Un observador inglés (9) – Don’t mention Franco. I mentioned him once, but I think I got away with it.

To explain (if needed) the title of this week’s blog: in perhaps the most famous episode of Fawlty Towers, the manic hotel manager, Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, has a major problem behaving in front of some German guests. ‘Don’t mention the war!’ he says to one of his staff. ‘I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.’ Then, returning to the shocked German guests to take their food order, he can’t stop himself: ‘So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.’ ‘Will you stop talking about the war?’ cries one of the guests. ‘Me? You started it!’ retorts Basil. ‘We did not start it!’ comes the reply. ‘Yes, you did,’ insists Basil, ‘you invaded Poland.’ First broadcast in 1975, it was a brilliant mockery, not of Germans, but of Basil Fawlty himself – the fact that there were people like Basil who regarded all Germans as being responsible for Nazi Germany, and the rise and support of Adolf Hitler. 1975. Just keep that in mind for a moment …

Here’s a quick recap on some of the week’s news, as I think it helps to put things in perspective:

On Monday, the pro-government (& pro-monarchy) media in Spain reported that the negative reception Felipe VI received in Barcelona [I wrote about Felipe & ‘rocket science’ here], and the snub from the city’s mayor and the speaker of the Catalan parliament, all put the future of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in jeopardy. Er … it wasn’t true. The MWC has just completed one of its most successful events ever held in Barcelona. Here are some key figures from the press release of the organisers, GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association), issued on 1st March, entitled ‘GSMA wraps up hugely successful Mobile World Congress 2018’: more than 107,000 visitors from 205 countries, including more than 7,700 CEOs – up from 6,100 CEOs in 2017. More than 2,400 exhibitors, more than 3,500 international media and industry analysts, and the 2018 MWC contributed approximately €471m and over 13,000 part-time jobs to the local economy. ‘We had another highly successful Mobile World Congress, on so many fronts,’ said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA. He said the event was ‘one of our most successful ever’, and that the only disappointment was the weather. The press release crucially also confirms: ‘MWC 2019 will be held 25-28 Feb 2019 in Barcelona’ and that it ‘will be hosted in Barcelona through 2023.’

Just think. If Spain’s pro-government media were scaremongering about the negative impact on the MWC of Felipe VI’s reception in Barcelona, do you think they’ve distorted the truth about a few other things, too? I mean, 3,000 major corporations (including banks, car manufacturers, telecom operators, food and drinks groups) have ‘apparently’ closed their businesses and moved their HQs out of Catalonia, leaving thousands of staff redundant and office blocks empty. So, did the MWC participants notice anything different? No! Of course not! Banks were still open, cashpoints worked, cars were still visible, hotels, restaurants and bars were still open, the shops were full and selling loads of great stuff, the telecoms worked, the infrastructure worked, and you could still eat jamón, drink Damm or Moritz beer, Freixenet or Cordoníu cava, and even rent or buy a Seat VW car if you wanted to. Visitors probably also found that the Catalans were willing and able to speak to them in any language required: English, French and Spanish.

Also in the news … thanks to the Streisand effect, every major media outlet in the world explained very clearly why Pep Guardiola wears a yellow ribbon: it is in protest at Spain’s political prisoners. A TV reporter in Spain, however, inferred that it was to support a charity to fight prostate cancer.

The Times newspaper published a scathing editorial about the situation in Spain, stating that the ‘Spanish government’s imprisonment of pro-independence activists was plainly excessive … pre-trial detention has raised questions among civil rights organisations across Europe’ and that ‘Spain should allow Puigdemont and other leaders to return and enter a dialogue’. The Economist published an article entitled, ‘Why Spanish courts censor art, speech and rap lyrics’. Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said on radio that ‘technically, there were no [police] charges on 1st October’ against Catalan voters … despite Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and hundreds of other international organisations and observers, as well as the global media, clearly witnessing it for themselves.

Xavier García Albiol, the leader of the PP party in Catalonia (what’s left of it), and a man tall enough to play basketball (I mention that because he’s criticised others’ real qualifications) – was named as an example of racist and xenophobic politics in a report issued by the Council of Europe. In any other country, that would be seen as a disgrace. On Twitter, I wrote that Albiol would consider it as an award. He blocked me.

650 lawyers from around Spain denounced the violation of rights in Catalonia to Europe. Despite accusing many Catalan politicians with malfeasance of public funds (part of the arguments for why there are still 4 political prisoners jailed without trial in Spain), Rajoy’s government admitted that the Catalan government spent €0 in organising the Catalan Referendum on 1st October … a referendum that Rajoy spent over €87m trying to prevent. Spain demanded the resignation of Albert Ginjaume, Finland’s honorary consul in Barcelona, apparently because he had lunch with a pro-independence supporter. Spain has now also demanded an explanation from the Peruvian ambassador after the Pervuvian honorary consul in Barcelona voiced support for the dismissed Finnish consul. This ‘diplomatic inquisition’ looks set to continue.

The Spanish government has vetoed any investigation by Congress about the relationship with Spain’s intelligence services and the Imam of Ripoll, the ringleader of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August. 500 trade union representatives from all over Europe campaigned for the immediate release of political prisoners. Pensioners held mass protests against the Spanish government. The house being rented for Jorge Moragas, Spain’s UN ambassador in New York (previously Rajoy’s cabinet chief, and mainly responsible for his diabolical policies in Catalonia) has 11 bedrooms and a squash court. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has compiled a list of countries that use excessive police violence against demonstrators, criticising them in front of the UN. Spain is on the list alongside Congo, Togo, Sudan and Honduras. Another rapper, Pablo Hasél, has been sentenced to two years in prison for ‘injuries to the crown’ and ‘crimes of glorifying terrorism’, after posting messages on Twitter and uploading a song on YouTube. An ex-assistant to Spain’s king emeritus, Juan Carlos I, is to become the president of the ‘Francisco Franco Foundation’ (yes, there really is a Franco foundation) … and which brings us back to Franco (not that he was clearly ever gone in any of the above news). The Spanish government has said it is not going to exhume any of the 33,000 victims buried at Franco’s mausoleum, the ‘Valle de los Caídos’, as it is too expensive. It did, however, spend around €2m maintaining the mausoleum over the past few years, and it did find funds to exhume members of the ‘División Azul’ [the Blue Division, a Spanish force that also fought for Hitler] and repatriate them. A group of MEPs visited the mausoleum on Friday and called it an ‘insult’.

Franco. Don’t mention Franco. I’ve mentioned him a few times now but hopefully I’ve got away with it. Carles Puigdemont mentioned Franco this week, too – as part of an exclusive interview published in The Guardian newspaper, coinciding with his decision to take the Spanish state to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as ‘provisionally’ renounce his candidacy as Catalan president. ‘I was educated in the Franco era,’ he said. ‘We could only speak Catalan at home; it was prohibited at school and in public media. There’s a whole generation that was not allowed to talk Catalan publicly.’ The remark was met with some fierce cricitism on social media: Franco died over 40 years ago … why did Puigdemont have to bring up Franco yet again? Oh, and why do the foreign media keep mentioning Franco? Why? Let me try to briefly explain …

I don’t pretend to speak for other foreign writers about Spain, but what I do know is that we don’t all wake up each day deliberately looking for something to write about Franco. We don’t need to look for it, either, because it is already there. But we don’t want to write about Franco or even have to mention the bastard. Let me clarify that: I think some writers do still want to expose more about the past and Franco, and rightly so – because much was covered up. But I don’t think we want to deliberately associate it or draw parallels with current events … but it’s hard not to, it really is. Franco is dead, yes. But Francoism is clearly still breathing in many circles, and it is not only disturbing but repulsive. Think of 1975 and Basil Fawlty. Think of ‘Brand Germany’ then … it was still being mocked on TV (although, as I say, the mockery was aimed at those who regarded all Germans as having something to do with ‘the war’.) Franco died in 1975. ‘Brand Spain’ then became great for many years (it was cool, I wrote here) – but today, today, Spain is being associated with Franco more than ever. Sort it out, Spain.

Un observador inglés (8) – Felipe VI, rocket science, Barbra Streisand & Pep Guardiola.

When I came back to work here in Spain (well, to Barcelona) in early June 2007, to run another magazine company, a friend of a friend (I won’t give his/her name) invited me for dinner and said: ‘If you ever want to meet Prince Felipe, I can organise it.’ Back then, Felipe VI was still just the Prince of Asturias. I stared at the person and thought: ‘Why? Why would I ever want to meet Felipe?’ Before I could politely shrug it off and say, ‘Thanks, but I’m not sure I need to’ – the person, who’d already realised I wasn’t impressed, added: ‘He’s a great friend of mine’ – un íntimo amigo mio, they always say, don’t they? – although he/she then added, ‘but I admit he’s not a rocket scientist.’ So without me even saying anything, a name-dropping ‘intimate acquaintance’ of Felipe had already told me that the royal wasn’t exactly very intelligent. Bear with me, but let’s keep Felipe and that ‘rocket science’ stuff in mind …

I’ve written here before about some of the surreal things that can happen in a week of Spanish ‘politics’, and it’s been one of those weeks again. It started with a pop star, Marta Sánchez, singing some lyrics she’s written for the Spanish national anthem – a song that doesn’t have any lyrics. Her words included, ‘Great Spain, I thank God for being born here’ and ‘my beloved land … I can’t live without you’. Marta lives in Miami. There was also a report about her once having 15m pesetas stashed in a plastic shopping bag from ‘El Corte Inglés’ to avoid paying tax. After performing her song, many of Spain’s political right were over the moon. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted gushing praise for it, saying that an immense majority of Spanish people feel represented by the song. His PP party probably felt familiarity with the 15m stashed in a plastic shopping bag, too. Luckily a PSOE spokeswoman said that ‘our national anthem doesn’t have any words, and that’s that’.

What else happened? Oh, yeah, the king of Spain’s sister, Elena, won an award for her love of the bullfight. Accepting the award, she said: ‘To love the bulls is to love this Spain in which we all fit.’ What else? Spain’s Finance Minister, Luis de Guindos, will become vice president of the European Central Bank on 1st June, unless Europe can come to its senses beforehand. De Guindos was once an advisor for Lehman Brothers, until it collapsed and declared bankruptcy in 2008. In court, a man knicknamed ‘bigotes’, which means moustache (although he doesn’t have a moustache) implicated persons in a corruption scandal to Spain’s ruling PP party – but very little was reported about it in Spain’s pro-PP media.

Catalan politician Anna Gabriel decided to stay in Switzerland instead of attending a Supreme Court appointment in Madrid, as she said she wouldn’t have a fair trial. Actually, she probably wouldn’t even have a trial, let alone a fair one. After a video interview from Geneva, in which she spoke perfect French, some journalists focused superficially on her new hairstyle instead of analysing Spain’s ‘unjust’ justice system. It annoyed me – especially as one of the harshest critics was a veteran journalist called Pepe Oneto, who has a Hitler hairstyle. A national arrest warrant was issued for Gabriel, but not an international one. Apparently for an international arrest warrant you need some proof for why the person should be arrested. With so many people heading to Brussels, Geneva, Strasbourg, London, Paris, the UN and the European Court of Human Rights, it might make you wonder whether the real issue is with Spain’s ‘justice’ system after all … no?

Spanish police tried to arrest a TV comedian who was dressed like Carles Puigdemont whilst he was filming a sketch. Spain’s Civil Guard checked the private plane of Pep Guardiola’s family when it arrived at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, also in search of Carles Puigdemont. They also checked the vehicle in which Guardiola’s daughter was travelling. Amnesty International published its Human Rights report for 2017/18. In it, it accuses Spain of restricting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and using excessive force against peaceful protests in Catalonia, and much more.

Marta Rovira and Marta Pascal, the heads of two Catalan pro-independence parties, as well as Artur Mas, the former president of Catalonia, all had to go in front of Spain’s Supreme Court, too (and others will surely follow). Pascal and Mas left court without any preemptive measures; Rovira was granted bail of €60,000. Spain’s National Court also summoned former Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, adding a new crime of sedition related to the independence referendum. It basically means they’re trying to put him on trial for not wanting to hit anyone on 1st October, or for not ordering his police to prevent or attack citizens innocently trying to vote on that day.

Talking of hitting people, let’s get back to Felipe VI, rocket science, and also Barbra Streisand, yellow ribbons and Pep Guardiola. Confused? Don’t be …

Bear this news in mind during the same week: a Spanish judge embargoed the publication of a book called ‘Fariña’, all about Galician drug trafficking, at the request of a former mayor of ‘O Grove’ in Pontevedra. It immediately shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts. A Majorcan rapper, ‘Valtònyc’, was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in jail for a song in which he calls the Spanish royal family ‘thieves’. A hashtag of ‘#LosBorbonesSonUnosLadrones’, meaning ‘The Bourbons [Royal Household] are thieves’, quickly went viral – and the video of the song has now been seen by millions. A work of art, ‘Contemporary Spanish Political Prisoners’, by the artist Santiago Sierra, was ordered to be removed from ARCO in Madrid, the international arts fair, and which was to be inaugurated by Felipe VI a day later. The work also showed blurred images of others prosecuted in Spain under contentious circumstances in recent years, including two puppeteers. The news that the art was being removed provoked global media interest, from the BBC to the New York Times, was reproduced online for all to see – and the work immediately sold for some €80,000. Away from Spain, but linked to it, the Football Association has charged Pep Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon, which he wears in support of the political prisoners in Spain. I noticed many Manchester City supporters immediately voicing support for him online, and they were suggesting wearing something yellow for this afternoon’s Arsenal v Man City cup final. I collated a few of their posts and tweeted something about it, and it also seems to have gone a bit viral. At the time of writing this, the FA’s yellow ribbon ban looks like it might also have backfired. Good for Man City fans, that’s what I say …

There’s something called the ‘Streisand effect’ – named after Barbra Streisand, after she tried to suppress photos of her Malibu home. It is defined as ‘the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely’. Suppression of art and freedom of expression is counterproductive. Suppressing someone’s right to vote also has the same effect. When will the Spanish government (and Spain’s royal household) learn that banning freedom of expression always backfires?

I’ve written here before about Felipe VI’s diabolical broadcast speech on 3rd October, his lack of any apology for the injuries sustained by innocent Catalan voters on 1st October, and the missed opportunity to have possibly defused the Catalan issue overall. I have also written about him avoiding the Catalonia stand at FITUR. No need to repeat all that right here. It is, however, linked to why he has been made unwelcome (in the eyes of many) in Barcelona for the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC). At the time of writing this, I believe the mayor of Barcelona will not be attending his official royal reception tomorrow, nor will the speaker of the Catalan parliament, nor any dignitary from the Catalan government. They will, however, be attending an opening dinner this evening at the Palau de la Música, at which Felipe VI will also attend, in order to show their institutional support to the MWC organisation itself. It seems Felipe VI is clearly not welcome in Catalonia by a vast proportion of the population – and he’s brought that on himself.

There’s something seriously wrong in Spain and I’m now convinced that it starts at the very top. I was thinking about it yesterday, watching Anne, Princess Royal, greeting the Scotland and England rugby teams lined up before the match at Murrayfield (we won’t talk about the result), with the great sound of bagpipes, and then the National Anthem and Flower of Scotland sung loudly, very loudly. No boos, no jeers, no whistles. Just joy, really. From everyone. Apparently Nicola Sturgeon and Princess Anne were both drinking champagne out of the Calcutta Cup in the changing room afterwards. It would never happen in Spain – it’s too late.

If you ban a vote, more people will want to vote. Censor a book, more people will want to read it. Ban music, more people will want to listen to it. Ban art, it will sell more. Ban a yellow ribbon, everyone will ask why, and then they’ll probably also want to wear some yellow. Most importantly, if you are respectful to people, if you don’t suppress freedom of expression, if you don’t lock up people or put them on trial for whatever political views they may hold, then you will also earn respect in return. It’s really not rocket science.

Un observador inglés (7) – Let’s be clear: Rajoy is attacking Catalonia, Catalans, and now also Catalan.

I might have imagined it, but I thought the week started on a little bit of a ‘charm offensive’ by Spain’s ruling PP government. Every Monday morning, first thing, they have a comité de dirección ‘steering committee’ meeting – and they posted a photo of them all smiling with their coffee and water. Perhaps they were smiling about Rajoy’s ‘dancing’ at a Murcia wedding over the weekend; he dances like he jogs – it’s a sort of mincing fast walk. Or maybe someone just told them to smile at the camera. ‘Look happy! Look friendly!’ It’s very hard, I know, to picture anyone in the PP looking friendly – but they tried it for nearly 48 hours. I think someone came to that Monday morning meeting and said something Monty Pythonesque, like: ‘We’re crap! Everyone hates us! Our families hate us, our kids hate us, and people regret voting for us. We’re now losing in the polls. We’re clearly corrupt. We’ve lost Catalonia. We’ve now got Strasbourg and the UN hanging over us about political prisoners and Puigdemont’s investiture. We’ve got MEPs criticising our choice of homophobic candidate for the European Court of Human Rights, who are now also condemning us for our treatment of ETA prisoners. It’s not looking good, M.Rajoy. We need to change tactics. We need to tell the judge not to lock up any Catalans this week, hide Soraya, hide Albiol, and let’s … let’s be friendly. It’s worth a try. Let’s talk about our achievements.’ What achievements? ‘Let’s invent some … ’

So on that same day, someone had the idea to wheel out the PP’s catalogue model – you know who I mean, that ‘trajes de hombre by Emidio Tucci’ guy – whatshisname? – Iñigo de la Serna, the ‘Fomento’ minister or whatever he is – and they quickly came up with a new hashtag of ‘#ConnectadosalFuturo’, to make it look like the PP are ‘connected to the future’ even though they’re clearly still living deep in the past. Then they all started to tweet and retweet the same message – that the Spanish government is ‘acting in Catalonia at an overwhelming pace, driving strategic investments that improve the quality of life for the Catalans, favour the competitiveness of the business sector and provide stability for investments’ … hashtag connected to the future. And they kept waffling on about Barcelona El Prat’s record number of visitors (which has nothing to do with them) and the plans to do marvellous things at Girona’s Costa Brava airport, too – ‘with the expansion of the aircraft parking platform, the passenger terminal area and the AVE station’ … hashtag connected to the future … blah blah blah bullshit.

Even the dancer himself tried to appear jolly and friendly for a day or two. He’d obviously been given instructions to retweet anything Emidio Tucci could come up with, such as boasting about ‘El Prat’s 2017-2026 expansion plan to increase the airport’s capacity to 70m passengers a year’ … hashtag connected to the future (watch me dance, look). Then there was also something about the PP announcing ‘we will soon present a document negotiated with all the leaders of the PP, a proposal to improve the regional and local funding in Spain.’ More bullshit. Then they whisked Rajoy off to Palencia for a presentation of the ‘European Year of Cultural Heritage’, and where he finally had the nerve to say: ‘Spain defends the success of the European project. Europe is a scenario of freedom, democracy and human rights that guarantees our progress and well-being.’ Oh, and the judge didn’t lock up the CUP politican, Mireia Boya, midweek – as planned? – as if to underline just how friendly the PP had really become …

But the charm offensive (if that’s what it was) didn’t last long. After 48 hours of trying to spread the PP gospel about all the good and nice things they were doing, especially to improve the quality of life for the Catalans, the harsh reality finally struck yet again: the Spanish government now intends to also use its direct rule in Catalonia to put an end to the current language system, and overturn Catalan as the first language.

Let’s just be very clear about all this: Rajoy’s government is attacking Catalonia, Catalans and now the Catalan language itself. I believe he is also doing it (or most of it) illegally. The simple summary is as follows: Rajoy refused any dialogue about any form of agreed Catalan vote or referendum – but it went ahead, regardless. Before that 1st October referendum, Rajoy’s government closed websites, searched printers, banned events, censored the media, raided institutions, threatened mayors and civic leaders, amongst many other actions. He dispatched his Spanish police and Civil Guard forces to brutally attack innocent voters on 1st October – at a cost of €87m – and he still failed to stop the vote. There have now been political prisoners in Spain, still without any trial, for over four months. Rajoy applied Article 155 to take control of Catalonia, called elections for 21st December – but because he doesn’t like the result, he has so far blocked any investiture of the man chosen (and democratically elected twice now) to be president … and he has also put pressure on Spain’s judicial system to support him on this. The right to even apply Article 155 in the first place was questionable in itself. The use of 155 does clearly not include overturning the current Catalan language system – a political and social battlefield for many years.

Instead of agreeing to the request of a meeting with the new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, to discuss a way through the investiture minefield, Rajoy instead met with two other (and somewhat obscure) Catalan groups that both advocate bilingual education. Following on from that meeting, at a press conference on Friday, Spain’s education minister and government spokesman, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, said that Madrid intends to guarantee ‘the right of parents to choose the schooling language for their children’ – but he failed to clarify how. Right now, Catalan is the normal language in Catalan schools, with 2 or 3 hours a week of Spanish lessons. In all my time I have lived and worked in Barcelona and Catalonia, I have never, ever met any Catalan child or adult who cannot also speak perfect Spanish, too – and they’re always happy to converse with me in either language. They’re all bilingual. Many are even trilingual (and more), with excellent English, too. Why change it?

Please bear in mind these two headlines of articles published in the past 24 hours: ‘Madrid seeks to overturn Catalan as first language’ from The Times. ‘Madrid’s plan to push Spanish language in Catalan schools prompts independence anger’ from The Daily Telegraph. Both these respected newspapers included in their reports the following reminders: ‘During General Franco’s long rule between 1939-1975, speaking Catalan and Basque was banned’ (The Times); ‘Under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Castilian was declared Spain’s only official language, while Catalan and other languages were severely repressed’ (The Daily Telegraph).

Fact: Franco suppressed the Catalan language. I’m sorry to be so blunt about this but that’s the PP for you, too. They’ve attacked Catalonia, they’ve attacked the Catalans, and now they’re also trying to use 155 to attack the Catalan language. Their ‘connected to the future’ hashtag this week is a joke; they live in the past. The current Spanish central government’s policies are not ‘improving the quality of life for the Catalans’ one bit – it is a total lie. And which is why the Catalans wanted an agreed and legal vote about independence in the first place. You can’t blame them.

Un observador inglés (6) – Define ‘normal’, M.Rajoy.

Speaking at an economic forum in Madrid this week, Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said that the Catalan Parliament must appoint a ‘normal’ president. It echoes the comments of a man called Xavier García Albiol, who, at the end of November last year, said that he’d like to close the Catalan broadcaster, TV3, and re-open it with ‘normal’ people to make it more ‘plural’. I write ‘a man called’ Albiol because that’s what he is – he’s a man. Okay, he’s a tall man. He’d like to think of himself as more than just a tall man – perhaps a tall politician, too (tall and ‘normal’, obviously). It’s true he was the tall mayor of Badalona (north east of Barcelona), and he’s the tall president of Rajoy’s PP party in Catalonia – but they were an absolute disaster in the 21st December elections. Other than being a tall man, his Wikipedia entry states that ‘thanks to his height, he [also] played basketball’. I mention all this because Mr Albiol took it upon himself to criticise the experience and qualifications of another possible candidate for the presidency of the Catalan government this week: Elsa Artadi. She actually has a very impressive CV. She graduated in economics from Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, and then completed a master’s before receiving a doctorate from Harvard University. She’s lectured at universities in Milan and China, was a member of the World Bank, and has also been a consultant for the same organisation in Washington and a member of the European Economic Association. She entered politics in 2011 and is now an MP and spokeswoman for the JxCat party (Together for Catalonia). She’s 41 and shorter than Albiol. The man whose (only?) qualifications make him tall enough to play basketball has scorned her credentials and experience, regarding them as too low to lead the Catalan government. Not that she wants to, anyway. 

Let’s get back to Rajoy’s desire for a ‘normal’ Catalan president. What does he mean by that? What is normal for Rajoy? He tried to clarify his comments by saying he wanted a ‘normal’ Catalan president invested using the ‘normal’ procedure – someone ‘who can be present at their investiture, and govern and debate with the opposition’. But that’s exactly what Carles Puigdemont wants to do, no? He wants to be present at his own investiture, without fear or threat of arrest. So I don’t believe that Rajoy’s definition of ‘normal’ is as simple as that.

A Spanish government spokesman, Pablo Casado, tried to further clarify ‘normal’. Casado is the Sean Spicer of the PP. That’s not a compliment. He’s continuously making gaffes on behalf of his party. His most famous crass comment was made in October last year, when he said Puigdemont might ‘end up like Lluis Companys’. Companys declared independence in 1934, was imprisoned for two years, and was later tortured and executed by Franco’s police in 1940 (after being captured in France and returned to Spain by the Nazis). Casado later said his comments referred to the 1934 imprisonment and not the 1940 execution (oh, thanks, Pablo), but the damage was already done. Politicians resign for much less in other countries, but not in Spain. Never in Spain.

Anyway, this week Casado tweeted that Rajoy’s desire for a ‘normal president’ really means a president that is ‘neither in prison, nor abroad, nor in criminal proceedings’ – and that ‘Catalonia cannot be hostage to the follies of one person’. But that doesn’t make sense, either. It is the PP itself instigating the imprisonments and criminal proceedings, because we all now know there’s no separation of powers in Spain. Yes, we do. We all know there’s an ‘unjust’ justice system in Spain (and some of it is to cover up the PP’s own corruption scandals). We all know that those in prison shouldn’t be there – even Amnesty International have finally said so (and the UN will surely follow). Those abroad shouldn’t have to remain abroad, either. Nor should there be any criminal proceedings based on anyone’s political ideology. As for Catalonia being ‘hostage to the follies of one person’ – that’s just pure nonsense. Is he saying that over 2m people in Catalonia are ‘abnormal’? Yes, in a sense, he is.

The definition of normal is ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected’. ‘Abnormal’ is deviating from what is ‘normal’, and ‘typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying’. It is clearly not ‘normal’ that the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, has had to visit political prisoners this week, whilst trying to organise an investiture of the Catalan presidency. It is not normal to stop people voting. It is not normal to have refused political dialogue and to have not agreed some kind of legal vote or token referendum several years ago – and which would have resolved the Catalan issue, there and then, perhaps once and for all. It is not normal to order a nation’s police forces to brutally attack its own citizens. It is not normal to spend €87m failing to stop the referendum from taking place in the first place. Rajoy’s government has gone from searching the car boot of a printer’s cleaner for ballot papers in September last year, to now searching car boots for Puigdemont. That is not normal. It is also pathetic.

Rajoy’s government can’t justify the term ‘normal president’ by defining it as a president ‘who can be present at their own investiture’, or by a president who is ‘neither in prison, nor abroad, nor in criminal proceedings’. The real definition of ‘normal’ for Rajoy and the PP is someone who thinks like Rajoy and the PP. Despite they calling the elections on 21 December in Catalonia, they won’t now accept the result. It is undemocratic and a disgrace. I repeat: what’s not normal is that this Catalan issue has not yet been resolved by political dialogue, all because of the on-going incompetence and inflexibility of the Spanish government. The only way it will ever be resolved is through dialogue, but I believe it will now need international mediators.

El Punt-Avui TV (12) – Clowns, car mechanics, Human Rights.

On Thursday 8th February, I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ again on El Punt-Avui TV, a local Barcelona TV channel, hosted by Matthew Tree, alongside two other guests, Miquel Strubell and Roxanne Huguet. Here’s the link to the full programme: El Punt-Avui TV (12).

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

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 (5) – An unjust ‘justice’ system in Spain. A country in denial.

At last, a top Human Rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, has said what needs to be said this week [his words are below]. There’s not much more that one can add, apart from this:

Spain, I believe, is ‘in denial’. Complete denial. I’ve written here before about my own views on Catalan independence, and I repeat: I don’t think I initially did support it, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now. But you don’t need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence in order to defend the right to vote. You really just need to be democratic. Nor do you need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence to know that the brutality inflicted by the Spanish Police and Civil Guard on innocent people trying to vote on Sunday 1st October was wrong. Actually, it was evil. ‘Spain’, however, denied it happened. By ‘Spain’, I mean from the very top of Spain’s government, from the inept Rajoy, his increasingly bizarre vice-president, and even his blatantly lying foreign minister, who went on CNN and the BBC to state that the brutality images were ‘fake’. Even during the king of Spain’s diabolical speech on 3rd October, he not only failed to apologise for any violent injuries inflicted by his country’s police forces on its own citizens, but he failed to mention that any police violence took place at all. Even whilst the front pages of the world’s media on 2nd October clearly showed the true images from Catalonia, much of the pro-PP media in Spain failed to publish the truth (and still don’t). Almost a cover-up … but certainly denial. Total denial. And worse: Rajoy’s lot deny any police brutality took place, but they admit it cost €87m plus. Utter madness.

The denial about the true events that took place on 1st October continues with the denial that the Catalan independence movement is alive and kicking – more so than ever before. It is ‘kaput’, said Soraya. No, no, it is not kaput, Soraya – far from it – you are clearly in denial. The €87m failed to stop the referendum (political dialogue might have done so) and the police brutality only helped to fuel the pro-independence sentiment. Applying article 155 has not stopped the independence movement. Calling new elections on 21st December did not stop the independence movement. Arrest warrants and locking people up have not stopped the independence movement. And guess what? A text message exposed on a TV show hasn’t ended it, either. Rajoy’s career didn’t end with his ‘be strong’ text message to Barcenas, accused of handling all the ‘black money’ bribes for the PP. Why would over two million Catalans suddenly not want independence just because the man they voted for as their president (twice) has had a ‘bad’ or ‘down moment’, and all because the Spanish government won’t respect the results of the 21st December elections? Get real.

And the denial continues. Rajoy denies that his PP party is corrupt – going on air earlier in the week to claim that his party is ‘clean’ (yes, clean). Most importantly, his government denies that there is any political interference with Spain’s ‘justice’ system – yet day by day, something demonstrates that there clearly is. Some of the political interference in the justice system is to simply divert attention or corruption investigations away from the PP party itself. Other political interference relates to the Catalan independence issue, the Catalan Parliament, and the pre-‘trial’ imprisonments that are on-going. There are too many examples to list here, but the clearest of all took place last Saturday. Just before Spain’s Constitutional Court met to decide upon a possible long-distance investiture of Carles Puigdemont as Catalan president, members of the Spanish government, including Rajoy himself, contacted the magistrates, asking them ‘to sort it out this afternoon’, and transmitting the seriousness of the situation if they allowed an investiture to take place. In my opinion, it is a political and legal scandal in a so-called democratic Europe, that members of a government can call the courts to put pressure on a case, any case.

This week, The Economist Intelligence Unit ‘Democracy Index’ stated that Spain runs the risk of being downgraded to a “flawed democracy” following the national government’s attempts to stop Catalonia’s referendum in October. It deserves to be.

As mentioned above, the very best comments this week come from Ben Emmerson QC. He is leading a team of lawyers in London, Barcelona and Paris acting for three detained Catalan independence leaders. They have appealed to the United Nations, claiming the men are unlawfully imprisoned. Any determination made by the UN will not be binding on Spanish courts, but will be a signal of international disapproval. This was his statement at the press conference in London on Thursday 1st February:

“Spain has imprisoned three of those men. Oriol Junqueras, vice-president of Catalonia, and its minister of finance. Jordi Cuixart, a respected civil society leader and Jordi Sánchez, a member of the Catalan Parliament and President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

Each of them has been imprisoned since autumn of last year, in October and November, and their detention and continued imprisonment is an affront to Human Rights, designed to prevent them from performing their roles as political representatives of the Catalan people.

Today we have lodged on their behalf an application to the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Their imprisonment by Spain clearly falls foul of international law and we ask the UN to make that Declaration and then to use all of the resources at its disposal to secure the release of these men. In particular, our application sets out that the imprisonment of Mr Junqueras, Mr Cuixart and Mr Sánchez violates their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, their rights to political opinion and participation in public life, and discriminates against them because of their advocacy for the rights of the Catalan people to self-determination.

The proceedings against them have also failed in a number of respects to meet international fair trial standards and as those familiar with the situation will know, over a hundred academics and Spanish legal experts have gone on record as confirming that the charges brought against them are unsustainable in the light of what has happened since there was no element of violence in the allegations of violence against them. Charges are purely political and in short, this is a classic case of arbitrary political detention.

I want to emphasise that this case does not, and I repeat not, ask the UN to adjudicate on the issue of Catalan independence. Rather it seeks the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents.

Spain must release these men. The actions of the Spanish government set a dangerous precedent for the right to peaceful protest and political opposition around the world, and we ask therefore for the UN to strongly reiterate that governments cannot use empty criminal charges to quell political opposition.”

In the Q & A, Ben Emmerson also said the following:

“Imagine for a moment, that the United Kingdom imprisoned the leaders of the Scottish National Party for advocating the independence of Scotland. That is the situation that we’re here confronted with. These detentions are arbitrary and belong to a bygone era of Spanish history.”

Un observador inglés (4) – Forget dialogue. Forget real politics. This was a week in Spain …

Forget dialogue. Forget real politics. This is just some of what’s happened in the past week – all whilst there are still four political prisoners in jail, still without trial:

Spain’s Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, tried to justify the €87m (plus) spent on failing to stop the referendum in Catalonia on 1st October. He refused, however, to appear in Congress to explain anything about the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August, or how much the Spanish intelligence services knew about the Imam of Ripoll, the mastermind of those attacks.

The new speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, asked to meet Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to discuss the situation of the Catalan MPs in prison, and five more in self-imposed exile in Belgium (including ‘ex-’Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont). The meeting was refused.

Hearing that Carles Puigdemont would be travelling from Brussels to Copenhagen to take part in a debate at the University of Copenhagen on Monday, and to meet with Danish MPs at their parliament on Tuesday, the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office said it would ‘activate all the mechanisms to stop Puigdemont if he travels to Denmark’ and seek to re-issue a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). A spokesman at the Spanish Embassy in Denmark said that he ‘did not like the fact that Danes will be able to hear Puigdemont’.

In the end, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena rejected the urgent petition to issue an EAW. It was easier for Puigdemont to travel from Brussels to Copenhagen on that Monday than it was for Mariano Rajoy to travel from Madrid to Castellón on the new AVE ‘high-speed’ train that he was inaugurating – as it was delayed for 30 minutes. Puigdemont went ahead with his debate at the University of Copenhagen, with huge media attention. It was a very balanced, democratic debate. The pro-Rajoy media in Spain, however, focused only on the questions of one participant in the debate, Marlene Wind, but failed to report on any of Puigdemont’s replies.

Whilst in Denmark, someone obliged Puigdemont to kiss the Spanish flag whilst he was sitting at a café in a shopping centre. He did so, later Tweeting that he had no problem with Spain or the Spanish flag, as ‘democracy is more important than all borders, all flags and all constitutions.’

Catalan Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, proposed Carles Puigdemont as the candidate to lead the new Catalan Government, with the plan for the house to vote on his investiture on 30th January. He stated: ‘Puigdemont is the candidate to be invested because the majority of representatives of the chamber have so decided. We need to find political solutions to enforce democratic measures.’

Zoido (again), interviewed on Spanish TV, said that he’d ‘prevent Puigdemont entering Spain in the boot of a car’. The comment was made in response to the possibility of Puigdemont sneaking back across the border to attend his own investiture – or whether he could be invested via Skype. ‘There are many country paths and you can get in by boat, helicopter or in a microlight,’ said Zoido, ‘but we are working towards that not happening.’

Roger Torrent then travelled to Brussels to meet with Carles Puigdemont and the four other politicians – but he had to pay for his own flight. On arrival, he found the offices of the Catalan delegation had been closed down by the Spanish government – and they had to find an alternative meeting room. Meanwhile, Torrent was being threatened with ‘all kinds of measures’ by Spain’s deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, if Puigdemont were to become Catalan president. Despite Puigdemont being democratically voted for (again) as the Catalan president (and despite obviously being allowed to participate as a candidate in the elections in the first place), Soraya simply told Torrent: ‘You can’t propose him.’

The offices in Barcelona of the two Catalan civic organisations, ANC and Omnium, were visted again and searched by Civil Guard officers – although no-one could really understand why. It took place, however, on the same morning that the former Secretary General of the Spanish government’s Partido Popular (PP) in Valencia, Ricardo Costa, admitted in court that the PP had been financed with black money. He also identified Francisco Camps, former PP president in Valencia, as one of the ringleaders.

Rajoy said on radio that his PP party was clean. He also said that he didn’t want to talk about equal pay for men and women (‘no nos metamos en eso’).

Spain’s Civil Guard and National Police started to inspect car boots at the French border, the sewer system outside the Catalan parliament, and even an airfield at Sant Fruitós del Bages, normally used by parachute enthusiasts.

One of the Spanish government’s candidates to be a judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, gained zero points on the technical test for his failure to speak English. It was revealed that a second Spanish judge elected as candidate, Maria Elósegui, had previously made homophobic statements and also falsified her CV.

King Felipe VI turned up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and in his speech said, ‘Catalonia has tried to undermine our democracy.’

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría announced that the Spanish government would make a legal challenge to Spain’s Constitutional Court against the decision of the Catalan Parliament to propose Puigdemont as president. Spain’s Council of State swiftly announced that there was no basis to challenge Puigdemont’s candidature. The Spanish government proceeded with its challenge, regardless. Late on Saturday evening, the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to suspend Tuesday’s planned Catalan parliamentary session for Puigdemont’s investiture, unless the candidate attends in person … for which he would have to obtain ‘authorisation from the judge’ conducting the case for which his arrest is sought.

At the moment, it is unclear precisely what Puigdemont’s next move will be. What is clear is that Rajoy’s government is totally incapable of dialogue. This isn’t politics anymore. It’s One Big Fat Court Case. And until they all sit down with mediators and talk through a solution, it will probably end up in Strasbourg …

Un observador inglés (3) – Bad PR: Felipe VI should have at least visited the Catalonia stand at FITUR.

I don’t know who’s in charge of the appalling PR & communications for Rajoy’s government, but it looks like Spain’s Royal Household could also do with some help.

On Wednesday, I was watching events unfold at the opening session of the Catalan Parliament, zapping between TVE and TV3 – the day that the Republican Catalan Left politician, Roger Torrent, was elected as the new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.

At one point, TVE (24h) interrupted its coverage of Barcelona, to instead go live to the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, where Spain’s King Felipe VI and Letizia had just arrived to inaugurate the 38th edition of the event. Nothing wrong with that. Good for them, I thought. Very soon, they – together with their entourage – strolled towards what must have been the media area, and directly towards the TVE camera, where they answered some brief questions. My first reaction was – oh, I didn’t realise you could ask the king of Spain direct questions – I mean, you can ask Prince Charles and William, I think, but not The Queen – and then I was shouting at the TV screen (it happens), telling the TVE journalist to therefore ask Felipe about his views of the Catalan Parliament session taking place right now on the other channel! – ask him about the yellow ribbons on the empty seats! – go on, ask him … but she didn’t, of course (not only because she couldn’t hear me). Instead, Felipe replied to a few banal questions, and said something about FITUR being ‘estupendo’, and that each year it ‘surpassed itself’, and then he and Letizia were off, free to roam around the stands, or at least be guided carefully by their entourage.

It was a wasted moment, I thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There you had the opening session of the Catalan Parliament being broadcast with powerful images of yellow ribbons occupying the empty seats of jailed or exiled Catalan politicians, unable to attend – but no-one had dared ask Felipe VI about it. Only his opinion of FITUR. Well, FITUR was fine. It was estupendo. Marvellous.

Wait … I’ve been to FITUR, more than once. Years ago, when I was doing a study to launch a one-off Condé Nast Traveller magazine in Spain; and then years later, too, actually launching Lonely Planet Magazine. So I know a bit about FITUR. It’s one of the world’s most important tourism trade fairs, ‘a global meeting point for tourism professionals’ – and held in Spain, itself one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. 165 countries and regions take part, many with extravagant and inviting trade stands – including, of course, all the ‘regions’ of Spain. So, after Felipe and Letizia continued to stroll around, I promise you that this is what I was thinking (with my editorial hat on): they need to get photos of them visiting and enjoying the Catalonia stand. That would not only be a good news image, but great PR, too. Surely?

I forgot about FITUR and went back to TV3 and the Catalan Parliament. Later that day, however, I saw something on social media – something about the king avoiding the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and I thought, no way, that’s impossible – that would be crazy, that would be almost childish – it must be fake news. But it was true.

Not only did Felipe VI and Letizia avoid the Catalonia stand at FITUR, but they made a point of visiting various stands of other regions of Spain – and their visit is detailed on the Royal Household’s website, complete with photos of them doing so. In ‘pavilion 9’ of the trade fair, they visited the stands of Turespaña (Spanish Tourist Board), Madrid, Galicia and Navarra, and them in ‘pavilion 7’ they visited the stand of Aragón, Castilla y León and Valencia … but Catalonia, nada. They did find time to visit the stands of Argelia and India (‘Incredible India’ being the honorary country and slogan of the trade fair this year), and they were also photographed with a robot. Everyone wrote about what Letizia was wearing, too, of course – a ‘beige and black colour block jacket, a crisp white shirt and smart black trousers’, plus ‘a pair of killer skyscraper heels embellished with gold spikes’, whilst Felipe, meanwhile, opted for ‘a grey pinstripe suit, injecting a splash of colour with a red polka dot tie’ … who cares?

I’ve written here before about my view of Felipe’s speech given on 3rd October last year, just a few days after the Spanish police brutality during the Catalan referendum – and I gave my opinion that the monarch failed miserably to defuse the situation, there and then. In fact, he did the opposite. He made it worse. It would have almost been better if he hadn’t spoken at all.

In the king’s Christmas message of 24th December – shortly after the 21st December election results – he issued another warning about the Catalan independence movement, in the face of the possibility of the unilateral path being taken up again. ‘The route cannot lead again to confrontation or exclusion which only generate discord, uncertainty, despondency and moral, civil and economic decline of a whole society,’ he said. Just two weeks ago, however, during the Pascua Militar on 6th January, the only reference he made to what might have been interpreted as a territorial and Catalan issue, was: ‘Security and national defense are a task for everyone.’

It is perhaps a small thing, but I believe Felipe should have made a point of visiting the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and he should have spent a lot of time there. If he was advised not to, I believe that was an error. I might be wrong, but I still believe he has the chance to intervene and defuse this whole situation. Someone has to …

Un observador inglés (2) – Would a European country (or any country) be allowed to deploy an army against its own citizens?

Writing about Spain’s minister of Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido, last August, I said that he had the appearance of being irritated when required to do a press conference, as if he’d just been interrupted from the start of a long lunch. Everything looked like it was an inconvenience. It happened again last week, after 3,000 vehicles were stranded for up to 18 hours in heavy snowfall on the AP-6 between Madrid and Segovia. This time, I think Zoido was interrupted whilst at a soccer match in Seville – not a lunch, but still a bloody inconvenience. He managed to maintain a public silence over the fiasco, and instead there was a bizarre picture issued of him with his ‘crisis committee’. They did look like they’d been dragged away from a lunch. Not from a Zoido-style banquet, however, but from a Burger King.

Anyway, the reason I mention this, is because I’ve been observing María Dolores ‘de Cospedal’, Spain’s defence minister. In my humble opinion, in the same way Zoido’s eyes must surely light up when you tell him it’s lunchtime, ‘de Cospedal’ gives the impression that the role of defence minister gets in the way of a more glamorous life that she was (and still is) hoping to lead. It is that on-going Partido Popular superiority complex – an attitude of superiority that conceals actual feelings of inferiority or failure. I know we shouldn’t judge people by their looks or the way they dress – but ‘de Cospedal’ reminds me of a beauty editor I once employed on an ‘alta gama’ glossy fashion magazine in Madrid. She absolutely loved all the freebies and fashion paparazzi, attending all the shop openings, product launches and champagne receptions, but she never actually wrote anything for the magazine. It was beneath her. Every time I see ‘de Cospedal’ inspecting the rows of troops, I picture her inspecting rows of fur coats in the boutiques of Madrid’s barrio Salamanca. I can’t help it.

The reason I keep writing Cospedal as ‘de Cospedal’ (but I’ll stop now) is because on the English Wikipedia entry for Spain’s defence minister, it states that she “started calling herself ‘de Cospedal’ in public, which sounded more aristocratic, but more recently she has reverted to plain ‘Cospedal’. It’s like me saying, “I’m Tim, of Parfitt” – but then stopping, as it would be very, very weird.

It’s that pompous ‘air of superiority’ that gets to me, though. I hate it. Why do right wing politicians always try to portray superiority? Clearly to conceal their failures. It’s the same in the UK with the Tories. ‘de Cospedal’ really is just plain Cospedal – and she keeps putting her foot in it. The best moment came last November when she fell victim to a telephone prank by two Russian comedians. On air, during 12 full minutes, they managed to get her to agree to a meeting with a false government of Latvia, which, they claimed, wanted to send tanks to Catalonia, also assuring the defence minister that Catalan president Puigdemont was a spy. Cospedal seemed completely convinced; she even informed Rajoy of their proposals. I’m sure he must have been delighted.

Putting pranks about tanks from Latvia aside, last week Cospedal stated in an interview with ABC newspaper that the Spanish army was indeed ready to act in Catalonia at any time during the peak of the tension between Madrid and Barcelona. ‘We were ready because we had the obligation of being ready, otherwise we would be useless,’ she said. ‘I would not have had any responsibility, nor the military commands, if they had not been ready for any eventuality.’ It’s not the first time she has said as such. On 12th October last year, she also caused controversy during Spain’s national day celebrations, when she said that she was “almost certain” that the Spanish government would not have to use the army to resolve the Catalan crisis. Well, here’s a question for Cospedal: would a European country (or any country) be allowed to deploy an army against its own citizens? Think about it.

Many have seen Cospedal’s comments as an admission of the threats of military violence previously denounced by Marta Rovira, the secretary general of ERC (Catalan Republican Left). She’d been criticised for revealing that Rajoy’s party had threatened the Catalan government that, if they continued on the path towards independence, it would lead to a climate of ‘extreme violence’ in which they wouldn’t talk about ‘rubber bullets’, but ‘bullets’. Early in December, however, a former army officer had also suggested that Rovira had been right in her comments: that the Spanish government did threaten the Catalan authorities with ‘deaths’ if the independence movement went ahead. Serious stuff. Very serious.

Also last week, and just a few days after Cospedal said the Spanish army was ready and prepared to act in Catalonia, she was back in the news again – for having awarded a 5,000 euro subsidy to an organisation with apparent Francoist values. The award had been given to the Asociación de Militares Españoles (AME), who produce Militares magazine, as well as granting it free use of premises at the Spanish army’s headquarters. According to reports, Militares magazine often praises the Franco regime, and has even promoted a book about the ‘crusade’ by the Francisco Franco Foundation – itself also still receiving subsidies, directly or indirectly.

This very real existence of ‘Francoism after Franco’, 42 years after the dictator’s death, just won’t go away – thanks to the likes of Cospedal and the rest of Rajoy’s cronies. In fact Rajoy himself also put his foot in it (again) last November. For years he lived in Marín, in Galicia, on a street named after Salvador Moreno, a naval officer who was also a minister under Franco. The name of the street had been changed ten years ago to honour a Galician writer in compliance with the ‘Law of Historical Memory’, which provided for the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces. Rajoy, however, said he didn’t know why the street’s name had been changed and that he continues using the street’s Francoist name. This is Spain’s Prime Minister, remember …

I understand many of the ‘Historical Memory’ policies have also been put on hold since Spain applied Article 155 to Catalonia. Some 130 mass graves have been found in recent years in Catalonia, and several of them have already been excavated. Thanks to this, the remains of more than a hundred people have been recovered, and relatives have been able to trace the whereabouts of long lost family members. According to the United Nations, the whereabouts of 114,226 people remain unknown in Spain – and the UN stated that Spain’s failure to investigate the disappearance of civilians was ‘alarming’ and ‘especially worrying’. A final thought: for the past four years, Spain’s ruling PP have not allocated any funds to Historical Memory policies.

Un observador inglés (1) – Rajoy is inept and Spain’s lost its mojo.

First, to clarify: I love Spain. I love Catalonia. For over 20 years, on and off, I’ve lived and worked here – 10 years in Madrid, and 10 years in Barcelona, two of the greatest cities in the world. So I feel I can comment …

Not so long ago, Spain used to be cool. Very cool. Fiestas, football, food, fashion, fast and furious new flamenco, modern design and architecture, art and Almodóvar, Penélope and Paz, Banderas and Bardem, Nadal and Gasol, Domingo and Carreras – they all helped to make it cool – and, dare I say it, even Felipe, when he was still just a prince, or at least when he led out the Spanish Olympic team at the opening of the 1992 Games in Barcelona. He was cool then. Was.

Someone once told me that those good times in Spain were just ‘paper over the cracks’. I used to think it meant that behind the façade of all the fiestas, an economic hangover would always resurface, as it did in September 92 immediately after those Olympic Games, and again in 2008 as part of the global financial crisis, bursting the Spanish property bubble and much more. I never wanted to accept that the ‘paper over the cracks’ might refer to other sinister elements of Spanish society, such as the ghosts of Franco. I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning.

Friends from Madrid and elsewhere in Spain sometimes ask why I support the independence of Catalonia. To be honest I don’t think I initially did, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now – although I more than sympathise with their reasons for not wanting to remain part of Spain, and even more so every day. What I do support and always will, is the right to vote. I didn’t want Brexit but I thought the referendum was necessary. I didn’t (and don’t) want Scotland to leave the UK, but I thought they should at least have the right to vote on it (and to do so again, if necessary, in light of Brexit).

I spent the whole of Sunday 1st October 2017, the day of Catalonia’s ‘banned’ referendum, working in a newsroom in Barcelona, from 8am until very late that evening – helping on a Catalan & Spanish newspaper’s English edition. As the news, images and videos came in of all the police brutality against innocent citizens simply trying to vote, I also did a report for Sky News. On air, live during the interview, the newscaster from London told me that some of the images they were receiving from Barcelona were ‘too bloody’ to even broadcast. As the day went on, colleagues in the newsroom turned pale with shock. One told me that he was more upset by that day’s events than during the terrorist attack of 17th August; this was the Spanish police attacking its own citizens. I was shocked by how much it also upset me. I really felt for the people of Catalonia. By the time I got back to Sitges later that night, I was in floods of tears. I had to be consoled. I will never, ever forget the impact that day had on me.

The next day, 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.

Right now, at the start of 2018, ‘Brand Spain’ is no longer cool – far from it. Spain has lost its mojo. I hope that one day it gets it back – but things need to change, starting at the very top. The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is utterly inept. The way that his PP party (already stained with numerous corruption scandals) has handled the Catalan issue has been atrocious – not just an on-going international ‘PR disaster’, but totally wrong, and, I’d say, possibly illegal.

Despite saying he would, Rajoy failed to prevent a referendum in Catalonia from taking place in the first place. Refusing dialogue, the actions he did take, however, were absurd (and still are). Too numerous to list them all here, they range from threatening the Catalan parliament, department of economy and other institutions (as well as raiding some of those buildings), to searching the car boot of a printing company’s cleaner in search of ballot cards (even boasting that the police had managed to confiscate some). His government threatened Catalonia’s mayors, citizens and volunteers, banned posters and the media from running advertisements, stopped events and debates, clearly violating human rights and the freedom of speech. They shut down websites and apps, blocked telephone operators and even threatened to cut off the power. At a huge cost, they then sent a cartoon ship full of Civil Guard and Spanish Police to stop people from voting … but they failed. As for the gifts and awards to Juncker, or pointless trips to see Trump or May … just don’t get me started on all that.

Rajoy has never used ‘politics’ to try and resolve the Catalan issue at all. He’s simply used the judges and the courts … and continues to do so. Yesterday, the democratically elected Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, was ordered to remain in prison, still without trial. Meanwhile, the king of Spain’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who was sentenced to over 6 years in prison yet is still ‘awaiting his appeal’, was photographed on holiday in Rome. I do not believe there is judicial independence in Spain – far from it. That is why Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four other Catalan ministers are still in Brussels. They went there to seek justice, not to avoid it.

Rajoy’s application of article 155 to take control of Catalonia was wrong. He then called the elections for 21st December, but lost. Yes, he lost. There are political prisoners in Spain – that is a fact. They should be released immediately. Every day, things are getting worse. I believe Rajoy needs to take a big step back (or better still, resign – but he won’t, I know). Puigdemont should be allowed to return from Brussels without any threat of arrest. Then they all need to sit around the table with international mediators, and which is what should have happened last September. Dialogue is needed. A political solution is needed. Then Spain (and Catalonia) will get its mojo back …