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Bosch: Spanish government 'never been proportionate or fair'

After declaring independence, Catalan leaders have fled while Madrid has taken over and called elections. What next for the divided region? Conflict Zone meets Alfred Bosch of the pro-independence Republican Left party.

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Alfred Bosch on Conflict Zone

"We are talking about proportion and justice," said Alfred Bosch, speaking in Barcelona this week on DW's flagship political interview show Conflict Zone.

Echoing the sentiment of many Catalans, the leader of the Republican Left party on Barcelona City Council told Tim Sebastian, "The Spanish government has never been proportionate [or] fair."

But tensions between the Spanish central government in Madrid, under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and Catalonia's regional government, until recently led by Carles Puigdemont, have reached a new low in modern era Spain.

"The kingdom of Spain – apart from being the most corrupt country in the world – has tried to prevent us from voting. […] It has given orders to the police to beat up people; you saw the images all over the world," said Bosch.

A heavy-handed response by Spanish government forces while trying to prevent the disputed referendum on the region's independence on October 1st resulted in almost 900 injuries, according to the Catalan health ministry. 

"I can’t help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers that intervened," Madrid’s representative to Catalonia, Enric Millo, said later. Human Rights Watch saidpolice had used "excessive force" and called for an investigation.

Spanien - Demonstrationen für die Einheit von Spanien und Katalonien in Barcelona (Getty Images/AFP/P.-P. Marcou)

In the days after the Catalan vote in parliament for independence, thousands marched in Barcelona protesting the decision waving both Spanish and Catalonian flags

Political prisoners

For supporters of independence, Catalans are therefore faced with a simple question: "Would you really like to stay in a place where they try to put in jail your elected leaders? Where they try to beat up your grandmas and grandpas?" said Bosch.

In recent days, ex-Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont – who, along with his colleagues in the regional government, was sacked by the Spanish central government – has answered this question emphatically. For him, the solution for now at least, is not only independence from Spain but exile in Belgium.

Facing charges including rebellion, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment, Mr Puigdemont fled to Brussels maintaining that he was there to show "the Catalan problem in the heart of Europe", not seek political asylum. So far, however, his pleas for European leaders to intervene in the crisis have been ignored.

Puigdemont has been summoned to appear in court in Madrid but refused to do so without guarantees of "a just, independent process" from the Spanish authorities. Spanish prosecutors have now requested that judges issue an international warrant for his arrest.

“We might see again something we hadn't seen in Europe for decades which is politicians looking for political asylum within Europe,” said Bosch, arguing that it showed “the nature of the Spanish state” in response to an “eminently democratic” separatist movement.

Several other Catalan lawmakers, including ex-vice president and president of Bosch’s Republican Left party, Oriol Junqueras, have already appeared in court.

Asked whether the separatist leaders should have considered the possibility of charges, Bosch said they were “disproportionate” for elected politicians attempting to carry out the wishes of voters: “For once our politicians delivered – we might as well respect them.” 

Hostile takeover?

Madrid’s decision to enact Article 155 of its constitution – commonly reported as a "nuclear option" – in the aftermath of the Catalan referendum suspended Catalonia’s autonomy and had never been used before.

Hadn’t Catalan’s leaders also expected the Spanish government would defend its constitution, which forbids secession of the country's regions?

"Puigdemont offered talks and he suspended the declaration of independence on October 10th in order that he could hold talks with the Spanish government. […] International mediation, he offered it. And Rajoy didn't accept it. The Spanish government didn't want to sit at the table," Bosch told DW.

Belgien Carles Puigdemont in Brüssel (Reuters/Y. Herman)

Catalonia's ex-president Carles Puigdemont fled Spain for Brussels to appeal to European leaders for support but none has been forthcoming. "We are not in favor of letting Europe develop so that tomorrow we'd have 95 member states. 28 is enough for now," EU President Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

The separatist government was dissolved and elections called by Madrid just hours after the vote for independence in Catalonia's regional parliament.

December elections

Catalonia's two main independence parties have agreed to participate in the elections, scheduled for December 21st, including Bosch's Republican Left party: "As a party we will run for elections, obviously. We love elections, we love the ballot boxes. We defended them on October 1st with our bodies."

But Bosch dismissed any opposition to a vote on account of it being managed by Madrid, saying it would show "who has the numbers and who has the majority", adding: "We've pursued [independence] always in a democratic manner. We're not going to lose that quality."

Whether the willingness of Catalan parties to run in elections called by Madrid augurs well for the region's political stability is as yet unclear. Would separatist parties forget about independence if they lost in December?

"Let's talk after the elections about this. We're going to win those elections. We have won them, all the last elections we've won, so why shouldn't we also win these?"

Mr Puigdemont has confirmed he will also respect the outcome of the elections.

Recent polls in Catalonia suggest Bosch’s Republican Left (ERC) party would do best if an election were held today, but that nationalist parties would fall short of winning over 50% of the vote.

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