Pardoned Catalan independence leader: ‘This is a question of democracy, not nationalism’

Raül Romeva insists on need for amnesty and dialogue “with no limitations” to resolve conflict

Former Catalan foreign action minister Raül Romeva (by Bernat Vilaró)
Former Catalan foreign action minister Raül Romeva (by Bernat Vilaró) / Cristina Tomàs White

Cristina Tomàs White | Barcelona

July 6, 2021 07:55 PM

Catalonia’s foreign action minister at the time of the 2017 independence referendum, Raül Romeva was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for sedition and misuse of public funds

But on June 23, Romeva and the eight other jailed politicians and activists walked free after 3 and a half years in prison following the Spanish government’s decision to pardon them in the name of “reconciliation.”

Despite his time in prison and subsequent pardon, Romeva remains steadfast in his conviction that Catalans must be allowed to decide whether they wish to split from Spain, and is convinced an amnesty absolving him and the other movement leaders is needed 

The former Green Party MEP turned pro-independence Esquerra Republicana party member spoke to Catalan News this week about how being behind bars has impacted him, changing attitudes abroad, and what he thinks the future must bring — as well as his role in it — in order to solve the issue once and for all. 

How does it feel to be out of prison?

I very much enjoy the fact that I am not in prison anymore. It's true that the situation, from an emotional perspective, is difficult. Almost four years in prison is a long period, it's a very long period. This requires a new update, a new reset on almost every level of your life. But on the other hand, well, you tend to not forget that you have missed out on almost four years of your life, and this is something that is always there when you see your kids.

What do you envision your role being from now on?

The pardon is not total, it is partial and the pardon allows us to live outside the prison. It's not the same to say we live in freedom because we have all the parts of our life with constraints and we are banned from office so we cannot take any institutional responsibility - in my case until 2030. 

We are keen and we want to keep doing politics in the broader sense of the term, which means that basically, we want to be useful not only to politics itself but to the society that we want to build. As a republican myself, I always stand to be useful to a republic

Do you think perceptions are changing abroad?

Around 2012-2013, the perception was that the growth in pro-independence support was something circumstantial, that it was something linked basically to the economic crisis and that it was temporary because once the crisis was over, the population would no longer need independence. Reality has demonstrated that this is not true, but the international community requires time to understand this.

I think that, more and more, the international community is understanding that this is a question of democracy not a question of nationalism, and this is not a minor issue for me. For years we have been fighting the stigma that Catalonia wanted to be independent because it is a selfish nation that simply wants to get rid of poor Spain. This is fake, obviously, this is not true. We have been fighting against that stigma and what we are doing, putting on the table, that what is behind that wish is a democratic principle. 

My perception is that the report of the Council of Europe is based on the understanding that this is a democratic fight, a political conflict that needs to be solved politically.

What steps must be taken to resolve the conflict?

I know that an amnesty is not easy for the state powers, but I am absolutely convinced that a) it’s possible b) it’s necessary c) it’s the necessary step in terms of political negotiations to put back on the track of the political negotiation the conflict that we have with the state.

I think that any political negotiation has to be frank and has to be with no limitations at all otherwise it is not a dialogue, it is something else. This is not my position, it is the position of a huge majority of Catalan society that demands a stop to repression, that is, an amnesty, let’s vote, let's solve this democratically - this is self-determination.