The Spanish malaise may be deeper than the economic hole
Earlier this month, the top judicial authorities in Spain forced the resignation of the State’s Chief Prosecutor in Catalonia. This is not an elected official but a public servant appointed from the capital, and the post traditionally goes to a non-Catalan. The latest incumbent was summarily dismissed only hours after remarking in an interview with a news agency that “the people must be given the opportunity to express their wishes”. It sounds mild enough, except that the statement was made in the context of the Catalans’ right to decide about their political future. Perhaps this is why he immediately qualified it adding that he meant “in general, any people”, and only after making clear that there is not in Spain “a legal framework allowing a referendum on independence”. All seemingly aboveboard. And yet, the mere implication that perhaps a way should be found for Catalans to have their say on the matter turned what was essentially a platitude into an inflammatory pronouncement, causing the prosecutor’s fall from grace. So much for the independence of the judiciary – not to mention freedom of speech.
A month before, a retired Spanish army general spoke to a formal gathering of fellow high-ranking officers about the “separatist-secessionist offensive in Catalonia” and reflected on the eventual position that the armed forces should take. “The Fatherland is more important than democracy”, he concluded. “Patriotism is a feeling, and the Constitution is nothing but a law”. The audience greeted with applause what could be easily read as an invitation to flout the laws of the land, or even as a justification for a military coup. Like similar statements made by others in the past, it has produced no significant response from the civilian authorities.
These two events –and the very different official reactions to them– point to fundamental flaws in the workings of a democratic State, and suggest that Spain’s problems may go well beyond the admittedly atrocious economic environment. And the trigger in both cases is the situation in Catalonia.