Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont on the future of Spain and Europe

After an intense seven-year campaign of street mobilizations and a popularly organized referendum in October 2017, Madrid responded with a premeditated campaign of violence. The pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament, led by Puigdemont, nonetheless kept its promise: It declared independence from Spain later in the same month.  Within minutes, the Spanish Senate voted to dissolve the Catalan parliament and schedule new elections to replace it.

…Despite gaping holes and inconsistencies in the state’s case against them for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, it is widely expected all of those currently on trial will be found guilty and will serve long prison terms.

…Respect for identities, for the individual and for “the Other,” is the only possible basis for unity. If this respect is not there, we are talking about something very different, something that has very little to do with democracy.  

…We are insisting so strongly on respect for the human right of self-determination. We believe doing so puts democracy to the test. And attacking this right, as the Spanish government is now doing, is precisely what puts democracy in danger. This is why we believe that Catalonia is everybody’s business. A retreat from democracy anywhere on the planet affects all of us democrats in the world.

…This is especially the case within the European Union. I am deeply troubled as democracy recedes in Poland and Hungary. I view it as very much my concern. And I am convinced many Europeans and Spanish nationals are concerned when they see that a member state of the EU like Spain is persecuting people and annulling fundamental rights. Why? Because they understand that, in the end, it will affect them.  

…We have been attacked every which way by the European populist parties, starting with the Front National in France. Why? Because all these populist movements are rooted in a very dangerous form of nationalism.

…The degeneration of democracy in Spain is real. The latest indicators from a variety of international monitoring groups show that Spain is in retreat when it comes to fundamental rights like freedom of expression. For example, the Council of Europe’s Greco Group, which charts political and judicial corruption, has issued two reports sternly warning of the deficiencies of the Spanish judicial system and alleging that it falls short of basic European standards. And of the 11 recommendations for reform in the first report, issued a few years back, not one has been implemented. They were thus forced to issue a second report reminding Spain of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights condemning Spain’s violation of fundamental liberties by its sentencing of people simply exercising their right to free expression.

…People who come to Catalonia on their own and observe things realize quickly that it is a transversal movement with a spectrum of ideology stretching from anti-system beliefs to liberal-conservatives. It has both Christian Democrats and anarchists. It is a very plural movement, and thus cannot in any way be described as classist.

Seventy percent of all Catalans have a father or a mother, or both, from outside of Catalonia. This shows that Catalonia is, quite fortunately, not even close to being an ethnic reality! We believe a Catalan is anyone who wishes to become one. And no one is excluded from this process. Today there are many people with no Catalan roots at all who have decided to become Catalans. We are in no way a society built on the idea of ethnic homogeneity.

…The Catalan language provides us with cohesion and helps to give us a collective identity. But there are, within the culture, a wide variety of attachments to it. Knowing this affects our approach to immigration. Our language-immersion policy is anti-classist because it aims to ensure that the traditionally Catalan-speaking elites not be the only Catalan speakers. It has gone from being a vehicle of cohesion for some to being a vehicle of cohesion and democratic participation for many. This is why we jealously guard the Catalan linguistic model and see it as yet another proof of the non-ethnic nature of our movement.

…We have used linguistic immersion to insure that virtually everyone is in a position to express themselves comfortably in both of the official languages of Catalonia [Catalan and Spanish]. Other countries have approached issues like this in very different ways, assigning certain students to schools in one language and another group of students to schools in another language. This is precisely how ethnic separation begins. We have always fought vigorously against this.

…I am a European citizen and free man with all the rights of any other European citizen, like Mr. Macron or Mrs. Merkel, except in one place in the world, which is called Spain. If I go to Spain, I will be arrested and face the possibility of 25 to 30 years in prison. Outside of Spain, I am free to go anywhere with no charges pending against me.

So how is this possible? Well, it brings us back to the shortcomings in Spain’s culture of democracy. There is a European legal structure that guarantees me fundamental rights that are not, in fact, recognized in Spain. This is possible because in the European Union — where admittedly there still is a lot of work to be done on political integration — respect for rights generally exists. In Spain, they take an à la carte approach to justice.

Exclusive: Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont on the future of Spain and Europe |



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