The Spanish government is preparing to pardon the Catalan separatists imprisoned for attempted secession in 2017, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on June 21 in Barcelona. A “reconciliation” is not, however, unanimous.
In the name of “reconciliation”, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on June 21 that his government would pardon on June 22 the nine Catalan separatists sentenced to prison for the 2017 secession attempt.
“Tomorrow [le 22 juin], guided by the spirit of concord of the Constitution, I will propose to the Council of Ministers to grant pardon to the nine condemned, ”declared the socialist leader during a carefully orchestrated speech in the prestigious Liceu theater in Barcelona.
Cut off by cries of “amnesty” from the public, Pedro Sanchez said he understood “the rejection” of such a measure, both by part of the separatists and by the right-wing opposition, but explained that his government had “Opted for reconciliation” in Catalonia, where society is still deeply divided four years after the 2017 crisis.
“With this measure, we are actually getting nine people out of prison but we are bringing together millions and millions to live together,” insisted the Prime Minister, insulted when he left the Liceu by several hundred independence protesters.
“What we want is independence. No crumbs or forgiveness, ”said Angel Segura, one of these demonstrators, aged 18. For his part, the Catalan regional president, Pere Aragonés, stressed that this pardon will allow the independence leaders to get out of prison in the days to come by exempting them from the rest of their sentence, which he considers unfair.
A political crisis opened since 2017 following an illegal referendum on self-determination
The attempted secession of the wealthy northeastern region of Spain in October 2017 was one of Spain’s worst political crises since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975.
Despite its ban by the courts, the regional government of the independentist Carles Puigdemont had organized a self-determination referendum, punctuated by police violence. A few weeks later, the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared the region’s independence. The Spanish government, then in the hands of the conservatives, had reacted by removing the regional government and putting the region under control.
Prosecuted by justice, the former members of the regional government or the leaders of separatist organizations had left Spain, like Carles Puigdemont, or had found themselves behind bars. The conviction of nine of them for sedition in October 2019 led to massive protests in Catalonia, some of which had degenerated violently.
According to a recent survey by the Ipsos institute, 53% of Spaniards are opposed to this grace while a large majority (68%) is in favor of it in Catalonia. “[Avec] this pardon, Sanchez gives a coup de grace to legality, ”denounced the leader of the right-wing opposition, Pablo Casado, who took part on June 13 in a demonstration bringing together tens of thousands of people in Madrid against this measure.
The right accuses the Prime Minister of granting this pardon only in order to stay in power, while his minority government is supported by part of the separatists.
Pedro Sanchez, who planned to address the Chamber of Deputies on June 30 to explain this controversial measure, however received last week the support of Spanish employers and the Catalan Church.
A political operation to stay in power?
According to several analysts, Pedro Sanchez is now launching this risky bet because the next national elections, scheduled for no later than January 2024, are far enough away. “With time, the grace will appear anecdotal if the economy goes well” thanks to the European mega-plan of recovery, underlines Pablo Ferrándiz, sociologist at the Carlos III University of Madrid.
It remains to be seen whether this measure – which will not concern Carles Puigdemont, still being prosecuted – will be able to advance the dialogue in Catalonia. Grace is “the key that opens the padlock” in Catalonia, Judge Oriol Bartomeus, professor of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
But the “road will not be easy”, according to him, while the separatists camp on their demand for a self-determination referendum that the government categorically rejects.