With a chance to finally reflect on the tragic events of the past 12 days, the image that sticks in my mind, believe it or not, is of ‘Zoido’. Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain’s Interior Minister, aged 59, originally from Seville, now based in Madrid. He’s a former judge, previously Mayor of Seville, and his father owned a bakery.
Zoido has that permanently full, heavy, stuffed appearance of a man who has just indulged in a long lunch. In fact he looks like he’s indulged in many long lunches, every day, over many years. On Monday 21st August, just after 2pm, he appeared on TV to give a press conference from the Ministry of Interior in Madrid, to give an update on the on-going investigation of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils of 17th & 18th August. He didn’t look very happy. He looked as if he’d just been interrupted from the start of a long lunch (in Madrid, as I have experienced, those lunches start after 2pm and can sometimes run until 5pm). Zoido was missing out on the start of a nice one, I was sure. In the press conference, which was totally unnecessary, Zoido didn’t really speak, he sort of wheezed unhealthily.
I say the press conference was totally unnecessary, because it was. It overlapped with the end of a full and detailed press conference that had just been held in Barcelona, by the Catalan Interior Minister, Joaquim Forn, alongside the Justice Minister, Carles Mundó, and the head of the Mossos police, Josep Lluís Trapero. It was that eventful press conference that might be remembered more than anything for a Dutch journalist walking out, and Trapero’s soon-to-be-hashtag-immortalised response of ‘Bueno pues molt bé pues adiós’ (‘Good, well, great, so bye’). But in that press conference in Barcelona there had also been a thorough explanation of the on-going investigation of the terrorist attacks, with questions, too (asked and answered multi-lingually), and – more importantly – the issuing of the ‘wanted’ photos of the fugitive terrorist still at large at the time, Younes Abouyaaqoub, confirmed as the van driver in the attack on La Rambla.
At the end of Zoido’s short and unnecessary press conference in Madrid, however, in which he repeated some of the things already explained in detail in Barcelona, no questions were allowed. He held up a photo of the fugitive Abouyaaqoub – a totally different photo to the one issued in Barcelona – and then left the room. As if in a rush, or perhaps to be chauffeured to a restaurant where an apéritif was awaiting him. Just three hours later, the Mossos had tracked down Abouyaaqoub near the Catalan town of Subirats, and where they shot him dead in a vineyard, after he revealed he was wearing an explosive suicide belt (that later turned out to be fake).
My point here is … what was the point of Zoido in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils? Well, there was no point. There was no point in Zoido giving a press conference in Madrid on Monday 21st August other than to deny the Mossos all the spotlight. There was no point in Zoido actually coming to Barcelona on the night of Thursday 17th August, to sit in on anti-terrorist meetings, duplicating the work, nor wait 48 hours to make any comment about the attacks – and which initially was to simply announce that the terror alert across Spain would be kept at level 4 and not level 5. Worse, at noon on Saturday 19th August, Zoido announced that the terrorist cell had already been ‘totally dismantled’ (two days before his lunchtime press conference in Madrid, in which he held up the fugitive’s photo!). The Catalan Interior Minister, Joaquim Forn, then had to ‘caution’ against calling the cell ‘completely dismantled’, explaining that it was an on-going investigation by the Mossos.
Over the past week, there have been many reports in prestigious international media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist, all praising the work of the Catalan authorities, citizens and the Mossos police force (despite the Madrid media trying to discredit them all). The Guardian even headlined its article: ‘Catalonia’s response to terror shows it is ready for independence.’ But Catalonia didn’t need a terrorist attack to show it can run its own country, let alone have the right to hold a referendum.
Put all the politics, laws, appeals, rules of the Spanish Constitution, the banning of Catalan politicians from office, all the threats of ‘intervention in Catalonia’ or applying Article 155, or the Law of National Security, or turning Catalonia into a State of Exception or even a State of Emergency … put all that and more to one side, because none of it is working and the only people cashing in are the greedy lawyers.
No, the facts are these: Catalonia doesn’t need governing or controlling from Madrid – and Madrid can’t control or govern Catalonia from Madrid, because it is unnecessary and totally and utterly impractical (I don’t even know how they did it in the bad old days … by force and terror, I guess). I’ve said it before: it’s also a geographical (and time) issue. Spain and Catalonia are two different countries. Barcelona and Madrid are two different ‘countries’. It is an hour’s flight between the two cities; three hours at least on the train. I’ve lived and worked in Madrid for ten years (and I loved the city and still do), and I’ve lived and worked in Barcelona for ten years (ditto). Whilst in both cities, I have had the task of setting up (and trying to run) an office in the other city. I spent many, many years going backwards and forwards on the AVE train or the Puente Aereo air shuttle – and whatever route you choose, there’s no escaping: it is about four hours door to door, home to home, office to office. And believe me, when you arrive back in Madrid after “working at the Barcelona office” for a day or two … nobody wants to know … nobody cares … it’s as if you’ve just arrived back from London or Paris … and it is the same both ways. Why? Because it is a different country.
I’m not a great fan of Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy (nor Zoido, I suppose), but there’s something that I feel he was over-criticised for in the past 12 days: the fact that it took him 7 hours to arrive in Barcelona after the attacks on 17th August. Perhaps he was on holiday in Galicia (where he’s from), I don’t know – and, yes, he would have had the use of the Spanish Air Force to get him to the Catalan capital – but it is still a long way. Too long and too far away to govern and control from Madrid. Simply put: there’s no need to control Catalonia from Madrid. And especially when the Catalans are more than capable of running their own country.