Pro-independence Catalans willing to play long game in wake of verdict

Their anger is voiced through continuing wave of demonstrations that began Monday

In the sombre, carefully gardened surroundings of Montjuïc cemetery, on a hill above Barcelona, Josep Camarasa cuts an unusual figure. Dressed in jeans, a red woollen hat and a white T-shirt with the words “Freedom for political prisoners” on it, he is holding the mast of a massive home-made flag.

The patchwork design flaps in the wind above him: a combination of the red-and-yellow Catalan symbol, the red cross of Saint Jordi, patron of Catalonia, and photographs of four Catalan leaders who were convicted of sedition on Monday.

“The greater the repression, the nearer Catalonia will be to freedom,” he says. “We’re more convinced that we want freedom from this repressive state, the Spanish state, which is virtually fascist.”

The individuals pictured on his flag are among the eight defendant handed jail sentences of between nine and 13 years for sedition for their role in Catalonia’s failed bid for independence in 2017.

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"It's not law, it's revenge," says Camarasa. He tries to come here every October 15th to remember Lluís Companys, the former president of Catalonia who was shot dead on that date in 1940 by the troops of dictator Francisco Franco and whose grave is here in the cemetery.

Behind Camarasa, the current Catalan president, Quim Torra, gave a speech after leaving a wreath at Companys's grave, an annual custom for the regional leader. Flanked by members of his pro-independence government, Torra railed against the previous day's verdict.

“We will do it again,” he said. “We will not be weak when it comes to the right to decide.”

Listening to Torra’s defiant words was Jon Iñarritu, a member of the Spanish congress for the Basque pro-independence EH Bildu coalition. This was the first time Iñarritu had come to Barcelona for the annual tribute to Companys, because this year he saw a symbolic resonance in recent events.

‘Act of repression’

“His shooting by Spanish fascism was the biggest act of repression against a legitimate president of Catalonia,” he told The Irish Times. “Now we are seeing how, 79 years later, without drawing direct comparisons, an extremely serious measure has been taken, the restriction of the basic rights of legitimate representatives of the people of Catalonia.”

In the immediate aftermath of the supreme court verdict such comments have frequently been made by pro-independence Catalans. They have also voiced their anger through a wave of demonstrations which began on Monday and continued on Tuesday evening. Although Catalan society remains evenly split on the issue of independence, it is those who want to break away who are more visible in the streets, as has often been the case in recent years.

The unionist organisation Catalan Civic Society (SCC) launched an attack on social media on Torra on Tuesday, claiming he had “no intention of being the president of all Catalans”. It also criticised him for praising the demonstrations that followed Monday’s court decision.

But later on Tuesday, it was pro-independence Catalans who once again filled the streets, as thousands marched through central Barcelona to protest outside the Spanish government delegation building.

“This is going to go on for a long time,” said Eva Parra, an unemployed woman who was wrapped in a banner calling for the release of political prisoners. “People are prepared not just to come out and demonstrate for a day or two, but for a long, long time.”

Like others taking part in the demonstration she was outraged by, but not surprised at, the supreme court verdict.

“I’m guessing that [the nine convicted of sedition] won’t get out of prison until this reaches the European courts, because we’re not expecting any kind of pardon from the Spanish government,” Parra said.

Appeal

Defendants in the case have said they plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights after trying the Spanish constitutional court.

Adriá Montesinos, a young computer technician, accepts that getting the jail sentences reversed, as demonstrators are demanding, is extremely difficult.

"All I want is for this to reach the EU, because this is not a Spanish domestic issue," said Montesinos, who was wrapped in the Catalan independence flag.

“In one day we won’t achieve anything, and we won’t achieve anything in two or three days, we have to demonstrate day after day… We have to make them [in Madrid] take notice of us.”