The year is 1500 and Jesus Christ returns – to the city of Seville in Spain. There he performs a sequence of miracles, whereupon he is arrested and hauled before the Grand Inquisitor, as imagined by Ivan Karamazov – a character from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1880 novel, The Brothers Karamazov.
In his infinite mercy he walked once again among men, in the same human image in which he had walked for three years among men fifteen centuries earlier.
Surprisingly the aged Grand Inquisitor is decidedly unwelcoming to the putative messiah, warning him that ‘man seeks to bow down before that which is indisputable, so indisputable that all men at once would agree to the universal worship of it.’ There can be no muddying of the message; this interloper cannot be permitted to renew the Christian gospel.
He resolves to hide the true Christ’s identity from the masses, ‘for this time we shall not allow you to come to us’, and intends to burn him as a heretic. He acknowledges: ‘We shall deceive them again, for this time we shall not allow you to come to us. This deceit will constitute our suffering, for we shall have to lie.’
The Grand Inquisitor holds those under his power in low esteem: ‘never will they able to share among themselves.’ Instead they should marvel at their rulers: ‘man seeks to bow down before that which is indisputable, so indisputable that all men at once would agree to the universal worship of it.’
In addition, he adds, ‘we will allow them to sin, too; they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin.’[i]
Five centuries later in Spain, a new breed of Grand Inquisitor sits atop the judicial tree, sending out an indisputable message, insisting on the territorial unity of the state under the rule of corrupt men, who appear to see women as ‘fair game’, and where left-wing and secessionist parties are subjected to espionage and fake news stories calculated to discredit them.
For the past year, nine Catalan leaders have been incarcerated before being tried on charges of violent rebellion for the crime of holding a peaceful independence referendum. A leaked text message from a leading Partido Popular (PP) senator claimed a proposed carve up with the Socialist government of judicial appointments, which would see the trial’s presiding judge, Manuel Marchena, being made president of the Supreme Court would allow conservative forces to dominate the judiciary ‘through the back door’.[ii] Legal experts in Spain say that a guilty verdict seems a foregone conclusion, with a draconian sentence of up to twenty years in prospect.
Moreover, bizarrely, the Far Right party, Vox, has been permitted to act as a third ‘people’s prosecutor’ along with the public prosecutor and state’s council.[iii]
The treatment of the Catalan leaders is in marked contrast to the leniency shown towards a group of men, coincidentally from Seville, calling themselves ‘the wolf pack’ who appear to have gang-raped a woman during San Fermin – the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.
In April 2018, all five were acquitted of rape, but found guilty of the lesser crime of ‘sexual abuse’. This came down to a fine point of law: as the men had not used violence to coerce the woman into the act, the crime could not technically be categorised as sexual assault, a crime which includes rape. The men were thus sentenced to nine years instead of the twenty-two to twenty-five years sought by the prosecution.
On June 21st, however, there was another twist as the five men were released from jail on bail, pending an appeal against their sentences. In their decision, the judges said the men’s ‘loss of anonymity’ through the trial made it ‘unthinkable’ that they would attempt to flee the country or commit a similar crime.[iv] Or perhaps: “they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin.”
Most recently, Spain has been rocked by allegations of spying directed against the left-wing Podemos party and prominent Catalan nationalists. This surveillance was not justified by suspicion of any crime – it was simply the ruling party using the organs of state security to wage a dirty trick campaign against opposition parties. High-ranking officials in the Interior Ministry granted residency to a Venezuelan man in April 2016 in exchange for documents purporting to show the existence of offshore bank accounts belonging to its leader Pablo Iglesias and other Podemos leaders.
Although these payments were revealed as bogus, the information was, nonetheless, circulated throughout national media, at a time when Podemos and the Socialists (PSOE) were negotiating over a possible government coalition.
Recordings have been leaked featuring a police officer saying that whether the evidence is good or bad doesn’t matter, the only thing important is to be able to accuse Podemos of illegal party funding from Venezuela.[v] It was carried out in a way similar to how fake Swiss bank accounts were used to discredit the Catalan independence movement. In other words “We shall deceive them again, for this time we shall not allow you to come to us.”
As the rest of Europe stares goggle-eyed at the Brexit drama, a more sinister drama is being played out on the Spanish stage, where three Grand Inquisitorial parties – the Partido Popular, Ciududanos and the Far Right newcomer, Vox, compete with one another in their vilification of Enemies of the One, True Spanish State – “so indisputable that all men at once would agree to the universal worship of it.”
[i] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, London, 2004, Vintage Classics, pp.248-259
[ii] Eoghan Gilmartin and Tommy Greene, ‘The Republic on Trial’, 19th of February, 2019, The Jacobin, https://jacobinmag.com/2019/02/catalan-independence-trial-elections-referendum, accessed 29/4/19.
[iv] Meagan Beatley, ‘The shocking rape trial that galvanised Spain’s feminists – and the far right’, April 23rd, 2019, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/23/wolf-pack-case-spain-feminism-far-right-vox, accessed 29/4/19.
[v] Eoghan Gilmartin and Tommy Greene, ‘Assassinating Podemos’, April 11th, 2019, The Jacobin, https://jacobinmag.com/2019/04/podemos-spying-pablo-iglesias-psoe-elections, accessed 29/4/19.