“This is how I will free Catalonia from Madrid”, Artur Mas, President of Catalonia

12.01.2014

Source: La Repubblica (27.12.2013)

Author: Concita de Gregorio

ce70b63df00ee2d79168d391a74ed4bdThe XXth century is over. Certainly, after a referendum one must reach a consensus, that’s obvious. Things are discussed. However, the discussion must evolve around the separation agreement, while preserving a good relationship with one’s neighbour. That’s all. We are not seeking a complete break-up, we are seeking emancipation. As far as this is concerned, there will not be a going back”

This is a translation from the Catalan translation of an interview with President of Generalitat of Catalonia, Artur Mas, conducted by journalist Concita de Gregorio from the Italian newspaper, La Reppublica, published last December 27th. It is an interesting interview in which the Catalan President explains, to an international audience, the process of Catalan Independence; this is carried out with an honest and clear approach.

Although this interview was carried out during the holiday period, it still had a wide media coverage although only a few parts of this interview were included. We have, therefore, recovered the interview in its entirety. During this holiday period, Artur Mas has shown great determination in his political stance

CARRETERO+MAS 1The President talks about the autonomous region: “We are tired of Spain because we have given it much more than we have been returned. Always and during an excessive long time. Now our marriage is over, but we could reach an amicable separation and continue to be good neighbours. We wish to retain our common currency, remain in the European Union, in Schengen and NATO

This is an interview with a revolutionary dressed in a grey suit. A man who, outside of Spain, is not well known due to, as he explains: “If I were a footballer I would have played as centre player. This was my role as a child: centre. Run and run. I do not like Politics. Politics is a necessary disease. I am a politician because there is no other way to reach one’s goal.” His name is Artur Mas, the President of the autonomous region of Catalonia and he is about to cause an earthquake. For Spain and for Europe, for us.

He has set in motion a process of no return. He wants Catalonia independent from Spain and he has set November 9th, 2014, as the date for the referendum for the seven million and a half citizens whom he governs. He shows endurance when Madrid says the referendum cannot take place, and he even shows more endurance when Mariano Rajoy categorically replies that the referendum is unconstitutional and cannot take place. “We will vote anyway”, he says calmly. If the referendum did not take place –“but there will be, there will be…”- he is determined to let his government fall before 2016, and immediately bring forward the elections and thus turn them into a vote in favour or against independence. And, if Europe should refuse, we would do the same. His name is Artur Mas, and one must learn to get to know him and listen to him.

330_1377980278Xina2This is Christmas Eve. A moment before entering his office, the door opens and out comes Jordi Pujol; he’s 83 years old and the founder of Mas’ party –Convergencia- and for 23 years President of Catalonia. A giant of the Spanish politics in the XXth century. Pujol, in perfect Italian, stops a moment to talk about the non-elected Mr. Prodi. He mentions the name of who, according to him, has orchestrated an ambush. He smiles and tells a few anecdotes. He seems to know the history with minute and subtle detail. Then he enquires about Renzi.

He smiles again. “Well, good luck to your country. Remember, when talking to President Mas, that we Catalans do not suffer from xenophobia. In Italy they do, I believe. Not here. The question of independence, contrary to what happens in other places, even amongst ourselves with the history of the League, shows no contempt against the foreigners or the weak. It is not a question of economics.On the contrary. Justice and transparency, this is what my politics is inspired by from the very beginning. We have traditionally welcomed and helped the newcomers. At this very moment I am here only to wish the President a good Christmas; although we may not talk much about politics, I am sure that his words will be my own”. Last smile.

Mas is 57 years old. He is a patient man, used to waiting. He has twice won the elections, although his political alliance has pushed him to the opposition; he governed at his third election. Now he governs. A “director”, he calls himself timidly, “the Catalan Way, though”, those who, from time to time, score a goal. Xavi’s or Iniesta’s style. Pep Guardiola has recently dedicated him a few words. More for communication purposes, more than for Renzi. On the other hand, Mas finds Renzi interesting: “ I feel we shall understand each other. I hope to meet him soon”

President, why do you want Catalonia Independent?

“It’s not me that wants it, it’s the citizens. Look at the

balconies and windows, look at the flags displayed there. In the towns, in the countryside, in the centre and the periphery, in the houses of those who vote right and in those who vote left. This is a transversal movement and a collective one. Two million people went into the streets on September 11th to form a human chain. There was no bitterness in the streets, there was hope. It was a celebration. Catalans wish to vote, no-one can stop them. To vote is a citizen’s right in democracy”.

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Why now? Aren’t the reasons the same ones as those ten or twenty years ago?

“Because of tiredness. Fatigue. Because enough is enough. We have given Spain much more than we have been returned, always. During too much time, too much. Too much is a lot. The marriage is over. We can reach an amicable separation and remain good neighbours”

Therefore, is it a question of economy, of give and take? Is it like wanting to get away from a parent when you are already an adult and he is still telling you how to spend your monthly salary?

“This is a parent who does not love his child, the one who forces him to continue a relationship of subordination beyond the time that’s reasonable. We are in a similar relationship to the one between a tenant and his hostile landlord. We simply cannot accept these conditions, they are unjust. Our autonomy finds itself in a precarious situation, everything depends on the central government whom we have, historically, been paying a distortionate amount of taxes to a degree above those which are then distributed amongst our people. This is the origin of our critical fiscal deficit. Last year we found ourselves in a

situation of having to ask for a loan which we are now paying back. And we will pay it back. But it is enough”.

We are still talking about fiscal returns and taxation system autonomy.

“No, we are talking about our history. I am 57 years old, I was unable to study in Catalan, my language, at school. During Franco’s years it was prohibited. Now we have a bilingual population. Our traditions, our identity have never attempted to oppress anyone. Our politics is one of inclusion, one of welcoming, as always, and one of respect. However, we also want to be respected, and this government do not respect us. Our relationship with the Popular Party have become untenable, very much so”

The historic leader of your party, Jordi Pujol, was imprisoned by the Franco regime. Manuel Fraga, one of the leaders in the history of the PP, was one of Franco’s ministers. Maybe history has made the PP party adopt a conservative stance, and your party, veering more to the left, allied with the Republican Left party?

“This is not a question of left and right. It is true that today’s Spanish Popular Party adopts a certain stance, very conservative. And it is true that Convergencia has, at its core, more liberal components, socialdemocratic, demochristian and even communist. Zapatero was defeated in Spain, and the PP won the elections with an ample majority. However, in Catalonia, the reality is very different. Here the independent tendency is very much across the board and I believe that, breaking up with the central government, could cause difficulties both for the Catalan conservative and the socialist, with totally unpredictable results”.

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You were not born independentist, you have become one recently. Some could become suspicious, even believe it is a situation of convenience, electorally. That you go where the wind takes you.

“Personally, I only have disadvantages. Only great problems. I am not thinking about myself; I reckon I will abandon politics very soon. Maybe I will present myself to the next elections, if the situation arises, so as to see the process continue. I wish to return to my life. What I am doing I am doing it for a future collective process to which I am committed. Politics, as I have mentioned, do not excite me. They fatigue me; but they are necessary”.

Are you willing to abandon your government if Madrid’s reply is ‘no’ to the referendum?

“We will vote anyway, yes. But, I believe, the referendum will take place”

In the case that the NO to Independence wins? Catalans want to vote, but the polls tell us, as far as the question is concerned, yes or no, that there is a 50/50 divide.

“I believe the YES will win. However, in the first place, there is the question of voting as a democratic right of expression. The states are made by the citizens. And these ought to be able to decide. Afterwards, of course, I will accept the result with political responsibility, in any case”

What if Europe said NO to the referendum?

“The pressures are enormous. The sovereign states do not want any problems, if they can help it. There will be the

precedent of Scotland, who will vote before us. Then Catalonia. I have also considered the possibility of finding ourselves outside of Europe, in between the referendum and the declaration of independence. Not outside the euro, mind you, but outside the Union. It would be a pity, because we wish to remain in it. We would then have to find a transitional regime to avoid the expulsion from the Union. In any case, we will apply to re-enter. We wish to remain the euro zone, in the Union, in Schengen and in NATO”

Do you think that the bank system will support your position?

“The banks are not interested in politics, they are interested in solvency. Catalans have 28.000 euros per capita, the same as the Germans. The Spanish banks have 20% of their market in Catalonia. In the world of business there are no ideals, only interests.”

Mas_BarrosoIs Catalonia really committed to break up from Spain? Is it not a way of benefitting from the results of the referendum and go to Madrid to negotiate a different fiscal system and a bigger autonomy?

“No. The old politics of intermediaries, the old tricks with different interlocutors who give different messages have ended. The XXth century has ended. Certainly, after a referendum one must reach a consensus, that’s obvious. Things are discussed. However, the discussion must evolve around the separation agreement, while preserving a good relationship with one’s neighbour. That’s all. We are not seeking a complete break-up, we are seeking emancipation. As far as this is concerned, there will not be a going back”

You sound very optimistic, more than this morning’s newspapers.

“I am an optimist who stands on firm ground. I am a realist”

They say that you are not charismatic enough to lead a revolution.

“Charisma? At school I was good at all subjects, but I did not stand out in any of them. I have always done my duty. One day I chose politics, after working in business. I chose it and I honour it. I don’t know if I am loved, but I believe I am respected. Deep down, I prefer it”

Guardiola values and defends you. You, on the other hand, could you cheer the Bayern of Munich?

“No jokes. My football team is Barca. Bayern is my rival. Pep Guardiola is a friend of mine”

If Catalonia could not vote, what would you expect to happen?

“The referendum will go ahead and the Catalans will win. You will see. Alternatively, we will call for early elections. I think that for a short period of time, later on, I will probably stay. It will not be easy, but nothing has ever been easy for us. Never”

(Translation: JG)

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