Prof. Narcís Parés in Catalonia: “We are committed to defending our rights.”

Written by on October 1, 2017 in Europe - Comments Off on Prof. Narcís Parés in Catalonia: “We are committed to defending our rights.”

Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants, about as many as Bulgaria. The Catalan, in their prosperous region in North-Eastern Spain, speak their own language. Ambitions to become independent have been there for decades.

Ahead of today’s referendum on the question of independence, which the Spanish government says is illegal, tensions in the region were rising. Spanish police were trying to make sure schools could not be used as polling stations, while members of the independence movement occupied buildings in an attempt to achieve the opposite.

Narcís Parés (51) is an Associate Tenure Professor in the ICT Department of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, with a background in Audiovisual Communication, and a strong advocate of Catalonia’s independence. Imanuel Marcus asked him some questions.

The Sofia Globe (TSG): How long have you waited for this moment, and did you ever think the independence movement would get this far?

Narcís Parés: I have been waiting for this moment all my life, literally since I was born, because the Catalan identity was transferred to me by my parents, and to them by their parents, and similarly going back in time. My grandparents left Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War because they did not wish to live in a place in which their freedom of speech, their freedom to maintain cultural traditions, their freedom of transmitting these traditions onto their children, was completely forbidden. So I was born in Mexico, being a Catalan-Mexican with my mother tongue being Catalan, my second language Mexican Spanish, and my third language English. When I went to live to Barcelona in 1983, at age 17, I had a strong feeling for independence at a time in which it was something to be almost ashamed of. This is how oppressed the Catalan society felt for a long time. So, no at that point I wasn’t expecting this to occur 34 years after. However, for the last ten years the Catalan society has been waking up, probably in most cases because of the economic discrimination, but also because of the cultural discrimination. At this moment in time I constantly think of my grandparents. I will vote tomorrow thinking about them, but more importantly thinking on my children and our future.

TSG: What is the situation in Barcelona, with all of those Spanish police officers on site? Do you expect tensions between them and those who want independence?

Narcís Parés: The situation in Barcelona is peaceful and festive. We are all very excited to vote. However, we are extremely cautious with the manoeuvres by the Spanish Government, because we really don’t know what to expect. We are nonetheless committed to defending our right of free speech and our right of being whatever we wish to be.

TSG: The Mossos d’Esquadra are supposed to cooperate with the police, according to Spanish law. Might they still try to make sure the referendum can go ahead, e.g. by giving people access to polling stations?

Narcís Parés: The Mossos have clear instructions to keep people from voting. However, there is a very important point which is that they will act within the level of proportionality that is adequate at every one moment. What this means is that if they need to use force measures, while there are too many people on site, they will probably desist. This is why we are getting organised to have as much people as we can at every single voting location, always in a peaceful attitude and with a smile in our faces. However, we are afraid to have infiltrates with the goal of generating noise and aggression, and give the Spanish forces, the Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional, the excuse to act with greater forcefulness. We have had some of this in the past few days, but we have always kept our eyes open and have discovered and denounced these infiltrates, in order to keep the peaceful and constructive spirit we are all working for.

TSG: In your eyes, has there actually been a proper campaign for and against independence, ahead of the referendum?

Narcís Parés: Indeed not and unfortunately not. Our institutions have tried to make this referendum open to everyone. That means for both advocates and opponents of independence for Catalonia. We have offered a dialogue to opponents, asking them to speak up and provide the reasons they have for not wanting independence. However, unionists, especially fostered by Spanish parties in general, not only the right wing Partido Popular who is currently in power, but also the supposedly left wing PSOE and others, have taken the stance of not even wanting to talk about the possibility of a referendum. They have claimed from the beginning that this was a non-constitutional act and that they did not wish to talk about it. I am not a jurist. However, I have read many opinions from both sides and it seems to me that unionists have a very biased interpretation of the Spanish Constitution. Also it looks like a referendum like the one we are trying to organise would be perfectly legal. Since they have entrenched or castled in this discourse and have rejected any dialogue, this has led to the fact that those who wish to vote, and wish to vote NO specifically, have had no one to support them with a clear set of arguments. On the other hand, and in my opinion, this is also a matter of a lack of arguments. There are few arguments to support staying within Spain other than those that address the Spanish national spirit. It is the same with other parts of the World that have become independent of Spain. None of them have asked to become part of Spain again, because there are no solid arguments. Spain is a conglomerate of identities, but Spanish nationalists want to make the country a uniform mass.

TSG: What are your expectations for Sunday, what the situation on the ground is concerned?

Narcís Parés: I don’t know, really. We have learned to live by the minute and take one little step at a time. As we say in Catalan “Poc a poc i bona lletra” (“Take it slowly and write nicely”). This has worked well because our patience is not exhausted. We just keep on working for what we believe in, and doing it in a constructive and peaceful manner.

TSG: Let’s say the referendum goes ahead, in spite of some chaos and tension, and let’s say the pro-independence movement wins. What do you think will happen afterwards? How do the supporters of independence intend to reach their goal?

Narcís Parés: There are a number of possibilities. However, it is too difficult to say at this point. It depends upon so many variables. For example, it depends on what the turnout will be tomorrow, and what the difference between YES and NO ends up being, what the international observers say in their report, what the actual attitude and performance of the police forces is, and so forth. You see, the thing is that many people think that this independence movement has been promoted by the pro-independence politicians. Essentially because this is what unionist politicians have repeated to boredom, in order to install this believe in society and in international opinion. However, this is a bottom-up movement, which is not only coming from the depths of time, but also from a rich network of cultural associations and institutions that are rooted in Catalan society. This is the way Catalans live. We like to talk about things, we like to do things together, in different social environments, and decide things that affect us by having a transversal discussion and agreement. Catalonia had the first parliament in history, long before the UK, and we have this installed in our idiosyncrasy, in our way of being. The politicians that are currently ahead of the movement, have been pushed into it by the social movement. They were not very fond of going for an independence quest at the beginning, and have had loads of doubts and internal quarrels because of this. However, they also saw hundreds of thousands of voters asking them to go in this direction. And so they went. Therefore, what happens after tomorrow does not only depend on high politics or on legal strategies. It also depends very much on how we push this process from below, as we have been doing in the past six years with demonstrations that have gathered between 1 and 2 million citizens in the streets, from a population of 7.5 million. That’s easier said than done, but it was done, and we will continue working on it, peacefully.

TSG: Thank you very much, Narcís.

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com