Two very interesting talks were given last night as part of a series of history talks at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, Dublin. The theme was black civil rights in the USA and Catholic civil rights in the Six Counties of Ireland (‘Northern Ireland’ according to some).
Joe Mooney of the East Wall History Society introduced the speakers and chaired the question-and-answer session afterwards.
The session opened at 8pm and Cecilia Hartsell had a lot of ground to cover. She spoke on the history of the Civil Rights movement of blacks in the USA, going through the history of seminal events, illustrated with Powerpoint slides and recordings of two White House phone calls between President JF Kennedy and Ross Barnett, Governor of Mississippi and key figure trying to prevent the historic enrollment of James Meredith, a black man, into the University of Mississippi.
Recalling that in the first two years of his term, JF Kennedy had little to say about black civil rights but was focusing on other issues,Cecilia Hartsell somewhat undermined the (incorrect) image we tend to have in Ireland of Kennedy as an ardent civil rights fighter. In fact he was enforcing Federal legislation on equality and trying to go slowly, while the black campaigners were pushing the agenda along and white racist reaction was holding the USA up to international ridicule and opprobrium during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
When Brian Hanley took the floor for his talk he fairly zipped along, which he does very well. Hanley undermined some myths or wrong impressions too. Early organisers of the civil rights marches and other events such as the Dungannon house occupation were Irish Republicans; Loyalists had killed four people before the first Civil Rights march. The rhetoric of SDLP and Labour Party notables was much more militant in the early years and Fine Gael was agitating more about issues of discrimination in the Six Counties than was Fianna Fáil, the party in government. And FF had been pushing a referendum to do away with the proportional representation electoral system at the same time that the PR system was among the demands of civil rights campaigners in the Six Counties.
In the session for questions, answers and contributions later, Hanley pointed out that the Southern Democratic Party was the pro-slavery party historically and, after the Civil War, anti-integration and civil rights, whereas the Republican Party was anti-slavery (debunking another false image we tend to have in Ireland).
Both historians made the point that a hundred years is not as long as some might think (this is especially true in ‘historical memory’). The 1940s, when some historians would say, as Hartsell told us, is the date from which to date the renewed fight for black equality in the USA, as surviving black soldiers returned from WWII, was only 80 years from when Federal troops were withdrawn from the former Confederate states. The partitioning of Ireland had been carried out less than 50 years before the Civil Rights protests broke out in the Six Counties, Hanley reminded his audience and many Catholics still lived who remembered vividly the fierce repression that had accompanied it.
It also emerged that albeit there were many similarities, there were also profound differences between the two movements. The black campaigners in the USA were saying that they were citizens of the USA State and demanding the same rights as other citizens, they often marched with the Stars and Stripes flag and even called for the intervention of US troops to defend their rights. The Catholics marching for civil rights in the Six Counties mostly saw themselves as Irish citizens and would never march with the Union Jack. Some did call for the intervention of British troops but many did not; it was mostly Irish troops they hoped would intervene.
The importance of the presence of news photographers at events and their covering in newspaper reports and on television broadcasts was an important factor in both struggles.
Cecilia Hartsell did not feel that the Black Power movement could have survived Southern racist repression in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s and most of the big gains on desegregation of education, public transport, eateries and voter registration and effective right to vote in the Southern States were won during those years with peaceful marches and pickets and legislation (which however were met by much racist violence, including a number of murders). By the time the Black Power movement was coming on to the political stage, so was the Vietnam War and huge changes were taking place in the US, including many mass violent struggles on race and other issues.
TERMINOLOGY AND DEEPER MEANING
Wikipedia: “Though often used in history books to refer to the seven states that originally formed the Confederacy, the term “Deep South” did not come into general usage until long after the Civil War ended. Up until that time, “Lower South” was the primary designation for those states. When “Deep South” first began to gain mainstream currency in print in the middle of the 20th century, it applied to the states and areas of Georgia, southern Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, north Louisiana, and East Texas, all historic areas of cotton plantations and slavery. This was the part of the South many considered the “most Southern”.”
“Later, the general definition expanded to include all of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and often taking in bordering areas of East Texas and North Florida. In its broadest application today, the Deep South is considered to be “an area roughly coextensive with the old cotton belt from eastern North Carolina through South Carolina west into East Texas, with extensions north and south along the Mississippi”.
“Lower South” probably originally referred to its location on the typical north-orientated map of the USA. But I speculate that “Deep” has another meaning – a deeper psychological one, in fact. It suggests that this is a place difficult to understand for people not from there, which means most people. Different rules apply there, we might believe.
I speculate further that after the initial first years of the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties, that area and the people living in it came to be seen as “different” too. Of course, it was different in that it was a colony (as had the whole country been only 50 years earlier) and that it was run along blatantly sectarian lines, the Catholics a minority there, unlike in the rest of Ireland. And of course, people in a different environment respond differently. But they were still people and the substantial Catholic minority were so clearly oppressed in a statelet into which the Irish ruling class had delivered them. For many people in the 26 Counties it became easier to think of them as somehow foreign in a foreign kind of land, hence my description as “Deep North”.
THE SPEAKERS (as posted by EWHG)
Cecelia Hartsell is a researcher of American history. She has been a contributor to the RTE History Show and Radio Kerry on topics in U.S. history and frequently gives U.S. history talks for the Dublin Festival of History and in the Dublin Public Libraries. Cecelia has a Masters degree in U.S. history from Fordham University and a Masters degree in History from UCD.
Brian Hanley is an historian and author. He is currently a Research Fellow at the School of Classics, History and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh . He has lectured at a number of major Irish universities and was Historian in Residence at Dublin City Library and Archives . His books include “A Documentary History of the IRA, 1916-2005” (Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 2010) with his most recent being “The impact of the Troubles on the Republic of Ireland, 1968-79: boiling volcano?” (Manchester University Press, 2018).
NEXT HISTORY TALK
There will be another talk in the series next week when Dr. Mary Muldowney will present a talk on “The 1918 Election – the Woman Who Stood for a Worker’s Republic.”
Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Mallachy Steenson, Irish Republican and practicing lawyer, on Friday 7th June addressed a Dublin meeting on The Right to Protest, convened by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.
The origins of the Anti-Internment Committee and the Right to Protest
Opening the meeting and speaking for the organisers, the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee, Diarmuid Breatnach welcomed the attendance, introduced the Committee and related how it had grown out of a previous committee, to have Marion Prices released from prison, which had been partially successful (she was released pending trial but her health was destroyed). She and a number of other former Republican prisoners who had been released under license under the Good Friday Agreement, such as Martin Corey and more recently Tony Taylor, had their licenses revoked and were brought to jail without a trial or the right to challenge whatever evidence the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland claimed to have against them. Some considered this a form of internment by some and the Anti-Internment Committee had been set up in June 2013.
Breatnach emphasised that the Dublin Committee had always been and remained — attempts at takeover and accusation notwithstanding — independent of any other organisation and committed to reaching decisions in a democratic manner and conducting themselves in a principled manner towards other organisations. The Committee organises the annual Anti-Internment rally in Newry and holds more-or-less monthly pickets in different parts of Dublin, which anyone is welcome to support, he told the audience.
Although the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee updates a list of Republican prisoners in jail and also raises issues about the human rights of Republican prisoners such as right to education and art work, appropriate medical treatment, release from solitary confinement and on occasion about miscarriages of justice such as the Craigavon Two, nine years in jail now – nevertheless the true focus of the Committee is on issues of internment.
Introducing other areas of repression by the states on both sides of the Border which the Committee considers to be types of internment, Breatnach outlined the practice of refusing bail to the accused or of making bail conditional on the individuals removing themselves from all political activity. When the accused justifiably refused to accept these conditions, they were jailed, only perhaps to be found not guilty two or three years later, as had been the case with Stephen Murney. But still having effectively served a jail sentence.
“The right to protest is everywhere under attack” stated Breatnach and declared that maintaining that right was necessary for the winning and maintaining of a wide group of basic social and political rights, from practicing one’s sexuality or religion, or indeed criticising the Church, to forming a trade union, going on strike and marching against unjust laws or measures. Breatnach bemoaned the apparent inability of a number of Republican groups to unite in defence of this right and of Socialists in uniting with them even on this most basic of levels. “We can either stand together or fall separately” he said.
Internment is used by states against political opponents, said Breatnach, recalling that the British had used it in Ireland after the 1916 Rising, the new Irish state had used it during the Civil War and again during WWII under De Valera; the British in the Six Counties between 1971 and 1975.
Internment is a means of “removing unwanted members of the public”, Breatnach said, quoting the words of anti-insurgency specialist Brigadier Frank Kitson, who had been present during the repression of the Malayan resistance and also an operational Commander in Ireland from 1970-1972, years which Breatnach reminded his listeners were those covering the introduction of internment and the massacres of civilians in Ballymurphy and Derry.
Referring to the infamous “Heavy Gang” of the Gárda Síochána whose brutal methods had extracted false confessions on the Sallins Mail Train robbery from socialist republicans in the 1970s and from the family in the Kerry Babies case, Breatnach recalled the formation of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties at that time and that it had been a campaiging organisation unafraid to challenge the State on its repressive actions. Sadly over the years the organisation had fallen away from that path, he said and he was particularly glad to welcome Liam Herrick of the ICCL to speak at the meeting and in the hope that the organisation was returning to its roots.
LIAM HERRICK, ICCL: The Right to Protest and the work of the ICCL.
After the applause, Liam Herrick thanked the Committee for having invited him to speak. He wished to list some of the efforts in which the Irish Council of Liberties was engaged and also to hear from the audience some of the problems they were encountering.
Briefly covering the early years of his organisation, Herrick related that it had been formed as a response to police repression, mostly of Republicans but also of some Socialists, and in particular due to the activities of the Gárda unit known as the “Heavy Gang”, by academics, activists and lawyers. It had taken up early cases of the ill-treatment of detainees, the use of the Offences Against the State Act, repression of protesters of the Ronald Reagan visit including the case of Petra Breatnach in 1984 and Water protests in the mid-1990s, also in the street-traders’ protests in which Tony Gregory was prominent.
The issue of the right to protest and State repression had come up again a number of times including in 2002 against the Anti-War Movement with the use of the OAS Act and in particular with the Reclaim the Streets protest in 2002, in which video recording of police actions had revealed the extent of police brutality without any arrests. Similar problems had been encountered by protesters at the 2004 EU Council meeting in Dublin, and water canons had even been imported by the State from the UK and widescale repression and had come up again at the Corrib Shell protests.
The ICCL had in 2014 published “Know Your Rights” booklet. And had called for a root and branch review of procedures for dealing with protests, noting that there existed a major gap in rights and policing process and has published a publication by the title of “Take Back the Streets” and has made submissions to the EU and the UN on how states should not just tolerate but manage and create conditions to facilitate the right to protest. The ICCL is part of a network which includes the ACLU in the US.
“If Notifications to the authorities are required should be minimal and reasonable”, Herrick said and gave the contrary example of African Jews who wished to protest against Israeli measures but were charged a 25,000 dollars as a cost of the application for permission.
Police should have a chain of command to deal with protests and be trained not only in weapons and control movements as they are at present but also in de-escalation, in engagement with protesters. Their internal Garda policies should be available to public access but are not.
Herrick said journalists should be facilitated in having access and only just employees of big media organisations but alternative media and individual bloggers whose coverage is often essential to understanding the incidents at an event (in the Reclaim the Streets event such sources were the only source on the Garda violence). There should be restrictions on the use of force as is law and police in Northern Ireland, whatever people might think about practice on the ground, Liam Herrick said. The PSNI every 6 months have to submit a report to the Policing Board which details incidents o the use of force. In the Irish state Gárdaí don’t have to make any report on the use of force which is remarkable in the European context – the use of pepper-spray would seem to be increasing here but no records are available..
Surveillance is an issue and of course can intimidate and have “a chilling effect on protest”, Herrick said. In England face recognition technology is being used which apart from questions about its accuracy, is intrusive. Also trapping of mobile phone activity in the vicinity of a protest. Data collection is an issue and there should be no database on protesters maintained; covert agents have been used and in some cases become personally involved with those they were surveilling – a recording procedure is needed. There needs to be an independent complaint process as the existing process in Ireland has been shown to be inadequate.
At the moment the ICCL is involved in discussions on Gárda reform and the following Friday would be producing a document on Human Rights Policing which people are welcome to read. The international perception is that the law and policy of the PSNI is good, without making any comment on their practice on the ground. The Gardaí should publish a report on their handling of protests every year including statistics (despite the problems on drink-driving statistics) on arrests and the use of non-lethal weapons.
The Gardaí in Ireland have a national security function and there needs to be a discussion on this – in many other countries a separate body is responsible for this. But no legal body is overseeing the operation of the Gardaí on national security or the powers they exercise.
Liam Herrick concluded to applause and Breatnach told the audience that questions could be asked of him and of the next speaker after the conclusion of the latter, then introducing Mallachy Steenson to welcoming applause.
MALLACHY STEENSON: Republicans and the Right to Protest
Mallachy quoted the right to protest under Article 41 of the Constitution of the State under which document however Republicans would not support.
Moving on to suppression of protests Steenson referred to the most frequently used being the Public Order Act, justification which depends on the subjective view of a cop and is therefore virtually unchallengeable. The result is usually a fine but the use of the Offences Against the State Act is much more serious. In the 1950s there were many arrests of Republicans under the section which prohibits a demonstration within a certain distance of the Dáil and Section 30 was widely used.
Steenson pointed out that almost any gathering of Republicans consitutes some kind of protest due to the basic opposition to the State of Republicans. Funerals are usually protests too, partly in solidarity with the family, partly with movement but also of making a stand and, in the case of the ten dead 1981 Hunger Strikers, in solidarity with their Five Demands.
Steenson believes that most of the protests that occur in the state will be allowed because the they don’t threaten the state from the “trendy liberal side”. For example the housing protests including activist occupations are permitted but when a house was occupied in Charlemont Street and in preparation for moving in a family three years earlier, armed police removed the occupiers.
“The State takes a different view of Republicans” Steenson declared. Referring to the 2016 Sinn Féin Easter 1916 commemorations, Steenson wondered whether they remember their history because the 76th anniversary of the Rising commemoration (1992) was banned and people on the platform arrested. The 66th anniversary commemoration had been beaten off the street in Dublin and people arrested for “membership”, including his own father and others.
“What we have is mostly controlled dissent”, Steenson said. “People remember the Birmingham Six” but are not aware that their campaigners here had their homes raided by police, their jobs visited by the Special Branch, threatened and often lost their jobs.
“What has happened in Ireland is a privatisation of dissent,” Steenson said. “They are funded by the State and he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
The only ones who could really carry out a successful protest in Ireland were the farmers who here, as in France, had no hesitation to block roads and motorways and dump slurry at the Dáil, Steenson declared. The only other really effective protest that hurts the State is the withdrawal of labour as in a general strike – which should have happened when the banks were bailed out — but the trade union movement in Ireland works hand in glove with the State.
“Republicans are well-used to surveillance” Steenson went on to say with a reference to “the new MI5 Garda Commissioner” who declared upon coming into office that the biggest threat to the State is the armed ‘dissident’ Republicans, which Steenson commented were no real threat to anyone except themselves.
“The State is built on the defeat of the Republic,” said Steenson and therefore naturally Republicans are its enemy. Referring to the water protests and their suggested victory, Steenson opined that the success was only due to Fianna Fáil changing sides and he believed that the USC (Universal Social Charge) should be the main object of protest which takes much more out of people’s pockets.
In 1972 the British Embassy in Dublin had been burned in protest at the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Steenson declared that too was managed by the State, having a national Day of Mourning, allowing people to blow off their anger at the sacrifice of a building and listed other protests he believed had been managed or controlled by the State, including the medical cards for the elderly.
People should be able to go to protest without asking the State, Mallachy believed and asked what is a valid protest, referring to gathering protest against the expected visit of Trump while that of Clinton in Dublin passed quietly by without protest. “What is it about Trump?” asked Steenson. “If it’s about killing people, Clinton killed many more. If it’s about treatment of women, well we all know Clinton’s record on that.”
The real problem impacting on most working people is drugs, Steenson said, and the gangs involved in it. Families Against Drugs had been a big campaign but some of the activists were in it to get funding. “People should separate their political activism and their job,” Steenson declared. “We need to move away from having paid groups organise protests”, Mallachy said. “Most protests now are during the week,” he added, “because activists don’t want to interfere with their weekends.”
“We need to look at what is an issue and what is effective”, he said and talked about empty houses and the way housing protesters in the 1960s and ’70s not only occupied them but moved homeless families into them.
“During WWII we didn’t intern Germans or English here”, Steenson commented, “we interned Republicans.”
“Protests will be allowed as long as they don’t threaten the State”, Steenson said, coming to a conclusion and the only ones organising protests that threaten the State are Republicans. He posed the question whether democracy is any use to working people, because it had not brought them much.complained too about police being masked and said that in a normal society you would not have that, nor armed police everyday on the streets. He commented also on the degree of video surveillance used by the State which could track people from leaving the door of the building all the way home.
“Gardaí are there to protect the State, not to protect the citizen, whatever combination of political parties are in government,” he told his audience. “To them and to the State, Republicans are the enemy. That’s just the way it is.”
CONTRIBUTIONS AND QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
After the applause following Steenson’s talk, Breatnach opened up the meeting to contribution or questions from the audience, asking them to keep them brief and telling them he was going to take questions in groups and the speakers could choose to which to reply.
An audience members spoke about the level of repression from Lurgan RUC/PSNI and how eight people had been charged and their bail conditions were not to associate with one another but two of them live near one another.
A contribution declared that Drew Harris being appointed as Garda Commissioner was equivalent to a railroad to jail and related a case of an elderly woman being persecuted in Rossport.
Another directed a question specifically at Liam Herricks about treatment of people in some of the rural courts where protesters were being very badly treated.
An Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee activist said that usually they don’t get much trouble from the Gárdaí but more often from the private sectors, from private security personnel when they protest at a business as part of the solidarity campaign. And the Bank of Ireland had closed their account, which caused the organisation considerable difficulty. He wondered whether this was the State’s influence under pressure from the Israelis or others, or instead the banking company under pressure from the same sources or from financial sources. Or whether it was part of the general “de-risking” measures people talked about. The Cuba support group had suffered a similar problem.
Relating his contribution to issues of surveillance, one person described a car journey from an event for about two hours across Dublin, after which he stopped at a fast food takeaway facility. He had felt followed earlier on and when the Garda came in behind him in the takeaway with the usual harassment, he confronted the officer and asked him how had followed him all that way. The Gárda pointed to cameras above on street poles and said: “We don’t have to follow you, they do.”
Another person related how “membership of an illegal organisation” is being frequently used to jail Republicans under the OAS on the word, without the need to display any proof, of a Gárda senior officer.
He thought he had heard of one case where it had been used against a gang member and wanted to know were there any others that the speakers knew of?
Neither had heard of any and Mallachy commented that next year the OAS will be 40 years old. Liam Herrick referred to a piece of research carried out by Nuala Ní Fhaoláin at the UN.
A Polish and a Catalan separately expressed their solidarity with Irish people struggling against repression, briefly alluding to their own struggles and the Polish person mentioning the recent arrest and jailing of a comrade of his in Turkey.
As there were no further questions or contributions, Breatnach thanked people for their attendance, the speakers for the talks and audience members for their contribution and asked for contribution towards the rent of the room. “This is not the beginning of a broad campaign to defend human rights or if it leads to it, it will not by our Committee leading it,” said Breatnach, adding that no doubt they would be happy to contribute to such a campaign. Urging people present to keep in touch with internment issues through the End Internment Facebook page he stressed once again the need to unite across ideological divisions against State repression.
A number of public meetings in Dublin about similar issues followed the one above in quick succession, no doubt coincidentally:
A meeting as part of the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 15th September on “State Violence and Cover-ups: Community Responses” heard from a speaker on police infiltration of campaigning groups; from Anne Cadwaller of the Pat Finucane Centre (also author of the “Lethal Allies” exposure) about colonial police and British Army collusion with Loyalist murder gangs; and from Hilary Darcy about what might be considered legitimate reforms to be pursued by revolutionaries.
A public meeting in Abolishthe Special Criminal Courts campaign was held on 17th September and heard from international and Irish speakers.
In addition five days after the Right to Protest meeting, masked Gardaí brandishing batons and pepper-spray cannisters assisted a masked “security team” in evicting housing campaigners carrying out a symbolic occupation of an empty building, drawing protest statements from Liam Herrick on behalf of the ICCL to be followed, most unusually, by Colm O’Gorman on behalf of Amnesty International. Five or six housing protesters were detained and at least one was injured..
A few days after that, Gardaí turned up with machine guns and a battering ram to a house where a couple were in dispute with their landlord, leaving when supporters of the couple arrived.
People outside the Mexican Embassy in Dublin on Wednesday evening remember the 43 students and call for justice.
A short but moving event was held in Dublin yesterday evening (Thursday 26th September) to remember the 43 Mexican students made to “disappear” in Mexico by the authorities or in collusion with them on 26th September 2014. The students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were kidnapped while they were taking part in an annual commemoration of the Tlatelolco Massacre (of 300-400 students and other civilians by police and military on 2nd October 1968, less than a fortnight before the opening of the Olympics in the city that year). They are widely believed to have been murdered and a supposed investigation by Mexican State authorities petered out without a result.
The event last night was organised by the Mexico Ireland Solidarity Collective (MISC) and Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC). Sunflowers as a symbol of hope were placed in the railing of the Mexican Embassy in Raglan Road, Dublin and ribbons in the Mexican colours of green, white and red were also tied there. The names of the 43 “disappeared” students were laid on the pavement in front of the Embassy which, like the embassies of a number of other states, is located in a quiet upper-middle class area south of the Grand Canal. Few people passed the remembrance event and staff leaving the Embassy did not stop to talk to the gathering except for the last two who greeted them politely and took a photo of the display.
A spokesperson for MISC said that the event is organised every year so that the people are not forgotten.
People took turns to read the name of each of the 43 from their cards and the traditional “Presente!” was called out after each one, signifying that alive or dead, they are present with us, remembered.
A statement was read and some verses from Woody Guthries’s Plane Crash at Los Gatos were sung and then a long silence was observed, which ended with a call for “Justicia!”
This is a short report of very interesting interview of Spain’s Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, who is both a Catalan and a convinced Spanish unionist.
He says that
§ he would rather have the Catalan political prisoners released on bail;
§ Catalonia is a nation, not a region (but does not have the right to self-determination in violation of the Spanish Constitution);
§ there is no automatic international right to national self-determination and
§ Scotland does not have the legal right to hold a referendum without the permission of the UK Parliament (for which he provides a very convincing argument).
Borrelll is no friend of Catalan independence (he would hardly have been chosen by the Spanish Government as its Foreign Minister if he were) and has made some very disparaging remarks about the movement (liking it to “an infection”) and some individuals. He is no democrat either. However it is interesting that he is prepared to express a difference from Spanish Government policy.
His remark about Scotland will not be liked by many Catalan independentists who are fond of quoting Scotland and the referendum there as a model. But I think he is correct, both in his explanation and the situation at the time. It seems to me that the British conceded a referendum, expecting it to fail. It did fail but the result was closer than they expected. But, like self-determination of the occupied Six Counties of Ireland, any vote in favour would have to be ratified by the UK Parliament.
The main difference between the UK and the Spanish State on this is that the UK allowed a referendum but expected it to lose. The Spanish State will not permit a referendum because they know it would succeed.
The Catalan activists, politicians and intellectuals need to stop looking elsewhere for easy examples for comparison. They would be much better served, in my opinion, by examining the general history of imperialist-colonialist states against the struggles of subjugated nations and of course the history of the state in which they find themselves.
No imperialist or colonialist state has ever given up what it considered its property without resorting to violence. When that desire for separation and independence comes from a part of what it considers its own base, the resistance is even stronger and violence highly predictable. And the history of the Spanish State itself? Violent acquisition of all of its neighbouring lands –until Portugal broke away and stopped at the French border (another major thief). Violent suppression of peasants and workers and the overthrow of two democratically-elected Republican governments, followed by violent repression. War conducted against the Basque independentists. The Spanish state will use much more violence than it did on October 1st last year, repressing the Referendum on Catalan independence. The only questions are § when and
§ will the Catalans be prepared for it.
Catalans made a good showing Sunday in Dublin to mark their national day, La Diada. The official date is actually the 11th but this was the closest weekend day to it, when people would not be at work. In Catalunya, of course, it will be celebrated on Tuesday.
The event was organised by the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) in Ireland and was supported by a number of other organisations, including representation from CDRs in Ireland (Committee for the Defence of the Republic), Casals Catala (Catalan cultural association) and the Irish Catalan solidarity organisation, With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin. It took place outside the iconic General Post Office (HQ of the Irish rebels in 1916 and which still bears the marks of British bullets and artillery shell fragments) in O’Connell Street (Dublin’s main street).
The two independentist flags, the Estelada and the Vermelha were both very much in evidence, along with a banner in Irish and English, streamers calling for “Libertat”, T-Shirts of various kinds displaying identification with the Catalan national movement and/or solidarity with political prisoners. In addition there was a Basque Antifa flag flown. The event was held in a friendly atmosphere with a number of supporters having brought their children and, whether by design or happenstance, there were no speakers. The Els Segadors (The Reapers), the Catalan national anthem was of course sung as were a couple of others and a number of tunes were played on the gralla (Catalan reed instrument with a loud sound).
Last year the Diada was celebrated in a number of Catalan cities and with up to a million participating through the streets of Barcelona in a demonstration for Catalan self-determination, in a lead-up to the Independence Referendum carried out on October 1st, in defiance of Spanish Government prohibition and which was savagely attacked by Spanish police. The ANC there, a grass-roots organisation, was the major organiser of the Diada, which is no doubt a major reason why its President, Jordi Sanchez i Picanyol, was arrested by the Spanish Government and, along with others, faces charges of “rebellion” and has been in jail without bail since October.
Subsequently the Catalan Government, an independentist coalition, declared the Catalan Republic and then immediately suspended it. The elections in December returned a majority once again for independence.
Catalans in Dublin have also promised to commemorate the Catalan referendum of October last year.
This year the Diada demonstration in Barcelona, convened under the slogan “Fem la República Catalana” (“Let’s Build the Catalan Republic”) is expected to attract at least a million participants and there will be demonstrations in other Catalan towns too and many other cultural events in addition to marches and rallies. Although the event is organised well and people participate peacefully, the Spanish Government is reputedly sending 6,000 Spanish police – a move which will inevitably be seen – at least by Catalans — as provocative or intimidatory. And indeed evoke memories of Catalans trying to vote in the Referendum last October being batoned by Spanish riot police, as well as dragged, kicked, punched and shot at with rubber bullets (banned in Catalonia).
As the Diada was part of the build-up in the Catalan national movement last year, so it will be this year, although there is currently no plan for another referendum (Catalan political leaders have offered to hold another one but the Spanish Government has replied that would only be permitted if it did not lead to independence but instead to some greater extension of autonomy). Nor is there a prospect of elections this year. Meanwhile, the jailed cultural and political activists await trial without bail, others are in exile and hundreds more face charges. And the the aspiration for independence remains unsatisfied.
ORIGINS OF THE DIADA
Dates to celebrate the nation, except when they are those of patron saints, are usually chosen to commemorate an important event in the history of the nation – and not always a happy one. The Diada is one of the latter, commemorating the fall of Barcelona in 1714 to the forces of the French Royal House, the Borbons, after a 14-month siege, with the subsequent removal of Catalan laws and national rights. In a struggle between different pretenders to the Spanish Crown, the Catalans had chosen the losing side. The Irish, having made a similar ill-starred choice twice when the British Parliament overthrew its King, first with Charles I (Stuart) and later with James II (also Stuart), may well sympathise.
Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera banned the commemoration and subsequently, with the inauguration of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, the Catalans opted to side with it while gaining national autonomy from the Government. However the military uprising against that Republic became what is usually known as the Spanish Civil War and Catalans fought to resist Franco. When Catalonia fell and Franco’s dictatorship was installed, the Catalan language was banned as were any demonstrations of independent Catalan national feeling, which however did not totally prevent some gestures of defiance annually on that day. The Diada has now been celebrated publicly in Catalunya every year since 1976, the first September since the death of Franco.
Readers are welcome to skip through the text to a section which is of particular interest to them (see Section Headings).
This account concentrates on the development of recent events in Catalonia and in response to events there; past history from prehistory through medieval times and even the detail of the 1930s war against fascism are omitted here but a 10-minute video included in the LINKS section may prove instructive and useful.
I have written this from a distance, in touch with Catalans at home and abroad, reading news reports and comments, viewing video footage etc. but not physically there on the ground.
What is happening needs to be viewed against the backdrop of history in general and that of the Spanish state in particular, while at the same time allowing for the particular nature of Catalonia and the people there.
A note about Terminology:
The word “independist”, whether as noun, adjective or adverb, does not exist in English, although its correspondent does in a number of other languages, including Castillian (Spanish) and Catalan: independentista. In English, one has to say something like “pro-independence movement, person” etc which grows tiresome after awhile, “independentist” seems too long for easy use so I am using “independist” here throughout and would not be surprised to see it become an accepted word in the English language. “Nationalist” will not do, since not all nationalists are for complete independence and socialists who are for complete independence would reject the description “nationalist”.
The Iberian Peninsula with the exception of Portugal is usually referred to by people abroad as “Spain” and as a “country” too. Although there are a number of ways of understanding the term “country”, such discourse tends to favour the Spanish nationalist conception that the whole territory is Spanish with some merely regional differences, to account for the culture and language of such nations (or parts of nations) under their control as Euskal Herria (the Basque Country), Catalunya and the Països Catalans, Galicia, Asturias etc. In order to get over that problem of description, many among those captive nations refer to the whole territory as “the Spanish state” and I have done likewise.
However, what to call the State itself then, the executive administrative arm of the Spanish ruling class and its various arms? “Government” will not do, since different parties run the Government at different times but the State remains. I call that also the “Spanish State”, with a capital “S” on the word “State” in this case.
Introduction (and Note on Terminology)
Geographic and Cultural Background of Catalonia
Economy of Catalonia
The Independence Movement in General: Introduction; a) Support for Independence; b) Opposition to Independence
Support for and Opposition to Catalan independence elsewhere in the Spanish State
Attitude of the EU to Catalan Independence and the current crisis
Ideology, Strategic Aims and Tactics within the Independist Movement
Ideology and Preparation
Appendix A: Political Parties Background
Appendix B: Video of Spanish police raids on September 20th and Catalan resistance
Geographic and Cultural Background of Catalonia:
Located on the north-east and Mediterranean coast of the Spanish state, Catalonia is a region within the Spanish State with a population of a little over 7.56 million. With its own language and culture, Catalonia is also part of the wider Països Catalans (Catalan Countries) which include Perpignan (south-south-east in the French state), Valencia and the Balearic Islands (east of the Spanish state); in all of these the Catalan language or a version of it is spoken (as well as Spanish in most – French in others). Catalan belongs to the Romance group of languages (which include the state languages of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian). Catalonia is considered by some a nation while others consider it only part of the wider Països Catalans nation.
Catalonia now has a Govern (government) of limited autonomy but it has a long history of being independent or of striving for independence and has for centuries been suppressed by the Spanish kingdom and the Catalan language restricted; after the Spanish Civil War/ Anti-Fascist War and the defeat of the Catalan forces along with the elected government of the Spanish State, the Franco dictatorship forbade any use of the Catalan language anywhere. The language is widely spoken now, especially within Catalonia where all but a tiny minority of education establishments teach through the medium of Catalan and it is being brought into use in all public services. However it is still forbidden to use it in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) and some Spanish unionists continue to resist its usage in public services and education within Catalonia.
Economy of Catalonia
“With 7.45 million people, the region accounts for 16% of Spain’s population. Its €215.6bn (£191bn) economy, larger than that of most countries in the eurozone, generates more than one-fifth of Spanish GDP, while Catalonia’s exports of €65.2bn represent more than one-quarter of the national total. At about €37bn, foreign investment in Catalonia accounts for more than one-quarter of inward investment to Spain.
“Catalonia also has lower unemployment and generally less income inequality than the rest of Spain. At 13.2%, the region’s jobless rate contrasts favourably with the 17.2% for the country as a whole.1 GDP per capita is not Spain’s highest, but it is higher than the national average, while inequality is lower. Catalans are more likely to feel well off than Spaniards as a whole.”2
The Independence Movement in General — Introduction
For some years the independence movement in Catalonia has been gathering strength and momentum. After a number of initiatives in Catalonia and continuing arguments with the Spanish State (Government and Courts), including questions regarding the powers existing under the Statutes of Autonomy, elections for the ‘autonomous’ regional government in 2012 returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and they formed an independist regional Govern (Government). This Govern passed legislation on a number of issues: universal health care (including for migrants); social welfare housing and domestic fuel; protection from eviction for rent or mortgage arrears; tax increases on high sugar content fluids, big companies and big tourist establishments; abolition of bullfighting; tolerance of cannabis-growing associations; environmental protection.
However Spanish courts ruled that these legislative measures transgressed Spanish state legislation and could not therefore be enacted.
In 2014 a number of forces came together to hold a symbolic, non-binding referendum. Organised mostly from the grassroots and with Spanish Government and Catalan unionist denunciations and threats ringing in their ears, on 9th November 2014 over two million people took part, with the vast majority of them voting in favour.
A decision was taken by the Catalan Government with support from grassroots political and cultural associations to hold an official referendum within Catalonia to determine whether the population wished for independence or not. The Spanish State declared this would be illegal since the Spanish Constitution forbids the separation of any part of the territory except by majority decision of the Spanish Parliament (where the Catalan elected members will always be in a minority).
The independist Government proceeded to organise a referendum. As the date for the referendum approached, Spanish police (Guardia Civil) on 20th September 2017 raided Government and other buildings looking for ballot boxes but found hardly any. Another Spanish police force, the Policía Nacional, besieged the Barcelona offices of the CUP but were held off as its officers demanded a search warrant they were unable to produce. The police offensive brought tens of thousands of Catalans on to the streets to protest and to resist the attack (see Appendix B for film of the whole event).
A few weeks later, on 1st October 2017, as people queued up to vote in the Referendum, many having slept in the schools to be used overnight, the Guardia Civil stormed polling stations, confiscated ballot boxes, batoned voters and demonstrators and fired rubber bullets at them (though the use of these had been banned in Catalonia3).
From the ballot boxes that people managed to remove from danger of police confiscation, a majority had voted for independence and, on this basis, the Govern declared independence on 27th October 2017 (though suspending the status almost immediately afterwards). The Spanish State arrested a number of politicians and cultural activists on charges of violent rebellion and misuse (embezzlement) of public funds to fund the referendum and detained them in Madrid without bail. It also sought the arrests of other politicians who had gone into exile in Europe.
In addition, the Spanish Government activated a measure in the Spanish Constitution, Article 155, taking over the powers of the Catalan Government and immobilising it, controlling its finances (actions which some consider not only oppressive but illegal and are preparing to challenge in court). In addition it forced new elections in Catalonia, even though the legal power to call these resides within Catalonia alone but to no avail: the elections, held in December 2017 once again returned an independist majority to Parliament.
Due to the numbers of Catalan politicians in jail or in exile and the Spanish State’s refusal to either allow them to be elected from jail or exile, or even to authorise a proxy, the independists in the Parlament were hindered in forming a parliamentary council and Government Cabinet or in electing a parliamentary Speaker and Government President. The independists put up alternative candidates — although one of the independist parties disagreed with that measure — and they were elected.
The two independist parties JuntsXCat and ERC, with 34 and 32 seats respectively, form the Catalan Government, with the CUP and their four seats in ‘confidence and supply’ support (see Background Political Parties in Appendix A). This gives the independist Government a majority of one vote over the opposition’s total of 65 votes in the 135-seat Parlament but, with CUP’s four votes in support-and-supply of the Government, the independists have a majority of five.
Spanish control of the Catalan Government is now lifted and civil servant posts emptied by the Spanish State have been filled again. The Catalan Parlament and Govern is functioning and legations abroad are at work. The arrested activists were expected to go to trial in September; currently they continue in detention but finally being moved from Madrid to Catalonia4 and, as this article was being completed, were stripped of their elected Deputy status by Llarena, the judge overseeing the trial (but their representation by temporary proxies is permitted).
The Spanish State continues to seek the extradition of exiled activists. The Spanish Supreme Court Judge Llarena has confirmed they will be tried on charges of Rebellion and has sought permission to try them in absentia – penalty up to 35 years in jail — and has reinterpreted what Rebellion means from organising and participating in an armed uprising to holding a referendum not approved by the Spanish state. In addition he blamed the police violence on October 1st on the independists. The Judge has also confirmed that they will be tried for “embezzlement”, viz. allegedly diverting 1.1 million euro from Catalan public funds to help run the referendum but nobody knows from where comes this figure (though it turns out to be one euro for every referendum vote recorded for independence). Llarena has also decreed on 28th June that each of the 14 accused of embezzlement must deposit their share of 1.1 million euro into a reserve in case of judgement given against them. Furthermore, each was given two days to do this with a potential penalty of seizing their personal assets (e.g homes) if they did not meet the deadline.
a) Support for Independence within Catalonia
The support for independence within Catalonia is difficult to quantify exactly but the referendum ballots counted in favour were 2,044,038 (92.01% of the total of 43.3% voting — however numbers and percentages are problematic since the Opposition called for a boycott of the referendum and the Guardia Civil seized a number of ballot boxes, closed polling stations and otherwise disrupted voting). In addition, in the December elections, this time with an undisputed 79.9% turnout, the total votes for the independistsamounted to 47.50 % of those cast and they elected 70 out of 135 of the Parlament Deputies. Reasons for voting for independence are likely to be considered and deeply-held, given that they are votes against the status quo; however the emotional element, for example of injured national pride, cannot be discounted.
Unlike the opposition, a substantial part of the independence support is grassroots and active, as with the cultural organisations Omnium and in particular the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and the political coalition of social activists which is the CUP. The ANC was the single most active body in organising the 2014 non-binding referendum and, along with Omnium, in organising the giant Diada (Catalan National Day) demonstration on September 11th 2017, which gave a huge push to the Referendum on October 1st. In fact, the ANC has been generally pushing the independence cart along, a point made by its new PresidentElisenda Paluzie, in a July 2017 interview with El Nacional.5
The workers’ movement is more difficult to analyse and evaluate. The two main trade unions in Catalonia are also the two major ones in the Spanish State: UGT and Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), probably accounting for 85% of trade union members in Catalonia. The leaderships of these two unions are generally social-democratic and Spanish unionist in outlook, UGT in particular being linked to the PSOE.
The Intersindical CSC is an independist and class union6 (i.e does not recruit members of State forces for control and repression) and in an April 2018 article in the conservative Spanish daily El Mundo, it claimed to have recruited an additional 520 members since October first, 40% of whom said they had left their respective unions because of the unions’ lack of support for the Catalan people. Intersindical is very small and at the time of interview claimed only 3,100 members but not only is it gaining members but spreading into new working areas. Intersindical and the student SEPC (Sindicat d’Estudiants dels Paisos Catalans) seem to be the only unions working in the independist movement, at the grassroots with mass organisations like the ANC.
Spokespersons for the two big Spanish unions admitted that they were losing some members because they were not supporting the independist movement but claimed they were also losing some who claimed their union was being too soft on nationalism. Both spokespersons claimed the losses were negligible in number and so they may be, in the context of the membership rolls for the Spanish state as a whole (and their declining membership generally throughout the state) but UGT was concerned enough to write to disgruntled members individually.7
While it is difficult to imagine what cause any member might have to accuse CCOO and UGT of being ‘soft’ on Catalan independism, the accusation might arise from the fact that the Catalan branches of both unions supported the October 3rd General Strike in protest against the Spanish police violence on October 1st, some workplaces only for a one-hour walkout to join the demonstration, although the unions’ headquarters had advised them not to do so. Independent unions had called the strike (ostensibly over economic causes as ‘political strikes’ are outlawed) and such was the level of public outrage at the actions of the Spanish police that even unionist-controlled unions in Catalonia felt obliged to join in.
Firefighter workers also participated prominently in demonstrations around the referendum on October 1st, acting as stewards and forming a barrier between the crowd and the Guardia Civil (and facing the latter), preventing or discouraging the Guardia from batoning or shooting rubber bullets at the demonstrators. Dockers too got involved, refusing to assist Guardia launches to dock and blowing car horns all night so as to render the police sleepless. How much the workers’ organisations in Catalonia may become part of the independist movement as a force remains to be seen.
The one-day general strike of October 3rd was a huge success (that appears to have been quickly forgotten, especially outside Catalonia) and showed the potential of the workers and mass of people in action. Hundreds of thousands participated in the action; major ports closed, major roads and motorways were blocked, bus and subways systems mostly stopped by 9.30 am, shops and stores closed, university classes were cancelled, major tourist facilities closed and the much-loved Barcelona football team joined the action. Demonstrators also went to stations of the Policia Nacional and denounced them, also congregated outside hotels accommodating the Guardia Civil and demanded they leave (some hotel managers did end up asking the police to leave).
The important failures were in not closing the airport and large industry, a reflection of control there by trade unions whose leadership are Spanish unionists. But that control slipped in many areas and those same trade unions in the cities found themselves obliged to support the strike and demonstrations, against the advice of their unions’ headquarters in Madrid, as noted earlier. The other hugely significant factor was that the strike was organised and planned in the first instance by independist trade unions of very small numbers, actively supported by the grassroots independist movement. And it moved quickly – just two days after the police attack on people voting in the Referendum.
Its effect on the Spanish State was also very noticeable: the Spanish Government declaring it illegal, the Minister of the Interior convening an emergency meeting and the King expressing his disapproval in a rare statewide speech – and yet no consequent arrests, clearly for fear of exacerbating the situation.
The fact that the November 8th General Strike was much less effective, despite its significant impact, and that the Mossos d’Escuadra (Catalan Police) in some places felt emboldened to remove protesters blocking roads (which they had not even attempted in October) only shows that the Catalan workers’ movement needs to develop further, to increase the authority of its voice. And it was also significant that the Catalan High Court (TSJ) dismissed a petition by the Foment del Treball Nacional employers’ group to have the strike deemed illegal (as a ‘political strike’).
Politically, the Independists are represented in the Parlament by three distinct parties: ERC, acronym for Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalan Republican Left), JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia) and the CUP (Candidatures d’Unitat Popular — Popular United Candidacies). It is thus an alliance across class lines, across Right and Left. The core of the JuntsxCat platform is PdeCat, a conservative and neo-liberal nationalist part at core but with many independist independents fronting it; ERC is currently an independist coalition with social-democratic leanings; CUP is also an independist coalition, a network of social and political activists of varied ideologies who until recently only intervened in municipal elections but with great effect. (for further information see Appendix A Political Parties Background)
Naturally there are some tensions between these different parties but they managed to cooperate in bringing the Referendum to fruition, after which the CUP began to criticise the Govern about the delay in implementing the decision for a Republic, also in yielding to Spain’s diktats and electing an alternative to Carles Puigdemont as President (even though he is not of their party). The ERC and JxCat had some difficulties in this period with one another (and even on one occasion some leading politicians of their own party) but they seem to agree with one another more often than they do with the CUP.
Currently the CUP is not part of the Government though they have a confidence-and-supply arrangement with it (i.e they will help to keep it in government against the attempts of the unionists [see next section]). One of their spokespersons in June 2017 accused the Cabinet of being “autonomist and autonomous”, i.e for autonomy rather than independence and also that they are autonomous from the popular movement, i.e not under its control. After much behind-scenes discussion on wording and content, on 5th July 2018, ERC and JxCat voted for the CUP motion calling for the Catalan Government’s social, environmental and financial legislation that was suspended by action of the Spanish State8 to be proceeded with and implemented, the motion passing by majority.
b) Opposition to Independence within Catalonia
The opposition to independence within Catalonia is also difficult to quantify exactly but the referendum ballots counted against were 177,547 (7.99%); however the opposition had called for a boycott by their supporters of the referendum. But in the December 2017 elections with an undisputed 79.9% turnout. the total undisputed votes for the unionists amounted to 43.45% of those cast and they elected 65 of the 135 Parlament Deputies. Reasons for voting for the unionists may range from genuine antipathy to Catalonian independence through apprehension about the unknown (or about the reaction of the Spanish State) to party loyalty.
In addition, there was 8.58% of votes cast for the En Comú-Podem platform, which because of their varied positions and equivocation, cannot be properly assigned to being in favour of either unionism or independism (but see further below and also Appendix A)
Unlike much of their opposition, most of the unionist bloc (i.e politicians wanting Catalonia to remain in union with the Spanish state) is not known for grassroots activism.
Politically, the unionists are represented in the Parlament by three distinct parties: Ciudadanos (Citizens), Partido Popular, PSC (Catalan version of the PSOE). In addition Comú – Podem, also known as “Comuns” (Catalan version of Podemos in coalition with some alternative Left) most frequently opposes the independist bloc (see Appendix A Political Parties Background for further information).
Like the independist one, the unionist bloc crosses the right-left political divide, i.e from the extremely right-wing Ciudadanos to some of the moderate left “Comuns” and what unites them is opposing Catalan independence. In fact there are those who say that Ciudadanos itself has little to offer apart from that opposition, while the “Comuns” on the other hand have a social program. But on the implementation of the progressive social, economic and environmental legislation which the CUP proposed, the Comuns voted only for a report by December, abstaining with the unionist bloc on the actual implementation vote.
Support for and opposition to Catalan independence elsewhere in the Spanish State
From the southern Basque Country there is strong support for Catalan independence since many there too want their own nation to be independent from the Spanish and French states. The Basque Country was the only region or nation that brought out a majority against the 1978 Constitution. Despite (or because of) the banning of the Euskera language and political representation, the nation carried out strong resistance to Franco’s rule. After the 1978 Constitution and the setting up of two partly-autonomous regions in the southern Basque Country, nationalist unity suffered somewhat of a blow but a significant section carried on cultural, political, social, industrial and armed resistance to Spanish rule. However the armed group has now surrendered its arms and dissolved and popular resistance is at a low ebb there at the moment.
There is support to be found for Catalan independence to various degrees of strength – but not at the moment by a majority – in the rest of the Països Catalans, the Canary Islands and the Celtic nations of Galicia and Asturias.
However, many fear that poor regions of the Spanish state — like Andalucia in the south, for example or Extremadura in the west — will suffer disproportionately if the Spanish state loses the revenue from Catalonia (and from the Basque Country). People agitating against Catalan independence often claim that the independists are motivated solely or mainly by Catalan greed to keep their own revenues. As part of this propaganda, the Catalan independence movement is portrayed in some quarters as led by bourgeois right-wing elements, ignoring all other aspects including the huge popular movement.
Attitude of the EU to Catalan Independence and the current crisis
In the early days of the wave of Spanish state repression from October 2017 onwards, many commentators in Catalonia and their supporters outside called for the EU to intervene to restrain the Spanish state and even seemed to expect it to do so. Very quickly in this situation, without once condemning the undemocratic acts and violence of the Spanish state against an unarmed people demonstrating peacefully, the President of the EU Junker made his position very clear when he stated a breakaway Catalonia might give others similar ideas and that he did not wish to see “an EU of 99 states”.
The EU is a bloc essentially run by the most powerful states. Leaving Spain out of the equation for a moment and now that the UK is exiting, two of those powerful (and large) EU states are France and Italy. Italy is vulnerable to secession or independist movements in Sicily and Sardinia, while France is vulnerable also to independist movement by the Bretons, the northern Basque Country, Pau in the Occitania region and Perpignan, part of the Països Catalans as well as in Corsica.
Although the Catalonian struggle will probably find support to one level or another from a number of parties with small representation in the EU, along with small EU alliances, and an occasional Eastern European state, one can hardly imagine a situation that would find the EU as a body or with its leadership condemning the Spanish State, let alone trying to force it to let the Catalans go peacefully.
Ideology, Strategic Aims and Tactics within the Independist Movement
The Independist movement is publicly united on the strategic aim of rupture with the Spanish state but as with such independist movements elsewhere historically it may be that some elements are more deeply committed to that aim than are others. Nevertheless, at the moment all parts of the movement seem to be moving resolutely enough in that direction.
The declared aim being an independent republic, the question arises, as with many movements in the past, of what kind of a republic? JuntsxCat is basically a Catalan neo-liberal capitalist party and has no intention of overthrowing capitalism and setting up a socialist state. The ERC is a republican party and despite its ‘Left” appellation and social-democratic approach is certain to compromise with Catalan capitalism and foreign imperialism. The CUP has consistently pushed for social programs and, though it may contain a variety of social and political attitudes because of its varied composition, is undoubtedly the most left-wing in its policy formulations and its practice. Accusations of lack of political realism of the CUP fail to take account of its growth in municipal elections and grass-roots campaigns and its decision to support JuntsxCat in the Catalonia for Yes Government while nevertheless obtaining the removal of its leader, Artur Mas, who had presided over Catalan police attacks on strikers and demonstrators.
Spokespersons of both JunstxCat and ERC (along with grass-roots organisation ANC) constantly emphasise their intention to employ, both currently and in future, exclusively peaceful methods and legal means. While a degree of this verbalisation could be attributed to tactical maneouvering the impression one gets is that it is more than that – that they truly believe that they will be permitted eventually to gain independence by relying exclusively on those means right to the end.
However, their beliefs are completely contradicted not only by the general historical experience of national liberation movements and of the working class but also by the specific history of the Spanish state. Imperialist and colonialist states do not lightly give up their possessions, nor do capitalist states contemplate the breakup of their territories with resignation. On the contrary, they resist such outcomes with armed force, not only because of the impact of the particular case of losing the breakaway nation but also because of the encouragement it gives to others under their control to do likewise (as well as to other capitalist states to take advantage of their perceived weakness).
In the case of the Spanish State, it is vulnerable to the breakaway in the first instance of Catalonia, followed quickly by the southern Basque Country provinces. The Països Catalans might follow soon and possibly also Asturias and Galicia. And perhaps the Canary Islands. In other words the Spanish state stands to lose quite quickly most of its northern lands including almost its entire border with the French state, followed by lands to the north-east including much of its Mediterranean coast, much of its Atlantic seaboard to the west and territories far out to the south, in the Atlantic. The total area potentially lost comprises nearly half of the current territory of the State. No Spanish ruling class could contemplate such an outcome without preparing a last-ditch defence against it, which in this case would necessitate a serious legal and military attack on the Catalan independist movement.
In the unlikely event that the Spanish ruling class should be prepared to risk such a political outcome as outlined above from the departure of Catalonia, there is the direct economic impact on the Spanish economy of Catalonian departure alone: Catalonia currently accounts for more than one-quarter of the Spanish state’s exports, more than one-fifth of its GDP and 6% of taxation income (it actually pays 20% and then receives 14% back for public expenses). More than one-quarter of foreign investment to the Spanish state goes into Catalonia. In fact, outside of Madrid, the two most economically productive parts of the whole Spanish State are precisely Catalonia and the southern Basque Country.
Now, to the specific composition and history of the Spanish ruling class. From a long history of imperial conquest starting in medieval times, the aristocratic and monarchical ruling class in the Spanish state suppressed regional and national uprisings ferociously and, even after a late incorporation of some capitalist elements, overthrew two democratically-elected republican governments. The most recent occasion was the 1936 military uprising led by four generals of the Spanish Army against the democratically-elected Popular Unity Government. At the conclusion of its victory (with considerable Nazi and Fascist assistance) over the popular forces, a fascist dictatorship followed from 1939 to 1978, characterised by fundamentalist Christian, Spanish nationalist and fascist ideology, with any democratic opposition of parties or trade unions and use of all languages other than Castillian banned and severe punishments for transgression.
It is important to note that unlike most of Europe, no part of this fascist ruling class was overthrown and, in fact, as a result of its appropriation of every section of the territory and state, it appropriated riches, industry, legal, media and educational institutions in addition to its political power. Many of those prominent in those fields today owe their positions to their fascist antecedents. The unbanning and incorporation of the PSOE and PCE parties, along with their respective trade unions into this cabal did little to change things for the regime and in fact the biggest change was the heavy contamination of the newcomers themselves.
Claiming that the only way to win is through peaceful resistance needs an explanation that is not forthcoming. Granted that the Spanish State will use violent resistance to its own violence as a justification for further attack but it has already attacked and continues to do so, classsifying peaceful resistance as “rebellion” and blaming the people for the violence of the police.
On the other hand, what can be the supposed benefit of an always peaceful resistance? That the Spanish state will cease out of feelings of guilt? That the police will be so ashamed they will stop beating and shooting at people? This is clearly not a belief justified by experience. What then? That the big powers in the EU will be so shocked that they will intervene? The Catalans have already had their reply on EU intervention and it is unreasonable to expect that to change.
The emphasis on peaceful and legal means and their trumpeted exclusivity in use is not only ahistorical and wrong with regard to the Catalan struggle (past and future) but lends itself to claims of Catalan exceptionalism and even to implicit criticism of the struggles of other nations (particularly within the Spanish state)9. This separation would not be to the advantage of the Catalan struggle, even in the mid-term.
The independist movement in Catalonia has achieved a majority: of numbers, of activists and of parliamentary deputies; however it cannot be said that the size of the majority is a comfortable one. Nevertheless, the unionist parties in Catalonia are vulnerable to loss of supporters if the independists can give them cause enough to cross over to their side, or at least remain in a position of friendly neutrality.
If in trying to win friends among the Catalan unionists the independists offer them concessions on independence or on what kind of a Catalan Republic they are going for, as some may well be tempted to do, they would certainly cut the ground (and grassroots) from under their own feet. What the independists can do instead is to improve social conditions for the working and lower middle classes, or at least to show that they seriously intend to do so. In that situation, many of the voting base of the unionist parties and in particular of Ciudadanos, will desert them, either to enjoy the relief they are being offered from unemployment, precarious work, high rents and evictions – or in rage at those who wish to prevent them availing of these benefits.
And of course the existing majority supporters among the independists will stand even more firmly with them, having evidence that they fight not only for principles and promises but for better social conditions for themselves and, in particular, for their children.
As noted earlier, the overtly political leadership of the independist movement is shared between two bourgeois political parties which are themselves coalitions. They are being urged on by a much smaller left-wing activist party which is also a coalition. The possibilities of fragmentation, of serious divisions about how to act in various situations must be considered high, particularly should the general situation become much more dangerous for the participants, as with a high level of Spanish police or army occupation (and the Guardia Civil are a militarised police force) of parts of Catalonia to exercise repression and State control.
The grassroots organisations of ANC and Omnium, though having lost their original leaders, have replaced them and certainly ANC is keeping the pressure on.
In the late 19th / early 20th Century James Connolly10 remarked that “only the working class remains as the true inheritors of Irish freedom.” He wrote this after pointing out that all other social classes in Ireland had something to gain from reaching an accommodation with British imperialism but that the working class, being a majority and not in a position to exploit anyone, had no interest or even possibility of gaining from selling out to imperialism (as the native Irish capitalist class did in his time and, arguably, has done since). Connolly’s statement is surely transferrable to Catalonia.
The organised workers of Catalonia therefore are not only a potentially strong force in the struggle for Catalonian independence, as evidenced by the October general strike’s success and its effect on the Spanish State – they are also the possible future leaders of the struggle, should they produce their own required leadership and organisational forms.
In such a situation, the independist movement will be in a much stronger position to call for support from workers elsewhere, whether in the Spanish state or beyond.
Other elements throughout the Spanish state may decide to a greater or lesser degree to join with Catalonian independence forces against the State — or at least to take advantage of the Spanish State being preoccupied with Catalonia — in order to advance their own issues, whether those be of nation, class or general disaffection.
Ideology & Preparation
There is no possibility of the Spanish state agreeing to self-determination for Catalonia but it may be prepared to make some concessions on for example taxation levels, degree of autonomy, etc. Those kinds of offers may be attractive to some elements in the Catalan independist camp and they may reach out for them, at which point the possibility of serious fracture may occur. The greatest safeguard against this is the augmentation of the Left11 and the working class influence within the movement.
The spectre of fascism may be raised in order to intimidate independists against pressing their demands and, indeed, fascists have been seen at work already. They never went away in the Spanish state and the system readily creates new ones. Again, resolute defence and militant action by the working and lower middle classes are the greatest defence here. But in any case, the Spanish state is a very different one from that which it was in the 1930s. Raising mass Christian and fascist movements cannot so easily be achieved in this time.
Given the nature and history of the Spanish ruling class and what it stands to lose, hard repression is its most likely reaction. If we accept that this is so, then it would seem obvious that the independist movement should prepare itself, mentally and physically, for this kind of offensive. The problem is that such preparations could be used by the State to accelerate its offensive while at the same time frightening the less resolute leaders of the movement into distancing themselves from the firmer elements or even denouncing them. I cannot say at this point how this conundrum may be resolved, only that I feel that preparation is necessary. At the very least, the Catalan movement would benefit from studying anew its own history and that of other nations in similar situations.12
The emphasis on legality in resistance needs to end if the movement is to face up to the struggle ahead. Legality is a transient thing and what is legal one day can be illegal the next (and vice versa). In addition the Spanish State has demonstrated not only that it writes the laws but also that it is quite capable of breaking them, of perverting them and of giving them bizarre interpretations. The concept of legality needs to be totally replaced by that of justification and in that, the need of the Catalan people to manage their own affairs, along with their decisions and mobilisations are more than justification enough.
Likewise the constant reiteration that the resistance is pacific in nature and must remain so needs to cease and also the statements that by depending on this tactic alone, somehow, mysteriously, the cause will be won. In saying this I do not mean that the moment has arrived when aggressive force needs to be met with defensive force, only that it will arrive and that when it does, the movement needs to be as ready for it as can be and open to as little confusion and division as possible.
Mass mobilisation remains of great importance. There is a need to continue the work of the independist movement in the Parlament and in foreign relations with parties outside Catalonia. But it is not there that victory in essence lies and therefore care must be taken that what happens in that area does not overshadow or hold up the mobilisations of the mass of supporters of independence. Mass demonstrations, local pickets and rallies, festivals and general strikes remain of key importance now and in the phases of the struggle to come. It is in those forms that the people truly feel their strength, rather than in votes and Parlament motions, or even in laws passed, no matter how important all those may be. It is also in action and in reflection on action, that the people learn the most and the fastest the lessons of struggle that they need to learn in order to take power – and to retain it.
JuntsxCat, on a popular vote share of 21.66%, returned 34 Deputies from the December 2017 elections. As noted earlier, it is an electoral platform, composed of people from civil society gathered around Carles Puigdemont but the core remains PDeCat (Partit Demòcrata Català), a right-wing neo-liberal party with a record of attacking workers and popular demonstrations. In addition, in CDC (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya), PDeCat’s previous incarnation, its leader Pujol, was implicated in a corruption scandal, which was one of the reasons for the new name.
ERC gained 32 seats in the December 2017 elections for the Catalan Parlament out of 21.38% of the popular votes cast. A party with a long history, it recently formed a coalition with Catalonia Sí and other smaller groups and independents in order to stand in general elections and in 2012 it won 21 seats in the Catalan Parlament. In addition it has nine Deputies in the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes. A central part of the ERC’s aim is the independence of the Països Catalans from the Spanish and French states and it has representation in the Occitan Left party in Aragon.
CUP formed themselves from a network of social and environmental campaigners into a political platform to stand in General Elections only recently, in order to have a voice in Parlament. At their first General Election outing, in 2012, they gained three Deputies and in the 2015 elections, ten. Although in December 2017 their total fell to 4.46% of the popular vote and four Deputies in the Parlament, an opinion poll of some weeks ago predicted their trebling their number in the next elections. In 2015 the CUP were in a position to refuse to unite with PdeCat in the Parlament for independence under the Presidency of Artur Mas (who had been in office when Catalan police batoned left-wing demonstrators and fired rubber bullets at them, causing a number to lose an eye)14. They agreed to vote for his replacement, Carles Puigdemont, Mayor of Girona.
Both ERC and JuntsxCat have senior figures of their parties in jail and in exile while as yet, the CUP has none (but two are charged).
With 25.35% of the popular vote in the Catalan parliamentary elections of December 2017, Ciudadanos gained 36 Deputies, which makes it the largest single party in the Catalonian Parlament but without an overall majority. It is also the strongest voice against the Independists and claims to represent the “silent majority” of Catalans, many who are, according to Ciudadanos, descended from migrants and are happy to remain within the Spanish state. It is however, despite its unionist allies, outvoted by the total independist bloc.
Ciudadanos is a ten-year-old party which is often described as centre-right but in reality is much more right than centre and is moving further right in the Spanish state to overtake the PP, the largest right-wing party in the state. Though it describes itself as “post-nationalist” it is in fact a Spanish unionist party, makes its public speeches mostly in Spanish and upholds the Spanish state system, laws, symbols etc. In political declarations it tends to be populist.
The PSC, with 17 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament and 13.86% of the popular vote in the December 2017 elections, is the Catalan version of the PSOE, a social-democratic political party which was illegal under Franco, as was the affiliated UGT, one of the two main general trade unions in the Spanish state today. The legalisation of the PSOE and the UGT, along with the Communist Party (PCE) and its then associated trade union, Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) were hugely important steps in the Transición (from Franco to alleged democracy); they accepted — and exhorted their followers to accept – the 1978 Constitution and the imposed Monarchy.
The PSOE was in Government when it was heavily implicated in the running of kidnapping, torture, bombing and assassination squads (GAL and BVE) against the Basque independence movement in the 1980s. The PSOE is, at the time of writing, governing again in the Spanish state, having ousted the PP Government of Rajoy on a June 1st no-confidence motion with the supporting votes of Podemos, Catalan and Basque Deputies.
En Comú – Podem (Catalan version of Podemos but containing various alternative Left elements), took 7.46% of the vote in the December 2017 elections and has 8 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament. Podemos, a Spanish social-democratic party created only in 2014 during a wave of popular revulsion throughout the Spanish state at official corruption, political compliance, bank bailouts and rise in unemployment and household evictions, is the third largest political party in the Spanish Parliament but simultaneously very weak in large areas of the Spanish state; in Catalonia they had no Deputy elected from Girona or Lleida, one in Tarragona and the other seven in Barcelona. Although by its constitution and statements of its leader Pedro Iglesias the party upholds the right to self-determination of nations within the Spanish State, it always argues against it being enacted, proposing instead a Spanish Republic with autonomous regions and nations. For the Spanish Parliament the party has formed an alliance with the CP-trotskyist Izquierda Unida and the green environmentalist coalition of Equo. Although the Catalan party cannot be called “unionist” without qualification, it is generally found in opposition to the independist bloc.
The Partido Popular in Catalonia has fallen from 19 Deputies in 2012 to its lowest ever, with 4.24% of the popular vote and 4 Deputies in December 2017 (and only one Town Mayor in the whole of Catalonia); nevertheless it has been very outspoken against independence and against the measures taken by the independists. For the first time in its history, the party has insufficient Deputies to form its own group within the Parlament.
The Catalan PP is the local version of the Partido Popular, a very right-wing Spanish party organised by Franco supporters after the Dictator’s death. The PP has alternated in power in the Spanish State with the social-democratic PSOE (it was however journalists of the PP-orientated El Mundo daily newspaper which began the exposure of the GAL murder and assassination squads run by the PSOE). There is speculation that the PP will in future be overtaken by Ciudadanos as the main party of the governing Right in the Spanish state, or that Ciudadanos will become part of a right-wing coalition to do so.
Video with English subtitles on the 20th September 2017 Spanish police raids on Catalan Government buildings and attempted raid on the CUP’s headquarters in Barcelona, including rapid numerous and militant popular mobilisations:
1That figure of 17.2% is achieved by putting the figures for the whole state together, areas of high and low before dividing to find the average. Were the unemployment statistics of the better-performing areas such as Catalonia, the southern Basque Country and Madrid removed, the average for the rest of the state would soar. For example, the average for Andalucia, in the south of the state, is given as 24.7%, reaching almost a quarter of the working-age population; for Extremadura, bordering Portugal in the south-west, it is even higher at 25.9% (see Links).
4Sanchez, for the Spanish Government, was quite clear that in moving them he was complying with the law that states that unconvicted prisoners must be detained near their family, friends and legal assistance. In making that announcement, he was attempting to head off expected denunciation from the Right that he was being soft on the Catalan prisoners; that criticism came anyway from Ciudadanos and PP, parties that state ad nauseum the importance of complying with Spanish law. Apart from the revealed fact that the previous Government of the PP was breaking the law in keeping the detainees in Madrid, the overall issue is that as they are unconvicted and surrendered themselves to the Spanish authorities, therefore there is no legally justifiable reason for refusing them bail. And of course they were wrongfully charged as criminals as criminals in the first place for pursuing self-determination, a course for which they had been authorised by a majority of the Catalonian electorate.
6The Basque Country has a number of these of which the main one is LAB, accounting for perhaps 15% of union membership in the southern Basque Country. When joined to the other main Basque but not class union, ELA, their members outnumber the combined membership there of the Spanish unions,UGT and CCOO. Galicia also has a leftwing independist union, the Confederación Sindical Gallega, outnumbering the combined Spanish unions in Galicia in membership and workplace representation.
8Included measures were: emergency housing and household energy relief; protection against eviction from home; effective gender equality; climate change; universal health care coverage (i.e to include migrants); taxes on large commercial establishments, on stays in tourist establishments, sugared drinks and carbon dioxide emissions; liberalisation regarding cannabis associations.
9This was expressed in a letter proposed in anger by some ANC supporters to Der Spiegel, a German newspaper that had compared the Catalans to the Basques and also in an interview given by Clara Ponseti, of the ANC, Catalan ex-Minister for Education whose extradition is being sought currently by the Spanish State.
10James Connolly (1868-1916), born and raised in the Irish diaspora community of Edinburgh; he became a revolutionary socialist, founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and of the Irish Labour Party, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, writer and one of the leaders of the Irish Citizen Army (“the first workers’ army” according to one historian). He led the ICA into insurrection alongside the Irish Volunteers and the Republican women’s and youth organisations and was shot by British firing squad along with the other six Signatories of the Proclamation of Independence.
11Not that the Left is itself immune to fragmentation, by any means!
12 In the latter regard, I’d very much advocate a study of the Irish independence movement from say 1845 to 1923.
Very recently, the pro-Catalan independence on-line periodical VilaWeb interviewed Marta Vilalta, the spokesperson for the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) party, an important component of the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parlament. Her replies and statements presumably reflect the thinking in the leadership of the ERC party or, if it should not be unanimous, at least the thinking of the dominant section of the party’s leadership.
ERC has 32 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament (and two Members of the European Parliament). The other components of the Catalan independist majority at the time of writing (June 2018) are JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia – 34 seats) and CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular — 4 seats). The latter is taking the ‘confidence and supply position’ (i.e they will not vote with the Opposition and will vote to keep the Government in power if necessary).
ERC’s President, Oriol Junqueras, has been in a Madrid jail since the October Referendum, awaiting trial on charges of “Rebellion”. The party’s General Secretary, Marta Rovira, went into exile to avoid a similar fate.
The party, along with JuntsxCat, whose President Carles Puigdemont is also in exile, has faced repression by the Spanish State, as has also the cultural organisation ANC (Asamblea Nacional Catalana), whose President, Jordi Sànchez i Picanyol,is also in the Madrid jail.
The independist parties are to be commended for continuing their stance for independence and for facing up to Spanish State repression. In this, they enjoy the support of the majority of the Catalan population, as evidenced by votes in the December elections and the mobilisations and votes cast in the October Referendum, albeit disrupted by Spanish police raids to confiscate ballot boxes and assault voters and demonstrators.
But how prepared are they for the struggle ahead? How critically do they evaluate their past performance and expectations? How willing to learn from mistakes? The signs are not encouraging.
ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE SPANISH STATE
“The Spanish State has been capable of everything …. to defeat independence and the Republic project”, Vilalta says in the course of the interview, with what seems to be an air of surprise, meaning one presumes that there was no lengths to which they were not prepared to go to suppress Catalonian independence. If the Spanish state has been capable of everything, one must assume that it will also be “capable of everything” in future, at least in the absence of some limiting factors, which were not mentioned by Vilalta (except perhaps in the context of reactions outside the Spanish state, which we can look at under the heading of “Illusions about other states”).
So this admission of Vilalta should imbue us with confidence that ERC is taking that into tactical and strategic consideration. However, this appears to be far from the reality, based on the insistence of Vilalta that their struggle will be based exclusively on both “peaceful and democratic” means; nor is this only an iteration of Vilalta’s but it has been stated repeatedly by leading figures of the ERC and of the JunstxCat, i.e of the parties with by far the most numerous deputies in the Parlament. We’ll look at this more carefully under the section dealing with Pacificism but for the moment we can reflect that history in general (and the history of the Spanish state in particular) demonstrates that the combatant that relies principally on moral and or legal means must be defeated by the aggressor who relies on force and its tactical application.
“I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution,” says Vilalta, in reference to the right to self-determination recognised by the Charter of Human Rights of the United Nations. Why does Vilalta suppose that the Spanish State “agrees” with this right? On the contrary, all its actions with regard to the nations incorporated within its state territory show that it fundamentally disagrees with them, at least where applied to itself. In fact, its own Constitution forbids the secession of any part of the State without a majority vote in favour in the Spanish Parliament and further underlines that the Armed Forces are the guarantors of the Constitution!
Of course, it is possible that Vilalta is being somewhat ironic here, or making a statement for its propaganda value. Maybe she only means that the Spanish State should uphold the right to self-determination in the international treaties which it has signed. Let us hope so. But surely it would be more useful to point out that the Spanish State has a record of fundamentally violating most of the human rights to which it has signed up, including some actually stated within its own Constitution? Such an exposure would help in any project of isolating the Spanish state internationally, undermine its propaganda and, crucially, help to prepare the Catalan people and their allies for what the Spanish State may bring against them.
The Spanish Statehas repeatedly violated not only the human rights to life (for example in running assassination squads against the Basque movement for independence); the right to serve one’s prison sentence in a prison near one’s relatives, children and friends (by deliberately dispersing its political prisoners as far from their homes as possible); the right for terminally and seriously ill prisoners to be released on parole to continue their sentences at home or in hospital (routinely violated in the cases of political prisoners); the right to freedom from torture (routinely used until very recently against political detainees and against some migrant minorities); and the right to upholding one’s language (by originally outlawing the use of Iberian languages other than Castillian and currently banning them from the Spanish Parliament).
Furthermore the Spanish State has a lively record of violating the civil rights of political activity, of assemply, of speech, of publishing, of broadcasting: it has banned Basque demonstrations, cultural and political organisations, radio stations, newspapers and even seized the financial and property assets of organisations; it has jailed Basque and Catalan (and some Spanish) political and cultural activists; jailed and fined rappers and cartoonists and social media posters elsewhere in the Spanish State. It is illegal to “insult” the Spanish King publicly in speech, writing, or other means. Fairly recently the Spanish State created a law which makes it illegal to film police misbehaviour in public, to insult them (i.e denounce what they are doing) or to hold demonstrations in the vecinity of certain state buildings, including Ministries and the Parliament, with very high fines and/ or prison sentences for transgression of any of these prohibitions.
For pacifists, of course, pacifism is a principle. For others, peaceful methods and civil disobedience are tactics, i.e responses to specific issues at a particular time and place, not principles to uphold in all situations on every occasion.
It is a fact that no class has freed itself from domination by peaceful means alone and that similarly, no nation has liberated itself from colonial or imperialist domination without resorting to the use of force. This is not, in a sense, a choice for oppressed people – it is the oppressor itself which uses force and obliges the oppressed, in self-defence, to use force too.
Some recent examples will hopefully suffice to convince the doubtful. The first public actions against the division of Vietnam and the grooming by the French and USA of a puppet regime in the southern part of the nation were largely pacific. Demonstrations were suppressed and activists arrested by the puppet regime. Monks immolated themselves in public. Monks too were suppressed. Anti-imperialist forces within the southern part united in armed action with the Vietnamese state set up in the northern part of the country, which was supported by the People’s Republic of China (the Chinese communist state). Decades of terrible war followed but today the country of Vietnam is united and largely independent of imperialism.
In fact we can observe that all of the states of Europe which were formerly under the domination of another have had to rely on armed force to free themselves from their armed dominators: e.g Austria, Belgium, France (from Nazi Germany), Denmark, Holland (from Spain, France, Nazi Germany), Hungary, Italy (from France and Austria), Norway, Poland (from Russia, Nazi Germany), Switzerland (from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and indeed the Spanish state itself (from France).
If that were not enough and though it should be, the history of the Spanish State itself shows its reliance on armed force, from the medieval period right up to the 20th Century. The Kingdom of Spain was created firstly by the joint kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, picking up other allies, driving out the Arab kingdoms (and incidentally driving out also Jews, the origin of the Sephardics, along with the Arabs, even their own allies who would not convert to Christianity. The Spanish kingdom became an imperial force outside its own state territory and conquered and plundered territories from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, the South American sub-continent, Central America and parts of what are now the southern USA. It did the same to parts of Northern Africa and the Philippines. In no circumstance did it refrain from the use of armed force.
In the struggles within the State itself, the ruling class suppressed by armed force the uprisings of the Communeros and many others regionally-based and, crucially, both the First and Second Republics, which had come into being through popular elections. To take the most recent, the ruling class instigated an uprising among its military against the elected Spanish Government, which led to what some call the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), with enormous loss of life and destruction, and the instalation by the victors of a fascist military dictatorship and a monarchy.
Unlike the other fascist states of Europe (with the exception of Portugal and even they had their Carnation Uprising), no purges of former fascist rulers took place within the Spanish State; on the contrary, the heirs of the fascist military leaders, politicians and industrialists continued in the footsteps of their parents and in the luxury of their appropriations.
Under some external and internal pressure, a veneer of democracy was drawn over the State after the death of the dictator Franco and the social-democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain were drawn into an alliance with the existing fascist ruling class1 in what is often called the Transition (i.e to “democracy”). Far from this addition adulterating the fascism of the ruling class, the reverse happened and both political parties colluded in the suppression of movements of resistance both national and of class; the PSOE in government actually ran assassination squads against the Basque independence movement in the 1980s.
Hopefully this short review of Spanish State history has been sufficient to illustrate the readiness of the State to resort to violence against opposition, whether peaceful or not. What then are the prospects of a resistance which will confine itself to peaceful means alone? Its leadership will be killed or imprisoned, as will the cadres of the popular movement, repression will be the order of the day. The militants will be driven underground, dispersed and the movement will lose the initiative, which is fatal for a revolution.
As to the prospects of a comparatively small nation like Catalonia2 in insurrection against a major power and its military resources, we shall address near the end of this article.
With regard to the issue of preparedness for the actions of the Spanish State, Vilalta responds to a question by saying that ERC have carried out self-criticism of their inability to defend the Catalan referendum against Spanish State attack. Such an admission should not shame them nor demoralise their followers and allies (though it sometimes does so, sadly) – on the contrary, an organisation that does not admit its mistakes is unlikely to learn from them and in any case is not going to be honest with its membership and followers.
It is however worrying that a party pursuing an independist and Republican path in the teeth of the historical and well-known opposition of the quasi-fascist and monarchical state, should have been unprepared for the response of that State. Nevertheless, one could draw reassurance from the fact that ERC acknowledge their error and carried out self-criticism. Or at least, that would have been the case were it not for the fact that Vilalta states that “it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best.”
Whether that can be called “self-criticism” is debatable but it certainly does not qualify as adequate. It amounts to saying “we were wrong but could not have come to any other conclusion and even now I can’t think of what we could have done differently.” Which is almost to say “We are likely to be as mistaken and to prepare as insufficiently in future.”
As discussed earlier, both the history of national struggles in general and the history of the Spanish State in particular should have informed the independist forces of the full range of possible responses of the Spanish State. Those who were unable to anticipate the actions of the Spanish State need to ask themselves a vital question: “Why, despite that accumulation of historical practice, were we unable to count on a police invasion as one of the possible measures of our opponent?” A truthful reply to that question would tell them and us a lot about their limitations but their refusal to even consider the question is more worrying than whatever their current conceptual limitations might be.
ILLUSIONS ABOUT OTHER STATES
In the course of her interview, Vilata commented that “the international situation is key.” She said that in the context of forcing an unwilling–to–negotiate Spanish State to, in fact, negotiate. How she sees this happening is not very clear. In this context she also said the following:
“The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.”
Leaving aside the fact that Scotland is not truly independent, somehow Vilalta envisages using the treaties referred to above to force the Spanish State to negotiate or to have “it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres.” What does she mean by “international spheres”? She is not specific but in this context mentions the reversals for Spanish extradition warrants, the Catalan Members of the European Parliament (and presumably other friendly MEPs) and the Catalan politicians in exile in European countries, presumably all coordinated by the Council for the Republic, which also gets a mention.
But even in a best case scenario, how is the Spanish state to be “forced”? Economic sanctions? They can only be imposed by individual states or by groups of states, for example the EU. The European Parliament has not seen fit even to condemn in words the repressive actions of the Spanish state and, in fact, the EU President, Junkers, commented that they don’t wish to see “an EU of 99 states”, a clear indication that the independence of Catalonia and other states breaking away is not something the EU would welcome.
And in fact, even without Junker’s comments, that attitude could easily have been predicted. In the case of a successfully independent Catalonia, not only would the Spanish state be vulnerable to similar bids by other nations within its state territory but so would the French and Italian states also. It seems that Vilalta expects the EU to act against the interests of not only its Spanish member state but the interests of two other major European states as well. But why would it do that or, more to the point, why does Vilalta think they will or even might?
Possibly Vilalta envisages some kind of external moral pressure or perhaps “good neighbour advice”. With regard to moral pressure, the Spanish state, both during and after Franco, has shown itself impervious to that. Its practice of torture and impunity for torturers has been criticised regularly by relevant committees of the United Nations and the EU and every year by Amnesty International. None of that has brought about any change.
The European Court of Human Rights has found against the Spanish State on a number of occasions (failure to investigate torture allegations, illegal extension of sentences by retrospective legislation — but never on actual torture, which is “difficult to prove”); the Spanish State sometimes appeals the judgement (and loses) but eventually pays the fine, releases the prisoners at their release dates and …. carries on as before.
The major European state response to the PSOE Government’s undercover campaign of terrorism in the northern Basque Country (i.e within the French State) has been to facilitate the extradition of Basque refugees to the Spanish state (sometimes without even bothering with a court appearance).
No doubt the Spanish State has been given “good neighbour” advice from time to time from European states and even by the USA, advised to appear nicer, to be more democratic etc and even advised that it was in the long-term interests of its own ruling class to do. Perhaps the Spanish State responded, with well-known Spanish fascist arrogance, that it knows its own busisness best or perhaps they replied that only an iron grip can keep Spain “Una, Grande y Libre” (United, Great and Free”, i.e non-communist). In either case, neither good neighbour nor critical state has shown an interest in taking any kind of coercive action against the Spanish State and there is no reason to believe that they will do so now.
European states may not wish to soil their hands doing Spain’s dirty work for them by extraditing refugees to Spain on dodgy European Arrest Warrants but that is a long, long was from being willing to act in a coercive way against a major European partner.
It seems almost certain that Vilalta, in discussing “international force” against the Spanish state was referring to action by other European states and traditionally when “the international community” has been invoked in discussions of ‘peace processes’ and sanctions that is generally what is meant. But there is another way of looking at international pressure.
To examine that possibility, we need to ask ourselves: What are the circumstances in which the Spanish State would be unable to send armed forces to suppress Catalan independence or, if it did, that they would be neutralised?
Such a situation could only be envisaged occurring when the State faced insurrections and similar crises in many other parts of the State at the same time as its crisis in Catalonia. And in fact the Spanish state, of all those in the EU, is probably the most vulnerable to such a scenario. Along with Catalonia and the Catalan Countries, there are the nations of Asturias and Galicia (both of Celtic culture) and the four southern Basque provinces.
Within those areas and in all others of the Spanish state, there is a major disaffection with the dominant order. Never have the institutions of banking and politicians been so widely exposed in corruption, never has the Royal Family been so condemned, nor repression by police so exposed. Unemployment is high as is work on short-term or casual contracts, the housing crisis is serious and numerous victims of eviction have publicly comitted taken their lives over the years. Both political parties of the traditional bi-party system (PP and PSOE) have lost prestige and electoral support, so that now each can only govern as a minority party and their decline has allowed the emergence of a two more sizeable parties, Podemos of the Left and Ciudadanos of the Right (without however much hope of a fundamental change from either). Huge demonstrations have taken place across the state and in particular in Madrid. The collusive trade unions of the Comisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores have been found wanting and many independent unions have sprung up.
In other words, the prestige of the State has been slipping and its enemies multiplying. But to tap into these currents of disaffection with the Spanish State, the independist forces would need to do more than threaten the State with the independence of Catalonia. It would need to develop a social-economic program that would not only benefit the majority of Catalons but would also serve as an illuminated example to the rest of what is currently the Spanish territory.
Vilalta does talk a little about a socio-economic program emanating from the Catalan Government and local authorities but says next to nothing about its content. Last week a man about to be evicted in Catalonia killed himself and there are many others facing eviction through inability to pay their rents or their mortgage instalments. A solution to that problem would not only bring many doubters in Catalonia over to the side of the Republic but serve also as an example of what could be done elsewhere in the Spanish State. Support for a Spanish military intervention would be severly undermined in such a scenario, both externally and from within the armed forces and the breaking out of many fires across the state would leave the firefighters stretched too thinly to carry out their task.
This scenario could also affect the French state should it consider a military intervention of its own and the Bretons, northern Basques, northern Catalans and Occitans might seize that opportunity to advance their own claims for independence or autonomy.
The problem for ERC with instituting deep socio-economic changes in Catalonia and in appealing to wide national and class disaffection is that, notwithstanding the “Left” in its title, it is a bourgeois or capitalist party and can hardly be expected to cut off its own head just because it will make its legs firmer. And the JuntsXCat is even more so, at its core a liberal capitalist party.
All of which might serve to remind us of the quotation from James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist who also fought for the independence of a small nation – Ireland. Recognising that only the working class was unable to gain some advantage through a compromise with the imperialist and coloniser, he wrote: “Only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland”. If the words “Irish” were to be replaced by “Catalan” and “Ireland” by “Catalonia”, leaving the rest of the statement intact, would it also be true?
1This was necessary for the Spanish fascist ruling class not mainly as partners in the production of the farce of ‘democracy’ but chiefly for their control of the two main non-fascist trade unions then (and still): the Comisiones Obreras of the CPE and the Unión General de Trabajadores of the PSOE, both illegal until that point but also powerful and with a potential for creating industrial and political instability.
2For the sake of convenience, Catalonia is being described here as a nation, although for many, including the ERC party, at least in the past, it is the Paises Catalans (Catalan Countries) which is the Catalan Nation, a territory extending from Pau in the French state through Catalonia to Tarragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
My full translation to English of introduction and interview:
Marta Vilalta (Torregrossa, 1984) is the spokeswoman for Esquerra Republicana since March. A journalist by profession and Parliamentary representative since 2015, Vilalta has been a member of the ERC since 2004 and, after handling several responsibilities, has now taken a step forward as a result of the repression suffered by the party, with President Oriol Junqueras in prison, Secretary General, Marta Rovira, exiled and members of the Executive persecuted and prosecuted by Spain for having collaborated in the organization of the 1st October Referendum.
We talked with Vilalta about theCatalan political situation, the Republic, autonomism, the new Government of the Generalitat, the effects of repression and the new road map that ERC must approve in its national conference at the end of June . Young, energetic and smiling, Vilalta takes this new stage as a personal challenge, but with the bitter aftertaste of having had to go through the situation of repression against the party and independence.
– Is it true that you do press conferences prepared not to answer questions? Will you respond to this interview?
– [Laughs] I did not say that! It was a joke in relation to this and Sergi Sabrià [the previous spokesman], speaking to the journalist, said laughingly that he had advised me not to answer the questions. We laughed, but it was included in the interview. I am a journalist and I am empathizing with you, it is about responding well.
-Good! Now that there is ‘effective government’, how is the Republic to be brought about?
-Firstly, getting the Government back has been an important and indispensable step towards achieving the objective, which is the Republic. We advocate that to make the Republic real and to complete it we must be strong at all levels and have all the possible tools. Therefore, this also means recovering the Government and the institutions, being connected with the social mobilization and citizenship, being strong in the international bodies, the city councils and the Parliament. We have to be stronger and stronger, to increase and have an amazingly hegemonic social majority that will allow us to bring into existence the Republic we have decided to have, but unfortunately we have not yet been able to make it effective. But it will happen, we’re sure.
-Let’s talk about the ERC strategy paper, the new roadmap to be approved. A fear has been expressed because a section of the grassroots, such as the Mayor of Montblanc, Josep Andreu, believes that the unilateral path is not given enough importance.
-I think that the debate or the controversy about the strategic presentation has been magnified, I do not know if deliberately or not. It analyzes the situation based on the lessons of recent months. It places us where we are and helps us to define what we do and with what instruments to do it in order to bring about the Republic. That’s why it is called ‘Let Us Create the Republic’. We do not rule out any path, providing it is peaceful and democratic, to arrive there. Yes, it is true that it emphasises the need to be stronger and stronger, to expand support in many sectors that share the anti-repressive struggle but yet do not see the need for the Republic. And it defines the multilateral framework of play because it is a process where many political, judicial, economic, and social agencies intervene … We need to know how to move in all this multiplicity of agencies and to maximize opportunities.
– And the unilateral path?
-The paper does not rule out the unilateral path, we understand it as part of the multilateral framework. Perhaps part of the membership thinks that we have not been explicit enough. We are in the process of making amendments so that all the membership can participate and improve the text. We debate with a wish to reach a consensus and for everyone to feel represented. We are very pleased with the level of participation, with 1,400 amendments. Some 1,100 have been incorporatedto be negotiated. This shows a vital strength in the organization and the very participative health of the membership of ERC.One must shine the lights ahead to see the medium term to bring about the Republic and to see what we need to do to achieve it.
-Andreu regretted, however, that there was little participation in the territories (? Trans), and he made a public appeal.
-Yes, the call to participation should be done by all. But I insist, there has been a huge volume of amendments. In 2013, some 300 amendments were presented and now there are 1,400! There have been assemblies in the territories. We hope that on June 30 and July 1 there will also be a lot of participation because the moment requires it. The more participation, the more endorsement of the final paper.
-The CUP accuses the Government of being autonomist.
-We have heard them say this several times, but I do not agree. Whenever we have had the chance to rule, we have done it with a republican call and overtaking autonomy. Interest in autonomy is minimal. Willingness to create a republic, total. This is what the Government of the Generalitat is doing at the moment. The examples of recent days show that there is no intention to go for autonomy nor to drag out the process.
-We need to recover the institutions because we believe that makes us stronger. This is not autonomism, it is to put them into the hands of the citizens and in the service of the country to be able to move forward. With the first government actions alone, both symbolic and effective, it was shown that it was essential to recover the Government. Unlock the money that social agencies had to receive, more than 300 million euros, the reactivation of delegations abroad, the money to recover the quality of TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, 250 million for social rental … Damn it, they are essential policies! And since they are destined to improve the country, we are sure that they will help us to add more people (to our support — Trans).
-The people who have doubts about independence understand this?
-This is one of the main ideas. From government action and being able to respond to people’s needs and make policies with Republican logic, we can show that with good governance and caring for the citizenship we are able to respond to needs and to improve well-being. We are convinced that this will lead us to make more people see that this is the only way to defend the social, civil and political rights of citizens. This will surely result in an increase of the people who will see that the republican project is the only alternative to guarantee well-being, social justice and equal opportunities. There is no other project that guarantees us all this. It has become clear that in Spain these fundamental rights are not guaranteed and that they have been violated. We have to be capable and must strive to explain all this.
– Will this legislature be a constituent process?
-The intention is that it will be. I cannot say when. We see it as a great space for debate about how we want the country in all its aspects. It also has to serve to reach many people who feel called to participate. In fact, the project of the Catalan Republic is the only one which will ask this of the citizens. The Spanish state will not enact any constituent process. It is only with that that many people can see the opportunity that there is an opportunity for real change and everything that implies. To think and rethink how we want to organize ourselves and how we want our society to be. This will happen, soon; we must ensure maximum participation of the convinced people and of those who feel called to participate. It will help us to add to our numbers and open the project to accumulate forces. It must be a consensual process, with territorial capillary (reach? – Trans) that allows us to know what we want and what goals to have as a country. The constituent process can be one of the tools at our disposal to exceed the limits of the Republican project.
-The conclusions of the citizens’ debate within the territory will be taken to Parliament?
-I do not know the methodology nor what the phases are. To be successful, we will have to agree with all the political, social and economic actors that can participate. Therefore, we will see what steps must be taken. It is obvious that everything that comes out of the constituent process must be channeled institutionally so that it has the effects that we want and so that it does not remain only in a debate.
-Your party has carried out self-criticism of the October events?
-Yes, it’s been done. In any case, it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best. Everything was done with the intention of making effective the 1-O (Referendum – Trans) and to be able to vote, after facing the repression and proclaiming and bringing about the Republic. Unfortunately, we could not defend it. Maybe over time we will have more information. In any case, I really appreciate that everything that was done was because at that time it was believed that it was the best way to reach the goal that we all wanted. From now on, I think the most important thing is to learn from lessons. One of the most important is that Spain is willing to anything. We thought they ‘would not be able’, that ‘could not be allowed’, but they were.
-The Spanish state has been capable of everything.
-To defeat independence and the Republic project, it has been capable of dispensing with the rule of law and democracy. This is a very important lesson, because we moved in an ambit of democracy and defence of rights and freedoms, and we continue there. But we have seen the axis upon which Spain moves. We have to be stronger and stronger because it is the only way to face this repressive and strong State. We must continue defending all democratic channels with allies at all levels. Surely we will have a new opportunity. If we keep alive and resisting, we’ll be able to win.
– Do you have any expectation of the new Spanish government? On Thursday, Grande-Marlaska disclaimed the responsibility for bringing the political prisoners closer to home and then Llarena reminded him that this depended on the Ministry of the Interior (of which Grande-Marlaska is Minister — Trans).
– Different things. First of all, to go back a little. We supported the motion of censure (against the PP Government of Rajoy – Trans) because we believe that it was the responsible action to remove the PP and bring down Rajoy. That Government that had repressed us, the leader of repression and corruption …
-The PSOE too.
-Yes, yes. I say that was the responsible action at that time to make that government fall. Not to support the PSOE. That said, obviously, a new scenario opens, but we do not have much expectation of it. We will observe the following steps. On the concrete question of the prisoners, it is shameful what happened on Thursday. The Minister and the Judge passed the ball about the prisoners to one another. It is an aberration, an arbitrariness, that they are detained as hostages, as revenge. And we demand, it is not contradictory, that they bring them to Catalonia. It is a correct action, the law says, that they be as close as possible to families and children. If the Spanish Government had wanted to, it could have already made the decision.
-The other day you commented that any negotiation should start from the first of October. What does this mean?
-We continue defending dialogue and negotiation. If we want a sincere and effective dialogue, we must be able to speak of everything, without renunciations or initial conditions. We should not only talk about concrete demands of economic, social and sectoral policies that have been dragging on for many years, but also about the situation in Catalonia and how we exercise the right of self-determination and make the Catalan Republic real. When we say that we must start from the first of October, let’s talk about it. Conflict must be resolved through the political path, negotiation and dialogue. The 1-O is the founding moment of the Catalan Republic, marks a point of departure in our most recent history.
– Can this be negotiated with Spain?
-I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution. The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.
– If we want to open a negotiation, the international field will be important. Until now, Spain has refused to accept any mediation offer. Does the Council for the Republic have any role in this regard?
– The international situation is key. When we talk about negotiating with the State, we know that it will not negotiate because it has not given any evidence (of such willingness — Trans). We must force the State to negotiate, or force it so that it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres. The judicial battles of the exiles must also be taken into account. Spain has suffered the first judicial reversals because no European justice recognizes non-existent crimes that are and invented to punish and silence the people of Catalonia. International action must be organized and coordinated. It is clear that the Council for the Republic can be an instrument that helps us to make heard this voice of the demands of Catalonia everywhere and that can help us denounce the violations of rights and repression. We will help the voice that we have in the European Parliament, the exiles, the government delegations that will be reopened … With all these tools we must be able to win.
– Will Marta Rovira be part of the Council for the Republic?
-We will have see how it will be composed. Much has been said about it, but it must be ascertained how the Council is composed by the Republic. Marta Rovira was forced to leave because of this brutal persecution by Spain and will surely play a relevant and important role in the international arena in defense of individual and collective rights and freedoms. We’ll see what role everyone has.
– Does she participate in the internal life of the party?
– She is the General Secretary of Esquerra Republicana and that continues to be the case. She participates in internal meetings and we hope that in the future she will have a more public role. It continues on a daily basis in the way that new technologies permit her.
– In this situation of abnormality and repression, ERC has recovered from having the General Secretary in exile and the President in prison?
-Our organisation has suffered a brutal persecution. They have tried to behead us to weaken, frighten us and make us disappear. In addition to Marta Rovira in exile and Oriol Junqueras in prison, we have many members of the Executives accused and activists persecuted for having done everything possible so that Catalans could vote on 1-O. It was a tough blow, but luckily we are a broad, strong and cohesive organisation. Other people who have been able to take up the duties and responsibilities to continue resisting and persisting, despite the cruelty of the moment.
-The municipal elections will be a good test to measure if the base has been expanded?
-Once polling has taken place we will count and validate the majority in favor of independence and the Republic. Democracy does not frighten us. That is why we know that the Republic will end up winning. The democratic and peaceful way is ours and what we have to use to reach the Republic. In addition to revalidating the majority, we must increase it to show that we are many and that we are multiplying. The independentist movement has grown in recent years, although we still have on the margins many people who have not taken the step but that are in favor of democracy, rights and freedoms.
– Will more than 50% of the votes in the municipal councils involve some change in the political landscape?
-For a start, it places us in a new scenario. Let’s see how the correlation of forces turns out. Surpassing 50% is to pass over one of the important thresholds to validate and certify the majority in favor of independence. We will have to evaluate new steps because we will be stronger and stronger, which is what we want. I cannot specify what will happen, but it would be a very important step to advance, materialize and consolidate the Republic.
– Is it decisive if independentism wins in Barcelona?
– It is very important. But also in other important cities and other capitals, such as Lleida and Tarragona.
-The usual debate has been begun. United lists, separate lists.
-We must be able to compare the projects with everyone in all the elections, whether they are municipal or parliamentary. Confronting all ideas and projects makes us maximize results for all. The elections on December 21 were a test, distinct from September 27. When we present all together as one, it is difficult to widen the base, we are small. When we each present separately, each trying to maximize their results with their project, is when we truly achieve the maximum widening of our perimeter. With the results achieved there will be a need to agree, join and have unity of action to going ahead with the town councils and the policies that are decided. The municipalities must serve so that there are as many republican and independentist city councils as possible. We can make a qualitative leap in many areas, especially in the metropolitan area and the capitals.
-Do you think that you can govern Barcelona without a pro-independence list being the most voted? The last published survey gave a draw between Barcelona in Comú and Citizens.
-If the votes independentist lists are compiled and achieve a majority, we can govern. The Council will end up being controlled by those that who can unite and that are able to agree. So, obviously, yes.
-Will ERC agree with the communes (Catalan version of Podemos – Trans.) and the PSC (Catalan version of the PSOE – Trans.)?
– We do not rule out any option with the objective of being able to guarantee republican, independentist city councils and allowing us to develop the policies to advance. In each case we will have to look at how that turns out. Right now we do not rule it out. But our logic and the priority is to have as many republican city councils as possible for the better. We know that ERC can often be this binding agent, this project that from the centrality of the independentism can unite the most.
-Oriol Junqueras was your teacher. You have a very personal relationship with him. Did you watch the videos from inside Estremera prison?
-I did not want to see them. I have seen some images, but nothing else.
-What did you hear?
-From the little I have seen and what I know, the dignity of these people is clear. The images have been stolen and that is undignified. But their dignity, even though the State holds them as hostages in prison … They are good people. Oriol is one of the best people we know and is kidnapped because he is able to lead, bring together and unite like no one else. With an open mindedness and caring, to be in the company of people and to listen. He and the rest of prisoners are seen as a threat to the State, and that is the reason they are kidnapped.
-Well there is a government in Catalonia, change of Executive in Spain, is there a risk of normalizing the situation of political prisoners?
-We must do everything possible so that it is not normalized. This country will not be normal until all judicialization is ended, until all imprisoned people are on the street or until all exiled people return home. We know that all acts to remember reprisals, lunches and yellow dinners, actions to raise money and report the situation help to ensure it is not normalised. The prisoners tell us not to cry but rather to demand their freedom.
-The situation of the party has led you personally to have to take a step forward. How have you found it?
-It’s a contradictory and bittersweet feeling. Any new responsibility is always accompanied by enthusiasm, but at the same time I have the bitter and sad feeling of having to do it in this context. In addition, it coincided with the second round of imprisonments of Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull. And when Marta Rovira went to exile. Therefore, in a very tough context. But absolutely convinced that we all have to fight and each one contributes the grain of sand and plays the role that falls to us in the anti-repression struggle and which at the same time advances the Republic. This we do, not only myself, but many colleagues, each with the desire to be of use for the project.