The bureau of Liberal International issued a statement on 27 September 2017 urging political dialogue to resolve the conflict in Spain over Catalonia. We foresaw trouble on the horizon, which has come to pass. We appealed to all parties in the dispute while indicating that to criminalize politicians – at the time hundreds of mayors in Catalonia, some of whom, as members of our international political movement, had appealed to us, and have renewed their appeal in the past few days – was not appropriate or helpful. LI has been advocating political dialogue since our Rotterdam congress in 2014.
It is not up to us to enter the debate on independence. We respect and value our Spanish and Catalan friends. In fact we urged the Catalan authorities to work towards constitutional evolution in Spain, and clearly counseled against a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the hope of genuine dialogue, in the unavoidable context of the existing interdependence of all parts of the EU. And we urged Spanish authorities to consider the reality on the ground that, according to the polls, a large majority of Catalans wanted to be able to vote, even if less than half of those surveyed at the time expressed a desire for independence. But as committed democrats and human rights defenders since our creation in 1947, we cannot fail to notice the disproportionate police response to the vote that took place on October 1st. Violence is the antithesis of liberal values and, we believe, European values, and should not be used against defenseless civilians. We were disappointed then by the inability of the Spanish authorities to resolve the territorial conflict in Catalonia by peaceful means much before that vote came to be, like other countries facing similar issues have done before. We are shocked and saddened now by the charges brought in the justice system for imprisonment of the government of Catalonia and part of the parliament, following the destitution of the elected authorities of Catalonia in application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. The European Union is about unity of the peoples of Europe but also about patience, dialogue, trust, forgiveness and negotiated novel solutions to old and new conflicts that too often have plagued the continent.
Without entering a blame game, and in full respect of Spanish sovereignty, we urge the Spanish authorities – parliamentary, executive and judicial – to show the wisdom of a former President of Liberal International, and former Prime Minister of Spain, Adolfo Suarez, who even before democracy had been achieved in Spain called from exile the Republican elected President of Catalonia, Josep Tarradellas, and recognized his pre-Franco legitimacy to represent the Catalan people and thus the historical self-government for Catalonia. That was a smart and positive sum game, an essential building block of the new democratic Spain to come. The elected representatives of Catalonia, and of Catalan civil society, like in any other democracy and irrespective of whether one agrees or not with their proposals, need now to be treated with dignity and respect, and enjoy freedom. Especially since their movement has been strictly based on the principles of non-violence. Indeed in a liberal democracy nobody should be above the law, yet the essence of democracy is also to be able to facilitate agreement between majorities and minorities within society in which they each respect each other. As liberals we defend the rule of law, not the rule by law. Criminal law should be the last resort in any society. Following this path will result in a zero-sum game and possibly unintended consequences for those who advocate it. Healing is needed and de-escalation is the word.
In the light of the elections of December 21st in Catalonia, which our membership follows closely, we reiterate our call for good faith political dialogue in Spain among parties with very different world-views. It necessitates courage and good will. Once again, we are ready to offer mediation, if required.