On an evening with Alfred Bosch

I’m writing this article from the warmth and comfort of the 23:25 high speed service from London St Pancras, on what is otherwise a bitterly cold and uninviting evening, after having consumed probably one more white wine than is ordinarily healthy on a school night.

But before I evaluate the events of the past few hours, let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a Catalan politician, candidate for Mayor of Barcelona, and a relatively unknown English blogger with a handful of Twitter followers and an Instagram audience barely reaching into triple figures. Said blogger had a habit of posting an eclectic array of photographs to the photo sharing platform, from political demonstrations to mundane selfies to his latest culinary disasters.

And yet somehow, inexplicably, despite the 1,000 miles separating these two individuals (I may be rounding for simplicity) and despite their markedly different levels of importance, they ended up following each other on Instagram. No one knows for sure how long this unlikely match continued. Legend has it it was only for a few hours, while some will tell you it lasted for many months. All we know for sure is that it happened, and then it ended.

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#CC18: 10 Days to Christmas

Last Saturday, I attended the Catalan Christmas Party in London, organised by several UK-based Catalan organisations.

One of the activities on offer was a short concert by the wonderful London Catalan Choir, and it was the first time I’d seen them perform.

Sure, I knew of them before Saturday, but until you hear them live you don’t know just how amazing they are. Let me tell you something: they earned themselves at least one new fan last week!

From the moment they started, I knew I wanted to include them on the Countdown to Christmas, so I took out my phone and started recording.

You’ve probably already seen a short clip or two, but this is the only song I managed to film all the way through: Regala Petons. The original featured on last year’s Countdown, and rather aptly is by the only Catalan artist I’ve seen performing live (so far).

Sure, the camera angle isn’t the greatest, and the audio recording really doesn’t do them justice (what do you expect from a phone?), but I’m sure you’ll still agree that they are a really talented group of singers!

And if my video is not good enough for you, you could always watch their own video of the performance. No, really, please do!

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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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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#CC17: Glória in excélsis Deo!

When I first started planning this year’s Countdown, I knew I wanted to bring it to an end with this beautiful version of Angels We Have Heard On High.

It is a video I came across part-way through last year’s Countdown and would have featured, but I felt its rightful place was as the finale – and I had already prepared that post so held it over to this year.

Knowing how the Countdown was going to end, it was a really beautiful feeling in Church yesterday morning when this was one of the hymns chosen to lead the Christmas Eve worship. And it is, clearly, apt for the task.

It is a powerful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas: remembering the birth of the son of God, who He sent to walk with us and, ultimately, to die to save us.

Whilst the presents and the turkey (and possibly the alcohol, if you are that way inclined) may make this the happiest day of the year, knowing God and accepting Christ into our lives also brings us joy today and all through the year.

Glória in excélsis Deo, glory to God in the highest, indeed!

As it is Christmas, I am also presenting a second video today, for my Catalan followers. It is no less symbolic of the meaning of the day, and recalls the events 2,000 years ago that brought, and continue to bring, people like me across the world closer to God.

Whilst I would love to follow this with a personal message for my Catalan followers, I will save it for next year, by which time I will have (finally!) published my Catalan blog. Instead, I will simply direct those to whom this applies to a tweet I sent yesterday afternoon:

Whatever you are doing, however you are celebrating Christmas, and whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, I wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas, un gran Bon Nadal, and I hope and pray that all your hopes and dreams for the season may be granted.

See you in 2018!