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Dimarts  22.07.2014  10:14

Autor/s: Núria Orriols

Spanish diplomacy goes into overdrive against the November 9th referendum

Ever since the date and question for the referendum were agreed upon, the pressure has increased, according to sources at DiploCAT.


The international arena is a key factor in the Catalan sovereignty process and it’s clear that the Spanish Government knows it. This week, Prime Minister Rajoy's cabinet vetoed the presence of Catalan president Artur Mas in the summit meeting of the International Francophonie Organization (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, OIF), a consortium of French-speaking countries and regions. The summit is will take place November 29th and will be attended by seventy-seven heads of state. This is just the latest in a string of maneuvers that have come to light that reveal the involvement of the Spanish diplomatic machine in order to block the internationalization of the Catalan political situation. These maneuvers have become increasingly more pronounced since agreement was reached on the date and question for the referendum, according to the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, or DiploCAT.

Last Friday Spain's ambassador in Paris, Ramon de Miguel, sent a letter to the General Secretary of the Francophonie, Abdou Diouf, in which he asked that Diouf deny Artur Mas' request to be considered a special guest of the OIF's conference on November 29th—just 20 days after the referendum.

But this is no isolated case. For months, people involved in foreign relations for the Generalitat have been complaining about pressure received by the Spanish diplomatic corps with regard to academic or political activity that they have organized to explain the sovereignty process to the world.

"Ever since the agreement on the date and question for the referendum, pressure has increased," said Albert Royo, DiploCAT's General Secretary. Until that point, academic activities related to the sovereignty process had been held without issues.

Royo believes that Spanish Government's strategy reflects badly on itself because the message that gets to academic institutions and think tanks—where DiploCAT focuses its activity—is that "the Spanish Government does not want this discussed, even in academic terms." It is trying to block debate in centers that study and generate opinion, he says.

Regardless, DiploCAT generally does not denounce this pressure, except when the other side publicizes it. Royo explains that think tanks and universities are in constant contact with the Spanish embassies and therefore, they try not to create open conflicts.

However, sometimes it is the universities themselves that have demanded the freedom to act as they wish. For example, the dean of the Law School at the University of Lisbon decried, through the Portuguese daily Publico, that Spanish institutions had complained about an academic colloquium on Catalonia. Similar events happened at the French university Science Po and at the Swedish Uppsala.

Punishment for Latvia
The El Punt Avui reported yesterday that Spain has taken revenge on Latvia for having given the green light to the Catalan sovereignty process.

About ten months ago, former Latvian Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, when asked about the recognition of a Catalan State, answered "Recognize an independent Catalonia? If the process is legitimate, I would say, technically speaking, why not?" Because of this declaration, the Spanish executive now opposes the selection of Dombrovskis as a candidate from the Eastern European countries to substitute Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president.

Dombrovskis made the declarations after the Catalan Way demonstration last year, which was inspired by the Baltic Way of 1989, which led to Latvian independence. His Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Mutkevicius, the following day also said, "Every country must find its own path and has a right to self-determination."

Shortly thereafter, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, called in both the Lithuanian and Latvian ambassadors to demand an explanation, and both embassies apologized in writing.

Although the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that his Prime Minister's declarations had been "interpreted tendentiously", the Prime Minister's spokesperson stood by his declarations to the Catalan News Agency and did not retract them.

Postponement of a conference by Pi-Sunyer in Brussels
Last June, Royo criticized the Spanish embassies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs for applying pressure in order to block a sovereignty debate in the European capital. The target was a principal Brussels think tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), which, at the last moment, postponed a debate about Catalonia featuring the president of the National Transition Advisory Council (Consell Assessor per a la Transició Nacional, CATN), Carles Viver Pi-Sunyer.

"I feel a bit like a refugee today," said Viver Pi-Sunyer. The conference, titled "In or Out? Catalonia and the EU" was supposed to be the presentation of the CATN report on Catalonia's place in the European Union, moderated by Steven Blocksman, the International Policy Studies researcher and professor at the universities of Amsterdam and Lovaina. CEPS announced, less than twenty-four hours before the event was to take place, that for matters "beyond its control" they had postponed the event.

Nevertheless, Royo told VilaWeb that the CEPS has agreed to hold an academic event on Catalonia during the month of September.

Pressure in Oslo
On May 30th, the Spanish ambassador to Norway, Antonio López Martínez, sent a letter to the dean of the University of Oslo, Petter Ottersen, complaining vociferously that the university had allowed the organization of a seminar on the Catalan sovereignty process, that took place on April 24. The event was put on by both the university and DiploCAT with the title "Self-determination processes in the European Union. The Case of Catalonia" and in which Catalan and Norwegian professors and journalists participated, including the director of VilaWeb, Vicent Partal.

Pressure in the academic sphere
Economist Clara Ponsatí experienced first hand Minister Margallo’s public rejection for her political views. Ponsatí decried the fact that the Spanish Government had blocked the renewal of her position as Príncipe de Asturias Chair at the University of Georgetown due to the favorable stance toward Catalonia's independence that she expressed in a television debate on Al-Jazeera dedicated to the sovereignty process and in the video "Stop Espoli" [Stop the plunder] that was created by the Fundació CatDem.

This fact was confirmed by Margallo in the Spanish Congress. In response to a question put to him by MP Jordi Xuclà, the minister defended not renewing Ponsatí's chair by saying, "A chair that is named after the Principality of Asturias should not be used to encourage secessionist processes that are contrary to the constitution, and while I am minister, that will not be permitted by any Spanish embassy."

In the academic arena, there is also the new case of economist Jordi Galí, candidate for the Nobel prize in Economics and expert in monetary policy. Yesterday, Vozpópuli claimed that the Spanish Government is worried that the economist may join the European Central Bank as research director. Galí is a member of the Wilson Initiative and has said he is in favor of the sovereignty process.