Saturday, June 29, 2013

Catalonia's Concert for Freedom, tonight, all over the world

Lluís Brunet Palou
Photo art by Lluís Brunet

Tonight, in FC Barcelona's massive stadium in Barcelona, more than 60 groups (comprised of more than 450 artists!) will sing in a concert called “Concert per la Llibertat” or Concert for Freedom in support of Catalonia's desire to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. It sold out faster than Bruce Springsteen, though more seats were opened up afterwards behind the stage. Almost 100,000 will be in attendance.

Music has a long history of political action, both within and outside Catalonia. @MoltDeleros tells me that "for many years, lyrics with hidden meaning were the only way to defend our country and our way of being". The songs in the concert, he says, mostly come from poetry, some Catalan, some not."

@KatdeCanFanga tells me that there will be artists of all ages, some like Lluís Llach, himself a symbol of the pro-independence movement, have come out of retirement to sing. Here is a rough translation of Llach’s “Tossudament alçats” which the crowd is encouraged to sing along to:

Firmly on our feet
We are here, firmly on our feet
proclaiming the name, the time, and the place
that we grieve and that is ours,
if you want, with our fists open,
if necessary, with our fists closed,
so that the dream we share can come true. 
From the very beginning and free of the past
people from all over allow ourselves the right to write the future
thinking that this old country
maybe holds the key
that can help us go farther, toward learning the art of life.
The Concert per la Llibertat was organized by Omnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly. Many news outlets have published the complete list of the participants and the songs they'll sing.

TV3 will retransmit the concert live on huge screens all over Catalonia as well as via Internet. It will also be broadcast via radio. Groups in Québec, London, Brussels, Santo Domingo, Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Edinburgh, Lausanne, and Cologne will gather to watch it together.

Yesterday, on El Món a RAC1, the presenter and guests talked about who would be there and who would not. Indeed, representatives from all of the major political parties except PP will be there and the Catalan government is sending a delegation (minus the president who is at his daughter's wedding).

The leader of the Catalan branch of Spain's ruling Partido Popular, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, however, said, “Today's concert is a concert about rupture, exclusion, and division of all Catalans,  and the Partido Popular will not allow it.” She then likened the concert to a witch's coven (!).

Some of the musicians have complained about receiving pressure not to perform at the concert. Dyango, a well known crooner famous for singing “Suspiros de España (Sighs of Spain)” said “he had received threats of all kinds”. When question about that song in particular, he said that he had sung many love songs in his day, and hadn't meant all of them literally.

Concert-goers who bring a non-perishable food item for the Food Bank will receive a commemorative bracelet.

In the end, as @KatdeCanFanga says “People are really happy because they/we want to shout again for #independence, like we did on September 11, 2012.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hand in Hand for Catalan independence over 250 miles and 86 towns

The human chain will link municipalities in Catalonia between Pertús and Alcanar. The organizers have invited Valencians and Northern Catalans to continue the chain.

The Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural announced yesterday the path of the human chain for independence that they are organizing for next September 11th. It will begin at 17:14 (commemorating the year the Catalans lost to the Spanish and French) and the chain will join Pertús in the Pyrenees with Alcanar at the southern tip of Catalonia, and will go mostly through towns near the coast and a few county seats: Figueres, Girona, Matarò, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Vilafranca del Penedès, el Vendrell, Tarragona, Reus, and Amposta, and will also pass through the city of Barcelona, along many of its principal avenues, including the Diagonal, and through the Gothic Quarter (including Sant Jaume square, where both the Catalan and city government are situated) and the Eixample, among other neighborhoods.

These are the towns through which the human chain will pass: El Pertús, la Jonquera, Pont de Molins, Figueres, Santa Llogaia d'Àlguema, Bàscara, Orriols, Bàscara, Sarrià de Ter, Sant Julià de Ramis, Girona, Fornells de la Selva, Riudellots de la Selva, Tordera, Pineda de Mar, Calella, Sant Pol de Mar, Canet de Mar, Arenys de Mar, Caldes d'Estrac, Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Mataró, Vilassar de Mar, Premià de Mar, El Masnou, Montgat, Badalona, Sant Adrià de Besòs, Barcelona, l'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Esplugues de Llobregat, Sant Just Desvern, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Molins de Rei, Sant Vicenç dels Horts, Cervelló, Vallirana, Ordal, Cantallops, Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues, Olèrdola, Vilafranca del Penedès, Santa Margarida i els Monjos, la Ràpita, Castellet i la Gornal, Bellvei, l'Arboç, Coma-ruga, Creixell, Clarà, Torredembarra, Altafulla, Tarragona, Reus, Riudoms, Montbrió del Camp, Mont-roig del Camp, L'Hospitalet de l'Infant, l'Ametlla de Mar, El Perelló, l'Ampolla, Camarles, l'Aldea, Amposta, Sant Carles de la Ràpita and Alcanar.

The ANC has opened, with information about the "Catalan Way" which is identified with the #viacatalana hashtag on Twitter. Next week, people will be able to sign up to participate in a specific section of the path.

How did they choose the route?
The ANC explained why they chose the route, which mostly goes through coastal counties, and skips the interior, mountain ones, and Eastern ones, and also does not go into Valencia or North Catalonia. “It is the backbone of the Catalan Countries, and the ancient ‘Augustan Road’. That way the people of Valencia and North Catalonia, even though it's a work day, can continue the path in their territories. The Balearic Islands will also be able to have concurrent celebrations,” explained the group.

They also said, “The route we have chosen is easily accessible by a majority of the population and is basically flat and straight, with access for people of reduced mobility. It is close to most of the people, and especially the places where most people are and can join the process.” In addition, the ANC says that the path ensures that vehicles from Europe will be able to come and go without interference. Finally, it also “outlines a clear stretch of clear examples of lack of investment on the part of the Spanish government in Catalan infrastructure, like the N-340, N-II, and the Mediterranean train corridor.”

250 miles, 86 cities and towns

The ANC president, Carme Forcadell, explained yesterday that the September 11th demonstration last year had gone perfectly and that this year the idea was to go further still. “The Catalan Way is a political and logistical challenge,” she added. Forcadell pointed out that the Catalan Way represents the unity of the Catalan people in favor of the independence of Catalonia and that it demands that Catalans be able to “vote for independence in a referendum as soon as possible”.

Other speakers at the press conference, held in the Museum of Catalan History, included Rita Marzoa, spokesperson for Omnium Cultural, Ferran Civit and Ignasi Termes, members of the Secretariat Nacional, and two organizers of the Baltic Way of 1989, the Estonians Ülo Laanoja and Henn Karits. Marzoa, representing Omnium, pointed out the unity of the civil society in the process toward independence.

Civit and Termes, for their parts, explained the logistical details and the content of the chain. Civit pointed out how important it was that all of the lengths of the chain be connected and explained that if they were able to do that, then the chain would be a logistical success, and also a political one. Civit also explained that the path, which will go along the coast of Catalonia, from Alcanar to Pertús, will also allow the rest of the Catalan Countries to participate symbolically, even though outside of Catalonia it's not a holiday. For his part, Termes said that the process could not be delayed any longer, and that the path of the human chain would be over 250 miles long and would go through 86 different cities and towns in Catalonia.

Latest polls shows 70% would vote in favor of Catalan independence

The Catalan Government's Opinion Studies Center poll published today (Catalan English) confirms the trend of the El Periódico poll from a few weeks ago with increased support for pro-independence parties and for independence itself.

2000 people, distributed amongst Catalonia's four major metropolitan areas, were interviewed by phone between May 31 and June 13, 2013.

72.5% believe Catalonia has achieved an “insufficient level of autonomy”. Only 19.1% believe it has a “sufficient level” and less than 5% think it has too much.

47% believe that Catalonia should be an independent state. 21.2% that it should be a state in a federal Spain, 22.8% that it should be an autonomous region of Spain and 4.6% that it should be a region in Spain.

When asked how they would vote in a referendum to decide the independence of Catalonia, 55.6% said they would vote yes, and 23.4% said they would vote no, with 15.3% abstaining. In other words, if the abstainers stay home, the end results would be 70% in favor of independence (55.6/79) and 29.6% against.

There has been some question as to whether the CiU federation would be split by the independence vote, but the poll says 78% of CiU voters would vote in favor of independence, while only 7.9% would vote against, with 13% abstaining. That seems to indicate that Unió, led by Josep Anton Duran i Lleida, who has repeatedly stated that he is against independence, has little following, at least with respect to independence.

If elections to the Catalan Parliament were held tomorrow, the pro-independence and pro-referendum parties would win huge margins: 22% for ERC, 18.2% for CiU. The shift from CiU to ERC is hard to gauge. Is it frustration with economic crisis? Or frustration with distracting message from Unió/Duran? Continued support for independence would seem to indicate that the problem is not the referendum. If that were the issue, we'd see more voters fleeing to non-indyref parties like PP and C's, but that is not the case.

The Catalan Government has helpfully made available an English version (albeit shortened) of the poll.

The full report (in Catalan) has some additional interesting bits.

87.3% think that the current economic situation is 'bad' or 'very bad'. And 33.9% think it'll be worse next year, 38% say it'll be the same and only 21.9% say it will get better. That's not a lot of hope. When asked about their personal situation, 42.7% said it was the same as a year ago, and 52.2% say it was worse. I'd love to see that statistic over a longer timeframe.

Here's a question that I find hard to interpret: “How would you rate the political situation in Catalonia/Spain?” 70% said 'bad' or 'very bad' (in Catalonia), and 95.1% said it was 'bad' or 'very bad' in Spain, including a full 60% who said 'very bad'. It's such a general question. It could mean “Do you think the political system works?” or “Do you think politicians are corrupt (or self-interested)?” or “Are you worried about political situation?” or a slew of other things. Meanwhile, 59% are interested or very interested in politics. So, at the very least, they're not disengaging. Further, 63% say they talk about politics very frequently or frequently. And 69% consider themselves very well or well informed. Only 1% is very satisfied with “how our democracy works”, compared with 15.2% who are pretty satisfied and 56% who are hardly satisfied and 26.7% who are not satisfied at all.

People still rely heavily on television (82%) for political news, as compared with radio (40.3%), newspapers (60.8%), internet (39.5%), and friends/family (38.5%). And 50.6% say they watch TV news in Catalan (on TV3), as compared with less than 9% for all of the other channels (individually, not combined).

And the perennial question of how Catalan do you feel: 31% only Catalan, 25.7% more Catalan than Spanish, 35.6% as Catalan as Spanish, 2.6% more Spanish than Catalan, 3.6% only Spanish.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Brussels think tank proposes mediation for Catalonia and Spain

Originally published in VilaWeb on June 2, 2013

Researcher at Brussels' principal think tank believes that either the EU or the UN could play this role

Brussels' principal think tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) has proposed that Catalonia and Spain name an “external mediator or counselor”. In an interview with the Catalan News Agency, Steven Blockmans, a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit, defended that “the EU or UN could play this role”, but warns that beforehand “both parties—Barcelona, but also Madrid—would have to voluntarily agree.” Blockmans said that both the referendum and the possibility of Catalonia and Scotland becoming independent are debated and “come up quite often” in Brussels, “although the European Commission won't official recognize that it's preparing for such an event”.

Blockmans recommended that if the Catalan government finds it impossible to negotiate with the Spanish government either about holding a referendum or what should happen after secession, that it should “at least try to convince it to invite the EU to serve as a mediator” and in this way get through the “political wall”. The senior research fellow and professor of both the University of Amsterdam and that of Lovania said that if Madrid agreed, “the exit and re-entry” of an independent Catalonia in the EU could “be fast-tracked” and “all that would be necessary would be a summit meeting” in Brussels, “with a simple meeting” in order to make the “political decisions”.

“Logically, Catalonia already fulfills all of the requirements for forming part of the EU, with respect to human rights, fundamental liberties, and the rule of law, and all of the EU legislation," reminded Blockmans. But at the same time, he points out that without an agreement, the Spanish government could veto the entry of the Catalan State into the EU. European legislation “says nothing about the secession of a member state,” but “in international law, the basic rule is that independence is illegal if there is no agreement between the affected parties," says Blockmans. "Obviously, a veto would have a high cost for Catalans and for businesses: borders would be reinstalled and the free circulation of people, goods, and capital would be restricted," says the Belgian researcher.

In declarations to ACN, Blockmans admits that that would be unacceptable and foresees that Catalonia and Spain will have to negotiate an agreement on the transition so that Catalans don't lose the rights and obligations that they currently have as EU citizens. “But if there is political blockage from a single member state, since unanimity is required, this transitional agreement wouldn't work,” he warns.

The head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit at CEPS recognizes that “the EU has motives for avoiding this situation,” but believes that the most interested party is Catalonia. Therefore, he encourages the Generalitat to start thinking about proposing an external mediator or counselor.