Mikko Kärnä (Espoo, 1980) was a deputy in the Finnish Parliament until little more than a month ago and is also a former mayor of the small city of Enontekiö. He belongs to the political formation currently governing Finland, the Centre Party, and is a solid defender of the independence of Catalonia. In fact, he has raised the Catalan issue both in the Finnish chamber as well as with the Finnish government, and it was he who organized the visit to the country's parliament of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in March this year. This week he has come to Catalonia for the first time, where he is taking part in several events in favour of the independence process, and El Nacional took the opprtunity to speak to him.
How is it that you, living 4,000 km away from Catalonia, have given your support to Catalonia's independence process?
I consider this issue very important for the future of the whole European Union. I have always been a defender of democracy and of independence processes. For we Finns it is very easy to relate to the situation in Catalonia because we are a young nation also, we became independent 101 years ago.
When did you start supporting the independence movement? You started to become known as a result of the 1st October, but were you following it before?
Yes! It was before 1st October. I have been monitoring the situation for quite a long time, but I became quite active before 1st October because I was very worried about what Spain might do. And, as a matter of fact, my fears were realised.
This activism in favour of the process has made you quite well known in Catalonia. You received a great many letters from Catalans, didn't you?
Yes! It was fantastic. The Finnish Parliament's post office went crazy and ended up having to close my mail. More than 10,000 letters and faxes arrived from Catalans. I presented them to the government of Finland and I told them that we had to support the Catalan cause. Now all those letters are in the possession of a Catalan artist who lives in Finland and he is making a huge art piece with them. I am very excited about that project.
And with exiled president Carles Puigdemont, have you maintained contact since his visit to Finland?
Yes, we are in touch. As a matter of fact, I have visited him in Berlin. I believe that president Puigdemont's strategy of internationalizing the process has been very successful. Since he visited Finland there are now hundreds of thousands of Finns interested in the situation in Catalonia.
On that trip, Spanish justice issued a European arrest order to stop Puigdemont. There is the suspicion that the president was spied on by the Spanish secret services in your country.
I reported the case to the Finnish police, to the criminal police, and the last time that I called them I understood that there is an ongoing investigation, but it is between the states, so there is nothing official about it. I know that the Finnish police will be cooperating with the Belgian police, who have a very similar case open at the moment. What they have done is illegal. If a state operates in a foreign territory they have to have permits to do so, and to my understanding there were no permits.
Spain has great problems with democracy at the moment. It is not normal that a member of the European Union tries to stop people from voting using violence
What did you think about the reaction of the Spanish government on 1st October?
I think there are great problems with democracy in Spain at the moment. I was totally shocked by what happened with the referendum. It is not normal that a member of the European Union tries to stop people from voting using violence. I just can't understand it. In Finland any town has a right to hold a referendum on any matter. Afterwards they have the right to negotiate based on its result with the central government. But in Finland it would be impossible for the central government to interfere in these processes.
Would it be impossible, then, to see the images that we have seen in Catalonia, occurring in Finland?
If there was an independence movement in Finland, I can imagine that the central government would not like it, but no, there would not be any type of violence. I imagine that there would be a vote and afterwards, depending on the result, a negotiation would start to find a solution.
The reason given here is that a referendum is not allowed by law.
The only option is to change the law and it is for this that we have politicians. Here in Catalonia there is a big political problem and political problems can never be solved judicially. They have to be solved through politics and discussion and negotiation. That is the civic way to do it.
How do you think the situation could change with the new Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez?
I hope that Sánchez is capable of negotiating with Quim Torra and the Catalan government. But having seen the first reactions and actions of the new Spanish PM I am not very hopeful. But I hope I am wrong.
In fact, he has already said that a referendum is not on the table.
If you negotiate, you cannot have any precondition to the negotiation. It has to be an open debate.
Merkel called Rajoy on 1st October to stop the violence. There was a total change in the afternoon of the referendum
For the time being the positions, in this sense, are entrenched...
The solution for Catalonia will come through international pressure. I am very ashamed of the European Union because it has not done what it is supposed to do. What happened on the 1st October goes against all the conventions of the European Union. We are supposed to be a union defending democracy, civil rights, political liberties and human rights, and this is not happening at the moment. But I know that there are discussions going on behind the scenes in the European Union, and there are things happening in the United Nations as well. So, I think that when the pressure grows, it will force Spain to react and to negotiate with the Catalan government.
But what pressures are we speaking about? Who is behind it?
The main politicians in the European Union. You probably saw the news that there was a rumour that Chancellor Merkel called Rajoy during the referendum to stop the violence. And there are similar cases, as I understand.
Is it true, then, that Merkel called Rajoy?
I think it is true because something happened in the afternoon on the day of the referendum. There was a total change.
And why do you think that the EU is not saying anything in public?
It's strange. The president of the Commission has been very vocal with Poland and with Hungary, but, for some motive, it is more difficult for him to say anything about Spain. Probably because Spain is a big state and has a lot of economic power. Because of that they do not say anything in public. But I am ashamed. And I am sure that there will be a day when the EU will speak out.
I am certain Amnesty will confirm that there are political prisoners, and this will force Europe to react
What has to happen for the EU to speak out? There was violence, there are political prisoners... and the EU is silent.
I believe that the EU was ready to speak out, but because of the new political situation in Spain they are now holding it back and they have given Mr. Sánchez the possibility of negotiating. They are observing the situation. But if nothing happens and the situation does not change I believe that the European Union will have to intervene in this process. I do hope that when we see the next Amnesty International report, and I am quite certain that this time they will say quite clearly that there are political prisoners in Spain, this will force the European Union to react. Because everybody can see, it's a clear case, especially that of the Jordis. It is a clear case that they are political prisoners, imprisoned for their political ideas.
And this change now? Why, when they have already spent many months in prison?
It has been happening for a long time and Amnesty is observing the situation and moreover they are being quite vocal about the breaches of freedom of speech in Spain. When rappers are imprisoned for their lyrics... it is absurd in the European Union.
How can the prisoners be freed?
If the United Nations and the EU decide to react, the politicians will be freed. There is a huge problem with the Spanish Supreme Court. A bunch of old men who are making up their own laws and seem to be unstoppable. For example, the other day a demand to deposit 2 million euros was imposed on the accused Catalan politicians. They have not been found guilty and they are forced to pay. This would be unthinkable in Finland.
So perhaps this could be won in the international courts, but the process is very long.
Yes, that's clear. I know that there are many people here in Catalonia who are disappointed and that they want to be independent already, but unfortunately it takes time and it's a long process. But long roads often lead to beautiful destinations.
How was the referendum violence seen in Finland and how is it seen that there are politicians in prison?
We are observing the situation and we are very proud of our government actually because Finland was one of the few countries that actually condemned the violence during the referendum. The situation in Catalonia appeared in many Finnish newspapers. And it is very easy for us to identify with this because we became independent 101 years ago when we broke away from the Russian empire.
After the referendum, Finland tried to set up a mediation. If both parties accepted it, the Nordic countries would be involved in it
Could the government of Finland carry out a mediating role?
Yes, the government of Finland has in many instances done this sort of thing. As a matter of fact we tried it after the referendum. There was a former Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, he was prepared to put up a team of international mediators. But, obviously, you need two sides to mediate and if Spain says that there is not anything to mediate, what you can do? It's impossible. But I am sure that Finland and the Nordic countries would become involved if both parties accepted mediation.
If the Spanish government does not want to accept mediation... is there any way to force it?
There are many ways, and the pressure is building all the time, but at the moment, many people are waiting to see what Sánchez does. We have to wait. The EU has great power. If it wanted to take measures, it could suspend Spain's voting rights in the European Union. It is a very heavy thing to do, but if there is no solution to be found here, it is definitely something that has to be considered.
Yes, but Spain has a lot of power in the EU. It's different to suspend Poland than to suspend Spain.
Yes, totally in agreement. This is the main reason why the EU has been silent. This has to do with double standards and I don't like double standards.
If there had not been a change of government in Spain, it is possible that the EU would already have intervened
Do you think that if Rajoy were still prime minister of Spain the EU would have spoken by now?
It's possible. If there had not been a change of government in Spain, it is possible that the EU would already have intervened. With the Rajoy government it was clear that they would never negotiate with Torra or the Catalan government.
Finland also became independent. It did so with just 50% of the Parliament in favour and afterwards there was a civil war.
The situation in Finland 100 years ago was totally different. The independence movement in Catalonia is pacifist. On Monday I told president Torra that I would never give support to a movement that resorted to violence, but when you attempt to achieve independence by peaceful means it's fantastic. Obviously I hope that there is no conflict here, but to build a new republic takes time and I hope that those people who are against independence might some day see the light.