The American writer and publisher was interviewed on June 20th in Brussels
Liz Castro, coordinator of VilaWeb Global, was invited to Brussels on June 20th by the ANC to speak about the Catalan independence process. She was interviewed by Aleix Sarri, advisor to Ramon Tremosa, Member of the European Parliament, and Erika Casajoana, Brussels-based Communiations Consultant. They asked Castro about the best way to get Americans interested in the process, what the United States government will or won’t do, what she thinks about the Spanish government’s strategies, and if the new king will broker a pact. There was also a lively question and answer session at the end of the interview. A transcript is provided below.
Introduction (Aleix Sarri): Liz Castro is one of most active people explaining the Catalan situation outside Catalonia. Coordinator of English edition of VilaWeb, editor of What’s up with Catalonia? and also presents weekly #CatalanTalk on Twitter in multiple languages.
What is your assessment of the internationalization process?
I think we’ve come a long way internationalizing the process. In 1985, no one in my country had heard of Catalonia. They had no idea there was a separate identity of people there, a people who felt themselves to be a nation. You see it in the newspapers. They actually use the word “Catalonia”. And once you have a name, that place “exists”. There are lots more sources of information, Sapiens, blogs, websites, social media. It’s hard to get other countries interested: they’re all concerned with their own issues. It’s a challenge to get people from other countries interested in Catalonia.
Erika Casajoana: It’s surprising that as an American you are so involved. What does it mean to you to be Catalan? We have been called closed, but with you, being Catalan doesn’t seem to have to do with ethnic origins.
I moved to Barcelona in 1987, after studying a little bit of Catalan at UC Berkeley. I had enough money to stay for a couple of months. I happened to find a job by accident in a computer company and when my coworkers found out that I knew a tiny bit of Catalan they never spoke to me in Spanish again. They would if I didn’t understand something, but in general the common language was Catalan. That was a huge gift that they gave to me. I could tell right from the beginning that that was the key to being part of the group.
At the beginning, my Catalan was very weak. But people were very generous, this was 1987, and it was like an embrace, just because I had made the effort to speak their language. The fact that I learned Catalan was definitely a key to joining this community and I felt very much at home. At the Summer Catalan University in Prada in 1986, when people found out I spoke a little Catalan, they treated me like a celebrity, interviewed me on the radio. But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was the way they talked about themselves and their people and there was this identity that they had as a nation that I had never felt before. In the US I felt very ambiguous about being from the United States. Our government has done things I’m not very proud of. I love the United States. I am American and I feel very American for many reasons and there were a lot of things I felt conflicted about. But here there was this people who knew just who they were and I was very attracted to that. And then when I came to live, and you all opened your arms to me it made me feel very much at home. Whenever I come back to Barcelona, and now I live there, I always feel at home there. I’m not sure why.
You are part of a group of prominent foreigners who have become great ambassadors, including Matthew Tree, Patrícia Gabancho. What do you have in common with them?
Matthew Tree is from London and Patrícia is from Argentina, so our backgrounds are very different, so I think what we have in common is our love of Catalonia, of the language, of the character of the people. It’s hard to paint an entire people with one brush, but there’s something about being in Catalonia that I really like. There’s anemphasis on family, on connections, on community, people stay together, they stay in the same place, they work very hard, they also go out and have fun, they talk all the time—which is hard for me because I’m not a big talker—so I’m not sure what Matthew and Patrícia find, but it’s a lovely place to be.
Being American, you must know what arguments are better for explaining independence. What is the most important point for helping Americans empathize with the Catalan independence process?
I don’t think Americans understand the language issue at all. I think that monolingual speakers look at language just as a solely a communication tool. You speak the language that you can. Americans are happy to travel about and proud to ask for a coffee in Italian, or whatever, and they don’t really understand why you would choose another language. If you have two, and you can speak the one that others think you should, why not? I don’t think Americans understand the language question. We Americans speak almost entirely only English. We traditionally lose our languages after three generations, all minority groups. My great-grandparents were from the south of Spain and no one in my family speaks Spanish except me so [the language issue] is not a good avenue to follow.
Choosing your own destiny, choosing what your future should be, voting on what your future should be, democracy, the importance of being able to say what you want, those are very strong American values. That’s where I would go. The economic questions, I think are important as well. Being able to decide where your taxes are spent, and wanting to be generous with other parts of the world, whether they be in Extramadura or whether they be in Greece, but being able to choose that, being able to have some say over that… Americans fought our own War of Independence over “taxation without representation”. We understand what it means to be taxed without having any say about it.
Aleix: Despite fact that you live in Barcelona, you have a perspective and a distance. What do you think are the biggest risks that we face on our road to freedom?
I think the biggest risk is to lose. I don’t know if there is a risk about choosing your own future and not having Spain tell you what to do. I don’t think there is.
Not be recognized, internationally, for example?
I don’t think that’s a possibility. It’s unheard of that 7.5 million people who form part of the European Community right now would be kicked out. Why would they do that? First of all it would be against the interests of the EU. It would be against the interests of Spain itself, because then there would be these borders between its products and the rest of Europe which it’s very interested in. It would be against the interests of the multinationals that are right now in Catalonia, of which there are very many. It just makes no sense. The only reason that anyone is talking about whether Catalonia will be part of the EU is because they want to be fear mongering. They want to make Catalans afraid so that they say “Oh, we won’t be able to be part of the EU so we better just stay where we are.” I don’t think that argument holds any weight. As soon as Catalans vote for an independence referendum then we will see the EU will say “Please stay with us” because they don’t want 7.5 million prosperous hard-working people who are part of all these multinational companies to go join EFTA and show the rest of Europe that maybe there are other options to being part of the EU. I think that’s not in the EU’s interest.
I don’t think that’s a risk. Are there other risks of being your own country? I mean look at all of the countries that have become independent from Spain so far of which there are twenty-plus. None of them has said, “Oops, we made a mistake.” Not one. All have gone along their merry ways. And they seem very happy.
Aleix: So in the same sense, you would think that Americans would recognize us? What can we do to reach more of the American public? What can we do to reach Washington, but not only Washington. America is a very diverse state, a very diverse nation, it’s very different in the Northeast or the South or where you come from, California. How can we reach the different sensibilities of the US?
It’s true that there are many different parts of the United States and people from the Northeast… you know we have similar stereotypes about people from different areas of the United States…. I think the most important things for gaining American recognition and even support for Catalan independence is to show that Catalans are determined to continue. Because what Americans want is stability. What Americans are interested in, in terms of Catalonia, is their business interests, and they want to make sure that those are not put in danger, and so if the Americans see that Catalonia is determined to go forward and there is no turning back—which is what it seems like—then they are more apt to recognize Catalonia sooner rather than later so that the transition is smooth, and so that there is not instability, so that there is not insecurity about what will happen. It seems that that’s what’s happening right now.
So, in terms of how to get to more Americans in different places. I just think it’s very, very hard to interest America in things that are beyond its borders. We are very insular, partly because we’re huge. There are almost 400 million Americans and there is a lot going on. It’s hard for me—it’s true I was born in California, but mostly I feel like I’m from the Northeast, I had lived in Massachusetts for 20 years until September—it’s hard for me to keep track of what’s going on in California, let alone Wisconsin or Arkansas, or someplace smaller, or farther away, or less media attractive.
So I think that what the Catalans can do most is be consistent, be clear about the goal, and to insist that what we want is a democratic vote. Because that resonates with Americans. We understand about voting and so if that’s clear, if what Catalans want is democracy, no American is going to say, “What?” No, they just wouldn’t. I think there’s ample support for that. Even if it means separating from the country. Obama said that the other day in Scotland. He said he wasn’t in favor of Scottish independence, but it’s the people there who should decide. So he might not be in favor of Catalan independence either, or he might not want to say so but I’m sure that he thinks that’s it’s also the people there who should decide and he’s right.
Erika: A few months ago, our Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy visited Obama, and there was pressure from Spain for Obama to take a stand against Catalan independence, and he didn’t. What do you think are the opportunities that Scotland opens up for Catalonia?
One of the first things that I wrote after the Catalans had decided on a date and a question was about the fact that they had chosen a date, they had agreed on a date that was after the Scottish referendum and why that might be beneficial, why they had done that. And one of them is that if Scotland wins the vote, and it’s becoming very close, the EU will have to make a pronouncement and that will be very important for Catalonia. Because then all of the fear-mongering, “we won’t be part of the EU, we won’t be part of the galaxy” completely goes out the window. And the EU is not going to make a pronouncement until they there is an actual question. They’ve said that over and over again. “We’re not going to say anything until one of the member states asks us for an official position.” And so, at that point, if Scotland wins its referendum, it will make a recommendation and that will be very important for Catalonia.
Erika: And if it loses?
And if it loses, the EU will not make that declaration and so we will still not know. But the EU has still not made an official decision about that so, if Scotland loses, I think that it will be tamper enthusiasm a little bit but I think that Catalans will say “this isn’t anything about Scotland”. If they win, I think it’s encouraging, because they’ll say “if they can do it, we can do it” but I don’t think Catalans will give up if Scotland loses. And I think the advantage of having the EU have to make some kind of a declaration is important. And not only the EU, but all of a sudden there will be a lot of countries who will make announcements about recognizing Scotland, and they will, and so if Scotland can become independent and if Scotland can vote on its future, why not any other place? It just seems logical to me.
Aleix: You were saying before that Americans really appreciate determination. What if we can’t hold the referendum? What if we don’t make it to the 9th of November? What if Spain forbids the referendum or suspends the autonomy of Catalonia or inhabilitates President Mas. Is American going to side with us? Is America going to say, “OK, that’s wrong. It’s wrong to forbid people to vote.” Or are they just going to stay passive, and look on from the outside? Spain is a big country and is a good partner of the United States. What do you think the United States will do? And also, if they forbid the referendum, is it better to go ahead with an unauthorized referendum, or to hold Catalan elections as a plebiscite?
Those are difficult questions. I am not part of the US government. I have no contacts with the US government so I have no idea what the US government would do if Spain did something crazy and violent or not violent. I would like to think that the US government will support democracy and will support the Catalans having a vote. I would like to think that. I am not so sure that they will. However, I am also not so sure that Spain will stupid enough to do something like you suggest. There are a number of scenarios that might happen before the referendum or around the referendum. A lot of people ask “will the referendum really happen on November 9th? Will we really have a vote? Will there be ballot boxes? Will there be a census, a record, a list of people to be able to go vote and who is going to make that list, how is that going to happen? If the Spanish government says that you can’t have a vote, what are they going to do to stop the Catalan people? Are they willing to go and arrest President Mas? Would that go unanswered by the Catalan people?
The Catalan people have already shown themselves willing to organize in incredible ways and very peacefully and very joyfully out on the streets in the millions. So what I think would happen if there was some kind of belligerent action on the part of the Spanish government, is that all of Catalonia would be out on the streets. For as long as it took. They would be saying, “No, we are going to vote. We are going to vote now.” And you’re talking about 20% of the economy that would be insisting on there being a democratic vote. I don’t think that Spain, or the United States, could stand by and not pay attention to that. And I think and I hope that would catch the attention of the international community and they would be very hard pressed to say “No, those people can’t vote. That’s outrageous.” I just can’t see how they would do that. So I think there would be pressure on the Spanish government to allow a vote.
And I think what Erika said about Obama not wanting to position himself about Catalan independence is important. The question he was asked was actually about Catalan and Scottish independence. He didn’t want to say anything. I think the fact that Sarkozy has been really resistant to making any comments about it even when given the chance. Rajoy and the Spanish government have asked repeatedly for European leaders to come out against Catalan independence and none of them have. In fact, a number of countries have come out in favor of Catalans being able to vote, and I forget if it’s Lithuania or Latvia, but one of them said “it’s perfectly fine that they be able to vote and we’d recognize them” The other day I spoke with an Irish politician and he said, “We would recognize Catalonia instantly.” So I think that the silence from major European leaders on this question is a positive note. The fact that they’re not coming and saying, “We support the territorial integrity of Spain.” which is the easy thing to say, they’re not saying it. That says something. I’m not sure exactly what it says. It doesn’t mean the United States will come and do anything drastic, but I think that we’re doing OK.
I also think that the Catalan people are amazingly organized. I’m part of the ANC in Gràcia, my neighborhood in Barcelona, and the group is divided into territories, but they’re also divided into subject matter groups. There’s a chapter of the ANC that’s for geologists I believe, and for taxi drivers, and police officers, and economists, and lawyers, and all these different groups of people, and I’m part of the translators group and I went to a meeting and it’s just regular people coming together on a Thursday night once a month and saying “What are *we* going to do as lawyers or economists or translators? What can *we* bring to this cause?” and “You do this, and you do that and we’re going to organize this event or this project” and it’s an amazing community effort. So I just can’t imagine them saying, “Oh, well Spain said we couldn’t do it so let’s all just go home.” It’s not going to happen.
Erika: We also have ANC Brussels and ANC London and it’s wonderful that we’re cooperating in the Sept 11 festivities to increase our visibility. You mention international leaders. Paradoxically, one of the leaders to come out most strongly against Catalonia is Catalan himself, Manuel Valls, the prime minister of France. But his own family is for independence so I think because he wants to cloud the fact that he is a Catalan, he thought he had to speak against, he spoke about unity, or something that didn’t make much sense in a meeting… Yesterday a new king was proclaimed in Spain. One of the main reasons, if not the most important one, to have a new succession, was the Catalan problem. What is your take on that?
I was telling someone this morning I am rather rabidly anti-monarchic. You have to take that into account. I think that’s part of my American heritage. I just don’t understand monarchy. I don’t understand why there is a monarchy, why there should continue to be. It seems like the most anti-democratic thing possible on the planet. My husband and I were talking about it one day and I began to swear on the street, it just makes me furious that there should be one person that because of his parents should have the right to choose what other people do. I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me. So, that’s a preface.
Felipe VI, the new Spanish king. It’s very interesting that all of a sudden the Spanish king decided to abdicate, two weeks ago or three weeks ago. It’s been this whirlwind process. Whoosh. Push through the law of abdication through the congress, don’t invite any international emissaries to the event. Push through another law of succession. And so there were all these questions. Will Felipe VI be able to broker some kind of a pact between Catalans and Spanish? And yesterday, we were able to get some kind of a sign about what he would do in that respect. And he came out in military garb, he rode around in the convertible that belonged to the dictator Francisco Franco, there were few people on the street, there were some in different places, there were not nearly as many people as you might have thought, and the speech that he gave was lackluster at best and said he believed in Spanish unity and supposedly he speaks Catalan. I have never heard him, I am curious to hear if he does or if it is just a speech written out for him, but he said “Moltes gràcies” at the end. Which doesn’t take a lot of effort.
So if this is an example of what he’s planning to offer Catalonia, to say to Catalans “Everybody fits in Spain, as long as you follow the law”. Well, that wasn’t much of a bone, frankly. So I don’t think there’s a lot to expect from him. There are people in Catalonia who are very afraid of change. There are people everywhere that are afraid of change. I think that the force of the status quo is something to take into account. Even for something better. And that’s the Spanish and Catalans and Americans, it’s everybody. We like continuity. And this is a big change. This is huge. So I think there are a lot of people who are trying to think of a way not to change. And they are happy to grab onto Felipe, maybe he can take the heat. You know the reason that people think that he might be able to make a change is that because the PP, the ruling party in Spain, has painted itself in a corner by constantly saying how terrible Catalans are, and how whiny, and how selfish, and how bla bla whatever, so that their own party members would rebel if all of a sudden, they said, “Actually, they’re not really so bad, we should give them something.” They’re stuck. They can’t do that. So, the idea is that Felipe could do that. He’s the king. He could say, “No, no, you guys have to make a deal.” But I don’t see that happening. Not with what he showed us yesterday.
Erika: Before we open the floor for questions, I would like to ask one last question. We are not only in the capital of Europe and the capital of Belgium but also in the capital of Flanders. Again, from your perspective, do you see any similarities between Flanders and Catalonia?
I have to admit that a lot of what I know about Flanders I learned between yesterday and today and I am amazed at what I understand is that the Flemish speak Dutch and the Walloons speak French and never the twain shall meet. That is very different from the Catalan situation.Catalans, in my experience, have always spoken Spanish with the people they were conversing with if that were necessary. The language issue is not there. Catalans are very willing to negotiate, to talk, to listen and to dialogue. I don’t know a lot about the independence process here. I know that they’ve had a lot of difficulty forming a government because they’re very different, separated parties, and I feel like Catalans are not as defined. There’s a very interesting movement in Catalonia right now, which is called Súmate, which is a group of Spanish speakers who want Catalan independence, and I don’t know if such a thing like that exists in Belgium.
It’s not just a language issue. There are many, many people like myself who live in Catalonia who were not born there, and who feel that they have become part of the community, partly because of language, partly because of the embrace of the people, and they’ve (we’ve) integrated into society and they feel Catalan and they want to be there. Spain has always felt to me like a different country. From the very beginning when I lived there. I used to go to Madrid for trade conferences for computer stuff, and it was a different place. It’s always felt different to me. I don’t know that there’s such definition between the two groups as there is in Brussels.
Aleix: I just want to say that the book that Liz edited and published is a very useful book. I have used it many times. I have given it to many people, not only MEPs, or assistants, advisors in the European Parliament but also people outside: lobbyists, bankers, people from any kind of association and all of them open their eyes when they see this book. When they see that many academics, not only Catalan born, but there are some English and Americans have spoken up for Catalonia and it’s a really useful tool that I recommend that you buy and give to your friends, in order to make Catalonia’s cause more public. Thanks, Liz for being here and let’s see what people ask.
If you have any questions for Liz:
Will the international community do anything actively, and if they’ll just stay on the sidelines?
What can we do better in Catalonia? What can we do that we’re not doing already?
I think you’re doing amazing things. I’m so impressed. I really am. The organization and the demonstrations and the millions of people that come out on the street and the talking to people and the conferences and the videos and all of the social networks, Facebook and Twitter and the constant trying to raise awareness, the petitions. There was a group of people, four people who went across the United States, actually with my book, bringing it to the State capitols, and talking to people along the way, there’s just one initiative after another. The Catalan Way! 1.6 Million people holding hands over 250 miles, an incredible achievement. The castles, last weekend, it just goes on and on.
The summer will be filled with things, that sort of say, “Hey! We’re here. We want to be recognized. We are a people. Pay attention to us.” I think all of those things are really important. If I was going to say what else should you do, I would say, the one thing that makes me a little bit nervous is the infighting and the division, the political divisions.“This party did this thing to me five years ago and so we’re not going to agree with them, we’re not going to stand with them on this issue.” The kind of holding on to bad blood from a long time ago. I think that this issue is so important, it’s so fundamental that we have to set aside some of those very important differences. After independence, we’ve got plenty of time to argue about how social services should be distributed, all of those other things. Right now I think that those discussions have to be put on hold because Catalans have to come together to say “We want independence and to vote”. I think that’s primordial. I think that has to come first. I think that’s really important. In a big way, a lot of that is happening. Look at the agreement on the date and the question from the CUP to Unió, all came together and got photographed together, and signed the paper that said “We agree”. That was a huge advance, that was big progress. I think that’s great and they have to do that more.
Q: If you were to talk to a Spanish person about why you speak Catalan and why you think Catalans have the right to vote, what would you say to them?
I do that sometimes. On Twitter. I’m on Twitter a lot and once in a while I get somebody who starts with a complaint: “You’re an American, why are you sticking your nose in our business? The United States would never let some state secede. You didn’t let Texas have a vote. Why do they make Spanish kids learn Catalan in the schools?” And I really like engaging these people in conversation. Not the ones who insult. Those ones I generally ignore but the ones who, even if their form isn’t perfect, obviously have a concern and a question about it. And I do talk to them about it and I try to explain that just like they have an idea about their country and freedom and deciding what they want to do, Catalans have an identity and they don’t necessarily feel Spanish or want to be part of Spain.
You know we used to homeschool our children in our family. And I remember talking to parents who sent their children to school about our choice. And it often felt like a rejection. And I think that Spanish people feel rejected sometimes. That the fact that Catalans want their own country is somehow saying that Spain is bad. I think part of what I would try to explain to a Spanish person about Catalonia is that it’s not a rejection of Spain. It’s just that Catalans are their own people. It doesn’t mean they hate Spain or Spaniards, they don’t. Very few people that I talk to about Catalan stuff have anything bad to say about the Spanish people, really. On the contrary, most of the people I talk to, myself included, have relatives in Spain. There’s a lot of synergy, there’s a lot of good feeling. Another thing that I try to do is dispel some of the stereotypes. One of the ironic things about the Catalan cause is the importance of the Catalan language. Much of the information about the Catalan cause is in Catalan and it’s very hard for people outside of the community to read or understand. Which is why I talk a lot about Catalonia in English and sometimes in Spanish, why I chose to edit this book, why I translated this book into Spanish as well. Because I wanted there to be information in other languages about independence. I think people in other parts of Spain have a view of Catalonia that mostly comes from the press, mostly comes from Spanish press, mostly comes from the not-sympathetic-to-Catalan-independence press. And so anything that we can do to give more less-slanted information about Catalonia is helpful. I believe that people are generally good, I believe that people in Spain could understand if they had more information. It’s sold to them that Catalans are selfish, Catalans are this, Catalans are that, all these crazy things, so I think a lot of it is needing more information, so that’s what I try to do.
Q: Don’t you think there has been a fundamental difference of behavior between the British Government and the Spanish Government. I have the feeling that the British Government has done whatever it could to try to get a negative outcome, and they have done so in a very clever way. When one looks at the Spanish situation, this government seems to have done something which is quite fantastic, which is to unite a big majority of the people, who were not independentists at the start, not because they are against the other Spanish communities, but simply because that government has done something which is hurting people and this arrogant behavior has led to this situation. I just wanted to have your opinion on this.
Absolutely. The British Government has been very clever. I think they thought, they still think that they will win, and they thought they would win when they agreed to the referendum. And I think that there’s a strong tradition of democracy in Britain. And Salmond won a majority in Holyrood, so it sort of all came together: there was a democratic process, they have the tradition, and they felt that they would win. So it was an easy way to say “Sure, we can do that, no problem”. And I think that it’s very strategic. I think they might win. I think that the only way that they could win is to take on the fight like they have. The Better Together campaign has perhaps not been as smart as it could have been but it’s certainly miles ahead of what the Spanish government is doing. There’s this saying, ‘When an opponent is making a mistake, you should just keep quiet about it.” So I’m kind of reluctant to give any clues. But if Spain wanted to keep Catalonia, what it would do would be to allow the referendum and then win it. That’s the only way.That’s absolutely their only way out. The more that they tell Catalonia and the rest of the world that Catalans don’t have a right to vote, the more they unite the entire landscape of Catalan politics and they reignite this image of pre-Constitutional—I hate that euphemism—Francoist Spain, that they have really never quite gotten over. A lot of the same people in power, are the same people who were in power then. The transition didn’t quite manage to do what still needs to be done. There’s rampant corruption. So for the Spanish government to not want to use this as a way of saying, “Yes, we embrace democracy. We can have a vote. We can do this in a modern way,” is terrible for its own self image, and I think it will make it lose. And you’re right, it totally unites the opposition.
And yesterday? [Felipe’s proclamation as king] It’s unfathomable why they… don’t they have anybody advising them? They don’t have community managers? Don’t they know what they’re doing? Mostly I think we should be quiet about it, and let them go on doing what they’re doing, because it certainly benefits Catalonia.
Q: Do you think there’s a risk of instigated infighting, that we might be vulnerable to, as was the case in Solidaritat Catalana at the beginning of the 20th century, that might convert an issue that is generally political into a public order issue? If not directly suspend our autonomy, intervene in it through direct means? Like it has been commented recently with the Can Vies case.
I think that’s a very definite problem, and a risk, which I think is why it’s so important for these political parties to set aside some of those differences. The Can Vies incident was very troubling. Both for the attacks on the Convergència offices all over Barcelona and for the general unrest—Who are these people who are burning garbage cans?—and even the discussion on line, who are these people? There were a lot of people favoring Can Vies. It definitely felt like for a long time, there has been this worry that there would be some instigators, there would be some people sent to separate people. And here it was. It seems very clear to me. Because it’s hard for me to imagine that the same people who run this community center were then burning cars. I don’t think it was the same people. So there are very complicated issues. There’s a lot of things to keep in mind. A lot of different issues. Things that need to be changed in Catalonia. There are things that don’t work. I certainly don’t have all the answers, I’m not a politician. But for me Catalonia can’t solve those problems until it has the authority and the autonomy to do so. And right now it doesn’t. Partly because of the economic issue where so much of its money gets siphoned off and so it doesn’t have the resources that it might need to solve some of those problems. So for me, independence has to be tackled first, and since it’s not instant, we need to keep working on some of the other problems at the same time and keep a vigilant eye about who’s coming in and doing graffiti and burning garbage cans. And watch who those people are be very careful about supporting or not supporting them.
Erika: Can you explain Can Vies?
Yes, Can Vies is a collective of community groups in an abandoned, well not abandoned, a warehouse in the Sants neighborhood of Barcelona, occupied by this collective. About three weeks ago, maybe a month ago, the Barcelona city hall, who had negotiated with that group, cut off negotiations and decided to evict them and began to destroy the building. And people were up in arms, because I guess these collectives have done a lot of important community projects in that neighborhood. So there was this discussion online, and I still don’t have all the answers, I’m not familiar with the group myself, I’ve never been there, I don’t know them firsthand, so I’m reticent to offer a lot of opinion about who they are or if they’re right or wrong. But what’s clear is that there are very complicated issues about whether they have a right to occupy this building that belongs to the transport authority, which is part of the Barcelona city government, and whether the activity that they do compensates the fact that they work outside government regulations, whether the city has done enough to make available community centers for its young people, what the response from the police should be and has been, and some of the police actions were completely disproportionate to what was going on, but instead exacerbated the issue. There are very complicated issues. But the fact is that there were five nights of rioting and lots of garbage cans were burnt. It was frightening. We need to be alert to not over-reacting. I think the police acted pretty badly.
Q: If we compare the arguments of Better Together in Scotland and what the media do in Madrid…
I haven’t followed Better Together too much, I follow some Scots on Twitter, so I mostly get complaints about what Better Together is doing, and can’t give an honest opinion of their campaign. What I feel about the Madrid campaign is that it’s very, very negative. It seems that they can’t think of more negative things to say. The Minister of Foreign Affairs actually said that Catalonia would be “out in outer space” if it should become independent. It seems that each person wants to say some more, terrible thing, and you can’t imagine what they’ll say next, will we disappear from the earth? And it seems incredible.
They don’t have a lot of credibility. Since they’re not engaging, they don’t have a Better Together plan, they have a “You will be terrible without us” plan. Once in a while, maybe during the 2012 elections, there was this video that went around, Spanish people saying how much they love Catalonia. “Oh I love Catalonia because this, because that” It just felt like if you loved Catalonia so much you wouldn’t tell me so much about it. Actions not words. On the one hand it feels very negative—that video was a campaign thing, not a Madrid thing—and it doesn’t feel real. It’s interesting, the argument from Spain, as I understand it, is that Catalonia is part of Spain. Period. End of Story. But they don’t generally speak of Catalans as being Spanish, they speak of Catalans as being Catalans, they call Catalans “Catalans”. There’s this division: “you guys”, and all these negative stereotypes. If I were—again I’m not sure I want to give a lot of advice—but if I were Spain and I wanted Catalonia to stay, when there was a fascist demonstration in Barcelona, I would say something about it. I would say, “Who are those people? They don’t represent me.” If there was some kind of act in Madrid say on September 11, 2012, or was it last year, when the fascists broke into the Catalan Government building when they were giving a presentation for Catalonia’s National Day, if I were Mariano Rajoy, I would get up and make a very long speech, and say, “We are going to prosecute those people and they will never be allowed to do that again. Catalans have a right to… this is Madrid, this is my city, I want people to have a book presentation here or whatever they were doing, a celebratory act in my city and feel safe doing it. I don’t want Catalans to be treated that way.” That did not happen.Those people who broke into that event, were released the next day, if they were even arrested that soon, and I don’t think they’ve been charged, or paid any fines, at all. They came in, they were terrible, there were people throwing smoke bombs. And nobody said anything. So, if it were me, I would make sure that wouldn’t happen. That would be a start.
Erika: By the way, one of them was a relative of the Minister of Justice.
And I would make sure that if I were the Minister of Justice, none of my family members were going around throwing smoke bombs in Catalan government buildings. It just seems so elementary. If Spain really wanted to have a pluri-national country, they would do it. They would have done it three hundred years ago. But they have not. They have continually said “Those Catalans…” I think it’s three percent of Catalans that have been Ministers in the Spanish Government, I think there have been one or two presidents, not too many, over hundreds of years. The infrastructure, spending money on Catalonia is something like, I don’t know, but it’s nothing like the percentage of the population or the percentage of GDP. The fact that they first decided to make the high speed rail between Madrid and Seville instead of say, the two most important ports on the Mediterranean, maybe those are important? But no, those are not. Those can wait for some other time. So if you want to say “Oh, we love Catalonia, it’s so important to us.” maybe do something about it.
Q: Just for the sake of the debate, to pick up on what you were saying. Wouldn’t it be wise for the Catalan government to make a speech saying what their contribution would be to the EU? If they remain in Europe, they should remain in Europe. But beyond that, toward the rest of Spain, I think that would be beneficial to pass on the message that they’re ready to take on responsibility and contribute to the rest of the EU.
I believe that they already are. I’m pretty sure that Catalonia is a net contributor to the EU, that it gives more than it receives. And perhaps you’re right that that should be part of a political leader’s speech to underscore that fact. But I think that it’s already so clear. Catalonia has been very generous with its productivity, with its wealth. I’m pretty sure that the president has made it clear in his declarations, that the Catalan government is more than disposed to continue being a responsible part of the European Union. I think that’s definitely something that should be done, but it’s already in process.
Erika: Thank you very much, Liz, for this injection of morale. I think sometimes with these long processes, we sometimes get a little discouraged. I invite you all to sign up for the Signa un Vot campaign.
Aleix: I really recommend Liz’s book, it’s very useful for talking to people outside Catalonia, and it’s very accurate about Catalonia, the Catalan situation, many issues, very professional people, many academics. We should take advantage of this opportunity we have to make people outside Catalonia that what we are trying to do is peaceful, democratics and we just want to control our own destiny. Thanks, Liz.
Thank you. I also want to say that I’d love it if you buy the book because then I can print more and distribute them to libraries and other organizations that have asked me for them. It’s also available in electronic format on my website on Catalonia Press.com So if you wanted to send it to all of your friends, you could do that too. There’s a file that you can download and it has a Creative Commons license so you can share it with people who you think might benefit by reading about it.