Catalan leader defies electoral board with new display of separatist symbols

Quim Torra resorts to color variations to circumvent campaign rules on political neutrality

Workers changing the sign on the Catalan government building.
Workers changing the sign on the Catalan government building.Albert Garcia

The tug-of-war over Catalan independence symbols on public buildings continued on Thursday, when regional premier Quim Torra, a hardline separatist, switched a yellow ribbon for a white-and-red one in a bid to circumvent election campaign rules.

Spain’s Central Electoral Board, the JEC, had given Torra a deadline to comply with legislation that prohibits partisan symbols on buildings owned or run by public authorities during election time. That deadline has passed, and the JEC will meet this afternoon to determine whether it will take any legal action.

The Catalan ombudsman has recommended taking down the symbols

In Catalonia, many public buildings have been displaying yellow ribbons, used to show support for separatist leaders standing trial for rebellion, and esteladas, the unofficial flags used by supporters of Catalan independence.

A week ago, the JEC reminded Catalan authorities of their legal obligation to preserve political neutrality ahead of the local, regional, general and European elections coming up in April and May.

Torra resorted to requesting the advice of the Catalan ombudsman, the Síndic de Greuges, which yesterday said in a report that it recommended taking down the symbols.

The Catalan agriculture department with yellow cut-out figures on the windows.
The Catalan agriculture department with yellow cut-out figures on the windows.Grego Casanova

Flowers and fish

On Thursday morning, workers removed a large sign demanding “freedom for political prisoners” and depicting a yellow ribbon from the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the regional government. It was immediately replaced with a similar sign, except the ribbon this time was white with a red line across it.

Meanwhile, some regional officials have gotten even more creative: the department of agriculture, which is controlled by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), has taken down most of the yellow ribbons in the last few hours and replaced them with yellow cardboard cut-outs of flowers, tractors, roosters, rabbits, fish and other animals.

Just across from there, at the Health Department, drawings of yellow ribbons remained on display at the building entrance. The head of security said that he had received no orders to take them down, but that management wants them removed if any employee complains about them.

Two enormous ribbons were also in plain view at the Department of Territorial Affairs and Sustainability, next to a mural showing the faces of the separatist leaders who are standing trial for rebellion in Madrid. Employees inside the lobby said that they had received no orders to remove the symbols, either. It was a similar story at the departments of Justice and Economic Affairs.

Before dawn, two municipal workers took down ribbons that were tied to the fences around the Generalitat building and Barcelona City Hall, both located in Sant Jaume square. Around half an hour later, however, an activist showed up and tied seven new ribbons around City Hall and one near the regional government headquarters.

English version by Susana Urra.

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