Madrid stuck in the past with idea of unity above all else – Catalan MEP

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona, protesting the apparent desire of the Catalan government to create an independent state. Days before, hundreds of thousands had marched in support of the push for secession. An unrelenting Madrid, unwilling to let any of this happen, is ready to prevent Catalonia from becoming independent. Will it come to the use of military force? Is the drive for independence strong enough to overcome all the obstacles? We ask Josep-Maria Terricabras, member of the European Parliament for the Republican Left party of Catalonia.

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Sophie Shevarnadze: Josep-Maria Terricabras, welcome to the show, it’s good to have you on our show, lot’s to talk about and to discuss. So, the government in Madrid has fired Catalan politicians and dismissed their parliament. But it’s not like the Catalan parliament will pack their bags and go home. As a matter of fact, the Catalan Vice-President has already said the officials will not comply with Madrid’s direct rule… So how do you feel like this parallel rival government situation will unfold?

Josep-Maria Terricabras: Well, that’s really a very difficult situation, but I have to say that it is a scandal that the PM of Spain fires, sacks the President of Catalonia, the Ministers and the Parliament, who have been elected by people, democratically. He does this without a judge behind, without judicial decision. That’s absolutely incredible, and against all principles of Democracy.

SS: Yeah, but this happened. You might think it’s scandalous but it happened, it is your reality right now, and you may not know for sure what's going to happen, but you must have your ideas, you must ponder upon this - how do you think will this two-government rule situation will unfold? What will happen?

JT: Well, this will be difficult as I said. I imagine, I hope very much, that the Spanish government will not use police force as it used on October 1. I hope for that. In that sense, we will have two legalities for a while, the Spanish legality imposing its legality on Catalonia and our normal legality, the one people chose and voted on two years ago.

SS: But how will the Spanish imposement of legality work out in Catalan reality? I’m sure the ministers and the Vice-President will not carry the orders of Madrid out… So when you say that we’re going to have two legalities, how are they actually going to correlate with each other?

JT: That’s the difficult point, because I imagine that some people might be scared and may wish to follow the instructions given by the Spanish government. But I hope also very much that the majority of our officials, of our people working in the Catalan Administration will go on as ever.

SS: The chief of Catalan police has already accepted Madrid orders. Does that leave Catalonia disarmed? Because, you, I mean, Spaniards, the Madrid side has the army on its own and it has police - why did he do it? Did he do it to avoid possible clashes between local and federal police?

JT: Yeah, I think that’s a tactical move, accepted by the Catalan government. You see, Catalan police is the first police in Catalonia - we have also the Spanish police and the Guardia Civil which is the military police. And to prevent that those two Spanish police bodies overwrite the power of our Catalan police - it’s good to see that our police adapts itself to the new situation. In that sense, the head of our police has just given way to a new head of the police in order to make sure that the Spanish government is not at all angry with out police, that’s a tactical move, because they have a strong police force and we have a weaker police force, and we have to preserve them of being irrelevant.

SS: Madrid is actually threatening pro-independence politicians with arrest - President Puigdemont is already accused of “rebellion” and could get up to 30 years in prison. What do you make of it? Are the Catalonians going to just let their leader be in prison, get arrested?

JT: No, I hope not. Look, “rebellion” according to our penal code can only be applied if there has been an upheaval and aggression, and our President has never done this, so it’s absolutely incredible. But, since the Spanish government invents everything and interferes always and interprets what it wants - then it’s possible that they try to charge the President with those crimes. But, then, our population - that’s our strength - our population will defend him. I hope, that  also will our police,  Our population, we have had in the streets millions of people asking for independence in a very peaceful way - in that same way they will proceed in the future.

SS: What I’m wondering is if there is a real danger that your President may end up in prison, because of this, and you’re saying that your population will defend him - how exactly they will defend him? It’s not like if they come out on the streets, Madrid will get scared and not go after what it decided to do…

JT: When you look at the images we have coming from October 1, you saw that the Spanish police acted in a very violent way against the ballot boxes, et cetera, but people defended many of those ballot boxes. And police could not take them, so we can protect our leaders and we can protect ourselves in a Gandhian way, I mean, in a very peaceful way, because violence is on the other side, not on our.

SS: The question is regional backing and a network of activists enough to hold out against Madrid’s pressure and for how long? Because, I mean, Rajoy does have an army, that’s, most importantly, on his side. What do the pro-independence supporters have?

JT: Yeah, that’s an important point and I hope that he will not use the army against us. If you remember mr. Tusk, the President of the Council of the EU, said to him 3-4 days ago: “Please, mr. Rajoy use the force of arguments, not the arguments of force” and this is what has prevented up to now from the army in Spain attacking people, because they would like to do so, but I don’t think they will dare to do it, because this is very much against the European opinion and against European values.

SS: Also the question is, how much the passion and the drive that the separatist movement has is enough to withhold the situation, because hundreds of thousands of people are now in the streets of Barcelona in support of Spanish unity. It does feel like from the news that  Catalonia is split, it’s split. Can the separatist politicians really count on popular support?

JT: Yeah, absolutely, because it’s not split. They are presenting the situation in Catalonia as if it was a split country and the minister of Foreign Affairs says things incredible - that they wish to restore public services in Catalonia. We always had very nice public services! They are not to be restored! And they want to restore “freedom of media” -  we have very free media, which had a lot of praise, international praise. They are just lying a lot. And, Catalonia is not split. In Catalonia we see that there are different opinions, of course, that’s democracy, and today, 300,000 people demonstrated for the unity of Spain. Okay, two days ago, 350,000 people demonstrated in favor of independence. That’s fantastic, that’s okay! What I don’t understand is that they didn’t want to vote on October 1st, when we had a referendum. We could have seen how many they had, how many we had. They didn’t want, on the contrary, they attacked us for trying to count us. That’s a terrible sign. I suppose that they think that they are not enough.

SS: The referendum itself - I want to talk about how it was conducted, because it was pretty tumultuous - without any oversight, conducted in chaos, a lot of people who were against independence stayed home amid police violence, how can we be sure that the results of it are actually legitimate?

JT: Well, the results are legitimate in one sense - look, if you break my legs, then you cannot blame me because I can’t walk, and  that’s what the police and the Spanish government did. Without them we would have a very normal, good, fantastic referendum. They tried to cut-off this referendum and to make it impossible. They didn’t succeed, on the contrary, in spite of the force, of their violence, over 2 million people went to vote. So, I think that in that sense we can say that it is absolutely legitimate, and in spite of the difficulties, we achieved, we succeeded in having not a very normal referendum but a very good one, because we opposed violence and undemocratic principles.

SS: Referendums, in general, we’ve seen, referendums of independence, can proceed in a very civilized manner. Take Italy. Northern regions of Lombardia and Veneto, they have had referendums on greater autonomy from Rome. Although both regions voted ‘yes’, there were no clashes or heavy crackdown from police. Why did it work out differently in Catalonia? What’s different with Catalonia? Why so much violence?

JT: Exactly, that’s what I don’t understand. That depends on the government, of course. There are countries which are civilized countries, and there are other countries which have governments which are not civilized. Imagine what happened in Scotland - in Scotland, they agreed with the British government to organize a referendum, or in Quebec, with Canada. But in Spain it has been absolutely impossible! We tried 20 times to talk about that, and Mr. Rajoy always said “No”. “I can’t” - he said, which is not true, because the Spanish Constitution doesn’t prohibit to have referendum and then he added: “And I don’t want”. And that’s it! He doesn't want, and instead of having a political discussion, he sends us to the court or sends the police against us in a very irrational way.

SS: So how do you explain this irrationality and this forceful manner of taking decisions - because, like you’ve said, Scotland and the referendum in Quebec, they were like the best examples of how this can work out; and actually, if you give people the right to choose, history shows that they choose to stay within the country that they wanted to be separate with. So, why do you think President Rajoy is actually choosing this irrational way?

JT: I suspect - that’s just my guess - I suspect that, I guess, that the Conservatives in Spain, but also the Socialists, who agree completely with the leading party, that they have an odd and old idea of unity, and of the state. Of unity, because they consider that unity is sacred. Unity is like God! You cannot have an opinion in front of unity! You have just to accept it in an almost religious way. And that’s really stupid! This belongs to the 18th century, but not to 21st century. Look at Germany, Germany is a unified country, and nevertheless they have Länder, they have states, and look at the United States of America - they have flag and all are proud of being Americans, and nevertheless they have states with very different powers. To conceive unity in a more flexible way - this is, apparently, impossible for the Spanish leaders.

SS: And there are, of course, repercussions and consequences of what’s going on right now. For instance, big business has been fleeing Catalonia in droves during this crisis. The push for independence has rested very much on the strength of the Catalan economy. Is that under threat now? Will it slump after independence?

JT: I don’t think so. What happened up to now is not exactly what the Spanish government says, but some… it’s true that some industries have now seen just the official stance in Madrid or in other places, but they continue to work in Catalonia, and the most important point is that we have thousands and thousands of industries and just a small, a very small part of them has gotten outside the country. And secondly, it’s also important that investment in Catalonia are increasing. Last year, 2016, we double the number of investors in Catalonia, so I don’t think that business and money, so to speak, are afraid of the situation there, because they know that we are very responsible people and we are good workers, that we are intelligent people, and that we will succeed. No, I don’t think that’s a big threat. No, in case it will be, it would be a threat for Catalonia and also for Spain, of course, because Catalonia is acting, still, as a part of Spain, economically speaking.

SS: So tell me something, is the independence movement rational or national? I mean, is it all about the money? Do Catalans want to break away from Spain because they want to pay less taxes or is it more about national pride, sense of belonging?...

JT: I imagine that when there are many millions of people, asking for that, there are different reasons, but I’m sure this is not an ethnic movement, because we are asking for that - people born here, born outside, speaking Catalan, speaking Spanish, elderly people, young people, it’s a transversal, very plural movement and not just with the wish of money or something like that, because we have shown our solidarity with Spain in all these years and with the rest of the world also. No, I think it’s a matter of dignity, of what an important philosopher Immanuel Kant, German philosopher, said in 1784, five years before the French Revolution, said: “What is Enlightenment? Enlightenment is the realization that you have achieved the maturity, that you are not an infant, that you are not to be dependent, that you have to be free” - that’s the idea that we have. We don’t need monitoring, we don’t need people taking care of us, we can decide on our own.

SS: The EU says Catalonia would not automatically become a member state if it becomes independent from Spain. Are you ok with that?

JT: The EU is always reacting in front of such things very badly. It did in all the republics that show up in the world, in the last years, there have been a lot of new republics, and they always said, the Presidents of the community, of the council, of the parliament, they said “No, you are not going to become a new state, you are not going to become a member of the EU” and all of them, almost all of them are inside. So they change their mind, because they are extremely conservative. In the very beginning they protect each other, that’s not a Union, it’s a club of states, but at the same time, they are very pragmatic, so that when they see that it’s more convenient for them to accept the new states than to say that they don’t - then, they accept it. It takes a bit of time, it cannot be done in 24 hours, but I think that we will follow the path of other countries which have done this way before us.

SS: Why do you think Brussels is not interfering in this crisis? There are many ways of interfering…

JT: No, that’s strange, that’s really strange. They say things very fantastic. They have adopted the vocabulary of the Spanish government, of course, but if you look how the Spanish PP (People’s Party) is introduced in the Institutions in Europe, you will understand why - because they are a reason of interference, of intrusion of PP in many institutions. But I don’t think that they defend, still a very strange position, that this is an internal affair of Spain. It’s fantastic to say it is, when Russia Today is interested in that, when China is interested in that, when Canada is, when the States are… It’s not an internal affair, it’s an internal affair of the EU - that’s it! And that’s why it is not understandable, not easily understandable that they don’t care about that. They will have to do this in the coming days or weeks.

SS: At the same time, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker admits there are ‘more cracks’ in EU due to the unfolding crisis in Spain. He says he does want to see 98 states in EU in 15 years - is this what the Catalan independence going to do to Europe, are others going to follow the Catalan example?

JT: No. No. You cannot wish to be independent when you woke up in the morning and say “Hoo, I want to!” - no, no, no. There are a lot of regions which want more autonomy. But full independence - look at this right, for independence, just Scotland and Catalonia are ready nowadays. In 10 years - I don’t know. It’s funny, extremely funny that Mr. Juncker says this when he comes from Luxembourg. Luxembourg! The smallest country in the Union. It is smaller than many cities in Catalonia! And he doesn’t want to have many small countries in Europe. That’s fantastic. I would say, Mr. Juncker should try to unify Luxembourg with Germany, for instance, also. It would be nice and great.

SS: Mr. Terricabras, thank you very much for this insight, thank you for this interview, we wish you all the best. We were talking to the member of the European Parliament for the Republican Left party of Catalonia, Josep Maria Terricabras, discussing how things are expected to play out for Catalonia which has declared independence just recently. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.