Un observador inglés (19) – Corruption, credibility and seeing yellow.

The week began with Spain’s Prime Minister, M.Rajoy, backed up by the PSOE and Cs, still refusing to publish the names of the new Catalan government in the ‘official gazette’, thereby keeping Article 155 and the suspension of Catalan self-government in place, because some of the chosen ministers have “pending cases with Spanish justice”. Just keep that in mind for a few minutes …

The Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera, made a big show of announcing that he doesn’t see ‘reds’ or ‘blues’, he only sees Spaniards. He doesn’t see old people or young people, either … he only sees Spaniards. He doesn’t see ‘believers’ or ‘agnostics’, he only sees … wait for it … Spaniards. Helped along by pop star Marta Sánchez, singing her own lyrics to the Spanish national anthem (which include ‘Great Spain, I thank God for being born here … I can’t live without you’ – although Marta lives most of the time in Miami), Rivera launched his ‘#EspañaCiudadana’ movement or ‘platform’. I guess it means ‘Citizen Spain’ and it is supposed to ‘modernize Spain’. Let’s wait and see.

Whilst Rivera doesn’t see red or blue, the spokesman for his Cs party in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, certainly saw yellow in the Catalan Parliament. He threw one of the yellow ribbons out of the way, and the session was suspended. The yellow ribbons that represent the politicians in prison (without any trial) or in exile have been on some of the Parliament’s seats for over 7 months now, so I’m not sure why Carrizosa suddenly felt the urge to remove one. Whilst the political prisoners have had more than enough of being political prisoners, it seems Carrizosa has had enough of seeing yellow. Possibly he was inspired by the ‘aggressive unionists’ or ‘thugs in balaclavas’ grabbing yellow crosses from the beach at Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona, and where 5 people were injured, including an 82 year old man. Today in Mataró, after the local mayor banned yellow crosses on the beach, those protesting against the jailed politicians decided to spread out yellow towels in the shape of a cross. Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s little delegate in Catalonia (and the man who recently said that ‘everyone around the world can see that Spain has a consolidated democracy’ – and he wasn’t joking), felt it necessary to send a letter to Catalan mayors telling them to keep public spaces ‘neutral’ (in other words, free of yellow). It could be an interesting summer for the sale of yellow bathing suits, yellow sun umbrellas and yellow towels.

Talking of joker Millo, he reportedly also issued instructions so that the Catalan President, Quim Torra, was prevented from using any VIP premises at Spain’s airports. Last week Torra visited Carles Puigdemont in Berlin, and this week he made three separate visits to prisons in the Madrid area, to visit 6 of the Catalan politicians and civic leaders held on remand for up to 7 months. After his visits, Torra again asked Rajoy to engage in dialogue – a call he repeated three times on Monday – but his requests have so far been ignored. As far as I know, Rajoy still hasn’t spoken to Torra or congratulated him on becoming the Catalan President … although Rajoy has congratulated Real Madrid for winning the Champions League. Of course.

The Higher Regional Court of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany maintained its rejection of the charge of ‘rebellion’ against Carles Puigdemont in the extradition proceedings, meaning that the new ‘evidence’ provided by Spanish judge Llarena hasn’t changed anything at all. In fact the court upheld its position from 5th April, stating that Puigdemont’s extradition for rebellion was ‘inadmissable from the outset’. It is becoming quite clear that there wasn’t a rebellion before, on or after 1st October in Catalonia, nor was there ‘tumultuous sedition’ (whatever that is), and nor has there been any real evidence to prove any misuse of public funds, either. So why are all these Catalan politicians and civic leaders still in jail without bail and without trial, and why isn’t Quim Torra allowed to form a government? If they release them, the yellow problem would go away, too …

Actor Willy Toledo again ignored an order to attend court and respond to accusations that he insulted God and the Virgin Mary, and instead held a press conference supported by other actors. An arrest warrant has now been issued for Spanish rapper, Valtonyc, who left for Belgium to try and avoid a 3-year jail sentence for singing lyrics glorifying terrorism and criticising the Spanish royal family. Punk rock singer, Evaristo Páramos (who has a musical career spanning over 30 years), was reportedly ‘identified and denounced’ for a series of comments made against the Guardia Civil between songs, during a concert in Andalusia this very weekend. At the time of writing, it is predicted that over 68% of Podemos party members have voted in favour of leader Pablo Iglesias and his partner, Irene Montero, the party’s parliamentary spokeswoman, continuing in their posts.

Eduardo Zaplana, former PP minister, president of Valencia and PP parliamentary spokesman, has been jailed on remand as part of a new investigation into bribery and money laundering. He has been accused of receiving over €10m in exchange for contracts.

On Thursday morning there was what looked like a ‘smokescreen’, with the ‘UDEF’ (the ‘General Commissariat of the Judiciary Police’) ordering agents to raid government offices in Catalonia (again), in search of the alleged misuse of public funds (again) … and oddly El Pais seemed to almost report on it all before it even happened (again). But whatever the outcome of the raids, it couldn’t cover up the real news of that same day: the sentencing in the Gürtel corruption trial linked to the PP.

You can read about the entire case elsewhere (and you should), but the summary of it all is that 29 people related to the PP were convicted of offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes. They were sentenced to a combined 351 years in jail. They included the former party treasurer, Luis Barcenas (jailed for 33 years), and other senior members, as well as the corruption mastermind, Francisco Correa (jailed for 51 years).

The Gürtel case relates to the use of a slush fund by the PP in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns. Rajoy came to power in 2011 and has always denied wrongdoing.  He became the first sitting prime minister in Spain to give evidence in a trial, however, when he was called as a witness in the case last year, prompting calls for him to resign. He refused. In his ruling, the judge said there was evidence the party ran a slush fund for many years and that the credibility of Rajoy’s testimony denying it “should be questioned”.  “(His) testimony does not appear as plausible enough to refute the strong evidence showing the existence of a slush fund in the party,” the judge said.

In other words, Spain’s National Court has questioned the ‘credibility’ of the testimony given by Mariano Rajoy in the trial of the Gürtel case. Yet he can block the formation of a government in Catalonia because some of the chosen ministers (still in prison without any trial) have ‘pending cases with Spanish justice’.

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez spent the first half of the week repeatedly labelling Quim Torra a racist and supremacist, comparing him to the ‘Le Pen of Spanish politics’. Now (again at the time of writing) he has called for a no-confidence vote in Rajoy. For that, he has been labelled ‘the Judas of Spanish politics’. Rajoy has said: ‘This goes against the political stability that our country needs and it goes against the economic recovery. It is bad for Spain.’ The Cs have also issued Rajoy with an ultimatum: call an election. It is not yet clear whether the two parties will team up to overthrow Rajoy’s minority government, but my prediction is that Rajoy’s days are finally numbered.

Un observador inglés (18) – When protest is a rebellion, and choosing your government is a ‘provocation’.

‘Provocation’ is normally defined as an action or speech, carried out deliberately, that makes someone else feel or respond in a certain way, usually becoming angry or offended. Let’s come back to that, after a quick look at some of the rest of the week’s news.

The European Parliament is to request in writing explanations from the Spanish government about manipulation and censorship on RTVE. Meanwhile Ciudadanos politician Inés Arrimadas said that if people only watched TV3, nobody would vote for her. Despite the PP government in Madrid (and its PSOE and Cs allies) claiming that over 3,000 companies have left Catalonia – Facebook, Lidl, Chartboost, Satellogic and Moodle have all recently confirmed that they’re investing further in Catalonia, as well as Robert de Niro with his Nobu Hotel chain.

Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, visited Bulgaria, but it was ahead of Thursday’s EU-Balkan summit, where Spain was the only absentee among the 28 nations of the EU. Why? Because Rajoy didn’t want any link between ‘unrecognised Kosovo’ and Catalonia.

Protests took place in Barcelona to mark the 7 months (since 16th October) that Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart (the two leaders of Catalan civic organisations, ANC and Omnium) have been held in pre-trial detention without bail near Madrid (in addition to several Catalan politicians). The two Jordis are accused of inciting a ‘rebellion’ last September … although video footage clearly shows that a rebellion did not take place, and nor did they try to incite one.

Belgium rejected the extradition orders for Catalan politicians Toni Comín, Mertixell Serret and Lluís Puig, due to ‘flagrant flaws’. According to Carles Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, this should also apply in Scotland (where former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati is fighting an extradition request), Germany (the same for Carles Puigdemont) and Switzerland (Rovira and Gabriel). The Spanish Supreme Court accused Belgium of its ‘lack of commitment’ in cooperating with Spain following the dismissal of the European Arrest Warrants. Spanish judge Llarena went further, insisting in a letter to the German prosecutor that the EAW for Puigdemont ‘complied with all requirements’ and also warned Germany not to make the same ‘error’ as Belgium. Meanwhile, PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez said his party would work to modify the Criminal Code to bring the ‘definition of rebellion’ in line with Spain of the 21st century. A ‘rebellion’ is a ‘rebellion’, though, surely? Changing the Criminal Code to try and define a ‘protest’ as a ‘rebellion’, for example, still doesn’t make it a rebellion. It remains a protest.

The president of the Royal Spanish Federation of Motorsports complained that the anthem of Catalonia (‘Els Segadors’) lasted longer than Spain’s before the start of the Spanish Grand Prix at Montmeló. An investigation began as to how PP politician Pablo Casado obtained a masters degree in such a short period of time. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero (expecting twins) announced a ‘consulation’ within their party, regarding whether they should resign their posts following news that they are purchasing a property valued at €600,000.

The ‘right-wing radio guru’, Jiménez Losantos, who’d previously suggested taking Germans hostage in Mallorca, or setting off explosions in Bavarian bars (after Germany refused to extradite Puigdemont on charges of rebellion), last week suggested Barcelona should be bombed again. Yes, you read that correctly: he suggested Barcelona should be bombed again. On radio. Publicly. Now, you might think that’s why I mentioned the definition of ‘provocation’ above … although what he said is more than ‘provocative’, it is evil, it’s an incitement to violence, to war, even. But was there any official government or police condemnation of what he said? Nope. Nada.

No, I mentioned ‘provocation’ because of today’s news. Spain plans to maintain central government control over Catalonia. Why? Because the new Catalan President is trying to form his democratically elected government, and the Spanish government (who called the elections of 21st December) has denounced the list of names to be included in his cabinet as a ‘provocation’. A provocation.

It is not even a week since Quim Torra was officially appointed the 131st President of Catalonia. Despite calling those elections on 21st December, the Spanish government is clearly very unhappy that Torra has been voted in. Even during the investiture debates, it stated that his speech was ‘sectarian’ and he ‘should be careful with the things he says and does’. It also stated that Torra has not presented himself as ‘the president that Catalans need and deserve’. As if the Spanish government in Madrid should know …

Since being sworn in as president in a discreet ceremony, and since he has also pledged to eventually reinstate Carles Puigdemont as president, Torra has been described as a ‘hardline nationalist’, a ‘fanatic’, ‘imbecile’, ‘racist’, ‘supremacist’, ‘pyscopath’, ‘xenophobe’ and also Puigdemont’s ‘little whore’. His family, and specifically his daughter, have suffered abuse on social media. La Razon newspaper went as far as publishing a headline stating that “Torra wants to exterminate the Spanish” – although they put it in quotation marks, suggesting it would be the ‘offensive’ that the PP, PSOE and Cs would be pitching to the European Union. It’s true that Torra has been heavily criticised for a ‘xenophobic article’ he wrote in 2009, in which he apparently ‘dehumanised Spaniards as beasts with defective DNA’. Some also describe it all as a ‘disinformation campaign’ about Torra, the fact that quotes from his articles have been taken out of context, and that his ‘Language and the Beasts’ article did not really call all Spaniards beasts at all, but those Spaniards who in 2008 launched a campaign for Swissair not to speak Catalan through their loudspeaker system.

Torra has issued an invitation to Rajoy to hold talks: ‘Please, Mr.Rajoy, fix a time and place. We’ll be there. Without preconditions, let’s talk.’ Rajoy finally said something about him being willing to talk to Torra, as long as it was ‘within the law’. Torra’s cabinet choices of Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, who are both in prison on remand, awaiting trial, and Toni Comin and Lluis Puig (mentioned above and now in Brussels) means that the Spanish government has said it would have to ‘analyse the viability of the new Catalan government’, which must be ratified by Madrid before it can take power. These men are all innocent until proven guilty … surely? But for Torra right now, however, choosing his democratically elected Catalan government is simply a ‘provocation’ in the eyes of Madrid.

Un observador inglés (17) – Selling Spain (or trying to) as a ‘consolidated democracy’ …

Note to self: don’t miss a week again, as there’s too much to catch up on afterwards. Here’s just a recap of the key news stories, therefore – I mean, so much has happened in 2 weeks, I can’t bore you with my take on it all …

ETA announced its dissolution after more than 40 years of violence, in which hundreds of lives were lost and thousands of people injured. Former Secretary General of the UN and Nobel prize winner, Kofi Annan, tweeted: ‘The dissolution of ETA marks a welcome end to a difficult chapter in Spanish history. Conflict is rarely solved through force of arms alone, and this news illustrates that political dialogue is the key to building lasting peace.’

Following on from the ‘wolf pack’ gang rape verdict in Navarra (and where an error on the justice online portal even made it possible to identify the victim), a ‘#Cuentalo’ campaign took hold across Spain – very similar to the global ‘#metoo’ campaign – and it is on-going. In fact another court verdict concluded that the abuse of a 16 year old teenager in shock was also not rape. A UN report stated that the “light sentencing of the ‘wolf pack’ attackers in Spain diminishes the severity of the violation and undermines clear obligations to uphold the rights of women”. Meanwhile it emerged that the Spanish government’s commission to review the definition of sexual offences in the Penal Code consisted of … wait for it … 20 men, and not one woman.

What else happened? Prime Minister M.Rajoy congratulated Rafael Nadal, Marc and Feliciano López for winning at tennis, and Carolina Marina for winning at badminton – but he forgot to congratulate FC Barcelona on winning the league. He also forgot the name of the mayor of Alicante during a speech (it is Luis Barcala). Arriving at the event in Alicante, Rajoy was booed and whistled at by a group of protestors, mainly pensioners. His director of communications, Carmen Martínez Castro, was overheard saying that she’d like to show ‘the finger’ to the pensioners and tell them to ‘fuck themselves’. She later had to apologise, insisting that it was a ‘private conversation’.

Spain suspended the universal access to public health services in Catalonia. Because the Catalans ‘do things’, runners set off on an 800km relay from the Catalan Parliament to the Spanish prisons where Catalan leaders are being held in pre-trial detention (some for over 6 months now). A spectacular human chain also formed on the Montserrat mountain as part of the same protest. A €3,000 fine was reportedly imposed for someone shouting ‘freedom’ at a football match.

Black became the new yellow, at least on Fridays, as many journalists at Spain’s public broadcaster TVE now wear black on Fridays in protest at the government’s manipulation and meddling in radio and TV content. The editor in Valencia of TVE resigned for not being allowed to broadcast the Spanish government’s director of communications wishing pensioners would ‘fuck themselves’. Spain began an investigation of 80 Catalan teachers for ‘indoctrination’, simply because they discussed the Spanish National Police brutality during the 1st October referendum with their students. Spain censored a recital by Catalan poets in Brussels, in favour of freedom of expression, ensuring that it would not be held at the building of the Catalan government delegation to Brussels, currently overseen by the Spanish state. Spain also embargoed €110k from the Catalan association, Omnium. Meanwhile, the Spanish government said that it would not be withdrawing the title of ‘Duchy of Franco’ because it is ‘simply honorary’. Perhaps they think that being tagged with ‘Franco’ is still regarded as an ‘honour’.

The Catalan Parliament approved a law to appoint (or perhaps ‘reinstate’) Carles Puigdemont as the President of Catalonia from Germany – which the Spanish government immediately challenged and blocked via the Consitutional Court. The Spanish government also warned Roger Torrent, the Catalan Parliament speaker, about ‘what happened to Carme Forcadell’ (his predecessor, jailed without trial since 23rd March). At a hearing for her own case, the imprisoned Forcadell actually told a judge that incarcerating a speaker for allowing parliamentary debates would happen ‘nowhere else’ in the world.

In a separate hearing, Catalan MP Mireia Boya questioned why she was being prosecuted for disobedience for calling for a debate in the Catalan Parliament, whilst ex-speaker Forcadell is being prosecuted for rebellion for allowing the debate (and, as stated above, already in pre-trial detention). Spanish judge Llarena replied: ‘If you like, I’ll prosecute you for rebellion.’ It was also reported that judge Llarena had sent a report to German justice regarding the possible misuse of public funds in the Puigdemont extraditon request, stating that he was ‘unable to inform them about this definitively’.

Facebook announced it would be creating 500 new jobs in Barcelona, setting up offices in the Agbar Tower as its centre for combating fake news. A bride was asked to remove a ‘free political prisoners’ badge before getting married. A new survey showed that 48% of Catalans now support independence, whilst 43,7% are against it. The New York Times included the example of Spain in an article entitled ‘Why Are So Many Democracies Breaking Down?’ The Spanish Chamber of Commerce is to invest €484k with the PR group Brunswick to promote a ‘consolidated democracy’.

The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, received the ‘Carlos V Award’ from the king of Spain. It was also reported that Spain has not fully implemented any of the 11 recommendations by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body (the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO), aimed at preventing corruption in politics and the judiciary since they were issued in 2013. Meanwhile, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, once again insisted that ‘dialogue is needed’ to solve the Catalan issue. He also added that mediation would only be possible if Spain asked for it.

A rapper lost his appeal against a 3 year jail sentence for singing lyrics that included criticism of the Spanish monarchy, as well as glorifying terrorism. Meanwhile, Spain’s Eurovision entry, ‘Amaia and Alfred’, finished 23rd in the competition. Online newspaper OK Diario labelled them as ‘shit singers’. Fernando López Miras, president of the Murcia region in southern Spain, announced that flights will soon be available from Murcia to Manchester United. Perhaps they’ll be flying via Sant Esteve de les Roures …

Tomorrow (Monday 14th May), barring any last minute changes of voting intentions, Quim Torra will be appointed President of Catalonia, in a second round of voting requiring only a simple majority. It is predicted that 66 will vote in favour, 65 against, and with 4 abstentions. During the debate for his investiture, Torra spoke some words in English, calling on Europe to mediate in the Catalan crisis. He also said that ‘Carles Puigdemont should be here today, the legitimate President of Catalonia’. The Spanish government called his speech ‘sectarian’ and has said they will be keeping an eye on him to avoid any ‘illegal acts’. They also said that Torra should be careful ‘with the things he says and does’.

Un observador inglés (16) – From ‘Brand Spain’ to gang rape. Several things need to really change, and fast.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said during the week that ‘the government of Spain is building confidence around the world, and everyone sees that we have a consolidated democracy.’ Well, let’s just consider that absolutely absurd claim, Enric, as we reflect on some of the week’s news, more or less in the order that events unfolded. Much of what has happened in Spain in the past 6 days has been slated and ridiculed in the international media, bringing further damage (if that’s possible) to ‘Brand Spain’ or ‘Marca España’ …

Last Sunday there were reports that a Spanish runner in the London Marathon spat in the face of a spectator carrying a Catalan flag; she was the daughter of another runner, a Catalan dermatologist. After the Spanish National Police had confiscated yellow T-shirts and scarves from Barcelona fans before the start of last Saturday’s Copa del Rey (in which the king of Spain was met with a ‘deafening whistle’ during the national anthem), questions were asked in the Spanish senate as to why. The Spanish government eventually denied that any order had been given, and insisted that it was a police and security decision.

Yellow roses featured prominently during Monday’s celebration of Sant Jordi across Catalonia, as a symbol of protest against the Catalan political prisoners. Spain finally began some civil war exhumations at the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ – Franco’s grotesque mausoleum. I say ‘some’ because there are around 34,000 civil war dead there (from both sides) – but only four were to be exhumed. Only in 2016 did a court finally approve the exhumation of two brothers executed by Francoist forces at the start of the civil war. ‘The bodies of Manuel Lapeña, a vet, and his brother Antonio, a blacksmith, were dumped in a mass grave in Calatayud, north-eastern Spain and then dug up decades later and reburied in the basilica without their families’ knowledge or permission,’ reported The Guardian. On Monday, the families weren’t even allowed access in order to witness the start of the search for exhumation.

Willy Toledo, the actor accused of insulting God and the Virgin Mary, failed to turn up for the court hearing (and nor did God and the Virgin Mary). Toledo has now been summoned again for 22nd May, and threatened with arrest if he fails to appear.

The ‘number two’ at the Spanish Treasury was reported as agreeing with his Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, in that there was no misuse of public funds for the 1st October referendum in Catalonia. It seems that five reports have already been issued stating the same thing. The news has been widely reported in the German press, as authorities there still await further evidence in the extradition request of Carles Puigdemont.

On Wednesday, the former president of the Assembly of the Council of Europe and current PP senator, Pedro Agramunt, was forced to deny all allegations against him in a report by an Independent Commission of the European institution that investigates possible corruption. He claimed it was ‘219 pages of lies’ which included reports of bribes, threesomes with prostitutes, envelopes containing €500 notes, bank transfers of €15,000, as well as gifts from Hermès and loads of caviar. He added, ‘I wish I could do these things’, but that he was ‘at an age’ and that ‘it was all false … a ridiculous accusation and without evidence.’ So there you go.

Both Oriol Junqueras and Jordi Cuixart have again requested to be moved to prisons in Catalonia; the request will no doubt be refused. Catalan MP Jordi Sànchez was ordered to remain 18 hours a day in his cell for a month as punishment for recording a voice message for last December’s electoral campaign … er, an electoral campaign in which he was legally allowed to stand as a candidate. The Spanish Constitutional Court (perhaps on the Spanish government’s instructions) has also ruled that Carles Puigdemont can’t actually be the President of Catalonia … er, despite also being allowed to stand in last December’s elections as the leader of his party, and despite gaining enough seats to retain his position as President in a coalition of the pro-independence groups. Indeed, The Times newspaper published an in-depth interview with Puigdemont this very weekend, referring to him as still the current Catalan President … as well as ‘Spain’s public enemy No.1.’ Meanwhile, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, told German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, that ‘any mediation [with Catalonia] through a third party would be a victory for Puigdemont, which he didn’t win at the ballot boxes.’

A security camera video (that had been kept concealed for seven years) emerged of Cristina Cifuentes, the PP president of Madrid’s regional government, stealing two tubs of Olay anti-ageing face cream, worth about €40, from an Eroski supermarket. Eroski’s security videos are normally erased after 15 days, so it is unclear how OK Diario obtained the footage and published it. Cifuentes had already been under pressure to resign over allegations that she’d faked her master’s degree, awarded by the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid – and on whom she’d tried to put the blame. Finally she resigned without using the word ‘resign’. Instead, she said she was stepping aside to not jeopardise her administration’s achievements and not allow the ‘leftist opposition’ to take control. It was reported that Rajoy had ordered her to resign before 12 noon, which was the start of the crucial budget debate.

The ‘News Council’ of Spain’s public broadcaster, TVE, has asked the European Parliament to evaluate whether the corporation fulfils ‘the principles of objectivity, plurality and impartiality’ in its efforts to denounce cases of ‘news manipulation and censorship’. Recent controversies included playing the theme tune of The Exorcist over images of Carles Puigdemont.

A judge dismissed the case of some municipal police who’d threatened the Madrid mayor, Manuela Carmena, in a WhatsApp chat. The hate speech, that included wishing her ‘an agonising death’ and referring to her as ‘a motherfucking red bitch’ was private, according to the judge. There were unconfirmed reports of people being paid €50 euros a night to go out and remove yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ posters, after videos emerged of men in balaclavas doing so. A 3,000 person human chain at Montserrat mountain was formed to demand freedom of Catalan political prisoners still in Spanish jails.

Spain’s Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, wanted to give awards to the German police who detained Puigdemont. That was embarrassing in itself. The fact that the German authorities then said that they didn’t want him to, made it even more embarrassing. The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which explained that the government of Schleswig Holstein (where the 25th March arrest occurred) had refused to give Spain the names of the officers involved because they ‘only did their jobs’.

A video emerged of scenes outside the ‘bar fight’ in Alsasua, that appeared to contradict versions given at the trial by one of the off-duty Civil Guard officers attacked. Albert Rivera, leader of Spain’s Ciudadanos party, retweeted a collage photo published by El Mundo newspaper, identifying eight Catalan teachers under investigation for supposed ‘hate crimes’. He accused the Spanish government of cowardice for not applying further disciplinary measures. This man hopes to become the next Prime Minister of Spain.

Warning: this last piece of sickening Spanish news (and which became global news) might not be suitable for some people to read.

Back in July 2016, five men from Seville (including a Civil Guard officer and a military officer) gang raped – yes, gang raped – an 18 year old woman at the bull running festival in Pamplona. The men called themselves ‘la manada’ (or ‘wolf pack’) in their WhatsApp group. As the sickening ordeal was detailed by the three judges handling the trial, the victim was ‘penetrated in the mouth’ by all five men, in the vagina by two, and anally by another. None of the men used condoms. Two men filmed their crimes on mobile phones, and one also stole the victim’s phone. The judges described the victim as ‘crouching down’ in the videos, ‘shouting’, ‘moaning in pain’, ‘terrified’, ‘trapped against a wall’ and also ‘boxed in’ – and she was clearly ‘subject to the will’ of the attackers. The victim suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and still receives psychological treatment.

On Thursday, a Navarra court cleared the five men of rape, and found them guilty of just ‘sexual abuse’, with a sentence of just 9 years. Believe it or not, one of the three judges had even called for a not-guilty decision. Lawyers for the victim are appealing against the sentence. The article of the Spanish Criminal Code dealing with sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape makes a distinction between different crimes based on the presence, or not, of ‘violence or intimidation’ during the events. The judges ruled there had been no violence or intimidation used, and therefore no crime of rape. The verdict provoked an immediate public and social outcry, with more than 40 protests across Spanish towns and cities. The protests in Pamplona are on-going.

There are several things that need to really change in Spain, and fast.

Un observador inglés (15) – Who exactly issued the orders to confiscate yellow shirts and scarves?

I’d intended to blog about the main news from Spain and Catalonia again: fake masters, the fake accusations of violence from CDR groups, fake rebellion and terrorism charges, fake accusations of the misuse of public funds, the fake ‘negative effect’ on the economy of the Catalan independence process, the fake news about Russian ‘anti-Spain bots’ influencing the December 21st elections (despite what El Pais claimed), the fake town of Sant Esteve de les Roures, first invented by the Guardia Civil because of the ‘violence’ that took place there – and now peacefully (and hysterically) adopted on social media by the Catalans themselves. I was going to blog about Roberto Mesa, the activist accused of wanting to throw ‘the Bourbons to the sharks’ … or about the benefits of tax relief if you donate to the Francisco Franco Foundation … or about the actor Willy Toledo not turning up in court to answer accusations of insulting God (who didn’t turn up either, apparently) … or about Chinese ballot boxes, or the CaixaBank and the Chinese mafia … or Manuel Valls, Noam Chomsky, ETA’s apology, or judge Llarena v Cristóbal Montoro … or about Roger Torrent meeting UN officials and the mayor in Geneva … or Artur Mas meeting up with Nicola Sturgeon (and also Clara Ponsatí) in Edinburgh … or about Letizia opening a car door for her mother-in-law. Yeah, I was going to blog about all that ‘stuff’ … but I still can’t get over what happened before last night’s football match.

Yellow. It is just a colour.

Here are some questions for you, Spain. Who actually gave the order for Spanish National Police officers to confiscate yellow scarves and shirts from Barcelona fans (many of the items not even bearing any slogans at all) before last night’s ‘Copa del Rey’ final between Barcelona and Sevilla at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid? Out of curiosity, had there been a discussion or agreement in parliament beforehand? Or a decision taken at a government cabinet meeting? Was there a court order? Who ordered the police to confiscate yellow items? The owners of the stadium? The Spanish football federation? The police themselves? A judge? Spain’s minister of interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido? Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy? The crown? Who? Who’s in charge? Who’s actually running the country – I mean, who’s really running it? The reason I ask is simple: I don’t think he (or she) should be trusted with giving any future orders. If you can order your police force to confiscate yellow items, you could order them to do anything.

People say that Spain is still a democracy. Er … okay, I’d agree with that … but the image of Spain internationally, the ‘Brand Spain’ or Marca España, is piss-poor right now. And for many reasons: from the images broadcast aound the world of Spanish police brutality against innocent Catalan voters last October, to the Amnesty, UN and Human Rights Watch reports about the suppression of freedom of expression in Spain, right up to the current and on-going farce of the European Arrest Warrents based upon non-existent ‘rebellion’ charges. Now the images of FC Barcelona football fans (captured by trusted news crews) having to remove yellow shirts or scarves – and I repeat, many of these items without any slogans on them at all – will stick with me for a long time. Do not try and compare this to the FA’s ruling of Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon. Do not go there. Many of these were blank yellow shirts and scarves. Some people will argue that they don’t want to see ‘political slogans’ at sporting events – and that the police had to remove all yellow shirts to make sure that all slogans were removed. No, sorry … I disagree. Don’t forget that yellow is not only 50% of the colour of the Catalan (and Spanish) flag, but it is also found on FC Barelona’s emblem, and I believe the colour is also often very visible on some of the club’s other souvenirs and shirts, such as the ‘away shirt’ and training shirts. It is a colour. What has Spain become? Seriously, what has Spain become? It’s a country I love, but this just … well, it just pisses me off, to be honest.

Not every Catalan supporter of FC Barcelona also supports the independence of Catalonia – far from it – but I’m pretty sure that a large percentage of them would have liked to have had a ‘legally agreed’ referendum on the subject to decide upon the matter themselves, rather than witness their friends, fellow citizens and family members being beaten by Spanish security forces last October. I’m also sure that not every Barcelona fan arrived at the stadium last night with the intention of whistling during the national anthem – but again, thanks to the Striesand effect, being told not to do something often has the opposite effect. I’m also pretty sure that a very large percentage of Barcelona fans would like to see the political prisoners released (especially as the charges against them don’t add up). And, okay, yes – the colour associated with the release of the political prisoners is yellow – first through the yellow ribbon, and also through many posters, and with yellow scarves (banned for people working at polling stations in the Catalan elections last 21st December, called by Rajoy). Personally, I’d say that a yellow ribbon seeking the release of political prisoners is not necessarily a political ‘slogan’, but rather a call for democracy. I also always find it very odd that those who insist that there aren’t any political prisoners in Spain are often the same people who don’t want to see yellow ribbons and scarves … because they claim that the ‘yellow’ is a ‘political message’.

On Friday, just in time for the weekend, Spain’s Interior Ministry tweeted the following message: ‘The Penal Code specifies what is considered terrorism. We’re sharing it in case anyone needs to reflect on it over the weekend. Everyone else, go and rest, the Guardia Civil and National Police look out for everyone’s security.’ Spain’s National Police also tweeted before yesterday’s game, stating that the national anthem ‘represents us all’, and that ‘it is a symbol of a country, of a history … today, and always, respect it and don’t offend those who feel proud about it.’ Zoido had warned against whistling during the national anthem – referring to it as ‘violence’. But he hadn’t warned anyone that turning up at the stadium with a yellow scarf or T-shirt could mean that you might enter the stadium bare-chested …

You can argue that you don’t want to see yellow ‘pro-independence’ T-shirts or ‘free political prisoners’ messages at a sporting event – yes, you can argue that – you can have your own opinion about all that. I don’t have to agree with you. There were some pro-independent Estelada flags visible, anyway. For Spanish National Police officers to order football fans to remove blank yellow T-shirts, however – and for the stadium’s stewards to point out to security staff fans wearing blank yellow scarves – also ordering them to be handed over – well, I just find that revolting. I repeat: it is a colour, for fucksake. Rant over.

Un observador inglés (14) – It is now Germany’s fault. Last week it was the international media. Next week it will be Scotland. It is never Spain’s fault.

Let’s start with the guy on a horse who I didn’t include in last week’s blog, the one who’d posted a video of himself on Facebook saying, ‘Long live Spain!’ and ‘Long live Franco!’ – it was even reported that he was a former Spanish Foreign ‘legionnaire’. He said other stuff on the video, too. He said Carles Puigdemont was a ‘queer sewer rat bastard’, ‘a piece of shit, a parasite’, and that he hoped the Civil Guard put him ‘in a cage and transported him to the centre of Madrid in the back of a van for 16 hours’. Once Puigdemont was in Madrid, he hoped ‘prisoners fucked him in the ass non-stop, raped him and left him pregnant by one of those bastard Moors’. Then he said the ‘Viva España!’ and ‘Viva Franco!’ bit. There was another photo of him on social media greeting Xavier García Albiol, the ‘leader’ of what’s left in Catalonia of Spain’s ruling PP party, and the man recently referenced as an example of racist politics in a Council of Europe report.

The reason I’ve started with the guy on the horse is not because (as far as I know) he’s been allowed to say what he said without any legal repercussions … unlike, for example, insulting God or the Virgin Mary, or singing songs that criticise the king of Spain, which can land you in prison for over 2 years. No, it’s because of the anger and search for violence. I can only imagine the abuse he spat out on Thursday evening, after the news of Puigdemont’s release in Germany, when he realised the Catalan leader wouldn’t be spending 16 hours in the back of a van to Madrid to be fucked in the ass non-stop. I’m sure he blamed Germany and all Germans for this change of plan, in the same way many other Spaniards have done. It’s the Blame Game in Spain under this PP government, you see – it’s always someone else’s fault. It is never Spain’s fault. Don’t forget that foreign robots are to blame for the images of 1st October. And it’s worse: they’ve started to believe their own lies.

Last week, it was the international media who were to blame for Spain’s inability to politically and democratically resolve the Catalan crisis. The Times newspaper was blamed by the Spanish Ambassador in London for its critical editorials of Mariano Rajoy’s government. Similarly, Le Monde, The Financial Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian and The Washington Post have all been criticised for recommending political dialogue, or for demanding the release of political prisoners, or for questioning Spain’s democracy, the existence of the Franco Foundation or Franco’s grotesque mausoleum, or reporting on Spain’s ‘medieval’ Easter parades and the bizarre ‘tradition’ of singing Franco songs like ‘The Bridegrooms of Death’. How dare we criticise Spain (or Francoism)?

In the past few months, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Amnesty International and even the United Nations Human Rights Committee have all been blamed for something or other – from questioning human rights and freedom of speech in Spain, or for simply allowing Catalan politicians to stay and move around freely in their own countries, permitting them to hold press conferences and participate in debates, and even welcoming them with open arms. The PP’s Spain blames everyone else, not Spain itself, and never Rajoy. Right now, at the time of writing this, it’s the same with the Cristina Cifuentes ‘Master falsification’ story, brilliantly uncovered by journalists at El Diario online newspaper. But it is not Cifuentes’s fault that her qualifications have been falsified. No, it is El Diario’s fault for uncovering the story. How dare they? Oh, and their sources are also to blame.

Mikko Kärnä, a Finnish MP, has sent messages to both Mariano Rajoy and the king of Spain, complaining of the ‘feedback’ he’s received from some Spanish citizens whilst defending the right for Catalans to have a vote, and also for simply hosting Carles Puigdemont in Finland. One such ‘feedback’, he posted, was: ‘[You] son of a great whore, I shit on your fucking mother, if they expel Spain [from EU] I come to your country and I behead you all and your family.’ But all this is Finland’s fault, of course, not Spain’s. And then there’s a Spanish politician, Antonio Miguel Carmona, actually a PSOE member in Madrid, calling a German MP an ‘idiot’ for offering his house to Puigdemont in Germany … it just goes on and on.

So, yes, this week it was Germany’s turn to be blamed for Spain’s total failure to peacefully, politically and democratically resolve the Catalan pro-independence issue. All Germans are to blame, actually – especially those living in Mallorca. According to Spain’s ‘top right-wing radio guru’ (or simply put, a ‘nutter’), Federico Jiménez Losantos, those 200,000 Germans living in the Baleares could become hostages, and breweries in Bavaria could start to blow up. I actually cringed with embarrassment for Spain, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ‘Brand Spain’ itself when I read that the police in Germany were aware of the ‘threats’ and would be looking into the matter. I think the Audiovisual Board of Catalonia are also ‘analysing’ the issue (and so they should), but there’s been no comment or apology from any Spanish politician, as far as I know. You see, Germany is to blame, not Losantos.

Despite Germany’s Justice Minister, Katarina Barley, saying that the Schleswig-Holstein court’s decision on Carles Puigdemont’s release was ‘absolutely right’ – Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, has still labelled her remarks as ‘unfortunate’. But, hey, you know … he’s the same guy who told the BBC and CNN that the images of Spanish police brutality against innocent Catalan votes on 1st October were fake. Katarina Barley went further with her comments. Having dismissed the crime of rebellion, the only offence that could prompt Puigdemont’s extradition would be the misuse of public funds – and according to Barley, ‘it won’t be easy’ for Spain to prove it. The above-mentioned example of a racist politician (according to the Council of Europe), Albiol, warned that the German court’s decision could undermine Spanish citizens’ trust in the European Union’s extradition mechanism. So you see … it’s the EU’s extradition mechanism that is also to blame, not Spain. Then there’s the PP spokesman in Brussels, Esteban González Pons, also criticising Germany, saying that because the European Arrest Warrant didn’t work, the whole Schengen Treaty ‘doesn’t make sense.’ You get the drift? It’s the Schengen Treaty that’s also to blame … not Spain. Never, ever Spain.

This week, there was also an unprecedented message delivered by David Kaye, a UN Human Rights expert. He urged the Spanish authorities to refrain from the criminal charge of rebellion against political figures and protestors in Catalonia that carry jail sentences of up to 30 years. Such sentences ‘raise serious risks of deterring wholly legitimate speech’. I believe that during this coming week, a Scottish judge will also refuse to extradite Clara Ponsatí on the charge of rebellion. Why? Because a rebellion simply did not take place. It will then be Scotland’s turn to be blamed. Not Spain. Never Spain.

El Punt-Avui TV (13) – European Arrest Warrants, extraditions – and Trapero.

I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ on El Punt-Avui TV yesterday, a local Barcelona TV channel, hosted by Matthew Tree, alongside two other guests, Gary Gibson and Anet Duncan. The programme was actually recorded about an hour before the news broke from Germany regarding Carles Puigdemont’s release on bail, and the fact that Spain’s (trumped up) charges of rebellion are not enough to extradite him. I think it is interesting to reflect on our discussion about those still imprisoned in Madrid, the European Arrest Warrants, the extradition process, and the international lawyers. We also discuss the charges against Trapero and other Mossos officers. Here’s the link to the full programme: El Punt-Avui TV (13)

Here are some links to previous appearances on the same show:

El Punt-Avui TV (12).

El Punt-Avui TV (11)

El Punt-Avui TV (10)

El Punt-Avui TV (9)

El Punt-Avui TV (8)

El Punt-Avui TV (7)

El Punt-Avui TV (6)

El Punt-Avui TV (5)

El Punt-Avui TV (4)

El Punt-Avui TV (3)

El Punt-Avui TV (2)

El Punt-Avui TV (1)

Un observador inglés (13) – Dear Spain, don’t criticise the international media. Blame your own government.

Six months ago today, Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, failed to stop a referendum in Catalonia taking place – despite saying he would, and despite spending over €87m brutally trying to prevent it, deploying the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil to attack innocent voters of all ages. In the weeks prior to 1st October 2017, Rajoy’s right-wing Spanish government warned its country’s media against publishing any advertisements about the referendum, sending Guardia Civil agents to editorial offices in Catalonia – effectively banning them from doing so. Not only did it try to censor the Catalan media (in addition to clearly controlling certain media in Madrid), but it also blocked websites and apps that gave balanced and practical information about the referendum, or on how to vote. They searched printers for ballot cards (even the car boot of a printing company’s cleaner), banned posters, events and debates, blocked telephone operators and even threatened to cut off the power, clearly violating human rights and the freedom of speech. And now … for that same government and its ‘diplomats’ to openly criticise the international media for reporting the true facts about what happened before, during and since 1st October, it is an utter disgrace.

Spain is a country full of rich material for foreign writers. But not only has Rajoy spectacularly failed to defuse the Catalan issue (in fact he’s done more for independence than anyone else on the planet), but his actions have also unearthed Spain’s underlying fascism and Francoism for us all to see. It was obviously always there … but it is now clearly visible. As Ian Gibson, the renowned Hispanist and biographer, said on Deutsche Welle radio: ‘The Spanish right-wing says that it isn’t Francoist but it has Francoism in its genes, in its DNA. It’s outrageous.’ This Francoism is ugly, Spain. It’s very ugly, and you need to do something about it. But that does not mean telling us not to write about it.

In a weird sense, I’m glad that this whole issue is now in the hands of top lawyers in Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and Belgium. I’m glad that the media from all over the world are reporting on it all, in every language. The EU Commission and Juncker himself have done bugger all. It needs international lawyers and the international media to continue to expose the truth, and if Spain’s ‘ambassadors’ don’t like it, then … tough. Get proper jobs. As the top human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who is representing Clara Ponsatí in Scotland, said the other day: ‘Our defence in court may make uncomfortable reading for the Spanish government in the full glare of international scrutiny. We are confident that the outcome will make it even more so.’ Go for it.

I’ve written here before about my experiences of 1st October, and how I was incensed that the ‘Madrid media’ failed to report on the true events – unlike the international (and Catalan) media. It incensed me that the EU remained silent. It incensed me that Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, went on CNN and BBC stating that the images of police brutality were ‘fake news’. It incensed me and it still does. Late October (I think it was), Spanish ‘politician’ Juan Carlos Girauta, the C’s spokesman, voiced his concern in Congress about the international media’s coverage of events in Spain, appearing to suggest that it should be better controlled (he then blocked me on Twitter and I wasn’t even following him). This time last week, the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said on his LBC radio show, about the detention of Carles Puigdemont in Germany: ‘I thought European Arrest Warrants were for drug smugglers and criminals, not for democratically-elected political opponents of the Spanish government.’ We’ve since had the weekly German magazine, Stern, comparing Rajoy to Milosevic – and The New York Times reporting that ‘Spain is creating a situation where Europe’s judges rather than its own politicians are being asked to solve Catalonia’ – yes, because Rajoy is used to getting his judges in Spain to resolve his ineptitude. In the past few days, Spanish ambassadors, diplomats and Spanish authors have criticised The Washington Post, Le Monde, The Times and other international media for daring to question Spain’s democracy, calling it a ‘campaign of disrepute’. But, no, no, it’s not a campaign of disrepute. It’s called reporting the truth.

There was no ‘rebellion’ in the weeks prior to the Catalan referendum of 1st October, nor on the day itself, nor was there since. There was no ‘violence’ – except the violence carried out by Spain’s national police and Guardia Civil. As far as I know (and as far as some videos now show Rajoy appearing to also confirm it), there was no ‘misuse of public funds’, either. So why are there nine political prisoners in Spain (still without any trial) and a further seven in self-imposed exile fighting extradition charges? The fact is this: there shouldn’t be. It is clearly an injustice, and it is up to the international lawyers and foreign media to finally expose it. Someone has to.

Conversation with Alex Salmond on LBC Radio

Here’s my discussion about European Arrest Warrants with the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, on his LBC radio show yesterday (25 March 2018). Alex says in his introduction, ‘I thought EAWs were for drug smugglers and criminals, not for democratically-elected political opponents of the Spanish government’. Here’s the audio:

Un observador inglés (12) – This needs international mediation, not international arrest warrants.

The news is breaking fast – faster than usual – and so it’s just a short blog this week for various reasons.

This time last Sunday, Carles Puigdemont was in Geneva, attending the ‘International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights’. From there, he went to Finland. At the time of writing this, he has been detained in Germany, on his return to Belgium, as a result of Spanish judge Llarena reactivating a European Arrest Warrant for him, as well as for other Catalan politicians in self-imposed/forced exile. Time will tell what the German authorities will do – but Spanish prosecutors are already trying to force an extradition order. Switzerland has already stated that it will not proceed with any extraditions on political motives (politicians Anna Gabriel and Marta Rovira are in Switzeland). I’d personally be surprised if the UK also extradited Clara Ponsatí, who is teaching at St.Andrews University in Scotland. She’d travelled to Austria, and then also visited Munich and London (where she took part in a protest) last week, all before the EAW was reissued. Three other Catalan politicians remain in Belgium, where they have already complied with legal authorities there … at least when the EAW was initially issued and then later withdrawn.

I could try and sum up the week’s news … I could mention the Telva photographs of Ines Arrimadas in the Catalan Parliament, or Cristina Cifuentes’s (non-existent?) university grades, or the Belgium v Spain rugby match, or the Director of Communications for the European Parliament receiving the ‘Orden de Isabel la Católica’ Award from Spain (why? why?), or about Puigdemont’s foreign trips causing ‘certain discomfort’ to Spain’s foreign minister (obviously), or about N.Sarkozy being investigated for election funding fraud (unlike M.Rajoy), or that ‘far-right clowns’ dressed up in Guardia Civil uniforms tried to break into Puigdemont’s house in Belgium, or that Joaqium Forn was denied release from prison again, even with €100k bail … or that the imprisoned Jordi Sánchez relinquished his candidacy for the Catalan Presidency to Jordi Turull, who has now also been imprisoned, along with 4 others: Carme Forcadell, Raül Romeva, Dolors Bassa and Josep Rull. Because that is the real news. Yes … there are now 9 Catalan politicians in prison, and 7 others in self-imposed/forced exile (at the time of writing). They are all where they are because of Spain’s trumped-up charges of plotting and/or actually causing a ‘rebellion’; in reality, they tried to organise a vote, a referendum.

I’ve written here before about the unjust justice system in Spain. I’ve written about the ghosts of Francoism. I’ve written about Felipe VI’s diabolical speech on the Catalan issue, (and here, tooand here), and why I think the EU’s handling of it all stinks. I’ve written about the recent reports criticising Human Rights and freedom of expression in Spain. And I’ve written several times about the need for dialogue and mediation in this whole Spain/Catalonia affair.

From my point of view, 9 Catalan politicians are in jail and 7 others are in exile for one simple reason: Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, refuses to accept the results of the Catalan elections that he himself called on 21 December last year, after also applying article 155 to Catalonia. That, again in my opinion, is a disgrace. It is even more of a disgrace that the EU Commission has turned a blind eye to it. This doesn’t need international arrest warrants. It needs international mediation. And it now needs it urgently.