Earlier this month, I reached out to the Pirate Party Catalonia to for an interview about the situation with their ongoing campaign for independance. Eric Pineda got back to me, and I thought I would place the full text of the interview available for interested Pirates to read. The PP-CAT media team are all English second language speakers so I apologise for any spelling or grammar mistakes.
1. For Australians unaware of what is going on in Catalonia at the moment, could you provide 2-3 sentences explaining the situation?
The pro-independance has been steadily growing in Catalonia in the last years from a minority to a large fraction of the Catalan society [A]. This huge growth has nothing to do with a reafirmation of the cultural identity, but is rooted instead on a reaction to a series of political initiatives carried out by the Spanish Government which crystallized in many decisions carried out by the Parliament of Catalonia being overturned [B]. There has been for a long time a big consensus among Catalan society (>80%) that a referendum is the way the independence issue should be resolved [C,D], however, due to this concession being highly unpopular among voters of the parties ruling in the Spanish Government this has never even been considered by their representatives as a real possibility, which is why they have been rejecting for years any discussion about an independence referendum.
2. Could you explain a bit about the “Catalonian cultural identity” and how it has shaped the Catalonian push for independance?
Although there is a distinctive Catalonian cultural identity and is of course very important to Catalans, it does not explain the huge growth of the independentist movement in the last years, as this question is implying.
Catalonia became an independent political entity in AD 988 and united with the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. Due to succession and other political struggles, Catalan institutions, traditions and language were outlawed by external powers repeatedly and for long times throughout history as a punishment [E]. But they survived, and Catalonia has nowadays a thriving culture with diverse traditions, including a large body of literature, theatre, cinema and songs in the Catalan language.
There is of course those who may have identity, language, or history as strong reasons to justify independence, but what has successfully convinced such large numbers of citizens to also side for independence have been the systematic efforts from Spanish political actors to overthrow legitimate rulings from the Parliament of Catalonia, specially regarding self-governance, but also other initiatives for building a more democratic, plural, inclusive society, with more emphasis in social justice and equality, and which haven’t found an echo on the Spanish Parliament. Additionally, Catalan society has been always very inclusive with newcomers, and even the nationalists’ claims are not based in race or family tree, with popular lemmas such as “They’re a Catalan he or she who lives and works in Catalonia”, not requiring of immigrants any “conditions” in order to be considered Catalan.
The fact that Catalan citizens have a different model for society is reflected both in the results of the General Elections for the Spanish Parliament [F] and also on state-wide polls where more citizens locate themselves at the extreme left in the political spectrum [G]. This conflict of models has been bluntly reflected on the last years by the Spanish Constitutional Court systematically overturning laws passed by the Catalan Parliament regarding social issues and other topics (such as a law forbidding energy companies from cutting service to poor families in winter, regulation of house evictions, gender equality, a fracking ban, a bullfighting ban, the use of Catalan as the vehicular language in education, or shopping center schedules) [H,I,J,K,L]. A demonstration with hundreds of thousands of people with the lemma “Our home, your home”, which took place last February in Barcelona to demand the Spanish Government to honour its agreements in terms of refugee quota, also reflects the differences between Catalan citizens’ and Spanish Government’s political project [M].
3. What is the official Pirate Party Catalonia stance on independance and the referendum?
Since direct democracy and citizen’s participation is one of the pillars of Pirates of Catalonia, we are in favour of all referendums that don’t go against human rights and the pirate ideology (transparency, access to information, free software, etc), hence including this one. We also think that referendums should be binding, as we think this one should be.
We don’t have a stance on independence. Within the party we have both independentists and unionists and we think both options (a Catalonia within Spain and an independent one) are compatible with the Pirate ideology. We have been calling for participation for the referendum but we never told the public to vote in favour or against. The members of Pirates of Catalonia have been very commited actively fighting to facilitate the referendum to take place. We have at this point three members charged for replicating the Catalan Government web page of the referendum, which was censored by the Spanish administration to prevent the voting to take place.
However, once the referendum has been carried out and the citizens have clearly expressed their opinion, we will defend that the result of the vote is carried out and has binding consequences, if that’s independence then independence, because we understand that’s what the citizens want, so that’s what we will defend, the same way we would support staying in Spain if the result of the referendum was to stay in Spain,for the exact same reason.
4. What has been the participation/response of the Spanish Pirates, and by extension the other European Pirates?
It is worth noticing that most Pirate Parties have had a drop of activity in the last years in the rest of Spain, however plenty of Spanish pirates have shown their support and contributed through the social networks to spread our message of commitment with the referendum. We feel overwhelmed by the support received during the last weeks for the imputation of our General Coordinator as well as our fellow pirates in Valencia.
Regarding the other European Pirates, we have received support from the Swiss Pirates, among others. And also the Piratenpartei, and other European pirates have helped to create a net of websites to ensure that the public had acces to the information needed to carry out the referèndum vote.
5. What other groups around Europe and the world have been following the independance movement? I have seen a surprising number of Scottish people posting support over social media.
International support to Catalan Independence has come mainly from other pro-independence parties around Europe (from Scotland, the Flemnish provinces in Belgium and other parties and organizations from France and Italy). It has some supports too from Québecoise parties in Canada.
In Catalonia there are two main organizations supporting Catalan independence, the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana) and Omnium Cultural, which are the two main organizations that organized the massive demonstrations in Barcelona from the last seven years every September 11th.
6. Catalonia is the birthplace of guifi.net which is one of the most successful community ISPs/meshnets in the world. What other examples of community organising are you aware of in the region?
There’s a huge Catalan working-class tradition of protest and associationism that Franco régime tried to outlaw and forbid, luckily without success. This tradition probably comes from the times of ancient guilds and means the Catalan people used to organize independently to support many cultural initiatives neither supported by public funds nor by the state. This phenomenon has helped the promotion of Catalan culture and rights even when they were prohibited. Associationism, of course, has also helped the rise and promotion of independentism as a grassroots movement.
(As a consequence, many politicians have been swept by the movement, and have felt forced to declare themselves as independentists in order to stay on top, although they had never been independentists originally. This was the case of Mas, the previous president of Catalonia.)
7. Finally (most importantly) what has been the response of the government in Madrid been to the independance movement?
They have been in denial for almost a decade, hoping that if they ignored the situation it would disappear. Nothing further from the reality.
When independentism started growing, the Spanish Government tried to ignore the fact that a huge part of Catalonia’s population was in favor of independence and that even a greater number of people was in favor of a referendum. Later - in November 9th, 2014 - the Catalan Government, with no legally binding results, made a consultation about independence. As a reaction, the Spanish Government started changing tactics. They tried to influence the judiciary giving the Constitutional Court new powers, so it would be able to prosecute those politicians who acted to make the consultation possible. The former president of Catalonia and other officials are being prosecuted for carring out this consultation.
Seeing that this alone was not going to stop a movement which now they started to recognize as citizen-based, they tried to broaden the numbers of those sued by the state’s prosecutor’s office. Nowadays, any Government official who has helped with the referendum, more than half of Catalonia’s mayors, school directors who assigned their schools as polling stations, any media which tried to broadcast the referendum campaign, any website owner who helped by providing information about where or how to vote, or even those private citizens who helped during the referendum itself - specially electoral officers - are being prosecuted or will be so. Which is quite a long list.
However, it does not stop there, Spanish Government sent thousands of police officers to stop the referendum by two different means. The first one by trying to confiscate the ballot boxes and printed ballots. The second one was by sealing off all of the 2.300 polling stations. The Spanish Government response was both troubling and ill managed. First by trying to ignore a broad movement, then prosecuting any democratic action directed to certify which is the public’s opinion on independence, and finally using police violence to disturb the voting and make sure no citizen was able to vote. They possibly also needed the images of police violence in Catalonia to satisfy critics in their own ranks about being too soft with the situation in Catalonia. The Spanish Government claims they are willing to negotiate about anything… except independence, which of course makes no sense for the independentists.