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Dijous  26.06.2014  02:34

Autor/s: Liz Castro

Ana Surra: "There are 1.2 million of us and we also want the right to decide"

New group of foreign-born Catalan residents forms to support November 9th referendum on independence


There is the Catalan National Assembly and Súmate, the Emma Collective and Wilson Initiative. On Wednesday, at the Casa del Mar in Barcelona, a new group supporting the Catalan referendum on independence presented itself: "Sí, amb nosaltres", an association of foreign-born residents of Catalonia who want to work together to ensure that a vote on independence takes place on November 9th. About a hundred people were present, including Xavier Bosch, the Catalan Government's secretary-general for Immigration, journalists Antonio Baños and Carles Solà, and Àngel Colom, Éric Bertran and Irma Corrales from the Fundació Nous Catalans [New Catalans Foundation].

At the presentation, German-born Anuschka Seifert moderated an international panel: the president of "Sí, amb nosaltres", Ana Surra, from Uruguay; Martí Estruch, who said he identified with the group, having been born in Flanders of German and Catalan parents, though was there not as a member, but representing DiploCAT, Catalonia's Public Diplomacy Council; and Thomas Spieker, originally from Germany, journalist, writer, and business person.

Here is a non-verbatim translation of each speaker's comments.

Ana Surra: "You won't hear the word 'immigrants' coming from us. People who have been here more than 10-15 years feel more like immigrants in their own countries than they do here. I've been here 9 years and I have never had any trouble speaking Spanish. We live in one of the true bilingual societies. It's not like Québec or Belgium where people speak one or the other. When one expresses themselves from the heart, they have to do it in their own language. So I learned Catalan so others could do just that.

"People have arrived here on different modes of transportation, some in planes, some on trains, and sadly enough some on rickety boats. And we've come for different reasons. Some for business, some for love. The people here haven't tried to assimilate us, but rather have managed to live together with us, letting us maintain our own customs. The majority of us are not political, this is the first time that Catalans from other countries have come together with such a purpose.

"We want to be an active part of this community that has welcomed us. We also want the right to decide. There are 1.2 million of us [out of a population of 7.5 million]. We are important, and our area of influence—our friends and acquaintances and family members—is an important area of influence. This is one of the most important issues facing our country.

"I plan to vote Yes-Yes, but other people in our group are for just a single Yes, and still others favor a No vote. The important thing is that the people are allowed to vote. This is our own future. We are convinced. Yes, with us too. [Sí, amb nosaltres]. Long live Catalonia."

Martí Estruch: "First an anecdote. I recently had to travel to Hamburg and on the taxi ride to the airport I told the driver that I was going to speak to people in Hamburg about Catalonia's right to decide. When we got to the airport, he opened his trunk and showed me all of the pamphlets in English about Catalonia's independence process that he has ready to share with his passengers in Barcelona. When I got to Hamburg, I took a taxi from the airport, and there was traffic, and the taxi driver pulled out some knitting. What a difference. This is just a sign that we're taking this very seriously in Catalonia. We're not going to turn back and give up a chance to vote.

"Is this a revolution? The word 'revolution' gets bad press, because it usually means bloodshed and violence, but maybe this is a revolution without the violence. It seemed like it had little chance of succeeding for all sorts of reasons but somehow we are optimistic, maybe it was Pep Guardiola who inspired us, no matter what time we get up. Because it doesn't seem to be going away. What we're trying to do is very complicated. States by nature are very conservative. And groups are very resistant to having new members. Nevertheless, despite this reticence, the states in Europe to whom we're appealing will have a really hard time opposing this first phase which is a defense of democracy and a right to vote.

"This is a unique case. It's not comparable to any other. One of the things about it that I love is that it's a process full of smiles. These are happy demonstrations. Even though this is a long process, the fact that people are still smiling in 2014 is very valuable.

"And it's clearly inclusive. More than a country, what we sometimes seem to have is a cocktail bar: everyone is a jigger of this and a jigger of that. What differentiates us is this inclusiveness. Part of my job is to greet foreign journalists and show them around. An Italian journalist came expecting to find Padania and the Liga Nord and he told me, "Not only do I realize that this isn't Padania, but I believe that in six months you all would consider me Catalan, too."

"All of a sudden we've gotten used to coming out in the papers, in the New York Times one day and in the Financial Times the next. And if a day goes by without us on the front pages, we're afraid they've forgotten about us. But we've come a very long way in ten years, when before the only time Catalonia was in the news was when Barça won a game, or in June to explain the beautiful beaches. The international press is a guarantee that the process will continue and it keeps the State from considering non-democratic options to which it has a certain propensity. This is a clear advantage, given the State's history.

"No country will recognize Catalonia if they don't know what it is. The role of social media is to keep the media honest and to maintain ties with home.

"Ours is a complicated goal, but we will achieve it because it's a solid, democratic project."

Thomas Spieker: "First, this is the longest independence process in the world, having lasted 300 years. I am no expert, but I am a keen observer. The country and classes that dominate us are not very democratic. Spain is not very democratic. It is still ruled by just one thousand families and no more. If Catalonia wins, it just might make Spain react. After the initial shock, it may benefit, as it will be proof that it has to change, and become more democratic.

"People have a hard time understanding, they don't get that Catalonia is profoundly European. We'll be much better neighbors voluntarily rather than now that we're forced. Spain has still not realized that its best option is seduction."

"The United States understands the situation, at least the elites. 97% of the population has never heard of this place, but the elites and the intellectuals get it. They separated from Great Britain, they see Catalonia positively. I spoke to Oprah Winfrey and she was quite aware of the situation and it was my impression that she thought it was quite reasonable. South Americans get it too. They have already suffered through this issue and understand that people must have a voice."