It was January 49BC. Julius Caesar, who had been governor of the province of Spain, was now the the governor of a region that encompassed southern Gaul and Illyricum. With the period of his governorship ending, he was ordered back to Rome and to disband his army. He didn't. Instead he took the 13th legion across the Rubicon, an act that was considered to be insurrection and treason. As the army marched across the shallow river, he supposedly uttered the words "alea iacta est" - the die is cast.
When was the Rubicon crossed? Was it on 1 October when the referendum was held? Was it when independence was declared? Was it when they started sending people to prison? The story of the Rubicon has come to mean the point of no return. The die is cast. There is no going back. Carles Puigdemont spends his time in Brussels coffee houses and on foreign television. He will eventually come back, but is there any going back for him, for Catalonia, for Spain? Puigdemont, the Catalan Caesar, sought for insurrection and treason.
At the time when it looked as the chief of the Mossos, Josep Lluís Trapero, might be sent to prison, I remarked to someone that it would represent a crossing of the Rubicon. You don't start sending people to prison. Regardless of all that has happened and is happening, once that step is taken, moral authority begins to crumble. Legal authority may apply, but this is not the same as moral authority. Especially not in supposed western democratic societies.
And under whose authority? Do we praise the independence of the Spanish judiciary in pursuing prosecutions of a type unheard of since the failed coup of 1981? Can we compare the insurrection of Antonio Tejero Molina with that of Carles Puigdemont? Or has this independence been compromised, as has been suggested on previous occasions? Is there some justification in the characterisation of those incarcerated as political prisoners? Western democratic societies don't do or shouldn't do political prisoners.
José Miguel Monzón Navarro goes under the stage name of El Gran Wyoming. He fronts a show on La Sexta that looks at the day's news. He walked off set the other day, saying that he refused to continue with the programme. "I will not continue presenting it until Spain returns to sanity." Oriol Junqueras and others had been sent to jail. For El Gran Wyoming, the Rubicon had been crossed. He did, however, return a few minutes later.
His statement and action was nonetheless meaningful. Spain has been gripped by an insanity. It is the underlying madness which refuses to mature and to cast aside the past. It constantly hankers after its history. It is incapable of adjusting to democratic realities, even after forty and more years. I'm not defending Puigdemont, I'm not defending independence, but I am defending the cause of democratic maturity. Both sides are to blame for their juvenile behaviour.
But attaining this maturity, it seems increasingly clear, is inhibited by the very democratic fundamentals of the Spanish (and Catalan) political system. Puigdemont, the accidental president, a creation of his own belief in independence, might nevertheless chosen not to have crossed his own personal Rubicon. To what extent was he hounded towards a defiance of the Senate by the consequences of political alliance and the need for support from sources that veer in the direction of anarchy? To what degree was he pushed by the timeline from Artur Mas and his misjudged election that was held in an attempt to shore up declining popularity because of austerity policies and by his subsequent reach for the independence lifeline in order to save him?
We can all play the history game of centuries and decades past, but there were far more recent dynamics that unleashed the eventual insurrection. And these dynamics, reflected for example in the Balearics, have exposed proportional representation as a device for the tyranny of the minority. In the Balearics, Més in Menorca, with their all but fewer than 7,000 votes at the last election, recognised the independent republic of Catalonia. They are beyond contempt for their inflated sense of self-importance.
But this is how it is. And now that the Rubicon has been crossed, is the die cast for all time? Where is the going back? The metaphor with Caesar ends with the very act of crossing the river. Caesar marched on Rome. Puigdemont is marching nowhere other than to a likely prison cell, a further martyr to a process for which both he and Rajoy are ill-equipped. He got to the other side, only to stumble backwards, drowning in the shallowness of the springs of democracy.