A bumpy event for president Carles Puigdemontin Geneva. A number of pro-union attendees have tried to protest an event he headlined at the city's Graduate Institute, an "in-depth conversation about separatism, self-determination and the future of Europe". The event started normally, but during the questions period some of those present started shouting and speaking out of turn, cutting off the president and preventing him from answering questions.
"Voting is forbidden? Okay, that's why we want to leave and create a republic", said Puigdemont after being repeatedly heckled by audience members saying that the Spanish Constitution doesn't allow for holding a referendum.
The tension started shortly after the opening of the questions period, with a question very critical of Catalonia's system of linguistic immersion, claiming that Spanish isn't taught in Catalonia. Puigdemont replied that that is fake news and recalled PISA test results showing that Catalan students have the same level of Catalan and Spanish and that, in fact, they have a higher level than students in some of Spain's monolingual autonomous communities.
From that point on, things only heated up with other contributions critical of the independence process, including bringing up the topic of Tabarnia and discussion of whether all Spaniards should be able to vote or only Catalans. After that, shouts both in favour of and opposed to independence could be heard during the rest of the debate.
"In an independent Catalonia no one will go to prison for defending their ideas”
Through the heckles, the president stood up to the unionists and argued that defending the unity of Spain is as "legitimate and democratic" as arguing for independence. He said that what is needed is the opportunity to vote: "can we agree that these differences are resolved through a vote? Yes or no? If so, what are the politicians doing in prison, still? Why is the government in exile?"
Asked about Tabarnia, a satirical proposal that the areas of Catalonia with the lowest support for independence should themselves secede, and the fact that some Catalans don't want independence, Puigdemont said that a Catalan Republic would never respond in the same way. "In an independent Catalonia, no one would go to prison for defending their ideas," he said.
"Is that Spain?"
Some of those in attendance also wanted to stand up to the attacks by some unionists. "Is that Spain?", shouted one after multiple pro-union heckles. Whistles and applause were also heard from some quarters when Puigdemont defended himself.
The moderator, Imogen Foulkes, a BBC correspondent, finally had to intervene to ask the unionists to stay quiet and respect those whose turn it was to speak. "Stop shouting," she said firmly. Despite her warnings, however, the tension remained and Foulkes had to end up stopping the debate.
The Swiss model as an example
Puigdemont was this Wednesday taking part in an event at the Graduate Institute, Geneva called "Does independence still matter in 21st century Europe?". Before the trouble started, the president had made a speech and then replied to a number of questions from Foulkes. Puigdemont called on Europe and Spain to learn something from the Swiss model and its democracy.
The president defended the right to self-determination and criticised the European Union for not protecting it. "For Brussels, it's more important to talk about democracy than protect it," he said. The leader of JxCat said that the push for independence isn't nationalist, but that he wants a Catalan Republic to move into the 21st century and "change era". "It's impossible to make Spain a plurinational state," he said.
Asked about independence symbols and what importance they hold for him, Puigdemont said that independence isn't incompatible with traditional symbols and that, for him, it would be enough to have a passport saying "Europe" and not "Catalonia".
This event marked the end of the president's four-day trip to Switzerland. Now he will travel to Finland at the invitation of a group of MPs. He will visit the Finnish Parliament, will meet with MPs behind closed doors, give a speech at Helsinki University and meet with a think tank.