A step forward. The president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, has concluded his first New Year institutional message with a strong call to the Catalan public to keep going on the path of the independence process: "We Catalans will be what we want to be. But we need to build the future from today onwards. Let's be prepared for the year of our freedom, which is already approaching."
The message was recorded in the Catalan government's Barcelona palace, the Palau de la Generalitat. The president was flanked by the Catalan flag on one side, and a bouquet of yellow flowers on the other - in clear symbolic allusion to the political prisoners and exiles - and, in the background, a painting showing the figure of Sant Jordi, Catalonia's patron saint.
Torra began his speech - inevitably - speaking about the situation of the political prisoners and exiled leaders as a result of the 2017 independence referendum and the failed declaration of independence: "Their exile and prison are our exile and prison; their freedom will be our freedom," he affirmed.
Generalitat (@govern) December 30, 2018
The Catalan president described the political situation at the end of 2018 as "very grave", but far from conveying any sense of discouragement, he called for "constant struggle to maintain hope and self-confidence."
He quoted US senator Robert Kennedy, assassinated 50 years ago this year: "Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly" - and looking ahead to the independence leaders' trial in the Supreme Court - expected to begin within the next month - Torra stated that 2019 "must serve us, precisely, to carry out the democratic mandate of freedom, to revolt against injustice and to bring down the walls of oppression."
Torra justified the continued pursuit of the independence process with the argument that 80% of Catalan society, "able to form a great social consensus, demand it". He spelled out three parts of this possible consensus: a belief in republican rule, a rejection of the criminal repression of the independence movement and a desire for a referendum: "we are and we feel like republicans," "we do not accept criminal repression as a way of solving political and democratic questions" and "we want to exercise our right to self-determination ".
Message to Spain: credible dialogue
If just a few days ago, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, rejected the document containing 21 points that Torra presented to him at the recent Pedralbes summit to launch a political negotiation, the Catalan president reiterated his offer of dialogue and negotiation, but also called for "the necessary international mediation".
"The state must be willing to take on a credible, sincere and courageous dialogue aimed at a democratic and political solution," said Torra, thus opening the door to a range of possible outcomes to the conflict negotiated with the state.
Unity between independence movement and the left
Torra also looked at the current state of the independence movement - the strategic differences between sectors of the pro-independence parties, JxCat, PDeCAT, ERC and the CUP - and the role of the political groups that support self-determination - the left-wing Commons - invoking the need to maintain unity. He did so on the eve of a year that will be marked by the independence referendum trial and the municipal and European elections. "We must make ourselves stronger in unity".
The president presented a minimum agenda which, he said, the independence movement and democratic forces should maintain to rebuild the consensus. He spoke of the need to "ensure that the extreme right and fascism are isolated and exposed" and with regard to the referendum trial he reiterated that 80% of Catalans believe that the Catalan government members, parliamentarians and social leaders, imprisoned for more than a year in some cases, "are innocent", that they "did what we mandated them to do" and that "they must come home".
Take the initiative again
Torra, who in other public addresses has promoted the idea of finding new momentum to revive the independence process and the republic, outlined a new phase of action. Without any let up in protesting and denouncing the existence of political prisoners and exiles in the 21st century "in Catalonia, in the heart of Europe," he proposed to "take the initiative again" to gain "collective freedom", and thus ensure "personal liberty".
The president made a reference to the figure of Josep Pallach, 1970s founder of the left-wing PSC-Reagrupament party, sending a clear message to the sectors of socialism and the Catalanist left that support self-determination: "No person is free if their people are not". And he broadened this call to include the pro-independence CUP and the pro-referendum Commons by making the connection between civil and social rights, the defence of human rights and self-determination: "Let's leave behind the points of mistrust, the differences that can separate us", he urged.
Torra mentioned the positive economic figures for 2018, which have completely scotched the apocalyptic prophecies on the effects of the independence process: Catalonia has now had 20 continuous quarters of GDP growth and more than 60 months of year-on-year decrease in unemployment. However, he avoided sounding triumphant and insisted on recoupling the republican project with social rights: "The engine for the republican change in our society is [the fight for] social rights for all."
Vetoed social laws
President Torra announced that the first Catalan cabinet meeting of the New Year will activate the legislative process for the social laws that were suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court. Torra will thus move to apply one of the measures he announced in his investiture speech, on May 15th, 2018, in which he undertook to recover 16 laws which were passed by the Catalan Parliament but subsequently shot down by the Spanish court, including legislation on evictions and energy poverty.
"Let the year 2019 allow our hope to be reborn again," declared the president, expressing his confidence that the people of Catalonia "will know how to face" a year that will be "decisive" for everybody. A year that has to be approached "with the determination of 1st October" - the referendum - "and the collective force of 3rd October." - the day of national stoppage which followed it. Torra, who spoke of flags, but specifically the "flags of democracy, justice and non-violence," thus highlighted the validity of the referendum and the social mobilization against repression, in a appeal that went beyond the scope of the independence movement.