Catalan singer raises chorus of controversy with independence comments

Symbol of rebellion Raimon triggers debate about freedom of speech

Raimon: “I’m not pro-independence because I’ve never really thought about it”. Photograph:  Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Raimon: “I’m not pro-independence because I’ve never really thought about it”. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Mon, May 19, 2014, 10:03

For half a century the musician Raimon has been a symbol of rebellion, his passionate songs evoking the freedom of the open road and the glory of defying the powers that be. But in the last few days the singer- songwriter has sparked a controversy that has seen him branded a traitor to the cause of Catalan nationalism by some and defended as a paragon of freedom of speech by others.

The silver-haired Raimon (73) started his career in the early 1960s with the protest song Al Vent (To the Wind). Sung in the Catalan language, which is spoken in his native region of Valencia, it was a defiant hymn to liberty during the stifling dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Its legendary status was added to by the fact Raimon composed it in his head while hitching a ride on the back of a moped.

His use of the Catalan language and his freewheeling, non-conformist image would make Raimon an icon for nationalists in both Catalonia and Valencia, Mediterranean regions whose cultures had been oppressed by Franco.

So when the singer told a radio interviewer in Barcelona last week that he was not in favour of independence for Catalonia, which is currently pushing to stage a referendum on the issue in November, it came as a surprise to many.

“I’m not pro-independence because I’ve never really thought about it and from Valencia all of that is seen from a different perspective,” the singer said. He warned that independence could further fuel an already alarming amount of anti-Catalan sentiment in his own region.

Social networks and newspaper comment sections were soon buzzing with the news that Raimon was “anti-independence”, even though he said he was in favour of the referendum itself, which the central government in Madrid opposes on the basis that it violates the constitution.

“Raimon said that he does not want independence . . . we feel cheated,” said one Twitter user, while another commented: “It’s amazing how Raimon doesn’t support independence after so many years of singing about freedom.” Others accused him of cowardice and selling out.


Bravura performance
Therefore, when he took the stage last Thursday at the prestigious Palau de la Música in the Catalan capital Barcelona, for the first of four consecutive concerts at the venue, the air was thick with tension. But Raimon gave a bravura performance by most accounts and the public received him warmly, joining him to sing Al Vent for the encore. The only reminder of the controversy he had sparked came when some members of the audience shouted “Independence!” from the stalls and others brandished Catalan nationalist flags.

The Catalan independence debate is becoming increasingly fraught as the November 9th referendum date approaches. Catalan regional premier Artur Mas has promised to push ahead with plans to stage the ballot, even though both the Spanish Congress and the constitutional court recently voted against its legality.

Many commentators feel that while pro-independence arguments do not get fair exposure in Madrid, in Catalonia the opposite is true, with the voices of those who advocate territorial unity, or other views, being drowned out by the nationalist clamour. Writer Manuel Vicent hailed Raimon’s “methodical doubts [about independence], which are those of a committed intellectual”, and lambasted “the pro-independence Taliban” whom he accused of hiding behind the anonymity of social media.

“How dare they point their finger at Raimon – or at anyone – simply for not having automatically signed up to independence, as if it were some kind of religious faith,” wrote Pilar Rahola, a nationalist columnist, in La Vanguardia. “Because frankly, if in the Catalonia that we want to build there’s no room for Raimon, then I want out.”

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