'Not even Russia behaves this way' - Baltic Way organizer berates Spain's handling of Catalonia crisis

Üloo Laanoja of Estonia responds to Spanish decree to restrict Internet platforms

Lanoja was one of the organizers of the 1989 Baltic Way protest
Lanoja was one of the organizers of the 1989 Baltic Way protest / Oliver Little

Oliver Little | Barcelona

November 7, 2019 01:54 PM

One of the organizers of the Baltic Way protests of 1989 has drawn comparisons between Spain's resistance of Catalonia's bid for independence and that of the Soviet Union to the Baltic pro-independence movements.

''If I think back to the actions of the Soviet empire before we regained independence, and I compare it to the actions of the Spanish State, they are very similar,'' said Üloo Laanoja of Estonia.

On August 23, 1989, two million people joined hands to form a human chain spanning 676km across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a show of solidarity for independence of their respective nations and against the repression of the Soviet Union. Seven months later, Lithuania became the first Baltic state to declare independence from the Soviet Union. 

Laanoja has now compared the recent actions of Pedro Sánchez's government to the attitudes of the Soviet Union, China or Turkey. 

In an address to the media from Tallinn, Laanoja made particular reference to the passing of a decree that allowed for the closing of websites and social networks due to the ''threat to public order.''

On Tuesday, the Spanish government passed the decree in order to fight the so-called ''digital Catalan republic,'' which gives Madrid powers to restrict access to Internet platforms following ''serious incidents in part of the Spanish territory,'' in reference to recent altercations in Barcelona and other Catalan towns against the imprisonment of independence leaders. 

''I did not expect it, it's a repeat of China. Not even Russia behaves this way, maybe Turkey tries to. But a member state of the EU? It's incredible,'' he commented.

Coincidentally, Russian authorities were in the spotlight when the "sovereign Internet" law came into effect last Friday, with Human Rights Watch warning that the bill would provide "even greater control over freedom of speech and information online."

He also expressed his ''surprise'' over the sentence of the Supreme Court, which condemned nine of Catalan's independence leaders of sedition with jail sentences of 9-13 years for their role in the 2017 referendum. 

''I was hoping that the trial would end a symbolic sentence. I really thought that entitlement existed in Spain,'' he explained. ''Unfortunately this is not the case - there are political prisoners in Spain.''

He recalled that the Baltic independence activists did not end up in jail, and that they did not know what was going to happen. ''None of us knew whether we would succeed. The reaction of the Soviet government was just like yours [Spain's] - everything that was approved in Estonia was suppressed in Moscow.''

Laanoja also criticized the European Union as ''blind'' in the face of the Catalonia-Spain situation. ''They see everything that happens across the world, they criticize China for the Hong Kong situation, they speak of Burma, but they don't want to act in similar situations in Europe.''

Estonia also sees no consistency in the EU's response to the undermining of democratic institutions in Poland and Hungary compared to the lack of response with regards to the situation in Spain and Catalonia. ''Why yes for them, and no for Spain?'' he asked, saying that ''politicians that sit around the same table are friends and do not want to act against one another.''