Catalonia: detention of secessionist leaders sparks large protests | World news

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Catalonia to protest against a judge’s decision to detain two prominent pro-independence leaders, as tensions between the Madrid and Barcelona governments continue to rise.

On Monday night, Spain’s national court denied bail to Jordi Sánchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural. Both men are being investigated for alleged sedition in the run-up to the regional independence referendum two weeks ago.

Sánchez and Cuixart are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers following a judge’s orders to halt the independence referendum that had already been suspended by the country’s constitutional court.

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The Spanish government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the country’s 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended the referendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament in September, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

In March this year, the former Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, quickly denounced the move and described both men as “political prisoners”.

“Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations,” he tweeted on Monday night. “Sadly, we have political prisoners again.”

The following day, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, tweeted: “Catalonia has woken up saddened and worried today. The imprisonment of [Sánchez and Cuixart] is a threat to everyone’s rights and freedoms.”

Thousands of people crowded into the Plaça Sant Jaume in the Catalan capital at midday on Tuesday to demonstrate against the ruling. Similar demonstrations were held in Tarragona, Lleida and Girona.

About 500 students abandoned their classrooms in one of Barcelona’s main universities to join the demonstrations.

On Monday night police said around 200,000 people gathered in Barcelona for a candlelit vigil, filling a vast stretch of Diagonal, the six-lane thoroughfare that cuts across the city.

“We want our own state and if we have to wait, we will,” said Pere Robles, who was among the huge crowd at the junction of Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal. “Here in Catalonia we survived 40 years under Franco and we continued to be Catalonia. We’ll put up with whatever we have to put up with and we have to keep fighting.”


Thousands protest over arrest of two Catalan leaders – video

“Despite all the pressure from Madrid I think we’ll end up talking because this
isn’t going to stop, people aren’t going to give up,” said Salvador Prieto, who
is pro-independence.

“This is a very rightwing government, which I think will even ban political parties. Everything Rajoy does creates more secessionists. Listen, what a lot of people don’t realise is Rajoy is the independence movement’s mole,” Preitor added with a wink. “We slipped him into the government to make sure we get independence.”

His wife, Esther, said she wasn’t pro-independence but had come to the rally in defence of democracy. “I don’t feel the same as him, I don’t feel a need for independence but we have to defend our rights. Rajoy’s government is a disaster.”

The protests came as the constitutional court announced that it had annulled the Catalan law that had paved the way for the referendum.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the court said its 12 judges had unanimously declared the referendum law unconstitutional, adding that the right to “promote and enact the unilateral secession” of a part of the country was not recognised in the Spanish constitution.

Despite Puigdemont’s assertion that the detentions were politically motivated, the Spanish government’s senior representative in Barcelona said the judge’s decision had been made independently.

“There is a separation of powers here,” Enric Millo told Catalunya Radio.

The view was echoed by Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catalá. “We can talk of politicians in prison but not political prisoners,” he told reporters. “These are not political prisoners because yesterday’s prison ruling was due to an [alleged] crime.”

On 20 and 21 September, police raided Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials in an attempt to head off the vote. The raids brought thousands of Catalans out to protest. Guardia Civil officers found themselves trapped inside the buildings they were searching and three of their vehicles were vandalised.

In her ruling, Judge Carmen Lamela said the events of 20 and 21 September “did not constitute an isolated, casual or peacefully convened civic protest against police actions carried out on a judge’s orders. On the contrary, the activities already described were part of a complex strategy in which Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez have been involved for a long time as part of a roadmap designed to bring about Catalan independence.”

Lamela said that both Sánchez and Cuixart had directed the crowds, with the former telling them: “No one should go home. It’s going to be a long and intense night.” At one point, the two leaders stood on the roof of a Guardia Civil car and called for “permanent mobilisation” to make sure the referendum went ahead.

One of the reasons the judge denied them bail was “because of the high likelihood that the two men under investigation could go about hiding, altering or destroying sources of evidence”.

However, the court decided that Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police force – who is also being investigated for sedition – could remain free as long as he surrendered his passport, stayed in Spain and kept in regular contact with the court.

Under Spanish law, sedition is classified as using “force or illegal means to prevent the application of the law, the legitimate exercise of the functions of public authorities or the observance of administrative or judicial decisions”. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Josep Lluís Trapero, centre, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police force, returns to the High Court following a break in proceedings in Madrid.



Josep Lluís Trapero, centre, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police force, returns to the high court following a break in proceedings in Madrid. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

The Catalan government says hundreds of people were hurt when Spanish police officers used force in an attempt to stop the referendum going ahead on 1 October.

Its push for independence has pitched Spain into its worst political crisis in four decades and seen many large companies leave the region amid the economic uncertainty.

Puigdemont has refused to clarify whether he declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, instead repeating his calls for negotiations with the Madrid government.

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has given Puigdemont until Thursday morning to drop his independence plans or face the suspension of regional autonomy and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

But the Catalan government is refusing to budge. “Giving up isn’t an option that’s being considered,” a spokesman said on Tuesday. “On Thursday, we won’t give anything different than what we gave on Monday.”

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Madrid jails Catalan separatist leaders pending investigation | World news

Spain has signalled a hardening line over Catalonia by jailing the leaders of two of the largest separatist organisations in a move seen as taking Madrid closer to imposing central rule over Catalonia.

In the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum, the court ordered the heads of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and independence group Omnium to be held without bail pending an investigation for alleged sedition.

Prosecutors said that the ANC’s Jordi Sànchez and Omnium’s Jordi Cuixart played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles.

Around 200 people flocked to the Catalan government’s headquarters in Barcelona on Monday in a peaceful show of support for both men, with some chanting “Freedom” and waving “Democracy” banners.

The ANC, which has organised protests of hundreds of thousands of secessionists in the past, called for further peaceful demonstrations around Catalonia on Tuesday.

The Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, commented on Twitter: “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again” – an allusion to Spain’s military dictatorship under Francisco Franco.

The high court also banned the Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, from leaving Spain and seized his passport while he is being investigated over the same incident, though it did not order his arrest.

Last Tuesday, Puigdemont stepped back from asking the Catalan parliament to vote on independence, instead making a symbolic declaration and calling for negotiations on the region’s future.

In a confrontation viewed with mounting alarm in European capitals and financial markets, Puigdemont failed on Monday to respond to Madrid’s ultimatum to clarify whether he had declared unilateral independence in a speech last week. He now has until Thursday to back down.

In a letter to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont gave no direct answer on the independence issue, instead making a “sincere and honest” offer of dialogue over the next two months.

In reply, Rajoy said Puigdemont’s stance had brought Madrid closer to triggering article 155 of the constitution, under which it can impose direct rule on any of the country’s 17 autonomous communities if they break the law.

The Catalan government’s campaign to break away from Spain has pitched the country into its worst political crisis since an abortive coup attempt in 1981.

On Monday the economy ministry told the European Union that it had slashed its economic growth forecasts for next year partly due to the situation.

The Catalan government says 90% of voters in the referendum backed a breakaway, but turnout was only 43% as most opponents of independence in the region boycotted the vote, already declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

Thousands have demonstrated in Barcelona and other Spanish cities both for and against independence. So far the crisis has been largely violence-free, except for the day of the referendum when national police assaulted voters with batons and rubber bullets.

The high court ruled that Trapero, the Catalan police chief, would have his passport withdrawn but rejected a request from the state prosecutor for him to be held in custody.

Trapero is a hero to the secessionists after his force took a much softer stance than national police in enforcing the ban on the referendum. Prosecutors say he failed to give orders to rescue national police trapped inside the Barcelona building.

Puigdemont last Tuesday delayed by several weeks a formal declaration of independence from Spain to allow for talks.

Madrid has ruled out talks unless Puigdemont gives up the independence demand. It had given him until 10am (8am GMT) on Monday to clarify his position and until Thursday to change his mind if he insisted on a split. Following his failure to do so, a regional broadcaster said he also planned to ignore a final deadline on Thursday.

Suggesting that Puigdemont and his team were in no mood to follow Rajoy’s game plan, Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn said article 155 would not allow Madrid to remove members of the Catalan government.

The article’s terms on direct rule, which has never been applied, are vague. It says Madrid can “adopt any measure” to force a region to meet its constitutional obligations, with the approval of Spain’s lower house. The wording suggests this could include anything from taking control of regional police and finances to installing a new governing team or calling a snap election.

Underlining the deepening crisis, some of the largest companies in prosperous Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy, have already shifted head offices elsewhere and others are likely to follow if Puigdemont declares outright independence.

Investors said a political split could undermine the economic rebound in Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

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Comparing Catalonia with Ireland or Kosovo | Letters | World news

Dominic Keown (Letters, 12 October) compares Catalonia today to Ireland in 1916. This is beyond hyperbole. Ireland under British rule was a colonial society, impoverished and exploited, a Catholic country governed by Protestants. Catalonia, by way of comparison, is wealthy and largely self-governing with a Catalan-speaking political and business elite and schooling conducted entirely in Catalan. Far from being oppressed, Catalan separatists are making a selfish bid to keep more tax revenues at home, starving Spain’s poorer regions of investment.

Unlike Ireland’s struggle for independence, Catalan nationalism has always had a helping hand from the highest echelons of government. This should be no secret to Professor Keown, who recently spoke at a widely publicised forum at CIDOB, a Barcelona thinktank whose president, Carles Gasòliba, resigned in 2016 citing pressures from the Generalitat to act as a mouthpiece for the separatist movement.
Sergio Bacallado de Lara
Cambridge

The EU has not recognised or supported the democratic wishes of Catalans for independence. Indeed, it has refused to condemn the hideous scenes of Madrid police closing polling stations and battering voters. What a contrast to the recognition of the Kosovo referendum and the independence of a state built on terrorism and the ethnic cleansing of Serbs but which had full support from the EU. Catalonia was a bastion against fascism in the 1930s while Kosovo was a haven of fascism on the 1940s. That might explain it.
Rodney Atkinson
Stocksfield, Northumberland

Most of the world has seen shocking pictures of Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional violence on peaceful civilians in Catalonia. Most of Spain has not, and certainly not on mainstream TV. The media problem is not some imagined Catalan cocoon (there have been countless real debates with all views freely expressed on Catalan TV, none on Spanish TV. And 80% of TV viewing in Catalonia is of Spanish-language Spanish channels), the problem is that Spanish media has misrepresented Catalonia and Catalan issues for years, thus ensuring that most Spanish people haven’t a clue what’s going on in Catalonia and much less why.
Francis Humble
Sitges, Catalonia

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

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Catalan president Carles Puigdemont ignores Madrid’s ultimatum | World news

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has refused to clarify whether he declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, but has repeated his calls for negotiations with the Madrid government to resolve the country’s ongoing political crisis.

Although Puigdemont signed a unilateral declaration of independence last Tuesday, claiming that the recent referendum had given his government a mandate to create a sovereign republic, he proposed that the effects of the declaration be suspended for a few weeks to allow for dialogue.

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded with an ultimatum the following day. He warned that Puigdemont had until Monday 16 October to confirm whether he had declared independence, and until Thursday 19 October to abandon his push for independence or face the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

In a letter on Monday, the Catalan president failed to answer Rajoy’s question, asking instead for an urgent meeting “before the situation deteriorates still further”.

“My government’s priority is to wholeheartedly pursue the path of dialogue,” wrote Puigdemont.

Profile

In a little over a decade, Carles Puigdemont has gone from obscurity to becoming the Spanish government’s bête noire and the pubic face of the Catalan independence movement.

A staunch and long-standing independence campaigner who has been the regional president of Catalonia since January 2016, Puigdemont was born to a family of bakers in the Catalan province of Girona in 1962.

He studied Catalan philology at university before becoming a journalist on the Girona-based daily El Punt and helping to launch Catalonia Today, an English-language paper.

He was elected in 2006 to the Catalan parliament as an MP for the Convergence and Union party representing the Girona region and five years later became the mayor of Girona.

Puigdemont found himself thrust into the Catalan presidency in January 2016 after his predecessor, Artur Mas, stepped aside to facilitate the formation of a pro-independence coalition government.

“We want to talk – as people do in established democracies – about the problem facing the majority of Catalan people who want to begin their journey as an independent country in Europe. The suspension of the political mandate received at the ballot box on 1 October shows our firm desire to find a solution and not confrontation.”

Puigdemont said his government was proposing a two-month window for talks before pressing ahead with independence, but he called on the Spanish authorities to put an end to what he called “the repression of the Catalan people and government”.

He criticised the Spanish national court’s decision to investigate the head of the Catalan police and two leaders of pro-independence civil society groups for sedition, and complained about the crackdown on the referendum and the “brutal police violence” seen on polling day.

“Despite everything that has happened, our offer of dialogue is sincere,” Puigdemont added.

“But logically it is incompatible with the current climate of growing repression and menace … Let’s agree, as soon as possible, to a meeting that will allow us to explore initial agreements. Let’s not let the situation deteriorate still further. With good intentions and by recognising the problem and looking it in the face, I am sure we can find the path to a solution.”

His offer, however, is unlikely to be accepted and will only serve to hasten the unprecedented invocation of article 155 of the constitution, which permits the central government to take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.

Rajoy has made it plain that there will be no negotiations until Puigdemont renounces his independence plans and returns Catalonia to “constitutional order”.

The Spanish prime minister – who has repeatedly pointed out that the referendum was held in defiance of the country’s constitution and the rulings of its constitutional court – has also refused to entertain the prospect of international mediation, saying there could be no discussion of Spain’s national unity as guaranteed by the constitution.

He has also said that the thousands of Guardia Civil and national police officers deployed to Catalonia to halt the vote will remain there “until things return to normal”.

The Catalan government has accused Rajoy of in effect already activating article 155.

“That’s the trap: they threaten to apply 155 when they’re already applying it illegally,” the region’s foreign minister, Raül Romeva, told the Observer on Saturday. “They’re already intervening in our finances but they’re doing it by the back door. And the presence in Catalonia of the Guardia Civil and the national police is illegal. They’re saying they’re defending the rules but they’re the ones breaking their own rules.”

Puigdemont’s government is under growing pressure from some in the Catalan independence movement to proceed with an immediate declaration of independence.

Its junior coalition partners, the far-left separatist party CUP, had been hoping for an outright independence declaration last week and are urging him to ignore the Spanish government and make a definitive proclamation of independence.

Meanwhile, the Catalan national assembly, a powerful pro-independence civil society group, has also said that it no longer makes sense “to keep the suspension of the independence declaration”.

The European commission has ruled out any intervention in the crisis, saying such move would only cause “a lot more chaos”.

In the independence referendum 90% of participants voted in favour of splitting from Spain. But only 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters – 43% – took part. According to the Catalan government, 770,000 votes were lost after Spanish police stepped in to try to halt the vote.

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Catalonia’s fight is driven by a passion for neighbourhood, not nationhood | Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte | Opinion

It looks like we are in for a lengthy impasse on independence in Catalonia. But as this political stalemate unfolds, a much more fundamental process of self-determination is well under way. The international community still fails to recognise that the region has witnessed an unprecedented revolution in participative democracy that started long before the referendum, and will almost certainly outlast any constitutional settlement. This is not a struggle for “nation” or flag, it is part of something much more fundamental to the future of both the Catalonian and the Spanish people.

When the polling station at L’arenal de Llevant opened just after 8.30am on 1 October, the international observers waiting outside were astonished when they saw who had been sleeping overnight inside the school to prevent it being closed by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s shock troops. The group that emerged were pupils between the ages of 12 and 17, their parents and their teachers. Pupils, teachers and parents had worked together through the night, barricading themselves in, prepared to physically defend the school against riot police.

Some commentators saw this as a spontaneous happening, a result of the tense politics surrounding the referendum. But those kids and teachers did not just decide on a whim that they would join together. The committees to defend the referendum that took to the barricades in more than 2,000 polling stations came from neighbourhoods that have been developing new strategies of political and economic solidarity for years.

In other words, participatory democracy is not a result of the referendum, but is the result of a long-term project for social transformation that seeks, in the words of one woman we met in a polling station in Poble Sec, “to sweep away capitalism and patriarchy”.

Anyone who knows about local politics in Catalonia will know this is not mere sloganising. Perhaps the best-known of the left’s alternative strategies in local government is in the Catalonian capital, where Barcelona en Comú and the mayor Ada Colau have been in power for two years. Across the region the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy party), Barcelona en Comú’s coalition partner on the left in some councils, controls around 20 municipal councils – representing more than half a million people – and has 10 seats in the Catalonian parliament.

The social and solidarity economy has been developed by local movements for at least 20 years, but the economic crisis and the relatively recent political project of municipal socialism have boosted its momentum. One of the most outstanding projects has been Som Energia, a co-op of consumers that uses only energy from sustainable sources. Guiamets, a small town governed by the CUP, has contracted all the energy to this co-op. It is not unusual for architects, psychologists, or lawyers to group together on co-op principles, and waste recyclers, carpenters, wine and olive producers, graphic designers and even local banking and insurance services are no different. The Network of Social Economy (XES) connects more than 150 co-ops and organisations.


I am Catalan: ‘It’s about building a new society for all’ – video

Support for the “solidarity economy” as an alternative to capitalism is supported by new grassroots political structures. “Constituative, or constituent, assemblies” in the neighbourhoods involve hundreds of people discussing and then mandating the course of action their councillors and MPs take.

It is the same organising principle that came into play in the committees in defence of the referendum. The idea is to provide a model of participative democracy that outlives the referendum and gives people a chance to build new institutions and new forms of organising. Their power and reach across Catalonia should not be underestimated. It was those networks that built the mass participation in the general strike. One internal document leaked from the Spanish army indicates its own weakness in the face of those committees: “We are not sure that the Catalan government can control these structures at the moment … the street belongs to the radicals.”

Indeed, those neighbourhood assemblies played a decisive role in the political impetus for this referendum. The CUP forced an agreement with the Catalonian government to ratify the budget in exchange for the 1 October referendum. That deal was discussed and debated vociferously in the assemblies.

It is not mere rhetoric when the parliamentary leader of the CUP, Anna Gabriels, says: “We know that to avoid continual economic and social crises, we need to build new economic and social relationships. We are anti-capitalist, socialist and feminist and we want to build a new republic on that basis: one that is sustainable and nurtures solidarity and equality.” And this is the point that the left across Europe hasn’t yet grasped: this aim has always been part of the self-determination movement.

The wide range of different political groups in those communities have displayed an incredibly mature approach that is committed to the neighbourhood, rather than the nation, as the focal point for action. It is this commitment that ensured high level of involvement from women’s collectives, migrant solidarity groups, independent trade unions, autonomists, anarchists and the social centres.

As the international media sees an oversimplified battle between Catalonian and Spanish nationalisms, the political elites in both states are looking over their shoulder at a movement that threatens to shake the foundations of both.

Ignasi Bernat is an academic sociologist and social movement activist based in Barcelona. David Whyte is professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool; his most recent books are How Corrupt is Britain? and The Corporate Criminal (with Steve Tombs)

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What do we tell our children about the chaos that grips Catalonia? | Marga León | Opinion

I arrived in Catalonia in the summer of 2010, during the tough years of the economic crisis – bad timing after 15 good years in England and Italy. My homeland is Alicante, a medium-size city further south, with no strong patriotic sentiments, at least as far as I remember. I have a Spanish passport and we speak Spanish at home, so that might make me a Spaniard.

My ties to this place are good friends and colleagues, the Mediterranean woods that we so frequently walk, tasty tomatoes, bright skies and a blue sea. We are a family of four, with four different countries of birth. Home is where we live. Home changes. I am also a leftist. I endorse the universal values of equality, justice and solidarity. There is little merit in this, I admit, but I try to live my life accordingly. My kids go to a state school, we use public transport and are frequent visitors to public libraries and parks.

Two weeks ago, I did not vote. I was in sheer disagreement with the way in which the coalition government in Catalonia (a very strange blend of right-wing status quo and anarchism) moved forward to approve a referendum and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence. This did not respect the institutional and legal rules of the game, not just those of Spain, but also of the Catalan “estatut” which requires a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The referendum had not – could not have – the minimum democratic guarantees. On this point, different political parties of different stripes, even the main party holding a pro-referendum stance, agreed. There then followed the spectacle of judges and police being sent to Barcelona looking for ballot papers and ballot boxes. The scenes were pretty pathetic and would have had a comical air, if it weren’t so serious.

In this complex context, those of us holding a critical view on the doings and sayings of both the Catalan and central governments were increasingly left with no “in between” space and forced to take sides.

My youngest daughter, aged seven, asked me the other day who I supported. It is now virtually impossible to leave the children aside. Finding it difficult to use words, I tried with a rope. “Hold it loose,” I said. “It’s a swing,” she replied.

“Now hold it tight and tell me what happens to those swinging.” “They fall,” she said. She had understood. Perhaps too well.

It is much harder with older children. This month, my eldest daughter’s peers at her secondary school – she is 14 – signed a piece of paper proposing a strike to defend “the universal rights of Catalans to celebrate a referendum to decide over the future of their country”. I asked her not to sign. She did not go out that afternoon to join her friends who, wrapped in the revolutionary-looking flag, were marching in Barcelona for democracy and the right to vote.

I confronted the school head for involving the kids in a political act, for not respecting diversity of opinions, for putting unbearable pressure on them. His response was that the governing body did nothing, the institution was neutral and that he could not be held responsible for what other teachers say or do in their classrooms. Of course.

Primary schools, including ours, were being occupied by families who wanted to vote. I confronted no one this time, I even sympathised with the way in which they were mocking the rules in a peaceful and ingenious way. But I did wonder if even one of them realised that they were using a public space that belongs to us all. This is a pretty futile question these days.

However, these spaces of confrontation do not exist in private settings. For the whole of the last week, the expensive international school next to our house has been open as usual. Private schools in Catalonia, where presumably most political leaders send their kids, offer families the chance to receive an education in their mother tongue, whether Catalan, Spanish, German or English, accepting a streaming that is absent in public schools. It is pretty amazing how some groups and places bear the costs of political and social divisions much more than others.

The narrative that has emerged on local TV over the past weeks has been pure nationalism. The Spanish state was confirmed to be a repressive state. The main public TV channel in Catalonia rushed to explain to children what happened in terms of the bad Spanish cops versus the good Catalan cops.

Is this the best way to condemn the use of force, I wondered. I showed to my kids very similar images of police in identical uniforms in Washington DC, Hamburg, Genoa or Barcelona a few years ago. They looked puzzled and it was a painful thing to do, but how else can we aspire to collectively reject this shameful manifestation of power by authorities?

How tempting it is to explain what is happening in the language of children’s cartoons. How easy life seems when we simply repeat slogans without an understanding of the meaning these convey; when highly complex realities are pinned down to simple binary and mutually exclusive terms. Concepts stop being the units of thinking when feelings are running so high. The sequence of events explained to us, and especially to our children, always build to the same unanimous narrative – a powerful and magnetic narrative that has no counterforce.

I do not know what will happen next. At the moment of writing, the future looks as uncertain as over the past weeks, although many of us are desperate to see signs of de-escalation so we can carry on with our lives, to have our family dinners back, to have time to care, to think and sleep. I do not wish this territorial conflict to continue stealing time, space and energy away from fighting poverty, unemployment or social inequalities.

We should soon be able to lift our heads to realise how very little it rains; how extraordinarily warm the weather is for the time of year.

Marga León is associate professor of political science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona

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Catalonia’s dreams of secession were incubated in a media cocoon | World news

We know what happens first when coup leaders strike. They take control of the state TV and radio station. We know what the SNP would have done if they’d won their referendum. Set up a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation on the grave of the BBC. So here’s one additional factor to note after Spain’s tumultuous week.

Catalonia has had its own television and radio services since 1983, delivering Catalan-only language programmes and – guess what? – paid for by the same government that declared quasi independence a few days ago.

Bias comes naturally, perhaps inevitably, in the reporting of poor anti-separatist demonstrations, in the constant flashbacks to civil guard police wielding batons and throughout the hours of political discussion. Two regular participants in those discussions – voices against independence, hired in the supposed name of fairness and balance – wrote an article for El País the other day, explaining why they wouldn’t be appearing any longer.

“The official thesis in Catalonia is that this is a natural, essentially good nation that for at least three centuries has been living in a situation of unsustainable colonial oppression within an artificial, perfidious Spain, from which we must escape,” Joan López Alegre and Nacho Martín Blanco declared.

“But when reality is reduced to a single theme, secession… then the presence of a single voice opposed to the thesis of the talk – facing three or four participants plus to the moderator … only serves to project the idea that it is a minority position, even a marginal one in Catalan society. Goodbye. We’ve been ‘useful fools’ too long.”

Their argument can be pursued in two ways. One, filled with the emotion that surrounds the independence vote; the other more reflectively. Let’s take the high road.

Language is a wild card when you try to define nationhood. The areas of inland Catalonia most committed to independence are also the likeliest to use Catalan as their first, and sometimes only language. They depend on TV3 and its four sister channels for their news, soaps and drama series, and rely on Catalan radio round the clock. The algorithms of their social media follow the same route. And the picture they’ve drawn for all of this is often at odds with the complexities you find in Barcelona.

They have lived in a media cocoon of settled opinion, convinced that the EU will welcome their new nation into its midst, that the economic outlook is untroubled, that “taking control” will solve all problems. Passion becomes ingrained. No need to draw parallel conclusions closer to home, but this mingling of fact and conviction crosses many borders. If you can make the rest of the world go away, then doubt becomes a stranger.

No one watching Spanish TV through this crisis should pretend that it’s not had its own biases. Nor should anyone believe that the BBC, charting its lugubrious, legally mandated way through the thickets of bias, can ever achieve consensual calm.

The more open the windows, the easier it is to breathe. Scotland’s own cocoon of devolution has weakened because SNP and now Tory success – as represented in parliament – make the national picture more relevant again. Brexit, too, is gradually opening eyes and horizons. But the language factor comes with an added twist. How did Catalonia wander so close to the edge of a cliff? Because – on screen, on the airwaves, in cosseted print – there was no real debate. Because (think Fox News) the semblance of real debate was quite enough, thank you. Think of the little boxes of diversity; then think adversity.

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Catalonia calls for talks with Madrid but warns against Spanish direct rule | World news

The Catalan government has renewed its calls for dialogue to solve the independence crisis – but warned the rest of Europe that the issue will not disappear, even if the Spanish government makes good its threat to impose direct rule this week.

In an interview with the Observer, Catalonia’s foreign minister, Raül Romeva, said the government was ready for unconditional talks to find a way out of the impasse. “What we need is dialogue with the Spanish state,” he said.

“We need to sit down at the table without any preconditions. But the Spanish state needs to respond to this: if it doesn’t want to, it needs to explain why not. We’ve always said that if there’s a way to do it, either directly or through mediation, we’re prepared to do sit down and talk. I think that’s the way you do things in politics.”

The unilateral independence referendum held on 1 October has pitched Spain into its worst political upheaval since the country returned to democracy four decades ago. Although the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, pulled the region back from the brink on Tuesday by proposing that the effects of the declaration of independence be suspended for a few weeks to allow for dialogue, the Spanish government has said it will no longer tolerate Puigdemont’s disobedience nor his flouting of the country’s constitution and the rulings of its constitutional court.

In an ultimatum issued in the Spanish parliament on Wednesday, the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said Puigdemont had until Monday to confirm whether or not the region had made a unilateral independence declaration and until Thursday to rectify the situation and return Catalonia to “constitutional order”.

Failure to do so, said Rajoy, would result in the unprecedented invocation of article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, which allows the government to take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.

Catalonia’s foreign minister Raul Romeva.



Catalonia’s foreign minister Raul Romeva. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Romeva dismissed the threat of 155, saying the Spanish government had effectively activated the article already. “The problem is that the Spanish government is already applying 155,” he said. “That’s the trap: they threaten to apply 155 when they’re already applying it illegally … They’re already intervening in our finances but they’re doing it by the back door. And the presence in Catalonia of the Guardia Civil and the national police is illegal. They’re saying they’re defending the rules but they’re the ones breaking their own rules.”

He also rejected suggestions that the crisis could be solved by means of a commission on constitutional reform.

Last week Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Spain’s Socialist party (PSOE), appeared to offer the Catalan government a way out of the standoff by announcing a deal to establish a commission to examine the possibility of changing the way the country’s autonomous regions are governed through constitutional reform.

But Romeva said the initiative was designed to deflect attention from the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Catalans, who have said they want to be allowed to vote in a mutually agreed independence referendum.

“What 80% of the Catalan population is asking is that they have the right to decide. That’s what they’ve been saying very clearly – and peacefully – for years. I have yet to see any concrete proposal. I’ve heard some ideas on how we could begin to study the possibility that in the future there could be a commission. That’s not a concrete proposal.”

Romeva refused to speculate on what would happen on Monday, saying only: “We’ll see on Monday. We’re always talking. We’ll see what happens on Monday.”

However, Puigdemont’s government is under increasing internal and external pressure to show its hand. Its junior coalition partners, the far-left separatist party CUP, were not happy that the president stopped short of an outright independence declaration and are urging him to ignore the Spanish government and make a definitive proclamation of independence.

The Catalan national assembly, a powerful pro-independence civil society group, has also said that it no longer makes sense “to keep the suspension of the independence declaration”.

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Catalans should look beyond independence | Letters | World news

The Catalans need to build bridges, and to do so quickly. And not just to Madrid, where the central government appears to be hostage to some of the most reactionary forces in Spanish society. The constitution they regard as sacrosanct included those controversial clauses about the indissoluble unity of Spain only at the insistence of the armed forces. Under Franco the army had become used to playing a very active role in politics. Spain’s need for a new constitution is greater than Catalonia’s need for independence.

The other direction for bridge-building is just as urgent: bridges to the other Catalan-speaking regions of the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. At the last regional elections the ultra-conservative People’s party (PP) lost control of both these autonomous regions to leftwing alliances. The PP is the party of Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy. Such bridge-building is not just about politics. There is also much scope for improving cultural and economic relations, as I pointed out in my recent book Catalans and Others.

Catalonia has always survived by being open to the world but at present is indulging in a prolonged bout of navel-gazing. Its president and its people need to raise their eyes to possibilities beyond the narrow aim of independence.
John Payne
Author, Catalans and Others, Frome, Somerset

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

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I am Catalan: ‘Political parties are like something from a horror novel’ – video | World news

As the north-eastern Spanish region continues the debate over its independence, we are in Catalonia hearing from people worried that the mainstream media is not representing their views. The fifth and final video of the series looks at the perspective of Isabel Muñoz Mitjana, who thinks using fear to influence people’s decision-making is wrong and just wants people to talk to each other

Follow the series here

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