Opinion: Puigdemont and his Catalan disappearing act | Opinion | DW | 02.11.2017
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Opinion: Puigdemont and his Catalan disappearing act

Fleeing never looks good — that's particularly true if you want to be a hero and chase lofty goals. Carles Puigdemont cuts a pathetic figure in Brussels as a runaway from Spanish authorities, writes DW's Barbara Wesel.

No one knows what jokester first photoshopped Carles Puigdemont into the image of a popular Brussels french fries joint. But the picture showing the Catalan politician as a fries-seller is extremely popular on Twitter.

There's a fine line between greatness and ridicule. You can go from waving flags on the barricades in Barcelona to hawking French fries in the Belgian and EU capital in no time. 

Grand convictions call for grand gestures

Others poke fun at Puigdemont by portraying him as the protagonist of the "Adventures of Tintin" series, who seems to constantly be on the run. The young and naive comic book character is a pretty good fit for the Catalan.

But Belgian EU-politician Guy Verhofstadt jeered, "Not sure if comparing Puigdemont to Tintin is adequate. Tintin always finds solutions to the adventures he encounters, while Puigdemont left Catalonia in chaos and devastation."

There are definitely frustrated supporters, angry party colleagues and an unsettled economy back in Catalonia. Madrid is temporarily ruling the autonomous region directly, which has surrendered to this "foreign rule" in a remarkably pragmatic manner.

Puigdemont has probably overestimated the revolutionary potential of his fellow Catalans who can easily get fired up. Marching in nice weather is fun, but sacrificing wealth and employment for a nationalist dream if you live comfortably and quite autonomously from Spain — it seems silly just writing it down.

Catalonia's top political figure should have known that a leader's grand convictions demand similarly grand gestures. That definitely includes stating your case in court in Madrid with your head held high, accompanied by Catalan freedom anthems. What looks very bad indeed is leaving your ministers with all responsibility and sneaking out under the cover of night to munch on fries and chocolates in Brussels.  

Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras arrives at the Madrid court (Reuters/J. Barbancho)

Catalan ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras, Puigdemont's right-hand man, returned to Madrid and faces detention

Political theater

The whole drama surrounding Catalan independence — with Puigdemont in the title role — resembles a cheap soap opera, a telenovela. His comparing the Spanish government to Francisco Franco's dictatorial regime is either ridiculous or ignorant, depending on one's perspective. Constantly trotting out democracy appears hollow if the leaders don't follow its rules themselves.

Read more: Bosch: Spanish government 'never been proportionate or fair'

And finally, the former president and his posse revel in the role of the victim that they created for themselves — keeping one eye constantly on the audience to make sure they're impressed.

In Russia, Turkey and elsewhere, people are in prison because of their political views or their jobs. In light of these serious cases, the political kindergarten in Catalonia is nothing short of ridiculous. These heroic independence fighters seem to keep yelling, "We want to be oppressed!"

Anything to justify their own goals, ensure access to publically financed salaries, maintain a strong grip on provincial power and secure a spot on the nightly news.

Puigdemont gives a press conference in Brussels (Reuters/Y. Herman)

The former journalist still likes to keep himself in the media spotlight, Wesel argues

No place in Europe

It's also embarrassing to always entice your supporters with the fairytale of European support and then, naturally, fail to be able to deliver. Neither the EU nor Puigdemonts involuntary host Belgium want to reach out to a secessionist rebel. They've been awaiting the Catalan's arrival with about as much enthusiasm as you do a dentist's visit.

Barbara Wesel Studio Brüssel (DW/G. Matthes)

DW's Barbara Wesel

If the Belgians are lucky, their country won't stand in the way of a European arrest warrant and the quick extradition of Puigdemont. That would put a damper on the secessionist thoughts of their own autonomists, the Flemish.

The exiled president, as he calls himself, finds himself positioned within Europe's international right-wing extremists while also garnering respect from the far left. What's the saying again? You are the company you keep.

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