Axel Schönberger: “Spain hasn’t been a democracy since October 27, 2017”

  • An interview with the Bremen University professor and activist for Catalonia's rights

Martí Estruch Axmacher
14.03.2018 - 08:00
Actualització: 14.03.2018 - 10:25

Germans are less doubtful than Catalans. That was the beginning of a WhatsApp message that went viral a couple of weeks ago among independence supporters in Catalonia, and it included a number of opinions by professor Axel Schönberger. Indeed, he has no qualms about criticising the Spanish state and refer to it as a dictatorship. But who is this German linguist, a specialist in Latin and Romance languages, who has put his scientific endeavours on hold in order to further the Catalan cause? This interview will attempt to shed some light on the matter.

—Mr Schönberger, are you aware that the Catalan version of your article titled ‘Die Wahl zwischen Freiheit und Knechtschaft’ (‘Choosing between Freedom and Slavery’) has gone viral on Catalonia’s social and mobile networks? Are you surprised?
—A little. At the end of the day, my article merely states what anyone in their right mind would say if they had followed the situation in Catalonia and been given the basic facts. Most Catalans shouldn’t be surprised by my words. If people show an interest, it is likely due to the shocking conspiracy of silence that exists in European politics on the subject of the Catalan nation and its legitimate right to self-determination. Since the main political leaders in Europe treat Catalans as if they were Spain’s slaves rather than EU citizens, I guess in Catalonia they must be grateful that a foreigner such as myself should say what Ms Merkel and Mr Macron —as well as Messrs Juncker, Tajani and Tusk— should have stated a long time ago, if they gave any credence to Article 2 of the EU Treaty and the European Convention of Human Rights.

—You are a linguist and a man of letters. How come you have decided to take a public stand and voice your support for the Catalan cause?
—Having seen the horrific news coming from Catalonia on October 1, that same day I decided to put my scientific endeavours temporarily on hold, get involved in the Catalan people’s legitimate cause and denounce the repeated violations of human rights by the Spanish state. At present, Catalonia is being subjected to an illegal dictatorship. In collusion with Spain’s Constitutional Court, as well as the National and the Supreme courts, the Spanish regime is staging the most devastating attack on Catalonia’s institutions and self-government since the Franco regime officially ended and, increasingly, against the use of the Catalan and Occitan languages.

—Does the difficult situation in Catalonia extend beyond its borders?
—Yes, what is going on in Catalonia concerns all EU citizens. The freedom of Catalans, which must be defended, is the freedom of all the EU citizens who are worthy and just. The other countries in the world cannot accept that a regime and its judicial system have violated the law, the European Convention on Human Rights —including the Treaty on EU—, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, therefore, international laws that countries are expected to abide by. I am totally convinced that what is at stake in Catalonia today is not only the struggle against demophobic oppression and the crypto-colonial exploitation of the Catalan people, but the very future of the European project and Europe’s fundamental values. If Messrs Juncker, Tajani and Tusk prevail, you can wave goodbye to the European ideal.

I like to call a spade a spade, and a crime a crime. Mariano Rajoy and his deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, together with their accomplices in the Spanish government, senate and the highest courts of law, as well as the leaders of Ciudadanos and the socialist party are all responsible for major violations of Spanish and international laws. I hope that one day they will be held to account for their actions before an international court.

—How do you see the fact that there are political prisoners in an EU country?
—It is outrageous that in Spain there are honest politicians kept behind bars who, objectively, have not committed any crimes and have conducted themselves in a fair, peaceful manner following their political convictions. It is even more outrageous that they are being kept in prison so they may not defend their political views and exercise their civil rights. And it is truly shocking that the parliamentary immunity of democratically elected representatives has been disregarded. No matter how I look at it, I see the Spanish state spiralling down into a despicable abyss of violations of law and human rights. As a German, I can’t help but compare it to the early years of National Socialism.

—The Spanish police brutality on October 1 and the subsequent events, the crackdown, the attacks on free speech, the political prisoners … do you believe these damage Spain’s international prestige and might even put into question the quality of democracy in Spain?
—Your question assumes that Spain is a democracy. Spain has not been a democracy since October 27, 2017! By violating Spanish law and human rights, the Spanish regime deposed the democratically elected government of Catalonia and imposed a dictatorship on Catalonia, which is still in place today. The elections on December 21 last year, which were imposed by the Spanish PM in what constitutes an obvious violation of the corresponding Spanish organic law, returned a clear mandate to reinstate Carles Puigdemont as the 130th president of the Generalitat.

The authoritarian, demophobic nature of the Spanish regime, which contravenes human rights, became apparent again when they prevented Carles Puigdemont from being elected president. Incidentally, he should have been granted parliamentary immunity. Therefore, Spain cannot be classed as a democracy. After the coup d’état on October 27, it has become a post-democratic system, which displays the traits of a dictatorship that disregards human rights in Catalonia.

—There is little international reaction however…
—What is going on in Spain is still unknown in many countries. However, it is only a matter of time before Spain’s reputation takes a blow within the international community. The current regime led by Mariano Rajoy and Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, together with judges who bend the law, like Pablo Llarena and Carmen Lamela, soils Spain’s image, is hugely damaging and will soon cause Spanish people to be embarrassed about their nationality. Also, as with South Africa in the past, Spain may eventually face an international boycott which would harm its economy.

Furthermore, the brutal illegal actions of the Spanish regime against Catalonia and, in particular, the arrests of Catalan political leaders and the main representatives of civil society, together with the financial chokehold on honourable leaders such as Artur Mas mean that the Catalan people’s natural right to self-determination and to decide its political future freely are now backed by the right to remedial secession from Spain, as enshrined in international law.

—Are you worried by how events are unfolding in Catalonia? At some point you voiced your concern over the possibility that Spain might use its armed forces and we might find ourselves on the brink of a civil war.
—Yes. Prior to October 1, there were reports that unknown airplanes had mapped out potential military targets from the air all over Catalonia. In addition, in September Pizarro tanks and other heavy military assets were moved to Catalonia ahead of a possible intervention. The king of Spain, who is actually the commander in chief of the armed forces, showed himself to be an ally of the Partido Popular in his TV address on October 3. Spain’s defence minister mentioned a few times that, besides imposing direct rule, the Spanish army was also ready to “restore order” in Catalonia and defend Spain’s unity.

—Do you think they would be so rash as to use the army?
—Obviously the Madrid regime had contemplated using the army to crush any resistance by the Catalan people. Also, it was important to give the impression that the Spanish regime was willing to use military force against civilians, which is important in terms of psychological warfare. When you consider that Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, Marta Rovira and other Catalan politicians mentioned the matter and acted in such a way that the Spanish regime had no chance to send in their troops to shoot peaceful Catalan people, I believe I was not mistaken when I warned that the Spanish military might intervene to crush the Catalan revolution after October 1.

—You have spoken in favour of massive civil disobedience against the Spanish authorities and ignoring any orders from Spain’s courts of law, which you believe are illegitimate. Do you actually think that is the way to go?

—Yes. I can only see three possibilities. The first one is a situation of armed rebellion which would leave many dead and wounded, and would turn Spain into a crisis zone, like Palestine or Kurdistan. I hope that will never happen. So far the responsible, peaceful, exemplary, non-violent attitude of the defenders of Catalan sovereignty suggests that it won’t come to that. It is precisely that behaviour what makes the legal position of those who argue for Catalan independence unassailable. Take a look at the ruling handed down by the International Court of Law in the Hague on July 22, 2010 on the validity of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (Accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence in respect of Kosovo), which was issued at the request of the UN’s General Assembly. You can clearly conclude that Catalonia also has the right to proclaim independence unilaterally, if Spain refuses to engage in talks and Catalans aim to achieve their goals through peaceful means.

—And the second possibility?
—It’s the possibility that the sum of all possible and conceivable actions might lead to the Spanish state de facto losing its grip on Catalonia, while the Catalan Republic’s statehood structures are built abroad. An unjust state such as Spain deserves neither respect nor obedience. The Spanish regime has always refused flat out to engage in talks with the Catalan government whenever it has been invited to. Why should Catalans continue to abide by Spain’s rules and laws and remain oppressed, dominated and exploited? Spain infringes upon the basic rights of the Catalan people. It is legitimate to resist the illegal dictatorship that the Spanish state has imposed on Catalonia at every level and make it impossible for Spain to rule Catalonia. The international community will recognise whatever government is able to effectively rule in Catalonia. At present, it is still the Spanish regime.

At the same time, the Spanish economy must pay a price for the oppression in Catalonia by means of general strikes and boycotts at home and abroad. This should amount to at least ten times the revenue that Spain obtains from Catalonia. That’s when economic sense will prevail and Spain will be forced to end its opposition to Catalonia’s freedom. If that happens, I am certain that Spain will try to milk Valencia and the Balearics even more, and will question the financial autonomy of the Basque Country in order to make up for the lost revenue in Catalonia.

—What would the third option be?
—Finally, the third option is Catalonia’s unconditional surrender to Spain’s dictate. If Catalans wish to go down that path, they might fool themselves pretending to have regained control of their institutions and should behave in such a way that Spain never chokes them again by bringing back direct rule. This would put Catalans in a position of quasi-slavery and, ultimately, their language and culture would fade away due to Spain’s ever more aggressive assimilation policies. If they wish to go down that path, all they need to do is elect Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas as their new president and vote PP leader Xavier García Albiol as her deputy. I am certain that both would prove to be most diligent at destroying the identity of the Catalan people and promote the Spanish language in order to replace Catalan and Occitan.

—You told me that you would not be travelling back to Catalonia until it is an independent republic. Are you not afraid that might take a very long time?
—I’m not. Mariano Rajoy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Pablo Llarena and many other Spanish political leaders, prosecutors and judges are speeding up the Catalan independence process. Their repressive actions —which violate human rights— increase the number of people who sympathise with Catalonia’s independence bid. You also have objective facts: income per capita and welfare in general would improve in an independent Catalan republic; at last, infrastructures would be renovated and you would begin to build the welfare state that the Catalan parliament has started to promote but that Spain’s Constitutional Court is determined to destroy. And you would be able to bring in new policies to promote research and stimulate the economy, which are key for Catalonia in a fast-changing global economy. As a result, some of those who do not support independence yet will realise that secession offers a better future for Catalonia.

Many Catalans feel their dignity is wounded by the fact that the Spanish regime treats them like slaves who have no rights, fires rubber bullets at them when they go to the polls peacefully and sends them Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría to rule over them as a dictatrix. The Catalan people will never forget that! They will pursue their goal relentlessly and will eventually achieve it because it is right for them to do so and Spain’s bullying tactics do nothing but fuel the pro-independence movement. Therefore, I have every reason to feel confident that I will be able to travel to Catalonia soon and be happy to see how Catalans are building a new country in complete freedom and with dignity. I am certain that the new Catalan Republic will be either a model EU country or another Switzerland in an enviable geostrategic position. Soon enough, the Catalan Republic will become a leading nation internationally and I will be delighted to visit back once it is a free, sovereign country at last.


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