Defend democracy: Build solidarity with Catalonia

English version of an article published in Público, 07/10/2018:

By David Karvala, @davidkarvala, one of the promoters of the WithCatalonia initiative.

We are in the midst of the anniversaries of different key events around the Catalan referendum of 1 October 2017. On 20 September 2017 there were police raids on Catalan government ministries and an attempt to search the HQ of the anticapitalist pro independence party, the CUP, without a court order, leading to an impressive peaceful civil resistance. On the day of the referendum, we saw the heroism of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in the face of police brutality. On 3 October there was a magnificent general strike… Between the memories of last year and the controversies surrounding this year’s protests, there are lively debates about what to do.

But with all these debates, something very important has gone unnoticed: the fact that many people from all over the world have in different ways shown their solidarity with Catalonia.

To give only a few examples, around the 1 October, there were solidarity events of different types in Berlin, London, Edinburgh, Paris, New York, Dublin… Most of these events didn’t only involve Catalan exiles in the different countries, but also local people, including many who are building ongoing solidarity with Catalonia.

Alongside these organised events, the WithCatalonia solidarity network promoted the international campaign of “#Viva1Oct”. People were asked to do something very simple: photograph themselves with a poster saying (in one of nine languages, from English to Maori) “# Viva1Oct! Stop repression: Respect people’s power. Build international solidarity #WithCatalonia.”

It didn’t become a trending topic, but people took lots of photos, in many different places.

UNISON Union, Glasgow City Council (photo: Catalan Defence Committee Scotland)

A left party in Argentina responded very enthusiastically and obtained photos of all kinds of people expressing solidarity with Catalonia, from their own members through to workers, students, feminist activists… This means that all these people had heard about the Catalan struggle and had been persuaded to stand up in defence of democratic rights and against the repression that we are suffering.

Apart from that — to mention just a few examples — activists in Poland photographed themselves with the poster in the centre of Warsaw; the Lord Mayor of Dublin had his photo taken with the #Viva1Oct poster in front of the magnificent Dublin City Hall, accompanied by two former Lord Mayors; a group of people were photographed with the posters in front of a famous New Zealand Parliament building, the Beehive (hence the translation to Maori!)…

What about Spain? Well here there was also support.

For example, there were several rallies in the Basque country, and in Galicia there was a Catalan solidarity day. But these are territories that have their own national demands, so while it’s very positive that they made the effort to organise solidarity with Catalonia, it’s not really a big surprise.

What will be surprising for some is that there is a group of activists in Madrid who have been working long and hard in solidarity with Catalonia. Around the anniversary of the referendum, “Madrileñ@s por el Derecho a Decidir” (Madrid people for the Right to Decide) organised an important public event.

In Granada, the “Plataforma Andalucía por el derecho a decidir” (Andalusia for the right to decide) held a lively rally in front of the provincial offices of the Spanish government, as well as a public meeting at the university.

Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) have have been formed in Aragon and they have started tying yellow ribbons —the symbol of the demand for the freeing of the prisoners— at key points in Zaragoza, the Aragonese capital.

From Burgos — the city that was the fascist capital during the civil war in the 1930s— a handful of #Viva1Oct photos arrived sent by left activists — one of them a city councillor from the municipal coalition that includes Podemos — with the words “We must strengthen the voices from the Spanish State that bravely show their support for the Catalan people’s right to decide”.

The point is that there has been solidarity from the rest of the Spanish State, but it has been limited to very brave minorities and/or very specific moments.

It is striking that activists in Jujuy, a poor area in northern Argentina, have grasped the gravity of the situation more than most of the left and social movements in the Spanish state.

Everybody’s freedom is at stake

It is urgent for people and organisations across Spain, and more widely, to understand the fundamental fact: that the repression against the Catalan movement creates a precedent to repress any civic movement, no matter how big and broad it may be (there already was quite a lot of impunity for repressing small and radical movements).

In Catalonia we have had at least 8 demonstrations of more than a million people each. The ANC and Òmnium Cultural are huge organisations (Òmnium now has more than 125,000 members); if they can imprison their presidents with impunity, nobody’s rights are assured.

Protest against the arrest of the Jordis; Barcelona 10/17/17

Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez have been in jail since 16 October 2017; the other seven people imprisoned in this case have also been locked up for many months. This without forgetting the growing list of people in exile. There are also increasingly attacks on the freedom of expression of rappers, artists, etc., such as the unprecedented legal action against Willy Toledo for “insulting God and the Virgin Mary.” There are also flagrant cases like that of the young people in the Basque town of Alsasua, sentenced to up to 13 years in prison over a fight in a bar with off duty policemen; they were initially accused of terrorism.

Meanwhile, we must not forget, the fascists condemned to prison for an attack in 2013 on the Catalan government headquarters in Madrid, the Blanquerna, have yet to start serving their sentence; many fascist aggressions never even come to trial. Several famous people — who it is wiser not to name — are still free despite having been sentenced for corruption…

In short, the Spanish State is carrying out attacks against freedoms and political rights that are unprecedented in a free society. So it must be obvious that it is up to every democrat to do everything possible to change this situation.

“But I’m not in favour of independence!”

In two words: so what?

It’s essential to understand that the defence of democratic rights in Catalonia has to do with precisely that: democratic rights. You don’t need to be in favour of independence (in any case, it’s not up to people in Madrid, Manchester or Münich to dictate Catalonia’s future), just in favour of democracy and freedom.

Related to this point, many clichés and confusions about the sovereignty movement have arisen among sectors of the Spanish left. After coming across the same arguments over and over again — such as “The struggle for independence is a manoeuvre by Catalan elites to cover up their corruption”; “Every nationalist movement is right wing and racist by nature”; “We need less borders, not more”… — in WithCatalonia we prepared some FAQs, answers to frequently asked questions.

If someone thought that these arguments are original, then no; some were rebutted more than a century ago by a well-known Russian revolutionary who already then defended the right to self-determination.

There is another relevant, much older quote: “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?” Of course the sovereignty movement is not perfect, not even the left of the movement is. But the sectors of the left and of the social movements of the Spanish State that claim to defend the republic, freedoms, etc. can not limit themselves to criticising the specks in the eyes of the Catalan movement; too much is at stake.

The challenge of solidarity

I recognise that over the years, the Catalan sovereignty movement has made several mistakes regarding the search for solidarity. It should have started looking for it much earlier. It should have made more effort to talk to activists and social movements, not just diplomats. It should have tried to relate to diverse movements in all the territories of Europe and the Mediterranean, instead of giving so much emphasis to other stateless nations; we must insist that this is a matter of democracy that affects everyone, it is not a matter of nationalism.

All this said, in the rest of the Spanish state — and elsewhere — the key thing isn’t what the Catalan movement has done right or wrong, but what can be done from outside to stop the attacks on democracy that are affecting everybody.

The immediate challenges are to put an end to the repression — both against the Catalan movement and in other cases — and to ensure a democratic solution for Catalonia, which means, among other things, respecting the right of the Catalan people to decide their future.

In some territories, there are already movements working on these issues, and they will have to be reinforced and expanded. In others, everything remains to be done.

In addition, there is a bigger challenge, which is to overcome the regime of 1978 and the monarchy; the results of the limited transition to democracy at the end of Francoism. It will be necessary to promote constituent processes and new republican social and political models. Obviously, this will be a long process; it will require a lot of patient work of debate and activities to convince most people of the need for change… precisely what has been done in Catalonia over many years. But we work well building solidarity in the face of the current repression, we will also be making progress on the longer term challenges.

As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado said, the road is made by walking. And we are already walking, though slowly.

Build solidarity: WithCatalonia

Following a series of activities with international visitors in Catalonia during the days of the referendum, in mid-October 2017 a group of activists launched the call WithCatalonia, asking international social movements to mobilise in solidarity with Catalonia.

The call was signed by an impressive list of people, coming from very different spheres of society and movements within Catalonia, with different opinions on independence. In mid-December of 2017, we organized the International Meeting of With Catalonia, with the participation of around 400 people from different continents, different European countries and different parts of Spain.

Since then we have continued to work on more modest activities. We have an international network that includes solidarity groups formed by local movements as well as groups of Catalans abroad, such as the international CDRs.

We can highlight two initiatives from recent weeks. One is the #Viva1Oct campaign described above.

Another was the call to Pedro Sánchez, presented on 10 September, coinciding with his 100 days in office, which called on him to take measures to free the political prisoners and promote democratic means of resolving the conflict. The signatories of the call are from diverse progressive sensibilities, far beyond national movements, and include Yanis Varoufakis.

The leadership of Die Linke in Germany has stood up for the release of the prisoners

And now: what is to be done?

No one has a magical solution to the present critical situation. The events of recent days have confirmed that the sovereignty movement is still alive… but nobody knows how it can really advance. In any case, it can not win alone; solidarity is required.

There are people within the movement in Catalonia who think that solidarity will never arrive from outside and that it makes no sense to expect it. What has been explained above proves that they are wrong.

We know that the left and the social movements in Spain and internationally have a decent history of solidarity with democratic struggles in defence of human rights… but in this case that tradition has not been sufficiently noticed.

Mistakes have been made over these months and years, by all sides. The point now is to move forward, here and now.

And without magical solutions, the small examples of solidarity with democratic rights — for Catalonia and for everyone — that we have seen recently confirm that we can strengthen the fight against repression and for freedoms. So let’s get to work; too much is at stake for us to do nothing.



This post is also available in: Español Català

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