Criticism has rained down on Catalan president Pere Aragonès from different parts of the independence movement following the address he gave yesterday to assess the situation of the pro-independence cause, one year after the elections of February 14th, 2021. In response to the reproaches - which came from, among others, members of the government partner Junts, from leading pro-independence civil group, the ANC, as well as from exiled president Carles Puigdemont - the Catalan government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja noted today that criticisms were from political parties rather than from within the coalition government. However, she admitted that if the president was seeking to revive pro-independence unity and "the first reactions are criticism and reproaches" it is clear that "they are not contributing" and it shows the need to enter a new stage.
In Pere Aragonès's speech from National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC), he called on a frequently-divided independence movement to reestablish its unity and also spoke of last year's pardons of the pro-independence prisoners, not as a solution but as a first step in resolving the conflict. He demanded the state make proposals to move forward in the negotiations, including the withdrawal of the cases against Puigdemont and the other exiled politicians, in line with the ruling of the Council of Europe last June. In fact, among the first of the responses to the speech was a tweet from president Puigdemont, asking Aragonés to show "respect for the political strategy of the exiles", referring to an op-ed article he wrote which was very forceful in this regard.
Specifically, in the article, the Catalan president in exile called for respect for all the defence strategies chosen by the various pro-independence politicians and demanded "equal respect for those who share the struggle for exile." Puigdemont wrote: "I ask that no one speaks for us, that they do not interfere in our strategy seeking shortcuts that we do not want. Four years of exile have strengthened us in the idea that the solution between Catalonia and Spain is political and is collective. That there are no personal solutions or solutions tailored to anyone". "Let my personal situation not be part of any agenda of the so-called dialogue table agreed by ERC and the Spanish government or any bilateral talks," wrote Puigdemont in the 2021 article. All this contrasts with the words spoken yesterday by president Aragonès, who asserted that he would call on the Spanish state the withdraw the cases against the exiled politicians and the other pro-independence activists in exile.
"Lack of strong leadership"
In response to the Catalan president's speech, the secretary general of the Junts party, Jordi Sànchez, regretted that a year after the elections, Catalonia did not have a "strong leadership" nor a "government that sets a standard that allows the Catalan question to be on the table with the Spanish executive or in Europe". Interviewed on Catalunya Ràdio, he acknowledged that he shares the understanding of Aragonès on the need to restore the unity of the pro-independence movement. However, he was critically of the absence of specifics in the Catalan president's proposal for unity of action to force the state to move, with no details given on how it should be done. "The most important thing is that he explains how he wants to do what he proposes," said Sànchez. He also took the opportunity to reiterate the need to find an alternative to the dialogue table, a year after the elections: "It is an obligation."
The strongest rejection of Pere Aragonès's discourse came from the major pro-independence civil group, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which stated in a press release it will not go along with the strategy proposed by the ERC lerader: "We will not take part in a unity of action and mobilization around the strategy proposed by the president of the Generalitat, which, moreover, has not been agreed via consensus process in any space. From the Assembly we totally disagree with asking for concessions from Spain at the dialogue table without preparing unilateral alternatives".
The organization chaired by Elisenda Paluzie believes that, on their own, the mobilization and unity of action which Aragonès calls for will not be sufficient to force the state to agree on an independence referendum: "It is naive and takes us back to 2012." The ANC is angered that Aragonès's speech also devalues everything that the 2017 referendum signified, which was held under a law passed by the Catalan Parliament: "The Catalan people have already voted and won unquestionably against the repressive force of an entire state," said the ANC.
Plaja: "They are not contributing"
Speaking after a meeting of the Catalan government this morning, spokesperson Patrícia Plaja responded to these criticisms noting that they are limited to the parties and not the government, but she admitted that if the president called for unity and "the first reactions are criticism and reproaches" it is clear that there is a need to enter a new stage. However, Plaja denied that president Aragonès was referring to any negotiations with the state on the situation of exiles, or on the pardons for the political prisoners in 2021.
As for Puigdemont's criticism, she clarified that Aragonès in his address "defended the need to find a solution for the exiles"; she denied that there was any intention to negotiate on their behalf, and assured that the president had limited himself to saying that the prosecution of president Puigdemont and all the other exiles should be withdrawn. "The government wants an amnesty and is working to get it, it was not said that there would be negotiation or that there is negotiation. From here we express all respect to president Puigdemont from this Government", underlined Plaja.
"In time for dialogue"
The spokesperson insisted, in the line of president Aragonès, in demanding that the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez put forward specific political proposals. "When this government sat down at the negotiating table, it did so, making it very clear what the goals were," she stated, adding that the dialogue table must be isolated from the election calendar, given that the proximity of elections such as that held this weekend in Castilla y León has been a factor in delaying the meeting of the table. The government spokeswoman called on Spain to be courageous and to specify the date of the next meeting, which would be be the second to be held in a year since the Catalan elections. Plaja explained that there had been a commitment with the Spanish executive to call the dialogue table together at the beginning of the year, and she assured that the time frame still makes this possible: "February 15th is still the beginning of the year," she said.