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Trivialisation of Nazism by Spanish nationalists outrages German CDU and Catalan civil society

Comparing Catalonia's self-determination process with the Nazi regime has become one of the arguments the Spanish nationalists have used over the last two years, repeated in extreme-right television stations and even at the Spanish Parliament. Such an offensive comparison outrages most of Catalan society, for its total unfairness in describing a democratic process and for trivialising Nazism and the suffering of its victims. Now, the issue has reached the European Parliament, where the Spanish nationalist party UPyD sent a letter to all 751 MEPs comparing the situation in Catalonia with that of "Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s". The CDU MEP Ingeborg Grässle was outraged by the letter and urged UPyD "to at least apologise". "Any politician in Germany would have immediately resigned", she added. Besides, civil society organisations in Barcelona have filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor Office against dozens of calumnies against self-determination process and its comparison to Nazism.

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15 October 2014 09:02 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- Comparing Catalonia's self-determination process with the Nazi regime has become one of the arguments the Spanish nationalists have been using over the last two years, repeated in extreme-right television stations and even at the Spanish Parliament. Such an offensive and dishonest comparison outrages most of the Catalan society because of its total unfairness in describing the current democratic and peaceful self-determination process and for trivialising Nazism and the suffering of its victims – including hundreds of Catalans who died in concentration camps. Now, the controversy has reached the European Parliament. Last week, the Spanish nationalist party UPyD sent a letter to all 751 MEPs comparing the current situation in Catalonia with that of "Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s", in order to discredit the self-determination process and prevent EU institutions from intervening in it. The CDU MEP Ingeborg Grässle was outraged by such a letter and she urged UPyD "to at least apologise", while she added that "any politician in Germany should have immediately resigned" for making such a statement. The European Commission already warned Spanish authorities against trivialising Nazism in September 2013, but nothing has been done so far and comparisons have continued. In 2008 the EU approved rules against xenophobic and hate speech which Member States should have implemented by 2010. However, such rules have not yet been transposed into Spanish legislation. In addition, on Wednesday, a group of civil society organisations filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor Office in Barcelona for dozens of calumnies against Catalonia's self-determination process and for the comparisons with the Nazi regime.


The German Christian-Democrat Member of the European Parliament, Ingeborg Grässle, reacted to the letter sent last week by another MEP from the Spanish nationalist and populist party UPyD, Beatriz Becerra, in which she compared Catalonia's self-determination process with Nazism. "Trivialising" the Nazi regime "is a shame for the victims", emphasised Grässle. The CDU MEP asked the UPyD "to respect the victims" and "to at least apologise" for such a comparison, which is "inappropriate and false". "Any politician in Germany would have to immediately resign if such a language were used", stressed Grässle, who chairs the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament.

UPyD compared Catalonia's situation with that of Germany in the 1930s

Becerra sent a letter last Thursday in which she said that the current situation in Catalonia is like the one "in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s". The UPyD MEP urged European institutions "to defend democracy", "which means stopping [Catalonia's] illegal consultation vote". However, so far, no Court has declared such a consultation vote illegal, as Spain's Constitutional Court has temporarily suspended it while it reaches a definitive decision, stressing the suspension was not a prejudgement of the final decision. Furthermore, Becerra added that "Catalonia has never been a European nation" and that has "always been part of Spain", while she added that "only 23% of Catalans" want a self-determination vote. However, all the polls published in the last 2 years indicate that between 70% and 80% want to hold such a vote. Those percentages coincide with the last Catalan Parliament elections (held in November 2012), when 80% of the elected MPs backed self-determination.

Democrats cannot trivialise Nazism, states the CDU MEP

"I was very upset with [the statement saying that] anyone who does not follow the law is using Nazi methods", stated the CDU MEP. "I was astonished in the way such a comparison was made", Grässle added. "In a democratic country, calling your political enemies Nazis is totally out of line". "What happened in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s and afterwards was so cruel and so terrible that such a language should be never used", she stated. "Try to solve your problems in a fair and democratic way, but please do not use these types of examples", Grässle asked Becerra, because the Nazi regime "continues to be very painful" for the German people, the victims and their relatives.

The Christian-Democrat politician added that she was hesitating about whether to answer Becerra or not, but finally she decided to do so considering the implications of the comparison and how upset it had made her. The German representative decided to react to ask UPyD "to respect the victims" of the Nazi regime. Moreover, because "calling somebody else Nazi means that the atmosphere is totally poisoned and something must be done urgently, now that it is still possible". "Democrats cannot treat each other in this way".

Despite the controversy, Grässle did not want to react "in favour or against" Catalonia's self-determination process and the plans to hold such a vote in November. However, she admitted that "the way in which Scotland's referendum took place" offers a great lesson. "It was done in a very fair way" and "I admire the British and also the Scottish people for the way they solved such a difficult question and how they treated each other", she emphasized. "Come to your own conclusions and try to solve the problem in a democratic way, treating the others as democrats and not as people who do not deserve to be called people", the CDU MEP concluded.

Spanish nationalists often compare Catalonia's self-determination process with Nazism

However, Becerra's statement is far from being the first time that UPyD and other Spanish nationalist politicians have compared Catalonia's self-determination process with the Nazi regime or dictatorships. In fact, such a comparison is recurrent on several TV and radio talk shows (mostly in extreme-right media but also in other ones). However, the comparison is also recurrent among politicians.

The UPyD leader and former MEP, Rosa Díez, also compared Catalonia's political situation with that of Nazism, and she did so before the plenary of the Spanish Parliament, in April 2014, when representatives from the Catalan Parliament were presenting a motion to transfer the powers to organise a legal referendum on independence to the Catalan Government. Díez made one of the bitterest speeches ever witnessed in the Spanish Parliament, saying that people in Catalonia were brainwashed and indoctrinated, and comparing Catalonia to Nazi Germany and to totalitarian regimes. On top of this, on Monday, another UPyD MEP, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, compared Basque pro-independence supporters with "national-populism", in a clear reference to the Nazi national-socialism.

The PP has also compared Catalonia with dictatorial regimes and Nazism

Moreover, on the 5th of September, the 'number 2' of the governing People's Party (PP), María Dolores de Cospedal, stated that the current political situation in Catalonia "is totalitarianism and a dictatorship; an undercover one, but even so, it is one". It was not the first time that she has made such a comparison in the last few months. The statement is quite ironic coming from the Secretary General of a party that was founded by a former minister of Franco's dictatorship, who also controlled the police in the months while the dictatorial regime was still in place after the dictator's death.

Also recently, the day 1.8 million Catalans peacefully formed a colossal V-shaped demonstration in Barcelona asking for independence, the leader of the PP in Sabadell's City Council – which is one of Catalonia's main cities – compared the rally with Mussolini's Fascism and Hitler's Nazism. Esteban Gesa published on Twitter a picture of a group of Italian Fascist forming a V-shape, another image of a Nazi propaganda banner with the swastika and a V for 'victory' and a third picture of the Catalan V-shaped demonstration. Gesa linked the 3 images by adding that "things always come in threes". On this occasion, this member of the PP apologised for his comment later on. Such apologies are rare.   

Furthermore, the Spanish Government's Delegate in Catalonia, María de los Llanos de Luna, who is also a PP member, paid tribute to Spanish soldiers who fought in the Nazi army during World War II in an official ceremony. In May 2013, De Luna (who is Mariano Rajoy's main representative in Catalonia) gave a diploma of honour to a brotherhood of soldiers and supporters of the 'División Azul' (known as 'Blaue Division'), an infantry-division of Spanish volunteers who fought in the Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Such an episode represents the main collaboration between Franco's dictatorship and Adolph Hitler, as well as the Condor Division – which bombed Gernika – and the arrest of the Catalan Government's President Lluís Companys by the Gestapo. On top of this, the 12 members of the brotherhood who attended the diploma ceremony were wearing the Falange uniform, the Franco's Fascist party, which was the only one allowed in Spain during the 40-year dictatorship and which is still legal.

The European Commission already warned Spain in September 2013

The European Commission already warned Spanish authorities against trivialising Nazism. In September 2013, the Commission Vice President, Viviane Reding, said that "the intentional public condoning, denial or gross trivialisation of the Nazi crimes is to be made criminally punishable". Reding was replying to Catalan MEPs, who complained against De Luna's tribute to the Blaue Division. Back then, the Commission Vice President added that Brussels will start to punish Member States that do not prosecute "incitement to violence or hatred". However, comparisons have continued after Reding's words.

In addition, neo-Nazi attacks against Catalan Government's offices or pro-self-determination events have also happened. In September 2013, a week after Reding's statement, a group of Fascists broke into the Catalan Government's representation in Madrid on Catalonia's National Day. The attack happened on the afternoon that 1.6 million Catalans had formed a 400-km-long human chain, imitating the 'Baltic Way', to ask for independence. The Fascists insulted and intimidated the people present at the Catalan Government's representation, who were participating in a small institutional ceremony in celebration of that day. Furthermore, Fascist supporters have also attacked the presentation of Súmate, a group of Spanish-speakers who support Catalonia's independence. The attack took place in Mataró, a Catalan coastal town in Greater Barcelona. Both episodes ended without leaving anyone injured, although there were some tense moments.

Catalan civil society organisations ask the Public Prosecutor Office to act

On Wednesday, the week after the UPyD letter and after the reaction of the CDU MEP, a group of Catalan civil society organisations have filed a formal complaint to the Public Prosecutor Office in Barcelona, which is a body linked to the Spanish Justice Minister, for the trivialisation of Nazism and for the threats, insults and calumnies against Catalonia's self-determination process. They have also presented the 'Manifesto for the democratic dignity against the trivialisation of Nazism'. They emphasised that comparing the current self-determination process with the Nazi regime, the Holocaust, Goebbels' propaganda or Fascism represents "incite to hate", which can be prosecuted in court. Furthermore, they consider that it is particularly worrying that this is done by politicians and journalists in public institutions, audio-visual media or social media. In fact, many talk-shows of extreme-right wing or Spanish nationalist television stations and radios have been making similar comparisons for the last two years.

The complaint has been filed on the 74th anniversary of the execution of Lluís Companys, the Catalan President who was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo and executed by Franco, once the Civil War had already ended. Companys, who was a member of the left-wing independence party ERC (currently Catalonia's second largest party), was the only president of a democratically elected government to be executed during World War II in the whole of Europe.

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  • The CDU MEP, Ingeborg Grässle, in her European Parliament office this week (by A. Segura)

  • The CDU MEP, Ingeborg Grässle, in her European Parliament office this week (by A. Segura)