Catalan Separatist Says Fight for Independence Is Worth Any Risk

Oriol Junqueras & Artur Mas
Esquerra Republicana leader Oriol Junqueras with Catalan President Artur Mas in Barcelona on December 2, 2014. Photographer: Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images

Catalan President Artur Mas’s most important ally said no risk from a clash with the Spanish government can be serious enough to deter him from fighting for independence.

Esquerra Republicana leader Oriol Junqueras said political and economic uncertainties created by the push for a breakaway are irrelevant compared with the losses that voters would suffer if they remain part of Spain.

“The idea of giving up on democracy and surrendering doesn’t generate much enthusiasm,” Junqueras said in an interview in the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona last week. “We won’t stop just for a hypothetical risk.”

Mas, 59, and Junqueras, 46, have forged an alliance ahead of regional elections on Sept. 27, that they are framing as a de-facto referendum on leaving Spain. Junqueras, whose party has traditionally been more radical than Mas’s, says they could declare independence within six months if they win.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who faces a Spanish national election just weeks later, says no discussion on sovereignty is possible under the country’s constitution.

Spanish Drag?

Junqueras said Catalonia risks being dragged down by another crisis in Spain. He predicted a return of financial distress when global interest rates start to rise.

Staying in Spain “without doubt leads to an economic and social breakdown,” said Junqueras. That’s because Spain won’t be able to service its debts, he said.

The Spanish government forecasts that public debt will start to fall this year, after reaching 98 percent in May, and it sees the economy growing 3.3 percent this year, more than double the euro-region average.

The government’s 10-year borrowing costs reached a record low in March and none of the 29 economists in a Bloomberg survey expected the European Central Bank to shift its record-low policy rates before the end of next year.

Pep’s Support

Mas, whose party is more pro-business, and Junqueras, who identifies himself as left wing, have set aside their political differences to run on a single list alongside a range of pro-independence figures from outside politics. They include Bayern Munich soccer coach Pep Guardiola, a Catalan.

Both sides are ramping up the rhetoric ahead of the election. Unlike in Scotland last year, a lot of the debate is centered simply on the right to hold a referendum rather than the relative merits of independence itself.

Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala said in a July 22 radio interview that the constitution gives the central government the authority to revoke some of the region’s powers.

“We will use all the democratic tools at our disposal to defend our right to vote,” said Junqueras. In September, he suggested that separatists should be prepared to use civil disobedience just as “Martin Luther King did.”

Third Ally

So far, the alliance between Mas and Junqueras has failed to mobilize a wide enough share of the Catalan voters to secure the mandate they’re seeking. The joint list was projected to win as many as 56 representatives, 12 short of a majority in the 135-seat parliament, according to polls released by La Vanguardia and La Razon this month.

That result could leave mainstream separatists reliant on the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy to get over the line. The party, known as the CUP, may win as many as 10 seats, according to the Feedback poll for La Vanguardia, though the survey in La Razon projected only three seats.

“The CUP is key in this process,” CUP lawmaker David Fernandez said in an interview last month. “We will never play the game of the Spanish state. So that means accepting contradictions such as anti-capitalists teaming up with neo-liberals.”

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