CATALAN INDEPENDENCE BID

Former PM’s letter to Catalans draws applause and contempt in equal doses

PP and some Catalan parties grateful, but secessionists angry at Felipe González's views

UDC leader Duran Lleida said he was grateful for Felipe González's letter.
UDC leader Duran Lleida said he was grateful for Felipe González's letter.Massimiliano Minocri (EL PAÍS)

Politicians of all stripes have reacted passionately to a letter published in EL PAÍS on Sunday by former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González on the subject of Catalan independence.

In a rare display of support, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP) made a similar call for unity, solidarity and internal cohesion to prevent the break-up of Spain.

Rajoy said that the strategy of Catalan premier Artur Mas – who has called early regional elections for September 27 and is threatening to declare unilateral independence for the region if his coalition Junts pel Sí wins a majority – is “a dead-end that divides and pits people against each other, deceives Catalan society and will generate future frustration.”

It seems to me that the arguments of the Spanish left are the same as those of the Spanish right” Carme Forcadell, Junts pel Sí candidate

Sources at La Moncloa prime ministerial palace confirmed that the government fully agrees with González’s plea for a sensible approach to the escalating confrontation between Catalan secessionists and supporters of national unity.

In his letter, the retired statesman – under whose leadership (1982-1996) Spain joined the European Union – said: “I have believed, and go on believing, that we are much better together than opposed: recognizing diversity as a shared asset and not as a cause for rupture between us. For me, Spain would no longer be Spain without Catalonia and neither would Catalonia be what it is if it were separated and isolated.”

González, who was Spain’s longest-serving prime minister, also told Catalans that “with your trust we have moved forward together over many years, overcoming the legacy of the dictatorship, consolidating freedoms, establishing the bases of the welfare state and recognizing, like never before in history, the identity of Catalonia and its right to self-government.”

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Pedro Sánchez, the current head of the Socialist Party, also expressed support for these views.

“I see Felipe’s article as advice from a good friend of the Catalans, whom he appreciates and holds in great esteem,” he said. “Under his leadership, [the Catalans] obtained greater powers of self-rule and respect for their cultural uniqueness.”

González’s comments also drew praise from some Catalan parties, including Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), which ruled the region almost uninterruptedly for nearly three decades in partnership with Democratic Convergence (CDC) until June of this year, when the federation broke up due to disagreement over the independence bid. Like the Catalan Socialists (PSC), UDC prefers greater powers of self-rule over outright independence.

In five Twitter messages, UDC leader Josep Anton Duran Lleida thanked González for his words and said that “ignorance is not about not knowing things. It is about refusing to know them. And there is a great deal of the latter within the independence debate.”

Carme Forcadell of Junts pel Sí is very critical of González's article.
Carme Forcadell of Junts pel Sí is very critical of González's article.Consuelo Bautista

But the mood was quite different among Catalan secessionists, who reacted angrily to González’s opinions.

Carme Forcadell, one of the region’s most vocal supporters of independence and the number two candidate on the Junts pel Sí ticket, accused the veteran Socialist leader of sharing the same ideas as the conservatives.

“It seems to me that the arguments of the Spanish left are the same as those of the Spanish right,” she said.

Marc Sanglas, another election hopeful running with Junts pel Sí, went further, suggesting that a recent Civil Guard raid against CDC’s headquarters – part of a years-long investigation into political corruption by the ruling party – is in fact part of a conspiracy to hurt the independence bid.

“First the Civil Guard, then Felipe González comparing us to the Nazis; all we need now is the Spanish bishops excommunicating the secessionists,” he said.

Lluís Rabell, head of the left-wing coalition Catalunya Sí que es Pot, responded by telling González that “Catalan society is sufficiently mature and does not need any mentoring to decide what to do.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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