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Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, a Professor of Mediterranean Politics and Politics of the Developing World at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, recently interviewed Josep Maria Terricabras i Nogueras, Member of the European Parliament for Esquerra Republican de Catalunya Parliamentary Member (ERC), about the ongoing crisis in Catalonia. 

Why Catalonian independence?

There are millions of people who want the independence of Catalonia and everyone has their reasons. But it seems to me that the strong one, the basic one is dignity. And here I argue, because in my previous life I was a professor of philosophy for many years at the university, with a text by Immanuel Kant, “Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” He wrote this five years before the French Revolution, in 1784, where he began by saying almost literally “the Enlightenment is the escape from being underage in which man has been guilty of self-imposing.” It seems to me that the people of Catalonia are finally aware that they have reached adulthood (political adulthood). We do not want tutors. And above all, we do not want imposed tutors. And that is the issue. It is a problem of dignity. There may be cultural, economic, and social reasons for advocating for independence. Nonetheless, the basic reason is this one, we want to decide since we have reached adulthood. 

It cannot be that decisions are made (and above all decisions that are contrary to our desires) from the outside. For this reason, the slogan “The right to decide” is strongly supported in Catalonia (i.e., even by people who would like to remain part of Spain). This is what is meant by reaching adulthood as a society.

Do you consider Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya [ERC] a “leftist” & “non-nationalist” political party? If yes, how & why a “leftist” & “non-nationalist” political party advocates for independence secession?

Yes, it’s a left-wing and non-nationalist political party—I do not see any contradiction. All independent countries have a right and left. This means that when they became independent they also had these. Therefore, independence, autonomy, and this sense of dignity are held by people of the left and right. Precisely the grace of Catalonia at this time is that the desire for independence is extremely transversal. From the right, quite right, to the left, quite left. But it seems to me that it is natural for a people to declare their adulthood, as in a family. Whether they are left-wing or right-wing. I find it very natural.

How could the October 1 referendum be considered valid and legitimate due to its’ “low” turn-out based on the boycott (or ignoring of it) by the non-independentist section of Catalonia?

It seems to me that there was no low participation. The problem of the referendum was that it had obviously been treated as illegal by the Spanish government. In fact, the Spanish government declares everything they don’t want illegal. I can understand that the Spanish Government did not want that referendum, but what I cannot fathom that they sent the police to crush, beat, make blood to people who wanted to vote.. But of course, what you cannot do is “break my legs and then complain that I do not walk.” That is, it is because of them that there was not more participation. 

For example, they kidnapped 700,000 possible votes already deposited within ballot boxes. And more than two million people voted yes; Catalonia is a country where 5.5 million people can vote. In these circumstances, it was extraordinary. It was an outstanding success.

What happened at the parliamentary session of October 27th? Was the Republic of Catalonia declared? If yes, what are the practical consequences of such a declaration?

The truth is that there are few practical consequences. That is, the Republic of Cataloniawas proclaimed by a democratically elected parliamentary majority on October 27. Nonetheless, the Attorney General’s accusations of our government goes back two years ago. And that is when I saw everything clear. Because just two years ago this government was elected. What they want, what they attack, what they are against is the existence of this government. As you know, eight members of the Catalan Cabinet (including the Vice-President) are in provisional prison while they await for their trial; and the President and other four Cabinet members are on “exile” in Brussels. This Catalan government has fulfilled its electoral promise. 

The Catalan Government that emerged from the parliamentary elections of September 27, 2015 had made an electoral commitment of declaring independence. It was said that independence would be declared if the pro-independentist political parties won, and they did. Nobody said anything at the time because they thought that we were joking. We do not have the capacity to act against the power of the Spanish state. Among other things, because we have opted for non-violence. We are Gandhians, the whole country. We are prepared to be mistreated and killed. 

What sort of relation would a Catalan Republic have with the Spanish State and its different peoples?

Our problem is not against the peoples of the Spanish State. Therefore, the relations of a Catalan Republic with the other “peoples” of the Spanish State will be excellent. Our problem is against the government of the Partido Popular (PP) and against the structure and idea of ​​State that this party has. This is not just the PP. The Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) and Ciudadanos (Cs)—all three have an idea that ​​the unity of Spain is sacred. This idea is from the 18th Century—not the 21. I mean, Germany also has unity, but it has as well Länder (i.e., German political federal sub-units). Throughout The United States you see flags fluttering all over the country, and they say “we are all Americans.” However, there are states with brutal differences among them; because some may extradite and some have the death penalty, but there is unity. But this flexible unity is impossible in Spain. They have a vision of unity I have already labelled as sacred. You have to kneel down to it, as if it were a God, something divine. And, of course, this truth makes everything impossible. We cannot even talk about our case. Mr. Rajoy never wanted to speak about. He said he could not, but said as well he did not want to.

What about the show of force of non-independentists on the massive rally on October 29 in Barcelona?

I think that everyone has the right to express themselves, including those who think against me. That is democracy. But I have difficulty with how they express their claims. For example, their numbers are never reliable because it turns out that they send coaches of many people from outside Catalonia to their marches. If that suits them, what can we do about it? But then, almost always, it is done with insults and it ends up with violence. Something that has never happened in the numerous manifestations of millions of people we have done during the last five years. 

Therefore, I respect their ability and right to mobilize and organize themselves. Nonetheless, when there have been ballot boxes, they have not been there. And now, when it seems they want to vote, it is because, I suspect, they think that they might have some help from the State. Having stated this, I do not perceive as a problem this highly mobilized and politicized section of Catalonia against the idea of the Republic of Catalonia. No, at the moment, they simply oppose us. But we do not hold the power. When we hold power, I guess those that oppose the Catalan Republic now would also become more accepting of this political project known as the Republic of Catalonia. Therefore, these issues must be addressed calmly and peacefully. When we are in a republican situation, we will see what we can do with these people that have a more contrary and violent attitude against the republican ideal. But I trust that we will sort things out.

On the international scene, what sort of international lobbying does your party is working on? Which international players are helping navigate towards the Catalan Republic?

The truth is that since we are not a State, we have always had difficulties in approaching other States. The European Union [EU] is not a union. «It is a union in the making.» Right now, it’s a club of States. In Catalan we have a popular expression that says «cats with cats do not scratch each other.» Cats treat each other well and they protect themselves. In this sense, our whole process of contacts, especially within Europe, but with the rest of the world as well, have never been at the top level of these States. Nevertheless, there has been some positive contact with important think tanks in states like Germany, Belgium, the US, the UK, France, and some Nordic and Baltic countries. And we think that at some point these influential circles will create a dent in our favor. 

But for now, it is true, that the European Union is very hostile to us. Notice that at this time, the three leaders of the three groups that make up the European Union (i.e., the Council, the Commission and the Parliament), all three are from the European-Popular Party (i.e., ideologically center-right). And they are absolutely partial to the Spanish-PP. Therefore, it will be very difficult to break this shell. But we will achieve this. 

I trust that the international community will end up proactively acting since Spain as a whole can end very badly; not just Catalonia. Since Catalonia is currently an important part of Spain, these attacks of the Spanish government are against itself. And I only think it’s that way, because they think the unity of Spain is religious. And because they are fascists. 

Finally, our current work in the European Union is the creation of a “friendship group” for Catalonia in the European Parliament. This is because there are many MEPs that separately, from different parliamentary groups, and from different countries, are in favor of our cause. We know this because some of them came to Catalonia as observers for the October 1st referendum and some have published critical writings. We trust that such a group may provide the space for some unity of action within the European Parliament and within European institutions.

Could you give examples of “resistance strategies” to de-legitimize the Spainish State's actions against Catalan sovereignty (i.e., short-, medium- & long-term)? Or examples of “pro-active strategies” to make the Catalan Republic a reality not just a wish?

A State has a recognized force that is a military and a police force. Basically this is the only thing the Spanish State has over Catalonia (i.e., force and coercion) because Catalonia has disconnected mentally and emotionally from the Spanish State (i.e., the Spanish State has lost its’ moral legitimacy). And the worse it treats us, the more we disconnect. Can you imagine a couple that wants to divorce, and one member of the couple in order to seduce the other batters and mistreats her/him? As a form of seduction it is terrible. Mentally we have already gone, but they have the strength, and in the face of this force, we cannot do much. We can react in a Gandhian way, as I said before. I think there must be positive actions. For example, a general strike. I am very supportive of this sort of action. We will see if the groups agree or not. But I trust they will come together and make a general strike that would stop the country for 2 or 3 days. This would make clear to Spain, and above all to Europe, that this conflict does not interest anybody. We also want to show to the EU that there exists in southern Europe a fairly rich region with 7.5 million  that could be a reliable economic partner.

Could you comment on the imprisonment of of the Government of the Generalitat and the strategy of Catalonian President Puigdemont and the other four directors in Brussels?

Yes, the imprisonment of half-government is something literally hallucinating. Especially when accused of rebellion. Listen, rebellion by definition has an element of violence. There must be a violent uprising. The government has not risen violently. The government has performed as a government for the last 2 years. True, we finally declared independence, because there was no other way, since the State did not want to speak about it and because it was in the priorities of the Catalan Government’s electoral program. Nevertheless, has violence has not existed nor used. Therefore, it is absolutely amazing that this government can be accused of rebellion. 

But apart from that, we have the Catalonian president in Brussels and four other cabinet members. I was with them a few days ago at the press conference that the president gave in which there were around 250 international journalists. This was a good strategy, since we have taken half a government to Brussels. They are in exile, because if they were in Catalonia they would be in jail. Therefore, it is crucial that there is still the voice of the legitimate government of Catalonia that can say something. I trust that we will eventually sit down at the table and talk about everything.

To conclude, I would like for you to make a philosophical reflection regarding the Attorney General's broad definition of violence. Do you have any philosophical impression with regard to this question?

Philosophically there is an extraordinarily interesting debate here. But, the current Attorney General has been censored by the majority of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, but still the Spanish Government has kept him in his position. Nevertheless, an Attorney General needs to justify his accusations in legal terms, not over-expansive philosophical exercises. And in legal terms, the articles that speak of rebellion or sedition, when they speak of violence they want to say specific things: the uprising of the military or the use of arms. At the moment this Attorney General is attempting to equate massive passive mobilizations and resistance as evidence of violent acts or of potential use of violence.

I am with Gandhi and with Hélder Câmara (who was a famous Brazilian bishop for many years) who were in favor of non-violence, but obviously knew that a strong and worthy reaction by the oppressed had a strong burden not of aggressive violence, but of moral violence. For example, the young man who was in Tiananmen Square in front of the Chinese tanks, what was he doing? It was an act that was very violent to us. Of course, but he was the pacifist. The violent ones were the others because they could kill him. It seems to me that we should distinguish between types of violence. There is a violence that is the firm, convinced, and clear expression of your own position, without using physical violence. And that’s what we do.

This interview does not represent the Haas Institute’s position on these issues.