Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Friday, 3 november 2017 | NEW YORK TIMES

English

Catalonia Civil Servants Must Decide: Resist or Obey Madrid’s Rule



NYT
 
By PATRICK KINGSLEY
OCTOBER 29, 2017
 
 
BARCELONA — Agustí Colomines, a Catalan civil servant, held up a copy of the decree from Madrid that had fired his boss and all the other leaders in the Catalan regional government.

“This is only words,” Mr. Colomines said on Sunday afternoon. “It’s not a real thing.”

As the Spanish government tries to restore constitutional order in Catalonia, after the Catalan Parliament’s declaration of independence on Friday, a question is whether the Catalan administration — its ministers, lawmakers, judges, teachers, policemen and civil servants — will fall in line on Monday and take their orders from the new caretaker administration installed on Friday by Madrid.

Or will they, like Mr. Colomines, resist?

On Saturday, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president who was ousted by Madrid after the declaration, hinted he hoped for the latter. His sacked government intended, he said in a televised speech, “to continue to work to meet our democratic mandates,” in effect creating two rival administrations: his own breakaway cabinet, and the central government.

In Catalonia now, “there are two parallel realities,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
 
On the one hand, Spanish border guards are still in charge at Barcelona airport and the Spanish flag still flies over the Catalan Parliament.

On the other, “we have part of the country that really believes that ‘we are free, we have an independent republic’, and for this part of the country, President Puigdemont and his government are the legitimate government of Catalonia,” Mr. Bartomeus said.

“It’s easy to take out the government: You just have to write it” in the official Spanish gazette, he added. “The problem is to rule Catalonia — to have an efficient political direction of the government and the administration.”

Mr. Puigdemont spent the weekend in his home city of Girona, where local officials removed Spanish flags from municipal buildings. His office would not disclose whether he would return to work in Barcelona on Monday, but several of his allies said they will operate as normal. These include Josep Rull, the minister of planning and sustainability, who attended an official function on Sunday despite being nominally sacked.

 
“As Puigdemont said in Saturday’s speech, we are going to keep working,” said Neus Lloveras, a Catalan lawmaker from Mr. Puigdemont’s party. “The government we recognize is the elected Catalan government.”

And even if Mr. Puigdemont is arrested on sedition charges, Ms. Lloveras added, “the Catalan republic will continue because the republic is not about individuals.”

“It’s a popular movement,” she said, “not a personal project.”

The Catalan police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, made it clear over the weekend that it would follow orders from the Madrid-installed administration, which is headed by the Spanish deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

After the Spanish government fired the head of the force, Josep Lluís Trapero, on Saturday, his successor, Ferran López, stopped providing protection to Catalan ministers, and Mr. Puigdemont’s official photograph was removed from many police stations.
 
Many officers privately welcomed Mr. López’s appointment because Mr. Trapero was perceived inside the force as having allowed Mossos to become too politicized, said a senior official in a major police union, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
 
For many civil employees, the decision whether to follow orders from Madrid when they show up for work on Monday will be driven not by politics but by more practical considerations.

Since Madrid controls their pay, “most of the public workers are afraid of losing their jobs, and having their salaries cut,” said Joan Maria Sentís, the public sector coordinator of the Catalan branch of the Workers’ Commissions, the largest union in Catalonia.

But in parts of the Catalan administration, especially among more senior political appointees, many were happy to show their support for Mr. Puigdemont. Over 150 political appointees to the highest ranks of the Catalan civil service were offered the chance to resign if they disagreed with the declaration of independence on Friday, but only a few accepted, said Mr. Colomines, one of the senior civil servants who decided to stay.
 
Mr. Colomines said he would continue to take orders from his fired boss, Meritxell Borràs, the minister for governance, because he believed he was now living in a new Catalan republic. “Meritxell is my minister,” Mr. Colomines said, dismissing the order from Madrid as “a bit of paper.”

Ordinary citizens have also promised to protect Catalan institutions from Spanish control, much as they did during an Oct. 1 referendum, when thousands of civilians — sometimes accompanied by Catalan firefighters — stood in the way of the Spanish riot police who had tried to storm the polling stations.

“We are ready to be there to defend our institutions peacefully, cheering, in good spirits,” said Oriol de Balanzó, a spokesman for En Peu De Pau, or We Stand for Peace, an alliance of grass-roots groups that promotes nonviolent demonstrations. “As we saw on Oct. 1, people were sitting or standing outside the polling stations — and it’s going to be like that,” Mr. de Balanzó said.

Madrid’s plans to hold new Catalan elections in December could be derailed if local administrations throughout Catalonia refuse to take part, said Ms. Lloveras, the Catalan lawmaker.
 
In addition to her legislative duties, Ms. Lloveras is the mayor of a large Catalan town and the president of an association of 800 separatist mayors. And those mayors, she said, “have the power to organize the elections.”

The Spanish government has decided against overhauling the Catalan public broadcast service and education system — both of which have long operated outside Madrid’s jurisdiction and are credited with helping to foster a deeper sense of Catalan identity.

Representatives of both sectors warned Madrid against trying to exert greater control. Any effort to meddle in the Catalan education system would be met with “a civil resistance movement that is a cross between Gandhi and the Vietnam peace movement,” said Ramon Font, the spokesman for Catalonia’s largest teachers’ union, Ustec.

Describing the dismissal of the Catalan government as a “coup d’état,” Mr. Font said the union will not recognize officials “who haven’t been appointed by the democratically elected Catalan government.”
 
The journalists of TV3, the Catalan public television channel, “will not accept any instruction or order that attempts to restrict their freedom of work,” said the channel’s general manager, Vicent Sanchis Llàcer. In a telling example of that policy, the channel introduced Mr. Puigdemont as the president of Catalonia when he made his speech on Saturday — after he had been fired, a description that drew a formal complaint from Madrid.

“What will I do?” said Mr. Sanchis, when asked where his loyalties lay. “I will follow what the Catalan government does.”

Correction: October 31, 2017
An article on Monday about the ideological dilemma facing Catalan civil servants in the wake of Catalonia’s independence movement referred incorrectly to Joan Maria Sentís’s role at the Catalan branch of the Workers’ Commissions. He is its public sector coordinator, not the coordinator.
David Meseguer contributed reporting.
 
 


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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

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