2017 the leaders of the autonomous region of Catalonia made a bid for independence following a regional referendum that overwhelmingly voted for independence from Spain. The Spanish government’s response was to declare the vote illegal, dismiss the Catalan government and dissolve its parliament.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. Twelve other Catalan leaders were detained on trumped-up charges of rebellion and embezzlement of public funds. Their trial, for their alleged roles in the events leading to the Catalonian declaration of independence, began in the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid this week. If found guilty the prisoners could face up to 25 years in jail.
Their defence team rightly says that the trial is about “the right to self-determination and the democratic principle”. But their claim that “there is no international or European Union [EU] law that prevents the secession of a sub-state entity, it does not exist” is unlikely to be accepted by the court which, almost certainly, will uphold the pretensions of the central Spanish state.
Nor should they put much faith in the EU with its toothless parliament and Ruritanian regional governments that have done nothing to resolve the national question in Europe. Ireland remains partitioned and the Catalans, Basques and Bretons, amongst others, are still denied their national rights.
Puigdemont himself says that the Brussels “Europe of the Regions” project had failed. "A Europe of regions created by the state is like electrical cars created by oil companies. They are not interested in the electrical car. If you are the oil company or you are the state, you are not interested," he said last year.
In the 1930s the progressive Spanish republic recognised the national rights of the Catalans, Basques and Galicians whose hopes were drowned in blood by General Franco’s fascist legions.
These days the mis-named Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the other mainstream Spanish political parties pay lip-service to the nominal “autonomy” of the regions whilst essentially upholding the centralised state that goes back to the days of the Franco dictatorship.
They claim that Catalonia’s major nationalist parties only represent the narrow interests of the Catalan bourgeoisie who want to detach the wealthiest region in the country so that they can more easily exploit it for their own use.
Whether that is true or false is irrelevant. The Catalans have a clear case for self-determination regardless of whom their leaders are or what they represent. Catalonia, once the heart of the old kingdom of Aragon, has its own distinct language and culture. It is the richest region in Spain. Catalans may only be some 16 per cent of the total Spanish population but their economy is larger than most of the members of the Eurozone. Catalonia generates more than 20 per cent of the Spanish GDP (gross domestic product) and its exports amount to over 25 per cent of Spain’s national total. An independent Catalonia is clearly viable.
Independence is clearly on the working class agenda in Catalonia today. Some want genuine autonomy and a new federal constitution for the whole of Spain. Some argue for independence “within the EU”. Others for a complete break from Spain and the European Union.
At the end of the day this is a matter that only the Catalans can rightly decide. For British communists our duty is to demand the release of all Catalan political prisoners and support the popular demands of the Catalonian people for self-government in whatever form they decide to uphold.