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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Victory for “Yes”

The two Catalan seperatist forces have won an absolute majority in the Generalitat.

Junts pel Sí (JxS), the coalition formed for these elections, and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) have won an absolute majority of seats in the regional assembly, claiming victory and the right to negotiate seperation from Spain.

However, opponents of independence have claimed that their push lacks legitimacy, as they have failed to win a majority of votes, falling 3 points short.

JxS won 62 of the parliamentary seats, six short of a majority of 68, but will work to form a “transitional” government with CUP, who more than tripled their number of seats and now have 10 representatives. One of the biggest obstacles to an agreement will be JxS’ proposal for Artur Mas to be president, which CUP have consistently opposed due to allegations of corruption (among many other reasons).

For opponents of independence, the fact that the separatist forces only achieved 47.7% of the popular vote suggests that independence is now a dead issue. However, those opposed to independence polled 41.6% and have just 52 representatives. The remaining voters seem to be largely in favour of a legal referendum, but in the absence of such a referendum it is impossible to attribute their votes to either the pro- or anti-independence side.

Ciutadans, who are now the second largest party after increasing their number of seats from 9 to 25, are opposed to independence. Their candidate for president, Inés Arrimadas, said last night that the question had been settled, that a majority were opposed and that another vote should be called with parties focusing on what they would do for Catalunya, rather than independence.

However, to do so would be to betray the majority of people who are unhappy with the current relationship with the Spanish state, and JxS and CUP have the necessary majority in the Generalitat to push for independence or, at least, negotiate a better deal with whoever is in power in Spain after December’s elections, in which the future of Catalunya is bound to be a major theme.

Yesterday’s election is not the end of the independence story, but merely a pause in the current chapter. The story will never end until Catalunya achieves full independence and, until then, there is always time to write another page…

EU incompetent fools

The European Union has blamed “human error” for a major intervention in the Catalan elections, but says it will investigate.

The European Union has said that “human error” resulted in an entire paragraph being added to the official response to a question on the Catalan elections.

Catalans will vote for their regional parliament, the Generalitat, this Sunday in elections the current president and civil society groups have tried to turn into a plebiscite on independence.

Pro-independence politicians and other well-known faces, including former FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, have joined together as candidates for the Junts pel Sí coalition, after the Spanish government in Madrid blocked all other attempts for a referendum on independence. Junts pel Sí have promised to issue a unilateral declaration of independence within 18 months if they win on Sunday.

Madrid have refused to recognise Sunday’s election as a plebiscite, although the Catalan branch of the ruling Partido Popular, and various members of the government including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, have been campaigning on the benefits of a united Spain.

One of the Partido Popular members of the European Parliament, Santiago Fisas Ayxelà, even tabled a question to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, asking:

Would the Commission recognise this unilateral declaration of independence, or would it respect Spain’s territorial integrity and the Spanish State’s competence to manage its internal affairs and essential functions as a State?

It was, as with most political questions, very loaded. The EU is, supposedly, committed to not interfering with the internal affairs of member states, where they do not impact directly on the EU. During the Scottish referendum, the EU’s input only stretched to membership of the EU if it became independent.

The official answer given by President Juncker, in English, was a standard response:

It is not for the Commission to express a position on questions of internal organisation related to the constitutional arrangements of a particular Member State.

However, the Spanish translation of the answer includes an additional paragraph which represents a major intervention, roughly translated as:

The Commission recalls in this context that, in accordance with what is ordered in Article 4, Part 2, of the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty), the Union must respect the “national identity [of Member States], inherent in their fundamental political and constitutional structures, also with reference to local and regional autonomy. It will respect the essential functions of the state, especially those whose object is to guarantee their territorial integrity.” The determination of a Member State’s territory is uniquely established by the national constitutional law and not by a decision of an autonomous parliament contrary to the constitution of the said state.

This additional paragraph was immediately seized upon by the Partido Popular and others opposed to independence, but the EU insists it is not an official position, as the only official answer was that given in English. The EU has put the additional paragraph down to “human error”, a result of having 35,000 employees, but that excuse simply does not wash.

Whether official or not, President Juncker’s response has been manipulated and is now embedded in the minds of many Catalan voters just days before the crucial election.

What is at stake in this case is not just the future of Catalunya and Spain, but the integrity of the EU as a whole. An organisation that purports to represent more than 500,000,000 people cannot simply bat away such a large manipulation as mere “human error”, otherwise it cannot and will not be trusted on similar matters in future.

The EU must investigate exactly how this was allowed to happen, and either update the official response or publicly declare that this is not the view of the Commission. Trust in the EU project, for those who do still trust it, is on the line.