Spanish Separatists Stand on Trial

Artur Mas, former president of the autonomous region of Catalonia, is now standing trial for organizing a November 2014 vote  to formally secede from Spain.  On February 6, the Spanish Constitutional Court charged Mas with organizing the vote, but the contentious trial will likely stretch on for some time as it stirs debates over whether Catalonia’s separation from Spain would be constitutional, reports El País. “Catalans have wanted to secede since even before they joined Spain,” claimed a student at Madrid’s Universidad Autónoma in an interview with The Caravel on February 7. “They have a different culture, a different language...they think they’re better than us. Than Madrid, especially.”

According to the Constitutional Court of Spain, the country’s second highest judicial authority, Mas knowingly ignored repeated warnings that the vote was illegal and that carrying it out would be an

act of disobedience.  The vote, referred to as the 9-N vote because of the day and month on which it took place, resulted in more than 80% of the Catalonian population favoring secession. However, only an estimated two million of more than five million registered voters participated, according to the BBC.

At the time of the vote, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called 9-N “not [a] democratic vote” and an “act of political propaganda” in a press conference.  Defending himself on February 6, Mas argued that “if [9-N] was so obviously a crime, how is it possible that the Constitutional Court did nothing to enforce its resolution?”

Echoing cries of injustice by Mas and the two other Catalan politicians on trial for supporting the vote–Mas’s deputy Joana Ortega and former Education Minister Irene Rigau– protesters called for the end of the trial and regional independence, reports Reuters. If Mas is found guilty, he will be banned from occupying any government office for ten years. Most separatists see this as a blow to their independence movement since Mas is one of their most ardent governmental advocates.

Carles Puigdemont, current President of the region, called for a “legal and binding referendum” to take place in September of 2017, reports BBC. Responding to repeated calls for secession, Prime Minister Rajoy said at the Malta summit of the European Union on February 3 that “we can talk [about the referendum,] but everyone must obey the law.”

The 9-N trial comes amidst a growing debate among politicians and academics concerning the nature of political referenda and separatist movements, such as the British Brexit and the Scottish referendum.