It is not an easy task to make a brief introduction of Anna Arqué (Lleida, 1972). Graduate in Business and Marketing Sciences, vice rector of the Summer University of Catalonia, and a Catalan pro-independence activist. She works tireless to secure international involvement with her People, as well as being one of the driving forces behind the local popular votes that triggered the process towards independence. Co-founder of ICEC, the international movement for self-determination, she is a good friend of the Basques, acting as a counsellor and assistant in the first of a series of local independence votes at Etxarri-Aranatz in 2014. She has thereafter visited us frequently, monitoring the polls over independence carried out in many towns of the Basque Country.
Anna’s voice is not often an accommodating one within the pro-independence movement, she tends to speak her mind and expose opinions towering over everybody’s minds; a strong woman that exudes courage and energy.
We met and interviewed her in Brussels
Many of us struggled to understand the weakness of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement 20 years ago. As a strong Nation with a vigorous native language, it was surprising to see such scarcity of public demonstrations in support of self-determination… What do you think has spurred the strong pro-independence drive in the last years?
For a start, Catalonia will always constitute a breeding ground and driving force for independence. However, the fact remains that the Catalan nationalist political parties did not show any clear pro-independence impetus. Furthermore, those parties insisted on recalling us that independence was impossible, a beautiful dream, but not feasible.
Early 21st century saw the activation of a number of pro-independence popular movements intent of changing that mindset of the Catalans. They tried to show that gaining independence is possible, achievable. In 2009, we brought up a Popular Legislative Initiative in the Parliament of Catalonia in order to have our legislative institution draft an act paving the way for a self-determination referendum. “Make the Catalan Nation operate as a Nation”, we told the Catalan MPs. To our surprise, all Catalan political parties rejected the project, which stirred the grassroots of the Catalan nationalist parties.
In the face of that refusal, we arranged the first popular local votes on independence, to great success. ANC had not been born yet… Additionally, the Spanish state did a lot to trigger the process towards independence, when they dumped an excerpt of the statute voted by the Catalans in a referendum. Indeed, they contributed, but that was not the spark igniting the process. The key factor was the process of local popular votes that persuaded the Catalans that independence may actually happen.
In early 21st century Diada meetings, approximately 5,000 people turned out in the streets of Barcelona. 2012, by contrast, saw an outburst, a huge demonstration of one million firmly demanding independence… How can so many people be activated in so short a span?
As I just pointed out, the popular local votes for independence provided key ingredients. In a two-year period, we conducted over five hundred popular votes across Catalonia, so tabling the independence issue. The media reported on the matter, people discussed independence in towns; people realized the value of their ballot, even if it was symbolic…
It is no secret that you hold a critical eye on the stance showed by the Catalan nationalist parties, arguing that they have not delivered on the democratic mandate issuing from 1st October 2017. According to you, where did the Catalan nationalist politicians go wrong?
It is not just me, many pro-independence Catalans are disappointed because independence did not materialize, so we have adopted a critical view. In 2015, they promised that an 18-month roadmap would gain us independence. Therefore, we criticise that a government called a binding self-determination referendum, people put their safety at risk in order to vote in that referendum, and next voters are confronted with the fact that the democratic mandate is not served, citing as an excuse the State’s unexpected ferocious reaction. Were then our authorities oblivious to Spain’s history, tainted as it is with repression and injustice? The Catalan government did not take the right chance; it should have managed the 1st October referendum victory of independence, but it did not.
The worst effect lies in making people believe that since they, the Catalan authorities, could not make it, it could not happen. And we deny that, we assert that independence is possible. It did not happen with them, but other agents may have done it instead of them.
We do not criticize the fear felt by Catalan authorities following the 1st October referendum. Fear is a human feeling. Passing the relay over to others would have been the most honest way forward, passing the task over to others determined to materialize it. But they did not.
The October 2017 events in Catalonia were confusing. On 10th October that year following the referendum, the president Puigdemont declared independence, but its effects were cancelled immediately. On 27 the same month, the Parliament declared the Republic of Catalonia, but it did not translate into anything. Did you resent hearing many Catalan government members before the judge that the declaration was symbolic?
The most painful to most Catalans and me is to see that Catalan Government members are declaring before Spanish judges.
Now that said, I would have liked to hear these Catalan Government members tell the judge that self-determination is any people’s basic right and therefore they proudly assume the consequences of their actions.
The key element remains that in order to create a new state, control over the territory and the international recognition are a must, but that neither was achieved at Catalonia in 27th October 2017…
When it comes to international recognition, it should be noted that those recognitions take place when a new state has been founded, not before. So arguing that no international recognition existed is pointless, since the Catalan Republic did not happen. Many states clearly stated that they did not acknowledge our republic because no one requested them to.
Concerning territorial control, it needs to be highlighted that on 1st October 2017 we evinced that the Catalan people took control of the territory, since they massively turned out to vote in the referendum, despite the police’s obstacles. Even the Spanish government’s deputy in Catalonia confirmed it. Another issue is that political determination to hang onto that territorial control was lacking.
We Basques have long suffered the blows of Spanish repression, e.g. political parties outlawed, newspapers and radio stations shut down, journalists, university professors, politicians, trade unionists and so on detained and imprisoned, thousands of people put under threat… Therefore, it looks somewhat naive to hear from some Catalan Government officials that they had underestimated the strength of the Spanish state and had not predicted correctly the end of the Procés… Do you think these are mere excuses, or do they account for real flaws generated by pro-independence agents on measuring the state’s strength?
The history of Spain is a history of repression and injustice against the Basque Country and Catalonia, so one cannot plead ignorance.
Some time ago, Catalan nationalist political parties told us independence was impossible to achieve, reminding us of the tough situation in the Basque Country; they were well aware of the Spanish state’s procedures in your territory.
When the Catalan pro-independence process gained momentum, the state took the same approach with us and, in the face of its violence and threats, our authorities gave in, i.e. they did not enforce the Catalan republic. So the state realizes that threat works, and that threat suffices to guarantee that independence never happens; they know how to act.
The positive side of this situation is that the people of Catalonia is aware now the Spanish state is up to a ruthless stance. Some time ago, many did not believe us when we explained them the harsh repression the Basque Country was undergoing. Now they do.
The present-day Catalan government insists that it aspires to a referendum compromised with Spain. Does that mean that the 1st October 2017 referendum, one voted by 2 million Catalans, is not valid? Additionally, the Madrid government does not seem to be willing to ever compromise a self-determination referendum. Is a unilateral option the only way forward?
In my opinion, the negotiation attitude adopted by the Government of Catalonia to compromise a referendum is very awkward. The basis for the negotiation of a consensual referendum issues from the democratic mandate of 1st October. A firm defence of the right for independence is a must, but that is not happening. At this point, we do not stick anymore to the demand for the right of self-determination, since self-determination crystallized on 1st October 2017; we now hold onto the right for independence. That is the starting point for negotiation.
Aside from that, I do not understand why some circles of independentism now shrink from a unilateral approach. Unilateralism has earned social and collective rights. Did Rosa Parks call an assembly with the whites before famously taking a seat on the bus? No. Unilateralism is a valid way forward, no doubt!
Unilateralism means that we are ready, albeit on our own, to stand up for democracy and the rights of Catalonia.
Incidentally, many people may have forgotten it… but the 1995 self-determination referendum of Quebec was unilateral.
The cooperation of Catalans and Basques in the political arena with a view to defending our nations’ interest before Spain sinks its roots deep in time. In the remote year 1923, a coalition called GALEUSCA was formed along with the Galicians. Do you see potential in the coalition formed by EH Bildu, ERC and BNG for the European election (REPUBLICS NOW)?
Outreach between Basques, Galicians and Catalans is always positive, beyond political parties. In order to extend that cooperation to other stateless nations in Europe, we established the organization ICEC aiming to reunite and stand up for the self-determination right of the peoples.
However, I should confess that I find the present-day slant of ERC and EH Bildu disquieting. As I see it, they are sticking to a shortsighted discourse, a discourse not consistent with their grassroots. I believe that they should hang onto uninhibited democratic support for independence.
The Catalan nation shows a strong identity, based especially on its language and the collective determination of its inhabitants. Today, when being a nationalist or patriot is frowned upon, some pro-independence circles feel uneasy when talking about “a people’s identity”. Do not you think that the objections some pro-independence activists raise against discussion on the identity of Catalonia or the Basque Country fuels Spanish nationalism? Does our patriotic stance weaken support for independence, or does patriotism bolster it, as Vicent Partal suggested?
I think national identity is crucial. As I see it, independentism and Catalan nationalism are indivisible. I support independence because I aspire to a Catalan state, and I am a nationalist because Catalonia is my Nation. I wish independence specifically because I love this Nation.
Some argue that they wish independence in order to get a better life, since they think that independence brings about a more affluent society. That is good, but not enough. Independence is closely associated with a people’s dignity.
National identity is the core, so it is somewhat astonishing to hear a new motto coined by some pro-independence activists: “Catalonia, a People of Peoples”, claiming that Catalonia hosts people from all around the world. That is fine, but when you multiculturalize my Nation, you often forget the most important point, my Nation. Yes, Catalonia is pretty much a melting pot, agree, but its fundamentals and origin are my People, and my Nation, Catalonia. It looks like pro-independence activists are forgetting that!!
Occupied nations like ours should not have so many objections about the subject of identity…
It is no wonder that the demonstrations with a higher turnout in support of the Catalan process towards independence in Europe and outside Catalonia take place in the Basque Country… For years and at critical moments, the Basque Country has always received the warm solidarity of Catalonia, so it is now our turn to give something back. You have often been among us and have made numerous contacts here in the Basque Country. How do you see our political situation? What is the perception of the Catalan pro-independence movement about the Basque Country?
The perception of the Catalan pro-independence movement is that, following the end of ETA and armed struggle, the Basque pro-independence movement has missed the opportunity to openly defend independence without restrictions, displaying instead a much more cautious rhetoric. Perhaps the emergence of Podemos has something to do with that.
The eyes of Basque pro-independence activism seem to be now set on Catalonia, which may explain its cautious approach, i.e. you are waiting for and seeing the completion of the Catalan process in order to take further, bolder steps…
I would rather see a Basque Country more intent on independence and uninhibited, one that walks along with us. Since the independence of our two Peoples is fair, legitimate and possible. And we deserve it.
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY NAZIOGINTZA