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The French prefecture for the Northern Catalonia town of Prada de Conflent - Prades, in French - has warned the organizers of the town's annual Catalan Summer University (UCE) that this year it does not want any gatherings of people and will set up checkpoints to stop them from happening. For that reason, the summer university - a key seasonal event for Catalan culture and politics - is to be restricted to an online audience in 2020. The authorities, however, are especially concerned about the expectation created by the lecture which exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is scheduled to give on Friday 21st August, which will in the end have to be followed online.

At the UCE's organizational meetings with the French authorities, both the prefect and the sub-prefect were especially insistent on this point, warning that if there were any agglomerations of people, they would close down this edition of the Summer University.

A members of the organizing team, Joan Becat, today made a request on Perpinyà's Ràdio Arrels that people should not try to go to the UCE to see Puigdemont. "For this event, as for all the others, don't come to the Vall Roc venue in Prada thinking that you will be able to sneak through a gap and attend," he said.

"We are sorry, but it won't be possible, not even for members of the UCE board, nor for anyone not participating directly in the event. The conditions which [the prefecture] has set for us still allow us to hold the UCE. But there will be no audience. We hope you will understand," he added.

Becat admitted that this situation, prompted by the pandemic "breaks their hearts". "Prada's prefect and deputy prefect, in the organizational meetings, spoke in particular about the members of the public who might turn up despite the ban and could crowd the entrances to force entry. It was clear that they would close the UCE that same day if we are overwhelmed by 10, 20, 30 or more people who gather outside trying to enter,” he asserted.

In July, the new French prime minister, Jean Castex, who is in fact the mayor of Prada and has attended the opening ceremony of the UCE in other years, advised French citizens not to travel to Catalonia, due to the resurgence of the coronavirus. This Catalonia outbreak is now under control and showing a downward trend, but the French government's concern about the situation on the other side of the border remains unchanged.

The prefecture has in its mind the massive pro-independence rally that took place in Perpinyà in February this year organized by the Catalan political body based in exile, the Council for the Republic, which attracted about 150,000 people, the vast majority of them from across the border in Southern Catalonia, in the Spanish state.  

Puigdemont's speech: "Independence, disactivated?"

The UCE has announced that there will be open digital access to all of the events and debates planned during this year's summer university. Special guest speaker at the opening ceremony on August 17th at 12 midday will be Catalan public health director Josep Maria Argimon. The lecture by Carles Puigdemont, entitled "Independence disactivated?", will be delivered at 12 noon on August 21st. Events and debates take place daily - mostly in Catalan - from August 17th to 23rd at noon and 5pm, while there is also a schedule of concerts which will be open streamed.