The regional parliament of Catalonia on Monday held a wake for Heribert Barrera, a dean of Catalan politics who died on Saturday aged 94. The historical member of the nationalist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) was the first speaker of the regional assembly after the Transition, and he will also be remembered for handing the regional premiership over to Jordi Pujol, one of the most influential leaders in the history of the northeastern region.
Barrera was widely praised by the Catalan political class for his "patriotism and his coherent ideals" as well as for his "courage and total commitment," in the words of regional leader Artur Mas.
The current speaker of the Parlament, Núria de Gispert, described her predecessor as "a politician with a capital P, one of those people who viewed politics as a means to serve the citizens and his country."
The only criticism came from the green coalition Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds (ICV), which lamented Barrera's decision in 1980 to use his vote to hand control of the assembly over to the center-right CiU of Jordi Pujol, who would go on to rule the region for two decades.
Barrera, who died in Barcelona of an embolism, was a scientist by trade despite his long career in politics. He had degrees in chemistry, physics and mathematics, and worked as a professor at Montpellier University during his years of exile in France.
A former republican fighter in the Civil War (1936-1939), he returned to Spain in 1952 and began reorganizing the clandestine ERC. In 1976 he was named party secretary general, and between 1991 and 1995 he was also its president. Barrera also sat in the Catalan assembly house between 1980 and 1988, serving as its speaker during the first four years. Between 1977 and 1980, he had been an MP at the national Congress.
Although his training was in science, politics was in his blood. He joined the ERC youth groups early in life, and his father, Martí Barrera, a unionist, was also a deputy and a member of the Catalan government during the Second Republic, prior to the Civil War.
Barrera's crucial moment in politics came in 1980, when his party held control over the balance of power in the regional house. If ERC's 14 deputies aligned with the left, Catalonia would have had a leftist government supported by 33 socialists, 23 communists and 14 republicans, adding up to 74 MPs out of 135. If, instead, they aligned with the right - as they eventually did - there would be a center-right government. Barrera went down in history as the man who opened the door to two decades of rule by Pujol, and was never forgiven by many left-wing voters and politicians.
His party paid dearly for the decision: in 1984, ERC's presence in the Parlament plummeted from 14 to three deputies, and it would be many years before the party regained lost ground. But Barrera never regretted his choice. In later years, his opinions bordered on xenophobia, and he is on record as saying that "Catalonia will disappear if current migratory flows keep up."