“The laws have to respond to the requests of the people”

The Catalan Flag is always visible in the cityscape of Barcelona – sometimes more obviously, sometimes a bit hidden. (Photo: lenz)

Before the people of Catalonia can celebrate Christmas, they have to vote for a new regional parliament. akduell editor Lorenza Kaib talked with Joana, a 27-year old employee in a company managing the social services of Barcelona, and Gina, a 25-year old student. The two Barcelona residents were asked about their perception of the current political situation after Article 155 has been put into action.

akduell: How did you experience the day of the referendum and the following weeks?

Joana: I was following the referendum, the mobilizations and the whole process via radio and online television. With a lot of disbelief and tension at the same time. It was a historic day, which Catalonia deserved since the beginning of the Spanish democratic transition. It deserved it because the Franco regime oppressed and harshly banned Catalan culture and language. It was incredible to see how the people of the neighborhood self-organized in schools. People you would never have expected to mobilize for any political cause. And to see how they defied the Spanish police.

Gina: I experienced it very intensely, my nerves and emotions were all on edge. With a lot of anger towards the police and the Spanish government, but at the same time with emotions, when seeing the organization of the people and what they may be able to achieve.

akduell: Did you vote? What do you think about the legal status of the referendum?

Gina: Yes, I voted. I think if a population and a regional government repeatedly asks to hold a referendum, it is totally legitimate. Then it is a civil and fundamental right the government has to accept. In my view, the laws have to respond to the requests of the people, but in reality the laws are imposed on the people and that is problematic. At any time I was aware that it was an act of disobedience, but this is how the greatest changes in politics have been achieved in the past.

Joana: Yes. I voted after work. The referendum was going to be illegal either way. We live in a kingdom under the monarchy, a constitution born of unionist legacy. For years the referendum has been requested, even during the PSOE government [Editor’s note: Partido Socialista Obrero Español, a social democratic political party], but  they also rejected the proposal. Of course, what party or government wants to face a “Yes” as a result? There is one thing Spain or any of its autonomous communities has neither practice nor experience in and that is citizen participation. There are no mechanisms or ways to enable people, who are not in the political sphere, to share their opinion.

The political citizen culture in Spain is based on voting the party with the best electoral program every four years. Entities or associations may have the municipal way to express demands or influence political decision making. Despite this, the population’s interests are not represented enough. In Catalonia, new ways are being opened to boost citizen participation. The 1-O [Editor’s note: Catalan independence referendum on the 1st of October 2017] was not a question of independence alone, as many Catalans voted “No”. It was largely a question of having the “right to vote”,  to express oneself, to be heard; the right to decide and to participate in the political sphere. The independence movement gave enough force to impose a way for citizen participation. However, people do not have any experience in having the right of self-determination. Spain could have taken an example from other countries, such as Denmark or Belgium, where different nations and identities coexist within the same state.

akduellA lot of people compared the police operations after and during the elections with the Franco dictatorship. Do you think this is appropriate or rather exaggerated?

Gina: I didn’t live during the Franco dictatorship, but on the day of the referendum I felt excitement. On the one hand, I felt a lot of inner euphoria when I saw the mobilization of the people. It showed that if the population rises up against economic and political injustices, it can achieve many real changes. On the other hand, I felt great fear and I was very shocked to see what the Spanish state was capable of doing. I also felt very powerless when I saw how peaceful people suffered; what they received was dehumanizing repression.Yes, it is true that I received videos on my mobile phone and they seemed to me like images of the Franco dictatorship. Many older people and my parents’ generation often verbalized this comparison.  

akduell: In the first days of the elections Mariano Rajoy didn’t say anything about what was happening and now his name appears in connection to corruption. What is your opinion on him and the politics of his party?

Gina: I’m ashamed about him being depicted as the great creator of independence when he is really sowing hatred among people. He managed the situation very badly, he manipulated and dehumanized parts of the Catalan population and didn’t care enough about the suffering of many people. He does not know how to do politics, only how to use force. Although on the other hand, I think the politicians have always been very aware of how they have been acting, it is an electoral strategy, but they also make policies governed by their pride. They always have had some discomfort about Catalan and Catalonia, it is clear that they do not consider us Spanish enough.

I think that part of the Catalan and Spanish population thinks this situation goes beyond the independence movement. It is a matter of civil and social rights and of breaking with a post-Franco system, which is still very present due to a constitution with very outdated values written under the eyes of the military. The oligarchy of the system could be questioned – and that’s what they [the PP] won’t allow.

Joana: I think that throughout the interview I have been answering this question. The policy of the PP is outdated. Society, values, institutions, technology, economy, natural resources evolve… The PP makes no progress in updating its policy. Rajoy hasn’t got  charisma or  the ability to speak in public or face debates. He doesn’t speak any foreign languages. He is a puppet of his party, a spokesman without further ado. There are people in his group who seem more qualified.

akduell: What do you think about Puigdemont?

Joana: He could be worse, like Artur Mas, the prior representative of his party. I do not share the ideology of Convergencia [Editor’s note: a party which will run for the election under the new name Junts per Catalunya] but I believe that it will encourage the consideration of the other parties.

Gina: I do not share the ideals of Puigdemont or his political group at all. Yes, it is true that a huge part of the Catalan population has been fighting and organizing for the referendum and independence. I believe that it is a movement that should continue to be on the street, to bet on a real change and not only on territory and borders.

Now the independence movement is very pluralistic and although I do not share its interests, I respect it. I was very critical about it when Puigdemonts plans were aimed at the independence. Later on, during the entire independence process lead by him, I was very interested in what was happening, but I was also precipitate. It is true that the independence parties won seats in parliament, but they did not win in votes, nor won the unionist bloc in votes, since there was a political party (En Comú Podem) that did not opt ​​for either side, to respect its plurality.

There was no majority force to start the independence process in the way they had planned in the first place. However, there was an impressively high percentage in favour of independence in a plebiscitary election, which is supposed to serve the acceptance of the referendum. But the mismanagement of the Spanish Government after these Catalan elections has been so catastrophic that it has further impelled the independence process and, in my opinion, legitimized the referendum and the coming struggle.

Despite this, I must say that I did not expect a president like Puigdemont and his party  of right, European and liberal economies to go that far. I refer to the challenge of the European project and the liberal economic system that it supposes. Another aspect is  the threats of imprisonment. I’m somewhat surprised about that.

akduell: In general: What are your hopes and worries concerning the future of Catalonia? How do you feel about the parliamentary election on December 21st?

Joana: My hopes for Catalonia: that there will be new initiatives for citizen participation and that feminism, gender violence and ecology will be made subjects of discussion. The independence process should be accompanied by a rethinking of the Spanish political model and the monarchy. Thinking about the December elections, I do not have many expectations: the Spanish government has already shown how it reacts when it does not like the political situation. These elections have been imposed upon them. I do not know what they will do with the many votes for pro-independence parties … I am very sceptical.

Gina: Concerning Article 155 and the elections, I am very angry. It is madness that the Spanish government has intervened the Catalan government the way they did. This justifies the mismanagement of the government. There are only few possibilities to do politics, to negotiate and listen to the population. Although, on the other hand, I think this scenario has been sought on purpose. Maybe this intervention against Catalonia will help them during the elections. Catalonia already had it and they have lost it but in the rest of the territory they can gain votes. I sincerely hope that it is the beginning of a great change, the real change we need in this country.