The Ghosts of Chauncey Gardner and Francisco Franco at the Trials of the Catalan Independentists in Madrid

Image Source Original movie poster for Being There

Watching the trials of the Catalan independentists now taking place at Spain’s highest court in Madrid, I have been reminded again and again of a scene from Hal Ashby’s marvelous 1979 movie “Being There”.

The protagonist of that film, Chauncey Gardner, played by Peter Sellers, is a fiftyish man who has never ventured outside the confines of his birth home, and whose entire understanding of society has been shaped by television viewing.  When, upon the death of his father, this man-child is finally expelled from the dwelling, he roams the streets of Washington DC with his TV remote control unit in his hand.  And when he comes across sights that disturb him, he points the device at the offending scene the hopes of “changing the channel” on the reality before him. Needless to say, his efforts at discharging his anxiety through this mechanism are fruitless.

Each of the 10 Catalan politicians and 2 civil society leaders currently sitting in the dock in the Spanish capital are there for allegedly having committed some combination of the crimes of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. The Spanish prosecutors been relentless in their attempts to underscore a narrative of events that will support state’s allegations against these promotors of the October 1st   2017 referendum on self-determination and the Catalan declaration of independence issued 26 days later.

However, they are doing so under a very severe handicap.

The empirical facts don’t remotely support their contentions.

And the Catalan defendants, most of whom have been held without bail for upwards of a year in violation of all existing judicial norms, are in no mood to play along with the game.  Rather, they have convincingly refuted the serial exaggerations and mischaracterizations of their inquisitors point by point, often stopping along the way to give them eloquent lessons on the basic principles of participatory democracy such as the freedom of expression and the right to peaceably assemble.

Former government spokesman Jordi Turull even mockingly helped one black-robed eminence who—as a high-level prosecutor in an officially multi-lingual state—was struggling mightily to understand and pronounce extremely basic words from a document written in Catalan, a language quite close to Spanish in vocabulary and structure. Imagine the stupor it would cause if an Anglophone prosecutor at Canada’s Supreme court in Ottawa were unable to understand the words “cited” or “taken” in French. But in central Spain, the prosecutor’s patent ethnocentric ignorance  did not  provoke the slightest bit of embarrassment.

Lest it seem that I am presenting things in an extraordinary slanted way, consider the following. The Spanish judiciary has twice issued European Arrest Warrants for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on the same charges now being levied against his former cabinet members and the two civil society leaders in Madrid. And on both occasions—in Belgium in December of 2017, then in the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein in April of 2018—the European courts made clear through back channels to Madrid that they saw absolutely no basis for the allegations of rebellion or sedition in his case. So, on both occasions Spain hastily withdrew the requests in advance of the official announcements in order to save face before the rest of the EU.

Although German court did not rule out the possibility that Puigdemont could be extradited for misuse of public funds, Spain eventually dropped its extradition request on that charge as well. Perhaps the decision had something to do with the fact that former Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his finance minister Montoro—who had imposed a draconian auditing regime upon the Catalan Autonomous Government in the months leading to the October 1st, 2017 referendum—both said publicly in its aftermath that the Catalan government had not spent a single cent on the vote.

In short, we have people being tried in Madrid for crimes that the Spanish government has been either unable or unwilling to pursue against the official most responsible for promoting the historic events in the Fall of 2017.

So, why do these august jurists continue to click their remotes in the faces of the defendants?

Here’s why. Despite what you might have heard, and what many of us believed for a long time, the vaunted Spanish Transition to Democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, was mostly a carefully managed piece of stagecraft.  This was especially the case within the country’s judiciary.

For example, today’s National Court (Audiencia Nacional), where parallel trials against allegedly disloyal Catalan police officials will soon begin, started in 1941 as the Tribunal for the Repression of Masonry and Communism. In 1963 it was renamed the Tribunal of Public Order and in 1977, in the midst of the Transition, it was given its present innocuous-sounding title. However, when that last change was made, its function and its personnel remained the essentially same.

For Francisco Franco, no political value superseded that of national unity.He thus created a judiciary that shared his belief that any and all means were justified in the fight to maintain it. And while the world became enthralled with the country’s enchanting “new” and seemingly democratic combination of modernity and high quality living in the 80s and 90s, the courts remained largely as they were during the dictatorship, with chances for ascent within the system carefully mediated by the need to sign off on the belief that national unity can and should trump the pursuit of impartial justice should the two values come into conflict.

Most knowledgeable observers believe that these sociological scions of Francoism will win the draconian convictions they seek against the Catalans. The question is whether the beleaguered democracies of Spain and the rest of the EU will be able to survive this great “victory” of deep state authoritarianism dressed up as the triumph of democratic constitutionalism.

More articles by:

Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.

Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
Tracey Aikman
President Trump, I’m One of the Workers You Lied To
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry