The spirit of the Constitution: from a good fit to “Let’em have it!”

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The spirit with which the Spanish Constitution is interpreted today bears little resemblance with the one that inspired it at the beginning of the political Transition, in the aftermath of General Franco’s death. Its inception forty years ago was consistent with the political context at that time: the aim was to leave the dictatorship behind and consolidate a democratic regime based on a broad consensus that was respectful of Spain’s territorial and ideological diversity. There was a need to quench the mutual desire to exact retribution on the other side and to find a good fit for Spain’s so-called “nationalities”. As a matter of fact, Spain’s historical amnesia, the deliberate loss of memory that has accompanied us to the present day, is the product of that desire to look ahead rather than back.

The Constitution’s wording is ambiguous and pliable, open to a range of interpretations, which is also consistent with the pact between the democratic opposition and the elements within the regime that sought to reform it. That change came with the limitations that we know and endure today, but at least the more extreme, uncompromising faction of the old regime did not prevail.

Paradoxically, four decades later a new immobilism, one born out of Aznar’s counter-reformation, is taking centre stage. It is an immobilism that enshrines a restrictive interpretation of the Constitution, not merely in terms of Spain’s national diversity, but also on basic rights. A spirit of retribution is returning on the back of this constitutional narrow-mindedness, a sectarian mindset which we believed was long gone. This is becoming increasingly apparent in the response of Spanish nationalism to the Catalan crisis.

On Monday evening, PP candidate Xavier García Albiol kicked off his campaign with the phrase “Let’em have it!”, the regrettable cry used to encourage Spanish police to take action and stop the Catalan referendum on October 1. Indeed, Spain’s law enforcement used unjustified violence against peaceful, defenceless members of the public.

And so we have witnessed how a more-than-dubious interpretation of the Constitution has been used to dissolve the Catalan parliament, remove the government of Catalonia and impose Madrid’s direct rule. We have seen how that same Constitution has been wielded to imprison political leaders for their ideas when, actually, it was their right to dissent that should have been protected. Furthermore, now we are witnessing a threatening, no-holds-barred ideological onslaught, a true witch-hunt against anyone who deviates from this interpretation of the Constitution.

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