When a democracy jails its politicians on charges of sedition and rebellion and an international arrest warrant is issued against a regional president for speaking out against the dominance of central government, something has gone badly wrong. But if the Madrid administration thought that a judicial cracking of heads would put an end to Catalonian secessionist feeling it could not have been more misguided.
The attempted use of the democratic tools of government to suppress the democratic ambitions of the people of one of Spain’s proudest and wealthiest regions has prompted a backlash in favour of basic human rights. They talk of political prisoners being back in Catalan jails for the first time since the dictatorship of General Franco.
Such basic clashes over democracy are traditionally the political fare of far away places in Latin America and Africa. The Spain conflict is not just geographically closer but politically too. The European Union is being asked to support – and thereby give legitimacy to – the international arrest warrant; that is, in the name of every citizen of the 27 members.
The ousted Catalan leader Carlos Puigdemont, who faces a possible 30 years in prison for declaring independence, has called for a peaceful, united front behind the secessionist move. He deserves support in principle from democratic socialists throughout the EU. The Catalan dispute has become a test of Madrid’s democratic credentials.