Activists working across borders

Anna Gallego is a Spanish activist living and working in Prague. She is a leading member of the Asamblea Abierta de Praga/Marea Granate and the March the 8th Coalition. Diana Young (Left Unity/March the 8th Coalition) spoke to her about her activism, her views on Spanish politics as well as prospects for building a left feminist movement in Prague.

DY: The Asamblea organised a demonstration outside the Spanish embassy recently. Can you say something about the aim and focus.

AG: The demonstration was to protest against the gag laws being used in Spain as well as to express solidarity with political prisoners in Spain. We want to condemn the evident authoritarian drift of the Spanish government who are using aspects of a democratic state such as the constitution of Spain and the penal code as tools of repression so that any sign of dissidence becomes a criminal offence. It is clear that when the People’s Party (PP) in Madrid find no political solution they resort to judicial means. They are aided in their acts of repression by their supporters in the judiciary. Thus, the judiciary and the executive begin to act as one, We feel for the future of democracy in Spain.

There are three main ways in which the government are undermining the rule of law. Firstly, with Article 2 of the Constitution the claim was that the referendum for Catalan independence was unconstitutional as the Article, included at the behest of the military and the far right, claims the ‘indissoluble unity of the State’. The context is that the current constitution was written in 1978 in a critical situation after 40 years of dictatorship with the challenge of becoming a democratic country. It could be easily solved with a reform of the constitution but the main political parties – PSOE, PP – are totally against that. Discussion is not accepted and in my opinion this is the main cause of why the independence process was frozen.

Secondly, with the approval by the PP in 2015 of the so-called ‘Gag Law’, the Organic Law for the Protection of Public Safety severe limits were set to freedoms of expression which has led to prison sentences for writing tweets or songs which can be described as – incitement to hatred, enhancement/glorification of terrorism, insults to the crown or offence to religious feelings.

Finally, with the reform of the anti-terrorism law approved in 2015 (art. 573) with its vague definition of ‘terrorism’ expanding to include acts of public disorder which is traditionally considered to be a right to demonstration. This, for example led to the criminalisation of the CDR – the Committees for the defence of the Catalan Republic. The CDRs had, on the 27th of March blocked roads but as in previous strikes had informed the police – thus a change to established practice. There is a constant attempt by the Spanish government, helped by the mass media of the right, to claim a parallel between Catalonia and the Basque country and to criminalise non-violent organisations and acts.

It is clear that the 1978 constitution needs reform. We have been living in its shadow for far too long. In times of a constitutional crisis you would think that reform would be top of the agenda. Instead we have confrontation. Historically, we never had a transition to a real democracy.  As Miguel Unamuno said, at the close of the Civil War, ‘they won but they have never convinced’. In the absence of persuasion we have authoritarianism.

DY: Many of us were incensed by the recent verdict in Pamplona for the gang rape of a teenage girl. What do you think are the key points of this event?

AG: Beyond the bitter anger, as a feminist it was clear to me that this was a prime example of how women’s oppression is embedded in the system. We can have as legislation that guarantees women equality before the law but in truth Spain’s judicial system is profoundly skewed in favour of men. Pamplona’s gang herd will dealt with by the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court with 15 magistrates – only one of whom is a woman. The legal commission to review the verdict of sexual assault had 20 men – and not one woman. it is clear that in Spain we have institutional gender violence.

Additionally, there are details of this case which give us further cause for concern. The Pamplona case is symptomatic of the politicisation of the judiciary in Spain. One of the judges traduced the testimony of the victim while the fact that two of the defendants had links with the security forces makes a farce of equality before the law in Spain.

Spain is one of 13 countries that ratified the 2014 Istanbul Agreement which obliged states to adopt laws to introduce effective measures and to allocate resources to prevent and eradicate violence against women.  Yet, on the 7th of July 2016 five men of strong build penetrated anally, vaginally and orally an 18 year old girl who, according to the verdict, was impressed and unable to react. The perpetrators have been sentenced to 9 years in prison for ‘sexual abuse’ because, according to the Audiencia of Pamplona, it is not violation because there is no intimidation or violence involved. As the European Commission may recall, article 36 of the Istanbul Agreement says that sex without consent is a violation. Thus to comply with the Agreement the Spanish legal system would require the modification of four articles of the penal Code. Those changes have not yet taken place.

However, it seems following the success of the 8th of march, a high percentage of the Spanish population has understood the severity of the case and has demanded changes in the law. the mobilisations are huge and constant with initiative such as ‘Hermana, yo si te creo’, and ‘No es abuso, es volacion’ that have crossed borders.

DY: Where do you see the relevance of your demonstration seeing as you are resident in the Czech Republic.

AG: I see two connected points: on one side, the authoritarian drift of the Spanish government is a common symptom detectable in the Vysegrad group and thus there is a particular relevance for central Europe when we are protesting about the politicisation of the judiciary and the use of gag laws against political opponents. Events in Poland the government of the ruling Peace and Justice Party now have effective control of judicial appointments which undermines judicial independence show how the judges can become stooges of the ruling party. This is also shown by the limitations to freedoms in Hungary and Slovakia. While we acknowledge the Czech Republic is not a carbon copy of these countries we think there are enough similarities for us to see a demonstration against politicisation of the judiciary as a European issue.

The second relevant point is in regard to the idea of national vs supranational sovereignty and the unresolved debate about European identity. Within the suspension of the Catalan government one would have thought that the European Union would have had something to say. They are indicted by their silence. This is a European issue. There is the leadership of France and Germany supporting the idea of ‘Europe of the States’ when the natural national identity in many regions is in conflict with this idea. I think the future will lead us to the ‘Euope of the nations’ and it will force the creation of a new alliance to resolve this identity issue which is creating tension in many countries and is connected with the evident growth of fascism we are currently facing.

DY: You are a Catalan and learnt your politics in Barcelona. Can you say something about how the Asamblea has discussed this vital issue?

AG: We are an ‘open’ assembly and so this means we have no common line. However, I would say with some confidence that we are mostly Republicans in the Asamblea. The question is: what type of Republic? From a personal point of view I am committed to Catalan independence within a federal structure.  Obviously the crisis in Catalonia is also a constitutional crisis and it has an impact on the whole country. As I mentioned earlier, we are living in the shadow of the transitional constitution of 1978 but also we are divided still by the memories of the 1936-39 civil war.

But the Asamblea gives is the space in which we can discuss and debate. Some of the debates are heated. We have no party structure and so we are not obliged to maintain a party line outside of group. We describe ourselves as ‘critics of the system’ with an active interest in social issues. When the Asamblea was set up four years ago it drew on the experiences of the 15M movement, the trade unions, feminism and Spanish social movements. Our biggest obstacle to building an activist movement among the Spanish community in Prague is apathy. But we remain committed and optimistic and are building slowly.

DY: You’ve lived and worked in Prague for eight years. Could you comment on feminism and the prospects for a left opposition in the Czech Republic.

AG: We are pushing a rock uphill. I was politicised by the anti-war movement in Spain against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was then drawn to demonstrate against the education ‘reforms’ of the People’s Party in 2004, however, it was feminism which really brought meaning to my political activity. Here, there is a local suspicion of feminism, socialism and politics in general. Politics is seen by many as the realm of crooks and swindlers. Politicians are routinely denounced as corrupt – but rarely convicted. Largely, this is because since the end of Stalinist rule in the country in 1989 political parties such as the Social Democrats (CSSD) have no community based campaigns and there has been no attempt to build civil society organisation such as trade unions and little effort in building a grass roots feminist movement. The Asamblea has made a conscious attempt to bridge the divide and to make contacts with local groups. One of the outcomes of this policy was the March the 8th Coalition (Koalice 8 Brezna) which brought together Czech and non-Czech feminists and activists to build an effective demonstration for International Women’s day this year. We hope we can go on and emulate our sisters in Spain before too long.

Asamblea abierta de Praga

March the 8th Coalition/Koalice 8. brezna


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