I don’t want to leave (no quiero salir)

As many of my Twitter followers will be well aware by now, I am a big fan of Catalan broadcaster TV3‘s satirical sketch show Polònia.

Today’s musical gag takes aim at Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plans to exhume former fascist dictator General Francisco Franco from his tomb in the Valley of the Fallen, which was built from forced labour following the Spanish Civil War.

Despite the brutal nature of the caudillo, he still attracts many followers in Spain today. The Francisco Franco National Foundation promotes a positive interpretation of the man who ordered the indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of his political opponents and oppressed anything which did not fit his vision of Spanish culture – and, in what is perhaps a sign of how Spain doesn’t seem to be quite sure of how to come to terms with it’s dark past, donations to the Foundation still attract tax benefits.

Given this, it is hardly a surprise (although perhaps it should be) that the plans to exhume Franco from his shrine have met with opposition. Indeed, during the vote in Congress, Sánchez’s Socialists, the left-wing Podemos (“We Can”) and many regional parties only just cobbled together a majority of votes (176 votes are required for a majority in the Congress of Deputies, and 176 MPs voted in favour of the proposal). The right-wing Partido Popular (“Popular Party”) and Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) didn’t quite go as far as voting against (only two MPs voted to keep Franco where he is), but in a sign that they would rather not disturb the Generalísimo‘s remains, they did abstain.

As always, it was up to Polònia, then, to inject some humour into this controversial topic, taking inspiration from Queen’s I Want To Break Free. With the help of Sànchez, Pablo Casado (Partido Popular leader), Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos leader) and a couple of gravediggers, Franco – in full drag – sings from his lavishly decorated tomb: “I don’t want to leave!”

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Ciudadanos versus freedom of expression: the story of #RiveraQuitameEste

On Wednesday, the leader of the centre-right Ciudadanos party took to Barcelona to remove yellow ribbons from the streets. The social media response became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. This is why.

Ciudadanos (in English, Citizens, or simply Cs) is a party which presents itself as the party of the Spanish political centre, a more progressive alternative to the established Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP). In Europe, it sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group with the UK’s Liberal Democrats and, ironically, their ideological opposites in Catalonia, the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català, (Catalan European Democratic Party, PDeCAT).

It’s liberal credentials have been questioned, however, by analysis of the party’s policies. Originally designating itself as a centre-left party and, more recently, centrist, analysts have variously described Cs as a centre-right or even right-wing party. For the purposes of this article, I will, where necessary, use the term “centre-right”, whilst acknowledging that a precise location on the political spectrum is a matter for intense debate.

Cs was born in Catalonia in 2006, originally in response to Catalan nationalism, among other social issues, but soon became a significant force in Spanish politics. They currently have 32 of the 350 seats in the national parliament, the Congress of Deputies, after winning 13.1% of votes in 2016, and sought to use their influence in a failed attempt to oppose the confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy and his PP government in June.

Whilst they are the fourth largest party nationally, in the elections to the Catalan Parliament in December they topped the poll, winning 36 of the 135 seats and 25.4% of the popular vote. However, they still sit as an opposition party against the votes of the Catalan nationalist groups Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia, JuntsxCat), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC) and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP), with a combined total of 70 seats – an overall majority – and 47.6% of the popular vote. The perception of winning an election but remaining in opposition clearly irritates Cs’ leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, who believes she should be the region’s president instead of Quim Torra, the compromise candidate from the JuntsxCat parliamentary group.

Torra’s election did not come easy. In fact, he was the fourth choice for president. The first was Carles Puigdemont, the leader of PDeCAT and incumbent president, until he was deposed by the Spanish government when they invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, sacking the Catalan Government and calling fresh elections. That, in turn, was in response to the Catalan Government’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on independence on 1 October 2017, which the Spanish Government and Constitutional Court ruled was illegal, and subsequent declaration of independence following a 92% vote in favour of secession (on a 43% turnout). Puigdemont’s decision to seek exile in Belgium rather than face (as he and many Catalans see it) a political prosecution caused complications and his bid was halted in favour of building a workable government in Barcelona. To many Catalans, though, he remains the legitimate president. Continue reading

Not one step backwards (no surrender)

In the Bruce Springsteen song “No Surrender” we are reminded of it; from the same humility but also determination, we sing together to neither go backwards nor surrender.

We are conscious that it would be the retreat and surrender of future generations, and we don’t have that right.

MHP Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó

With those words, spoken whilst still awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings in Germany, the former President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, implored supporters of independence that there can be no retreat from the progress made so far.

The Catalan Government was forcibly removed from office immediately after the independence referendum and subsequent declaration of independence last October. Six members of that Government are now in prison awaiting trial and a further five are in self-imposed exile. They are:

  • Oriol Junqueras – Vice President and Minister of Economy and Finance
    In prison since 2 November 2017
  • Joaquim Forn – Minister of the Interior
    In prison since 2 November 2017
  • Dolors Bassa – Minister of Social Welfare, Employment and Family
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Raül Romeva – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations, and Transparency
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Josep Rull – Minister of Planning and Sustainability
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Jordi Turull – Minister of Presidency and Spokesperson of the Government
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Carles Puigdemont – President
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Antoni Comín – Minister of Health
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Meritxell Serret – Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Lluís Puig – Minister of Culture
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Clara Ponsatí – Minister of Education
    In exile since 30 October 2017

Other politicians and civil society leaders are also in prison or self-imposed exile (or on bail awaiting trial) for their role in the referendum. These include:

  • Jordi Cuixart – President of Òmnium Cultural
    In prison since 16 October 2017
  • Jordi Sànchez – President of the Catalan National Assembly
    In prison since 16 October 2017
  • Carme Forcadell – President of the Parliament of Catalonia
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 9 November 2017 and 10 November 2017
  • Meritxell Borràs – Minister of Governance, Public Administration and Housing
    Previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Marta Rovira – General Secretary of the Republican Left of Catalonia
    In exile since 23 March 2018

In recognition of these political prisoners and exiles, a group of supportive Catalan singers and songwriters, organised by director Hèctor Suñol, performed a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”, with lyrics powerfully reminding Catalans that, despite everything that has happened, they should not lose faith.

Starting in April, Suñol crowdfunded some €5,000 for the project, which was released on 13 July. The video includes archive footage of the political prisoners and exiles and the police violence against voters on the day of the referendum. It starts with a dedication from Carles Puigdemont (quoted above).

The video is, above all, a reminder that, whatever obstacles are placed in the way, democracy and the will of the people will, ultimately, prevail.

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Moving forward with life

Yesterday, I went to the rally for Catalonia in London.

And I’m not entirely sure why.

I didn’t speak to anyone. I didn’t join in with the singing or the chanting. I only stood quietly in the background, taking several photos (and a couple of videos).

Of course, I enjoy taking photos on any occasion and political protests are very unique events to take photos of.

But now the topic of Catalonia is a difficult one for me.

I began following it closely after meeting my wife. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice before, she is Catalan, and she introduced me to the strength of the independence movement in Catalonia.

Three years ago, in 2015, we went to the protests in London and Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia. They were very special days: she and I spent them with patriots from both here and there and I had found a new campaign for democracy to which I could offer my support.

But now, as I think has become apparent to most, my wife and I have separated.

The last two months have passed by very slowly. They’ve been difficult, they’ve been hard, and I’ve asked myself many times what I’ve done with my life – and where I want to go now that my marriage has collapsed.

I suppose that I attended the rally yesterday to prove that I will still defend democracy in Catalonia even though I have lost my biggest motivation for doing so.

Without a doubt, I will always support democracy and the right to decide for everybody, in any country in the world.

No, my motivation for going to London yesterday must be bigger than that.

While I will always support democracy and human rights, that alone is not enough to justify spending money I really don’t have to waste at the moment on going up to London for two hours.

I suppose – no, I’m sure – that I went to London yesterday to prove two things to myself.

Firstly, despite everything that has happened in the last few months, I still have the same passion for politics and the same desire to participate in relation to the causes which interest – and matter – to me the most.

And, secondly, that I am still alive (even though I still can’t help feeling a little dead inside) and so I have to find another way of moving forward with my life.

Yesterday, I abandoned my home and my town and allowed myself time to think while on the train and walking through the streets of London.

Now, I believe, I know where I am with my life. I have thought long and hard about the past (particularly the last four years) and I better understand now how I have become the man I am today.

What’s more, I understand where I want to go with my life.

I need to keep studying and working, without any bad influences, and, if I do so, I know that I will arrive at the place I want to be as soon as possible.

Yesterday, I attended the rally to give my support to the Catalans, to take (a lot of) photos and, above all, to rediscover myself.

Now, I have to move forwards – like everyone else – and find the future and the life that I want – and that I know I am destined to have.