A November 9 meeting between Oriol Soler, a Catalan entrepreneur and publisher who has been one of the leading ideologues of the secessionist movement, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, is continuing to make waves in Spain.
Soler has had strong ties with the Catalan secessionist movement for many years while Assange, using social media, has disseminated thousands of messages and disinformation supporting the Catalan independence drive.
A recent tweet from Julian Assange attacking the Spanish government.
Soler, who led the communication campaign for the non-binding referendum held on November 9, 2014 in Catalonia, and who took the lead on the promotional work for the October 1 vote this year, has confirmed to EL PAÍS that he met with Assange.
But he denied that the four-hour meeting with the cyberactivist was designed to pave the way for the communication campaign ahead of the December 21 election in Catalonia – a poll deemed illegitimate by the independence movement because it was called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy using emergency powers under Article 155 of the Constitution.
However, speaking on Monday before a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss, among other things, Russian interference in European democratic processes, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said there was plenty of evidence that Soler and other individuals are “trying to intervene, manipulate and affect what should be the natural democratic course of events in Catalonia.”
We always knew that there were strange things behind this whole [independence] process
Salvador Illa, Catalan Socialists
Speaking later at a press conference, the minister stated that there was little doubt the meeting between Soler and Assange had the objective of pushing forward the Catalan independence cause. “They spoke for not less than three hours. You tell me if the idea that they spoke about this issue doesn’t seem unlikely, especially given the involvement of Soler,” said Dastis.
Soler himself said on Twitter on Monday that he had spoken with Assange about the Catalan issue but that his visit to the UK capital was related to a project he is developing there.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party, Sergi Sebrià, declined to comment on the meeting. Asked about links between the Catalan businessman and the ERC, the spokesperson said: “We cannot speak for the 800,000 people who voted for us, or for their trips.”
Soler was not on the payroll of the Catalan government but is one of the members of the Estado Mayor pro-independence strategy group of former regional premier Carles Puigdemont – an inner circle that includes members of the sacked Catalan executive and members of the civic groups National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural.
We cannot speak for the 800,000 people who voted for us, or for their trips ERC spokesperson Sergi Sebrià
Despite these links, both the ERC and Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party have distanced themselves from the meeting between Assange and Soler.
Meanwhile the Catalan Socialists (PSC) said the meeting raised suspicions. “We always knew that there were strange things behind this whole [independence] process. This is another anecdote in a process that has failed,” said Salvador Illa, the party’s organizational secretary.
Inés Arrimadas, the leader of the pro-unity, center-right Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, has criticized the Spanish government for failing to fight against the independence propaganda pushed by Assange.
“The independence movement doesn’t have a project for Catalonia; it doesn’t have state structures, but they have done one thing well: propaganda. They have dedicated a lot of public resources to creating this propaganda, which has no content, but the packaging was really good. The government of Spain did not take on the role of countering the lies of the independence parties,” said Arrimadas in an interview with the Espejo Público show on Spanish broadcaster Antena 3.
English version by George Mills.