Catalonian Quest for Independence is Undeterred

In an interview with Consortium News, an independence leader and member of the Spanish parliament tells Attilio Moro that Catalonians are not finished seeking separation from Madrid.

By Attilio Moro
in Barcelona
Special to Consortium News

Freedom for the political prisoners,” read banners hanging on hundreds of balconies from Placa Catalunya to La Ramblas, and from the Vila de Gracia to the Gothic Quarter. They were calling for freedom for the many grass roots activists demanding independence from Spain who were arrested. And for the freedom of Charles Puigdemont, the ex-President of Generalitat de Catalunya, who was arrested in March by German authorities. A German judge rejected Spain’s extradition request on July 19. He would face rebellion and sedition charges if he returned to Spain. 

Puigdemont had escaped to Belgium the day after the independence referendum on October 1, 2017 with Spanish police on his heels. Madrid’s secret service agents then hid a GPS tracker on the car he was traveling in from Helsinki, where he had attended a conference, back to Brussels. He is now in Hamburg, under surveillance by the German police.

Eight ministers of the dissolved Catalonian government (vice-president Junqueras, Joseph Rull, Dolores Bassa, Meri Borras, Joaquim Forn, Charles Mund, Jordi Torull, Raul Romeva) are all being held in a Madrid prison, under accusation of having threatened the integrity on Spain. Seven independence leaders and intellectuals escaped to Scotland and Holland to avoid  arrest.

No weapons or violence were used when these leaders organized the overwhelmingly successful independence referendum, which Madrid argued violated the Spanish constitution. The arrests were made to prevent the referendum from being implemented.

Puigdemont: Wanted in Spain.

Earlier this month at the headquarters of the Partit Democrata, one of the two big independence Catalan parties, I met Sergi Miquel, an independence leader and member of the national parliament.

My generation had never seen these kind of measures being taken, we thought they belonged to the past, to the Franco era,” he told me. “But all of this is happening instead today in Spain, in Europe: democratically elected MPs and governors being arrested and detained for political reasons. The sentence will come in autumn. They risk up to thirty years in prison.”

I asked Miquel whether the new Spanish minority government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will be more willing to compromise than the former prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

In two years time there will be fresh elections in Spain, and none of the political parties will even talk to us, in order not to lose the Spanish voters who are against us,” Miquel said. “Our leaders may even receive an exemplar punishment. Much will depend on Europe: the EU should stop turning a blind eye to this flagrant violation of democracy and human rights happening in its territory.”

On July 9 Sanchez and Quim Torra, Catalonia’s premier who took over from Puigdemont, met in Madrid, trying to revive dialogue. They agreed to restart meetings after seven years between Spanish and Catalonian ministers. And they discussed the possibility of jointly commemorating the terrorist attack in Barcelona last August. But Sanchez was adamantly against Catalonia holding a new independence referendum.

‘Independence Awaits’

Miquel: ‘Our path is set.’

I asked Miquel what can be done in the meantime for the Catalan prisoners. “Unfortunately not much,” he said. “Since last March the families of the prisoners have been given just one days’ travel to see their relatives for 45 minutes in a Madrid prison. We ask – and humanitarian organizations should join us – that they at least be transferred to a prison in Barcelona. Of course we hope for an amnesty, since no serious crime has been committed. We hope that the new government, after next election, will be formed by the Socialist Party and the political group least hostile to us, Podemos.”

Miquel did not rule out the Catalonian government organizing a new referendum on independence, despite the arrests, and the violent crackdown against voters the first time. “We can suffer losses and drawbacks, but our path is set,” he said.

Miquel said even seeking more autonomy from Madrid, at least in the short term, would be difficult.

We would be ready,” he said. “But the Spanish government will not concede this. On the contrary, they are slowly eroding the little autonomy we managed to achieve over the past 50 years. The Basques today are much more autonomous than us. We want our right to self-determination to be recognized in Spain and Europe. We know that the process will be long and complex. We will have to confront other difficulties, arrests and rights violations. But we know that at the end of our path, independence awaits.”

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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20 comments for “Catalonian Quest for Independence is Undeterred

  1. Paora
    July 28, 2018 at 3:45 am

    Catalunyan ‘Independence’ may be a misnomer in the current European context. While it’s hard not to be sympathetic to attempts to break away from the dead hand of Francoism, the space for any kind of radical transformation will be severely circumscribed by the neoliberal strictures of the EU. Athough the rise of Podemos has stalled in recent years, an alliance with the ‘least hostile’ force may be the only option for Catalunya to avoid being trapped between the intransigence of the Spanish Right & the neoliberal prison of the EU. A new socialist & federal Spain would have the economic weight to take on the EU, with help from Euroskeptic governments in Italy, Hungary etc if they are willing to hold their nose & work with the Right. Should the attempt to force a new settlement on the EU fail, Spain could walk away (possibly leading others out of the EU) & forge new economic ties with China, Russia etc in a way that a much smaller Catalunya could not. The people of Scotland face a similar dilemma in choosing between fleeing the ruins of tbe British Empire for the tender mercies of the EU, or throwing in their lot with Jeremy Corbyn & his radical project of transformation. While there are no easy answers to questions of national self-determination (see Vlad Lenin & Rosa Luxemburg’s disputes of 100 years ago), there can be no true independence without a reckoning with Imperialism. The Kurds of Syria are finding this out to their cost.

  2. doray
    July 27, 2018 at 8:50 am

    I wish Alaska could have done the same thing when it tried, but Joe Vogler of the Alaskan Independence Party wound up dead deep in the bush right before his trip to the UN to talk about it.

    It’s difficult to break away from a country once that country thinks it owns you, even if it cheats to gain its ownership.

  3. July 27, 2018 at 7:03 am

    !!! Visca Catalunya !!!

  4. Judy Smith
    July 27, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Dear Sie/Madam
    You need to correct part of the information here as the prisoners HAVE been teansferred already to prisons IN Catalonia.
    Kind regards
    Judy Smith

  5. eyesopen
    July 26, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Yep. This article is rather dated.

    Comienza el traslado de los políticos presos a las cárceles catalanas: así será el camino
    https://www.abc.es/espana/abci-sanchez-acerca-politicos-presos-como-gesto-distension-cataluna-201807030402_noticia.html

  6. eyesopen
    July 26, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Spain has several culturally and socially distinct regions with different languages than “castellano”. The attempt to impose “Madrid” on the rest of Spain has been a weakness of Spain for many centuries and remains in a vestigial “Franco-dictatorial” form in current right-wing political parties in Spain (Partido Popular and Ciudanos).

    Spain should adopt the highly successful Swiss model for dealing with such a structure – it now has almost 800 years of success (since 1290). The Swiss have 4 official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansch), and 26 Kantons that are in a confederation where they in principle are sovereign nations and have the right to seceed from the national government. Goverment is HIGHLY decentralized and the majority of governmental functions (education, welfare, etc.) are reserved for the local/kantonal level as opposed to the federal/national level. The national government NEVER has a single party with a majority in Parliament (usually coalitions of 3-4 parties) and has a President position that rotates yearly to different parties (it serves mainly to provide a figurehead for dealing with foreign visitors). A key characteristic of the Swiss success has to do with the fact that the Swiss have had NO monarchy or nobility and that direct democracy is used at both national and kantonal levels, i.e. citizens can demand a referendum to revoke or change decisions made by politicians.

  7. Bwana Dick
    July 26, 2018 at 2:57 am

    Overwhelmingly successful referendum!!!!? What kind of irresponsible propaganda is this. Less than a 50% turnout. Referéndum organized, monitored, managed, and participated in only by pro-independence groups. Results counted by pro-independence groups. Referendum not sactioned, verified nor considered legitimate by any outside monitoring agency. Referendum deemed illegal by the organizers own legal advisory body. Why isn’t it mentioned that the majority of Cataláns DO NOT SUPPORT INDEPENDENCE NOR THE ANTI-DEMOCRATIC METHODS BEING USED BY THE INDEPENDENTISTAS TO PAINT THEMSELVES AS VICTIMS. The real victims are the unionists who are intimated, insulted, harrassed, and marginalized constantly by a fanatic minority.

    • eyesopen
      July 26, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      The most recent polls indicate that a majority of those who answer want independence for Cataluña.

      Sondeo: Casi mitad de catalanes es partidaria de la independencia – 20 Julio, 2018
      http://www.izcanal.org/internacionales/sondeo-casi-mitad-de-catalanes-es-partidaria-de-la-independencia/

      Los resultados de una encuesta elaborada entre el 23 de junio y el 14 de julio por el Centro de Estudios de Opinión (CEO) y divulgada este viernes indican que un 46,7 está a favor de la independencia de Cataluña (noreste de España), un 44,9 % está en contra, un 6,7 % no lo sabe y un 1,6 % no contesta al respecto…..

      …. Al preguntar por el sentimiento de pertenencia, el 34,9 % de los catalanes se siente tanto español como catalán, el 25,5 % más catalán que español, y el 25,3% solo catalán, mientras que el 4,4 % solo se siente español y el 5,6 % más español que catalán.

    • LA
      July 31, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      I agree with you Bwana. Although I have not been keeping up with these events of late, I believe that there was no consensus with the ‘independence movement’ itself in more recent discussions. It is surprising that Catalan separatists garner more outside support than the incomparably more justified Palestinian cause. The Catalan movement has never been a majority, and have indeed used anti-democratic methods and propaganda throughout, including the full duration of the 22 years I lived in Spain and knew them from the inside. In addition, they consist of an alliance of convenience between the ultra-corrupt right wing ruling party (whose leaders have been successively deposed) and the far left anarchist CUP who, not surprisingly, cannot establish a common vision.

      Catalunya has been an integral part of Spain since 1492, and any close look at this history quickly reveals the bogus nature of the ‘historical argument’. The unification of Spain as a nation was one of the earliest in Europe and has nothing to do with Franco. The whole ‘Franquismo’ argument is equally bogus as Spain grants about the highest degree of autonomy to its regional governments of any state in Europe and enjoys a multi party political system with right to general strikes, equal time in debates, right to demonstrate. Spain, in fact, just impeached Rajoy and voted the social democrats back. We Americans should worry much more about our own lack of political freedom and the suppression of democracy right here at home.

  8. Ken
    July 25, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    “No weapons nor violence were used when these leaders organized the overwhelmingly successful independence referendum”- certainly so concerning the voting Catalanes, while the state police used violence and oppressive force against the unarmed, passive voters who nonetheless prevailed.
    The oligarchy know well that a homogenous, faceless citizenry is much easier to control than those retaining an identity independent from the robotic, techno-consumer scheme instated across the globe.

    Kudos to the German judge.

  9. July 25, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    I don’t agree with a lot of this article. I live in Barcelona and I know what is happening to the average citizen. The independista movement had become as fascist as those they accuse if not more. It is not a socialist war against oppression, it is a class war and Catalunya is divided. The country has become more xenophobic and closed and the immigrants are trying to move away. Those against independence keep quiet. After 4 years of living here I have less and less sympathy and I am a good socialist, which is why I find what is happening divisive and backwards. OUr children are denied the possibility to learn sufficient Spanish in schools and Latino immigrants are not integrated at all. I don’t think what is happening in Catalunya can be compared with any of the old soviet states. A lot of Catalans colonised central america and brought back a lot of sugar money, but they don’t like to talk about that as their unresolved trauma is passed down through parents and schools. A big factor is that they resent paying taxes to support poorer parts of Spain and they think they are superior.

    Most of my friends here are children of Andaluz and Galician families (Franco moved them there to work). Blood is very mixed and over half the people really don’t want this, it is another manipulation just like Brexit.

    If you want I can send you some interesting blogs written by people living here, not Italian journalists who may have travelled a bit but evidently knows nothing about Catalunya.

    Bit disappointed with this. If you want I can write you a much better piece straight from the heart of things and telling the truth.

    • August 1, 2018 at 6:16 am

      “… from the heart of things and telling the truth.” Let me tell you that your view is as biased as that of the guy next door and you know it, otherwise you would not insist so much on your truthfulness.

      And your lesson of history concerning colonisation of Central America by Catalans is just laughable, if you will permit me.

      Most of it is basically trollish, IMHO. Very much in the line of the Spanish rightist view.

  10. William M
    July 25, 2018 at 11:26 am

    “Cessation movements” have always been in place and we will probably see more and more of them come to the light of day as the years roll on. As the movement towards border-less states, global government, gains more steam, so will the movements towards self determination on the parts of supposedly included territories and populations. Whatever the State may have in the way of technology or weaponry, it is powerless to shut down an idea in place. The final dissolution of the USSR comes to mind, or for that matter, the areas within our own U.S.A. where people far from the seats of government simply go on as they always have.State governments pass laws restricting firearms,for example, yet their rural populations go on as before, local sheriffs simply telling the people in the State capital that there is no way that their rulings can be enforced. It is not until a group or political movement comes forth with a demand to set up another and separate national entity that the greater nation of which it is a part.feels compelled to take some kind of punitive action.Not only do a great number of Scots feel that they want to be free of the U.K., many Englishmen would like to think in terms of “England ” again and people in Up-state New York consider themselves to be a different people from those in NYC or Albany..

  11. Jeff Harrison
    July 25, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Well, they’re at least consistent. Crimea can’t (according to the EU) determine their political fate and neither can Catalonia. So there’s no hypocrisy here … except, of course, for Kosovo and the UN charter which proclaims political self determination.

    • ToivoS
      July 25, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      Good to bring up Kosovo. The Catalonian nationalist immediately realized the significance of the EU’s support for that move. And the Russian people of Crimea have used that precedent to justify their separation from Ukraine. The Scottish nationalist also have pointed out the Kosovo model. And it was Bill Clinton who made that happen — as bad as he was at least he left behind a precedent that nationalist movements can use today.

      • Jeff Harrison
        July 26, 2018 at 10:48 am

        Actually, Crimea has never been a part of the Ukraine (as it has traditionally been called – the border which is what Ukraine means) the Crimean Tatars are a Turkic people who bedeviled the Russian Tsars for centuries. Ukrainians are Slavs, you may know them better as Cossacks with all that name implies. The reason why they’re “together” at all is because Khrushchev stuck them together in the same oblast. An oblast is simply an administrative district in the old Union of Soviet Sociable Republics. It’s amusing that we want to keep something alive from the old SovU. More to the point, it’s purely an administrative, not a real connection. An analog might be that both St. Louis, Mo and East St. Louis, Ill are in the St. Louis statistical metropolitan area. That doesn’t make East St. Louis part of either St. Louis or Missouri.

    • July 25, 2018 at 5:54 pm

      The EU won’t support Catalonian independence but they(and the U.S.) had a major role in the breakup of Yugoslavia, even before Kosovo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waEYQ46gH08

    • Nina Tatlock
      July 25, 2018 at 8:29 pm

      I met a man from Barcelona whose family was against Independence, so there is that too. He said the supporters of Independence are usually from outside the city. He also seemed sincere in his desire to remain part of Spain.

    • July 26, 2018 at 8:20 am

      you cannot compare Catalunya with ex soviet states …. that is crazy.

  12. Dunderhead
    July 25, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Whether mercantilist or socialist the predatory state Will not abide cessation movements, when the hand gun or rifle was the last word in weaponry self-determination was much more viable for a minority population, the current state of Technology Will not allow for this, though perhaps the next generation of weaponry made bring us full circle.

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