After the trial of the century, reconciliation between Spain and Catalan's separatists still feels like a distant dream

There had been speculation that the trial itself could have led to a breakthrough in the face-off between Madrid and Catalonia. But after 400 witnesses and four months, nothing is resolved

Alasdair Fotheringham
Friday 14 June 2019 17:37 BST
Catalonia President Quim Torra: Catalan separatists trial 'terrible mistake'

After four months of hearings, ranging from the extremely tense to the extremely tedious, it’s finally over. After more than 400 witnesses and countless hours of continuous live TV coverage across the nation, the trial of 12 Catalan separatists accused of attempting to violently forge a rebellion against the Spanish state in 2017 has concluded.

The consequences of the verdict in Spain’s “trial of the century”, not due for months, are so far unclear. But there had been much speculation that the trial itself could have indirectly led to a breakthrough in the face-off between Madrid and Catalonia. This was despite the trial being seized on by Catalonia’s separatists as yet another reason to split from Spain – you only had to see the dozens of pro-independence rallies organised for when the trial ended, with the defendants final statements broadcast live outdoors on giant screens, to see that.

Even so, the trial’s detailed explanations and analysis of the tumultuous events of September and October 2017, when Catalonia held an illegal referendum on breaking away from Spain and the separatists made a unilateral declaration of independence, meant that both sides had a chance to state their case. That greater objectivity, surely, could have facilitated a greater degree of reconciliation.

Overall, as a columnist in Catalonia’s best-selling daily La Vanguardia put it, in terms of the bigger Catalan independence issue, all that has been confirmed by the four-month trial is the ongoing political deadlock. “Nothing has been resolved,” wrote Carlos Zanon, “because there are people in one trench and in the other trench who don’t want it to be resolved.”

With the numbers of those in favour of breaking away from Spain in Catalonia still remaining between a third and just under half – although far more want a legal referendum on independence – the nationalist camp can count on a surprisingly steady level of grassroots support not to change their overall strategy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given they are potentially paying such a high legal price for their involvement in the events of October 2017, those arguing the hardest last week that a return to politics was the best path to find a way out of Catalonia’s political crisis last week were some of the 12 separatists on trial.

“When it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms, having the will to talk, to negotiate, to find agreement, should never be a crime,” added the most high-profile defendant, Catalonia’s former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras.

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But as the trial closed, Catalonia’s separatist president Quim Torra also warned he has no intention of changing his goal of ultimate independence and added that he is “certain that we will hold another referendum.” After describing the trial as “absurd,” he also described the referendum, in which more than two million people voted, as the “biggest act of civil disobedience Europe has ever seen.”

However, prosecutors in Madrid are adamant that the events of 2017 in Catalonia constituted an attempted coup d’etat, involving the use of violence. And that rather than being guilty disobedience, which implies a year in prison at most, the separatists with the greatest level of implication in the region’s breakaway effort should go to jail for 25 years. The defence, meanwhile, insists that if there was any violence, it was due to a heavy-handed police response that saw up to 1,000 voters – numbers vary widely – injured.

A verdict on the “trial of the century” is not expected until October. If the separatists – who claim they are innocent of the most serious charges of rebellion – are found guilty, it could well provide another boost to the pro-independence cause, just as the two-year anniversary of the failed breakaway approaches. And that particular combination could see the conflict with Catalonia, already often described as Spain’s most serious political crisis since the coup d’etat of 1981, lurch into even more dangerously uncharted waters.

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