The Catalonia I want, by Jesús Gómez Esteban
A great abyss has grown in a short number of years between the Catalonia I want and the Catalonia they have been trying to impose and that is revealed by the message the Vic City Council solemnly repeats every day. I find it absolutely unfathomable and I refuse to accept this situation as unsalvageable.
The summer holiday is a great time to take stock of what has happened and what is important. The maelstrom of work and family obligations and a thousand other obligations we often unnecessarily impose on ourselves partly stop and, conversely, we can let ourselves enjoy our own personal pursuits and loves like we can never do during the year. Chatting naturally with our children, meeting new people and exploring new places, setting aside work concerns and simply enjoying the company of friends… in short, getting away from it all.
However, as the month of August drew to a close, we heard news of some events that were apparently happening every day in the main square of the Catalan town of Vic. At 8pm, after the bells tolled, the city council’s megaphone broadcasted this message, which I will translate from Catalan: ‘We must not accept this exceptional situation that is a national emergency as normal. We must remember every day that there are still political prisoners and in exile. We cannot stray from our objective: the independence of Catalonia’.
These words could be analysed from a legal viewpoint, assessing whether or not an exhortation like the one transcribed above can be legally pronounced from a public institution that, thus, belongs to all of us: the city council. I won’t do it, although it merits remembering that we are in a State that is a social democracy under the rule of law, and the latter qualification is not just an embellishment or a meaningless name, but a guarantee and instrument for ensuring liberty, justice, equality and political pluralism that—as pointed out by article one of the Constitution—are the highest values of our legal system.
I am more interested in analysing this message and the way in which it occurs from a personal perspective: In the spring of 2001 and until the spring of 2003, I worked as a judge in the Juzgado de Primera Instancia e Instrucción [Court of First Instance and Preliminary Investigation] no. 1 in the city of Vic and its judicial district. This is because a great abyss has grown in a short number of years between the Catalonia I lived there and the Catalonia I want, referred to above, and the Catalonia they have been trying to impose and that is revealed by the message the Vic City Council solemnly repeats every day, and I find it absolutely unfathomable and refuse to accept this situation as unsalvageable.
Starting out in any career is always exciting. If the profession is that of judge after many long and tough years of education, passing an official exam, Escuela Judicial [judicial training school] … this excitement is linked to the responsibility of starting to perform a function that has a great impact on society since, due to the way it is shaped in the Constitution itself, we are entrusted as the holders of judicial power. This was how I felt in the beginning and that is still how I feel today. The judicial career in Catalonia, like in the rest of Spain, provides an answer, on the basis of independence, responsibility and complete respect and guarantee of the rights of every person and, I repeat to stress the point, every last citizen, to the different matters under their competence that are subject to their decisions every day. Beyond and regardless of the political climate at any given time, beyond the historical lack of means that would let them fulfil their function of public service adequately, beyond any social situations of greater or lesser complexity, judicial power is exercised everywhere with the sole caveat imposed by article 117 of the Constitution: the rule of law. This is nothing more than a guarantee to protect citizens’ rights and ensure harmonious coexistence.
This combination of hope and fulfilment of the constitutional function that I assumed had a particular context: the city of Vic in 2001 that I came to from my native Madrid. I remember the comment a colleague whose destination was Vic made: ‘some get to the Vic Court System crying about their bad luck, but everyone I know has left crying about having to move away’. The difference in my case is that I made the decision to start my work as a judge in Vic freely and it was where I wanted to go, where over the course of the years this decision has proven to be the right one, as well as my colleague’s comment. I learned much as a professional; I worked with the Bar Association from the beginning; I signed up for courses offered by the Catalan Government to learn Catalan… and above all I tried to become just one more Vic resident. I enjoyed my neighbours, the district of Osona, the lovely main square with an open market twice a week (a wonderful place where we all got along and chatted) and that I crossed every day to get to my office. I also did something that I always recommend: to grasp everything that is good about a place and what its people offer you and try to improve upon it, providing all the goodness that you can. Respect and be respected. Both the landscape and the people became part of my life after these years.
What happened so that now, less than 20 years later, today at the end of summer 2018, I would never voluntarily make the decision to start my career as a judge in Vic? The answer logically greatly exceeds the limitations of this article and, if I am sincere, I believe I would be unable to give a suitable response. Those of us who live and get along in Catalonia—and I believe this is a generalised feeling beyond any personal stance about the political situation and territorial and institutional fit of Catalonia within the state of Spain—we can find no explanation for the situation that we are suffering as a whole. The messages of the different political forces lead to absolute discouragement and dismay. As a member of a State Power that, I repeat, has been and always will be and under any circumstance and in any context fulfilling its constitutional function, I know the answer I should give. This is despite the fact that sometimes I feel caught in the crossfire where others’ individual and partisan interests seem to take priority over general and collective interests. And as a citizen?
The citizens of the Catalonia that I want do not deserve to be going through this situation; they do not deserve having to listen to proclamations from a city council that are outside any plural reality; and they do not deserve the injustices from those who make our daily lives tense from many different arenas. The Catalonia I want is the one I got to know in 2001 in Vic and I believe that among all of us, as a society, this is the Catalonia we must return to. Reciprocal deafness only brings pain, rage, anxiety and impotence. And this is what I have felt for the last two years listening to the speakers blasting out over one of the prettiest squares I have ever seen and had the great fortune to enjoy an intolerable message from a public institution that should represent each and every one of us.
I wish I could make a suggestion, even a modest one, which would let us glimpse again in the near future this Catalonia I lived in and loved. I always trust that society, among everyone, will be capable of finding it. Cuban Mª Teresa Vera composed a lovely song some 20 years ago, which I remembered this summer and I wish this message could be broadcast from any city council to any town square in the world: ‘how sadly we look at a love that ends. It is a piece of the soul, ripped out mercilessly’.
Mª Teresa Vera was a saint. Wherever she may be, if necessary, I ask her to call on someone who manages to bring back this Catalonia that I want, that I loved and that I continue to love. I do not want anything or anyone to rip out a piece of my soul.
*** Jesús Gómez Esteban is a magistrate and regional spokesman for the Francisco de Vitoria Judicial Association in Catalonia.