Torra: “We will not resign ourselves to rulings that would bring more pain”

Catalan premier talks about impact of the upcoming trial of regional politicians over independence bid

Camilo S. Baquero
Quim Torra about to give his speech.
Quim Torra about to give his speech.Albert García

Spain’s political agenda in the coming months will be marked by the trial of several Catalan politicians for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with last year’s unilateral independence attempt. On Tuesday, Catalan premier Quim Torra, a hardline separatist, gave a speech outlining his plans and views on the case, stressing that he will not accept a conviction yet failing to explain how he would facilitate disobeying the courts.

Torra insisted on the need for a new, binding referendum and on keeping communication channels with Madrid open. He also asked citizens inside and outside Catalonia to stage public demonstrations “in defense of rights and freedoms,” and underscored that separatists “have renounced nothing.”

The Torra administration is viewing the upcoming trial as a litmus test for Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez

“Our voice will be the voice of the people on trial,” said Torra in a speech that lasted a little over an hour inside a packed National Theater in Barcelona.

“The crimes that our colleagues are accused of are non-existent. Voting is not a crime,” he said, alluding to an illegal independence referendum held on October 1 in defiance of the Spanish Constitution.

When separatist parties in the Catalan parliament passed a unilateral declaration of independence later that month, Spain’s central government used a constitutional tool to remove the entire Catalan government from office. Former premier Carles Puigdemont and several officials fled Spain to avoid arrest, while other pro-independence leaders who remained behind were placed in pre-trial custody without bail on the basis that they could re-offend, and that, like their colleagues, they posed a flight risk.

“We will not resign ourselves to unfair rulings that would only bring more pain, more conflict. Nothing can ever be built on the back of humiliation,” said Torra, warning that a court decision unfavorable to the interests of the pro-independence movement would be even “more serious” than the 2010 Constitutional Court’s decision to cut back parts of the Catalan regional charter, known as the Estatut, or Statute.

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.AFP

Torra – who is not facing trial himself – did not specify how it might be possible to disobey an unfavorable court ruling. “I will analyze the decisions to undertake, and will put myself at the disposal of the people of Catalonia through their legitimate representatives in parliament,” he said.

The Torra administration is viewing the upcoming trial as a litmus test for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who pledged to improve relations with Catalonia when he took office on June 1 after winning a no-confidence motion against Mariano Rajoy with the support of Catalan separatist parties, among others.

But Torra has stopped short of demanding that Sánchez try to influence prosecutors involved in the trial, as his own deputy Pere Aragonés recently requested in public. The transcript of Torra’s speech, as distributed by the Catalan government, included a reference about “a good-faith negotiation that includes the release of political prisoners and the free return of exiles,” but Torra omitted this sentence during his live address.

The Catalan leader insisted on the need for a new, binding referendum on self-determination, and said that if this does not happen, he will pursue the mandate derived from the October 1 referendum, which the Constitutional Court declared illegal and which most non-separatist Catalans did not participate in.

Torra’s appeal for citizens to demonstrate comes shortly before the Diada, or Catalonia Day, which is held on September 11 and has been used in recent years as a showcase of pro-independence sentiment.

English version by Susana Urra.

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