Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 07:49:46 PM EST
I was barely 5 years old when, to quote a song by satiric band La Trinca, "Dictatorship broke into the [Prime Minister] investiture session [of Parliament] without an invitation". My mother has never been too political, so she spent the evening reading and listening to music, and went to bed without knowing what was up (I seem to recall), but my more political father was teaching the evening classes at a secondary school not far from the Parliament building, so he and others went over to demonstrate in front of it. He says that there was a counterdemonstration of coup supporters, and that at some point the police came over to the democrats and politely announced that they had received an order to charge on the demonstrators so could they please leave, which they did. I don't know whether he says or I am inventing that no such warning was given to the fascists :-)
Anyway, shivers ran down the spine of half of Spain yesterday because, on the occasion of the Spanish Military's Christmas celebration (Pascua Militar), the head the army warned that the army might intervene if the Spanish Parliament approves a version of the Catalan Autonomy Statute going beyond the Constitution's limits.
Update [2006-1-8 19:32:11 by Migeru]: After the goverment's swift reaction the issue has died equally swiftly in the media, which is a good sign.
La Vanguardia: A military commander warns that the army must intervene if the Estatut [Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy] exceeds its limits (2006 January 7)
[Defence Minister] Bono will dismiss lieutenant general Mena, whom he has called to a meeting in Madrid today. The general considers it "beyond measure" that [the Estatute] demands [that those serving in Catalonia know] Catalan.
The highest authority in the Ground Forces, lieutenant general José Mena Aguado, yesterday threatened an army intervention if the Estatut is approved in its current terms. The defence minister, José Bono, has called him to [a meeting in] Madrid this morning.
Lightning dismissal. On the proposal of the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Félix Sanz Roldán, the defence minister José Bono, will dismiss today the highest authority of the army's Ground Forces José Mena Aguado, who yesterday in Sevilla threatened an intervention of the armed forces should the reform of the Estatut be carried trough in its present terms. In an event taking place on occasion of the Pascua Militar, lieutenant general Mena warned of "the serious consequences that the approval of the Catalan Statute in its present terms would have, both for the armes forces as an institution as well as for the people that make them up". In this sense, he added that, should the Constitution's limits be exceeded, "article 8 of the Constitution would be applicable", and he added further that "it is the mission of the armed forces to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain, [and] defend its [territorial] integrity and constitutional arrangements".
(Full text of the speech
, via El Mundo, and relevant excerpts
via El Pais)
What makes this speech all the more serious is that it was effectively made in lieu of the King, who as Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces delivered a very different speech in Madrid:
La Vanguardia: The King recalls once again the consensus of 1978 (2006 January 7)
The Pascua Militar is celebrated in Madrid with no direct references to the Estatut and in a climate of moderation.
The celebration of the Pascua Militar at the Royal Palace in Madrid was of a marked institutional character, without alluding to the Estatut de Catalunya. King Juan Carlos plaised the values and the currency of the 1978 Constitution and the defence minister dismissed [the possibility of] comparing the [current] political situation to the fratricidal Spain [of the 1930's].
That it's not a surprise does not make the reaction of the right-wing People's Party less astonishing.
La Vanguardia: The PP justifies the military man's words and sees them as inevitable in the face of "the situation we are living" (2006 January 7)
Nationalist parties criticise the pronunciamiento of the military man and IU demands his dismissal.
The PP avoided criticising general Mena and justified his words by saying that they saw them as "inevitable" in the current political situation and "a reflection of the situación we are living". Nationalists and IU demanded disciplinary measures such as his dismissal.
Meanwhile, the president of the Catalan regional government stays cool...
La Vanguardia: [President] Maragall says Catalunya trusts the the King's and [Prime Minister] Zapatero's Spain (2006 January 7)
Pasqual Maragall said today that Catalunya sees with "calm and trust" the settling of "Spain [as a] great nation" [as described] by the King and the "pluralistic Spain" of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, despite the "potential threat to democratic normality" that, he said, the words of lieutenant general José Mena represent.
Fortunately, the Chiefs of Staff reacted strongly against Mena.
El Pais: The head of the military leadership requests that the Lieutenant General from Sevilla be dismissed for his assault on the Statute (2006 January 7)
Bono calls Mena Aguado to his office for mentioning the possibility of an Army intervention
The statements on the possibility that the Army intervene if the Catalan Statute goes beyond the Constitution, made yesterday by the lieutenant general for Sevilla, José Mena Aguado, caused a tense political controversy. The military leaddership itself stepped in front [of him] when they asked for his immediate dismissal. As Mena made these statements, described as "inadmissible" and even "coup-like" by Catalan and Basque nationalists, the defence minister José Bono made a speech in Madrid before the King, on the occasion of the Pascua Militar, in which he said congratulatorily that Spain is beyond "sabre rattling". The PP asserted that in the frame of the controversy over the Statute "it is inevitable that pronouncements all all kinds are made".
General mena is now under house arrest for eight days (El Pais), but there have been mixed reactions from the military.
La Vanguardia: Bono orders the home arrest of the lieutenant general who charged on the projected Estatut (2006 January 7)
At the meeting with Bono and Sanz, Mena asserted, according to military sources, that with yesterday's speech he wanted to express his own feelings, as well as opinions that he had received from some underlings, and that he did not think they would have such repercussions.
The president of the Association of Spanish Military People Asociación de Militares Españoles, José Conde Monge, was of the same opinion, and applauded today the lieutenant general's words and criticised that Bono has sanctioned him "for defending the Constitution".
The retired colonel praised Mena's military career and stressed his courage to "say what he had to say" in the face of "a dangerous situation, that politicians won't see and that can lead to putting aside the Constitución and even dismembering Spain".
The members of the Unified Assciation of Spanish Military People (AUME) don't share the same opinion, and they showed their support for the disciplinary measures adopted [by Bono] as well as praising the swiftness with which Sanz Roldán acted.
A spokesman for AUME pointed out that Mena "exceeded his limits", rejected his words, because "democracy has its own places to express opinions and make politics, outside the military" and considered that the problem resides in part of the military brass, "which is conniving with a certain political party".
You can't say it any clearer than the AUME, can you?
If you read Spanish, this issue is being followed at Ignacio Escolar's blog, which comes highly recommended.
Update [2006-1-8 19:32:11 by Migeru]: After the swift reaction of the govenment, and of the Armed Forces themselves, the issue has died out in the press as quickly as it flared up.
La Vanguardia: Decisive gesture (Editorial, 2006 January 8)
During these long months of debate on the _Estatut_, the controversy has been followed with special attention from the barracks and several Catalan political leaders have even had a chance to know the real pulse caused by the discussion. Very probably, Mena's reflections enjoy some [favourable] reception in parts of the army and hence it is important that the Government's response and its Defence minister as been of democratic firmness, sanctioning such a highly ranked member of the military with measures without precedent since the far times of 23-F. The opposition has requested that Bono appear before parliament to explain the feelings within the armed forces. It seems reasonable. But this does not exclude that Rajoy still has pendin a rebuke of those who these [past] days, speaking for the PP, have found an explanation to the words of the General now under arrest
It does seem, as both ManFromMiddletown and KCurie have pointed out in the comments, that the biggest loser in all of this is the right-wing People's Party. I think they have earned themselves a diary ;-)
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