'This is about rights and freedoms,' says speaker
Officials throughout Catalan politics and society react to the massive march to demand the release of those in prison and the return of those abroad
“An authoritarian State will never deserve to govern a free people.” These were the words read by Jordi Sànchez’s son, Oriol Sànchez, from a text that the jailed MP sent from a prison in the Madrid region and that was read at the end of the massive demonstration in Barcelona on Aptil 15. In the Catalan capital, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand the release of those in prison, including Sànchez himself, as well as the return of those abroad. “Do you think that those who don’t respect the result of elections deserve to govern us?” further asked Oriol Sànchez, reading from his father’s text, questioning “Do you think those who violate our civil rights deserve to govern us?” Jordi Sànchez further called on his audience to not let themselves be “intimidated.” “Never give in to blackmail of fear, nor to violence,” Sànchez urged. “Today we once more show the ability of the Catalan people to come together in moments that are difficult, unjust, but also with hope.”
The response from those missing
The deposed president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, currently free on bail in Germany while waiting for the local judiciary to make a final decision on a European Arrest Warrant issued against him by Spain, also made a statement about the demonstration. In a message in English and German, he expressed that the protest held in Barcelona was “democratic and civic.” “Catalonia is asking for freedom,” he stated, adding that “we are European citizens who just want to live peacefully, freely and without fear,” in a message on his Twitter account. Deposed minister Raül Romeva, currently in prison in the Madrid region, sent out a message on the same social media platform stating that he was “impressed,” adding that he believes it necessary to take to the streets not only to demand the freedom of prisoners such as himself, but also the freedom of citizens.
Belonging to Romeva’s same pro-independence party, ERC, the secretary general Marta Rovira (currently in Switzerland), stated that she feels as if she’s in Barcelona, despite the distance. “As always,” she praised, “the call is clear, peaceful, and massive,” she summarized. Deposed government official Meritxell Serret, at the moment in Belgium facing extadition, also affirmed that “today, we are many in Barcelona, despite the distance, with a clear head and a tranquil heart, to peacefully cry out, again, that democracy always wins.”
"When we come together in the defense of rights and democracy, we are unstoppable"
Roger Torrent · speaker of the Catalan Parliament
“No democrat is unmoved,” says parliament speaker
Speaker of the Catalan Parliament Roger Torrent, spoke of the “plural nature” of the demonstration, called by a platform including civic, trade unions, political and cultural entities. “We’re showing,” proclaimed Torrent, “that when we are plural and when we come together in the defense of rights and democracy, we are unstoppable.” Inasmuch, Torrent further explained that “an alliance” must be “reinforced” throughout Catalonia’s various sectors. “This is about rights and freedoms,” the parliament speaker asserted, “No democrat is unmoved by this.” Almost six months to the day since the two grassroots leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez were put behind bars as a preventative measure, Torrent also called to move towards “an end to judicialization, for prisoners to be released, and for those who are abroad to be able to return home.” He concluded that “political conflicts should be solved through politics.”
Organizers are trying to “build bridges”
“Today, we’re very happy.” This is what the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Elisenda Paluzié, proclaimed following the march on April 15. The economist now leading the grassroots organization once headed by Jordi Sànchez himself remarked that the rally included “entities of all kinds, whether they share in the project for independence or not, are here to say ‘enough, enough to political repression, enough to political prisoners, and for those in exile to come home.’” Marcel Mauri, vice-president of grassroots organization Òmnium Cultural – still currently led by Jordi Cuixart, who has been in prison with Jordi Sànchez since last October – echoed this sentiment. Mauri noted that from Catalonia comes the call for the Spanish government to “have some sense” and to “stop with this attitude and repression which has been going on for too many months.”
Unions CCOO (the Workers’ Commission) and UGT (the General Union of Workers), promoters of the Espai Democràcia i Convivència (the Space for Democracy and Co-existence) defend the rally this Sunday at noon in Barcelona as trying to "build bridges" within Catalan society to preserve democracy and social cohesion. The secretaries-general of the two unions rejected criticisms of unionist parties, such as Ciutadans (C’s) who accused them of taking part in a mobilization to "coerce judges." "When we start to build bridges, not everyone crosses the first one, but we’ll continue nonetheless," leader of CCOO Javier Pacheco pointed out.
Political parties, both pro-independence and in-between-blocs
The spokesperson for Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), Elsa Artadi, denounced during the April 15 demonstration that politicians and social leaders are “in prison for defending political ideas that are lawful and constitutional,” which, Artadi added, “are within the framework of democracy.” The spokesperson stated that the mobilization is indeed “for these 16 people,” but that it was also taken out “for all the mayors that have been prosecuted, for the everyday people who demonstrate and are then accused of terrorism, for the lack of freedom of expression and for the absolute repression that we are suffering through in Catalonia.” When asked about the chanting heard during the protest saying ‘Puigdemont, our president’ (pro-independence parties last put forth Jordi Sànchez as their candidate), Artadi responded “it’s what citizens want.”
The spokesperson for Esquerra Republicana (ERC), Marta Vilalta, has spoken of how happy she is that the protest has drawn so much of Catalonia’s civil society. “Today, we go out to the streets once more demonstrate this massive, diverse and plural cry in favor of rights, freedoms and social cohesion,” said Vilalta. “Today, the people of Catalonia say no to this brutal repression we’re experiencing as a country,” continued the ERC spokesperson, also harshly criticizing the “authoritarian direction of the Spanish government” as well as the “democratic regression.” “The demonstration is also a unanimous cry to demand the freedom of political prisoners and the return of the exiled. It’s a disgrace they’ve been in prison for six months for crimes that were made up, and that Europe does not recognize,” Vilalta asserted.
Spokesperson for the in-between-blocs Catalunya en Comú-Podem party (CatECP), Xavier Domènech, deemed the demonstration as showing “the way to recover our rights and freedom.” Newly appointed secretary general of the platform, Domènech valued the mobilization against what he considers is a “democratic regression” that has been “experienced for a long time” as a success. CatECP has traditionally positioned itself as neither pro-independence nor unionist, rejecting both a unilateral declaration of independence and Madrid’s measures to stop it. However, CatECP has proclaimed that while it still believes the top priority is to form a government, it stands behind those demanding the release of prisoners. Domènech has also been particularly critical of recent bans and censorship. Inasmuch, he denounced a situation in which “we are told what books we can read and what works of art we can see.” Inasmuch, the CatECP leader called for a “global reaction.”