Catalan independence leaders accused of 'totalitarian attitude'

Spain’s foreign minister says regional government excludes views of people who do not back independence

The Spanish foreign minister has accused the pro-independence Catalan government of exhibiting a “totalitarian attitude” by excluding and ignoring the 50% of Catalans who oppose breaking away from Spain.

Josep Borrell, who is himself Catalan, made the remarks a day after nine senior Catalan leaders were jailed for sedition over their roles in the failed attempt for regional independence.

The verdict prompted furious protests across Catalonia and led to angry clashes with police after demonstrators attempted to occupy Barcelona-El Prat airport.

Borrell, who will soon become the EU’s foreign policy chief, said that while the central government would continue to seek a political solution to the independence crisis, the Catalan government of President Quim Torra could not carry on claiming to represent the views of all the region’s people.

“I think the root of the problem is that the independence movement ignores the ‘Catalanness’ of those people who aren’t in favour of independence,” he said on Tuesday.

“When you exclude part of the population because they don’t share your views and claim that only those who think like you are ‘the people’, that’s a totalitarian attitude: ‘You’re only one of the people if you think like me.’”

Catalan pro-independence parties have never managed to take 50% of the vote in regional elections, while popular support for seceding from Spain – which reached a record high of 48.7% in October 2017 – is currently at 44%, with 48.3% of Catalans in opposition.

The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, speaking to media.
The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell,
speaking to media.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Borrell said the supreme court’s sentence could not be seen as an attack on all Catalans. “Don’t abuse the word ‘Catalans’,” he said. “Don’t exclude me from society … Catalan society is divided in two and one of those parts excludes the other.”

Borrell also said the seven supreme court judges had made it quite clear that they were dealing with a judicial matter and not trying to solve a political problem with their verdict.

Speaking in Barcelona on Tuesday, Torra said the bid for independence had not increased division among Catalans, adding that independence was “the clearly expressed wish of the majority of Catalans”.

He also said the Spanish state had refused to come up with any proposals to resolve the conflict. Asked what proposal his government was putting forward, he said: “Our proposal is to talk, end the repression and hold a referendum.”

Torra’s comments came as the former Catalan vice-president jailed for 13 years over his part in the unsuccessful bid claimed a new referendum was unavoidable.

Oriol Junqueras and eight other separatist leaders were jailed for sedition by the supreme court on Monday.

In an emailed interview with Reuters, Junqueras, who was sentenced to 13 years, said he was convinced a political solution had to be found to end the bitter independence conflict.

“What I’m sure of is that this conflict is to be resolved via ballot boxes … we are convinced that sooner or later a referendum is inevitable because otherwise, how can we give a voice to the citizens?” he wrote from prison, adding that he did not regret organising the referendum in October 2017.

Catalan pro-independence protesters gather during a demonstration at Barcelona-El Prat airport.
Catalan pro-independence protesters gather during a demonstration at Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photograph: Bernat Armangué/AP

Junqueras said he thought the supreme court’s decision would serve only to galvanise the independence movement, which has lost momentum recently amid divisions over the best way to achieve a split from Spain. “I’m sure this sentence will not weaken the independence movement, quite the contrary,” he said.

The nine separatist leaders were convicted of a range of offences, including sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience, but cleared of the most serious charge of violent rebellion.

Hours after the verdicts were announced, an international arrest warrant was reissued for the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who spearheaded the push for independence. The warrant said Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest by the Spanish authorities, was wanted for alleged sedition and misuse of public funds.

The verdict and sentences triggered angry protests, with demonstrations held around the region and skirmishes with police at El Prat, where around 110 flights were cancelled. Officers used baton charges and foam and rubber bullets to try to move protesters.

Torra described the demonstrations at Barcelona airport and elsewhere as “a normal response to the injustice of the sentences”.

Spain’s acting interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said Tsunami Democràtic, the group that coordinated the action at the airport, was under investigation.

Catalan health authorities said medical personnel had attended to 131 people on Monday. Twenty-four people were taken to hospital, including one man who suffered an eye injury that could have been caused by a rubber bullet.

A spokeswoman for the central government’s delegation in Catalonia said officers from the national police force had fired a “very small number” of rubber bullets outside the airport after receiving a request for back-up from the Catalan force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

The national police force are authorised to use rubber bullets but the Mossos d’Esquadra use foam projectiles after rubber bullets were outlawed by the regional parliament five years ago.

Of the 131 people who received medical attention, 26 were Catalan and 11 national police officers.

The pro-independence Catalan National Assembly has called on its supporters for a massive show of force on Tuesday evening outside the offices of the Spanish government in Barcelona and three other Catalan cities.


Sam Jones in Madrid and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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