catalonia

People in Barcelona Talk About the Arrest of the Former Catalan President

"It doesn't matter who the president of Catalonia is, because the people are leading this independence movement."
All photos by Jordi Llorca

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain In October of 2017, the former Catalan president, Carlos Puigdemont, fled Spain after the Spanish government charged him with sedition, misuse of public funds and rebellion, for his part in organising Catalonia's independence referendum. At the time, the Spanish government's refusal to accept the referendum – and the fact that police used batons and rubber bullets to stop voters from casting their ballots – led to thousands of people taking to the streets of Catalonia in protest.

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Since then, Puigdemont had been living in exile in Brussels, but he was arrested last Friday in Germany under a European arrest warrant while crossing the Danish-German border on his way back to Belgium. His arrest led to more protests in Barcelona over the weekend, where an estimated 55,000 people gathered to demand his release.

If Puigdemont is extradited back to Spain and found guilty of the charges against him, he could possibly face ten years to life in prison. VICE Spain spoke to five young people in Barcelona about what they think his arrest means for the future of the Catalonian independence movement.

Joan, 28

VICE: Hey Joan. Do you think Puigdemont's arrest is the beginning or the end of Catalonian independence?
Joan: It's neither the end nor the beginning, but just the next stage. It's the next small battle in the wider political war, I feel. What happened in October was one battle, and Puigdemont's arrest is another. But I was surprised about the passionate response to his arrest over the weekend. I thought we wouldn't see any more protests or independence fervour for another four or five years, but you can clearly see that the passion for an independent Catalonia is still very much alive in a lot of people.

Who is going to be president of the Catalonian government now?
The issue as a whole is far more important than any one politician or leader. In reality, it doesn't matter who the president of Catalonia is, because the people are leading this movement.

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So why don't Catalonians choose someone who wasn't involved in October's referendum and the independence movement, as the Spanish government would like?
If you purposefully nominate a politician who's not linked to the referendum, you're suggesting the vote was illegal and did not reflect the will of Catalonians. And political parties have every right to propose whomever they want as leader – the Spanish government shouldn't control that in any way.

Marie, 32

VICE: What has the independence movement meant to you?
Marie: It's been a difficult time for me, because I feel like we're all being forced to support independence. The separatists claim they're the ones being forced to shut up, but I actually think it's the other way around. The movement has made me feel like I'm not welcome here because I came to live in Spain, not Catalonia specifically.

Now that Puigdemont has been arrested, what do you think will happen next?
I don't think either side is going to give up, and we’re unlikely to see a compromise – they refuse to listen to each other.

And what advice would you give Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy to solve this issue?
To be honest, I think we need to replace the entire political class. If they don't know how to communicate and compromise with people who disagree with them, they can't be trusted to find a lasting solution.

Romulo, 32

VICE: Hi Romulo, what do you think about Puigdemont's detention?
Romulo: I have a feeling he wanted to get arrested. Why would you travel if there's an arrest warrant out against you? He must have known that he was going to be stopped and detained.

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And how do you think people will react if he's extradited to Spain?
I think many people will do what they did in October, and protest. For example, on the day of the referendum, my father-in-law went to a polling station to help protect the ballot boxes and stand up for freedom. I am in favour of independence for Catalonia, because the majority of voters wanted it. Their rights should be respected.

Judith, 32

VICE: Do you think Puigdemont's arrest is a good thing or a bad thing?
Judith: I think it's wrong, but let’s wait and see what happens. I've heard people say that if he's extradited and found guilty in Spain, he could go to prison for at least ten years – maybe even for life.

How do you think people would respond to the image of Puigdemont returning to Spain in handcuffs?
It's hard to say what it will mean on a political level, but on the ground I think things will get very messy in Catalonia. Last weekend's protest was only the beginning.

Francesc, 31

VICE: Some have called Sunday's protest the "Catalan Spring". How do you feel about that label?
Francesc: I think it's a bit much, but I do believe we're reaching a tipping point where either we'll see the end of the independence movement in Catalonia, or we'll start seeing people take far more extreme actions than we've already seen. Personally, I think there's a lot more to come.

Did you protest back in October?
Yes, I did, and I'll probably join any future protests, too.

If Puigdemont is sentenced to years or even decades in prison, how do you think people here would respond to that?
If that happens, I think there will be some violence. Sunday's protest showed that something is brewing in Catalonia. To me, it's clear the Spanish government can't continue to ignore the people of Catalonia.