VilaWeb: Puigdemont among the candidates to win the Nobel Peace Prize according to Time magazine

This is a translation of an article from Catalan newspaper VilaWeb entitled “Puigdemont, entre els candidats a guanyar el premi Nobel de la Pau segons la revista Time“. VilaWeb publishes some of their own articles in English here.

According to the north-American magazine Time, President Carles Puigdemont is in the running to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced Friday evening in Oslo. The award is given every year to the person or group which has contributed the most in the advancement of world peace.

“The figurehead of last October’s unofficial Catalan independence referendum has effectively been living in exile in Belgium since he fled the country to avoid arrest by Spanish authorities. The vote precipitated a crackdown by Spain that put hopes for an independent Catalonia on ice for the foreseeable future”, Time says.

Last year, the winner was the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and this year, in addition to Puigdemont, there are nominees such as Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the leaders of North Korea and South Korea who are immersed in a process of opening of relations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Pope Francis, among others.

This year there are 331 nominees for the prize, of which 216 are individuals and 115 are groups, according to the Nobel committee. It is the second highest number of candidates, after 2016.

VilaWeb: Diplomatic tension between Spain and Belgium: Borrell summons the Belgian ambassador

The is a translation of an article from Catalan newspaper VilaWeb entitled “Tensió diplomàtica entre Espanya i Bèlgica: Borrell convoca a l’ambaixador belga“. VilaWeb publishes some of their own articles in English here.

The diplomatic tension between Spain and Belgium continues growing. After refusing European Arrest Warrants and opening a trial against [Spanish judge] Llarena, a new front has opened in the diplomatic relations between Brussels and Madrid. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has called the Belgian ambassador in Madrid to answer questions, immediately after Jan Peumans (N-VA), president of the Flemish Parliament, sent a letter to Carme Forcadell at the Mas d’Enric prison. The Spanish authorities considered that the content of the missive is an insult to the state, according to the newspaper De Tijd.

In the letter, Peumans regrets ‘that democracy in Catalonia has been violently crushed’ and assures that the Spanish state ‘doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for being a member of the European Union’. Peumans is the first politician of note from the EU who has spoken in these terms against the Spanish state. It must be taken into account that recently the European Parliament has set in motion the mechanism to activate Article 7 of the EU against Hungary for the authoritarianism of Viktor Orban’s government.

The N-VA MEP Mark Demesmaeker was the one who handed the letter to Forcadell on 7 September. He also published it on Twitter:

The Spanish Government has told the Belgian ambassador, Marc Calcown, that it is disappointed by the content of Peumans’ letter. ‘The official letter of the president of the regional parliament is considered an insult to Spain’, Calcoen explained in a report addressed to the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In addition, according to De Tijd, the Spanish Authorities want the Minister to contact Peumans to make it clear that ‘the content of the letter is totally unacceptable’. In fact, the Spanish Government told the president of the Flemish Parliament that the letter was ‘a hositle gesture’.

El Nacional: The Spanish Civil Guard link Junqueras with the organisation of foreign observers for 1-O

The is a translation of an article from Catalan newspaper El Nacional entitled “La Guàrdia Civil vincula Junqueras amb l’organització d’observadors de l’1-O“. El Nacional publishes some of their own articles in English here.

A Civil Guard report also links Vice President Oriol Junqueras, currently in prison, with the organisation of people who attended the independence referendum held on 1 October last year as international observers. Until now, the organisation and payment for observers had been attributed to the Ministry of Home Affairs led by Raül Romeva.

It comes from one of the latest reports which the armed body has referred to Barcelona’s Instructional Court No. 13, in which WhatsApp conversations from some of those arrested during the operation on 20 October 2017 are analysed. According to this document, the link is established from conversations which Francesc Sutrias, who was Director of the Government Estate, held with Oriol Junqueras.

The Nokia telephone seized from Sutrias in his home in Rubí contained WhatsApp messages with the Republican leader in which he commented that he had received an official request from a professional association of judges from Brazil to attend as observers and asked Junqueras who he should direct them to. He responded to this by saying he should speak to Juncà.

“Who do I direct them to? To Juncà and he will share out the work?”, Francesc Sutrias says in his text, to which the jailed Vice President responds with “yes”. Lluís Juncà was the Director of the Office of the Vice President of the Generalitat.

After this conversation, Sutrias followed the instructions which Junqueras had given him and kept in contact with Lluís Juncà by WhatsApp, in which he comments that Oriol had told him to speak with him in relation to the observers.

According to the Civil Guard, it can be deduced from these conversations that “Oriol Junqueras gave instructions to Francesc Sutrias for the organisation of the [international] observers” who attended the 1 October referendum. At least, according to the report, in the participation of “a professional association of judges from Brazil”.

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