← Back to portfolio

Public Diplomacy Under Oath

Published on


Diplocat's role in the secessionist attempt

In the fall of 2017, Spain trembled. In its northeastern corner, the region Catalonia tried to wrestle free by means of two secession laws, a referendum and several declarations of independence. In the spring of 2019, the ensuing trial against the separatist leaders took place in the Spanish supreme court. Amongst the witnesses was Albert Royo, head of Catalonia’s diplomacy corps, and several of Diplocat’s ”international guests”.

By Sara Høyrup | June 1, 2019

After 53 court days and hearing 400 witnesses, as well as the 12 accused themselves, the megatrial will come to an end in mid June, according to plan. The sentences will be handed down in October, two years after the 51 days that shook the larger Iberian country. They may be very harsh, seeing as Spanish sentences in general are long; and no country in the world takes treason lightly.

And treason it was, believes at least the private accusation carried out by Vox. The far right party holds patriotic virtues high and has managed to use the court case as a partisan platform, demanding sentences up to 74 years for the foremost perpetrators. Only Santi Vila, the regional minister who jumped ship in the last minute, is forgiven by Vox’ legal representative. The renegade is considered a traitor by his own.

The prosecution asks for up to 25 years of prison, while the state attorney asks for only 12. The relative leniency of the latter may be understood as an expression of the current Socialist government’s wish to mitigate the damaging conflict and find consensus solutions to the Catalan conundrum. The division of powers in Spain is in place, just like it is in any other civilized country; and so, the Government’s willingness to forgive and forget is not mirrored in the prosecution’s claim.

Or to put it simply: The Spanish government does not decide the length of the prison sentences, nor can it tell the judges to not keep the accused in pre-trial confinement, as they have. Custody prison is an entirely legitimate remedy. It is used when the court considers that there is a risk of: flight, removal of evidence, influencing witnesses, or repeating the suspected crime. The court believes there is a risk of flight, in the light of the flight of the region’s expresident Carles Puigdemont and other key leaders.

The accused face charges of uprising or insurrection, and misappropiation of funds. And this is where the Catalan diplomacy and the foreign friends of the cause come into the picture.

Sunshine with all costs covered

”You can get people to do a lot of things, if you pay for their trip down south”, exclaims a Danish journalist who prefers to remain anonymous, when assessing the ethic demeanour of many a colleague. One should not underestimate how much northerners long for a free vacation down south during the dreary, rainful autumns.

”I was a real international observer at the Catalan referendum,” assures Karin Bergqvist yours truly without even being asked, on October 28, 2017, barely four weeks after the event. She too is a Danish journalist, and like so many other sympathizers with the secessionist cause, she was invited to Catalonia to lend legitimacy to the polling.

”Everything was paid for,” declares the witness Andrej Hunke from Germany’s Die Linke, in Spain’s supreme court when asked.

”An NGO paid,” sustains Danish parliamentarian Pelle Dragsted to this day. The far Left politician has a very peculiar understanding of the concept non-governmental organizations, and defends his claim by explaining that ”the NGO” Diplocat is a combined private and public endeavor.

Indeed it is. But the regional administration ran it, as Albert Royo, Diplocat’s general secretary 2013–17, testified in court.

What really happened?

The Spanish right believes the attempted secession was a coup d’état. It certainly was an attempted take-over by the regional administration with the backing from a very enthusiastic half of the population in Catalonien. Or rather, a third.

The region is divided down the middle, or more precisely: into three groups. Left and right politics has nothing to do with it, even if the Spanish right is very much against peripheral nationalisms and especially any attempt at breaking up the State. Nor is it about the Spanish history of a reactionary, religious dictator following a few wild, wild years of modernization under the Spanish Republic in the thirties. Those who think that the International Brigades have come back in the form of international observers at the Catalan referendum, are plainly poorly informed.

The division runs between those that want to leave Spain, and those that want to stay: A clash not entirely unlike the one between Leavers and Remainers in UK’s Brexit dilemma. Nationalism plays a role, and yes: It is quite possible to be a regional nationalist.

So who is the third group? The inbetweeners. The meek and mild-mannered people who would just like for the conflict to be over, so they can get on with their lives. People like the expat Edith who weeps if confronted with vehement views on the matter, and hoarded canned food during the fall of 2017, fearing all Hell might break lose; yet supported the referendum and the ”right to decide”, and brought sandwiches to the people holding the schools as polling stations.

On an organizational level, the leftwing parties in Catalonia belong in this third group; amongst them, the Barcelona mayor Ada Colau who might or might not repeat in power now. Nobody trusts the inbetween parties that might swing either way, for the separatists and the unionists are at loggerheads and expect everyone to pick sides. A truly torn society has arisen from the fall of 2017.

Social engineering

Some talk of a postmodern coup d’état, seeing as (almost) no blood was spilled, and since it is to a large extent a war on narratives. Who is right? And who can tell?

Internally, the Catalan nationalism holds most of the cards. After 40 years of social engineering, several generations have grown up with nation-building slogans, biased history lessons and a marginalization of the Spanish language, Spanish literature, and Spanish culture. So says José Rosiñol, then president of the unionist association Societat Civil Catalana, to yours truly in a video interview early 2018. He backs up his claim with Agenda 2000, the nationalist document leaked in 1990 that says: We must control the schools, the media, and civic society. Which is what they have done.

Fascists! accuses the Catalan separatists their unionist antagonists. But actually, Rosiñol speaks from a liberal standpoint: for pluralism and individual rights. The separatists proffer the nationalist dictums of group rights, including the imagined right to break lose and leave the poorer regions behind.

The right to decide

The separatist slogan insisting on the Catalan people’s ”right to decide” refers to an internationally acknowledged right granted to colonies and downtrodden, abused areas. Like so many of the other claims purported, they have a true ring to it, but are not actually correct. Catalonia is not a colony.

And who is ”the people” anyway? The Catalan nationalists have never had a social majority in the region. The only reason they rule the roost, and have done so all through democracy, is due to the specifics of the Spanish election act: Votes in the rural areas weigh heavier than the urban votes in the cosmopolitan capital Barcelona do. The idea is to make sure the hinterland is not forgotten; but the result is that backwards ideas linger longer than they would in a system where every vote is given equal weight.

Catalonia is a region where two language communities live side by side. They understand each other, since the distance between the two Latin languages Catalan and Spanish is like the one between Danish and Swedish. Catalan is the minority language, safeguarded by the marginalization of Spanish in the schools and the public administration. Spanish has always been around, but it was with the migration in the sixties from rural areas in other regions to the industrial motors in Catalonia, and the Basque Country, that this language came to be associated with the lower social classes.

And with Francisco Franco.

Renegades in both directions

And so, curiously, the sense of oppression is reserved to the wealthy classes, as Albert Soler sarcastically points out in his weekly column in Diari de Girona on May 31, 2019. But just like this Catalan journalist refuses to be a Catalan nationalist, as does the Socialist top politician Josep Borrell (former president of the European Parliament), many a ”Spanish immigrant” swear by the Catalan nationalism (or the Basque one, for that matter).

Where Soler and Borrell are considered botiflers (traitors) by the Catalan nationalists, climbers like the young politician Gabriel Rufián are seen as suffering from a Stockholm syndrom, or simply being keenly aware on which side their bread is buttered. The mythical figure of the traitor is very much in play these days, these months, these years; and it is short of a wonder that the region’s run-away expresident managed to preserve his casting in the role as a Saviour, and is not openly called a Judas.

The clashing communities do not so much look different, although they may dress different (a certain kind of Catalan nationalist tends to dress a little bit like Israeli settlers, whereas the ”immigrants” of Andalusian descent prefer dressing up). But their surnames give the ”migrants” away, even when they try to catalanize them by, say, changing Sánchez to Sànchez, like one of the prominent prisoners in the supreme court’s dock.

Lobbying abroad

This being the situation in Catalonia, what was Diplocat’s role in the attempted take-over? Why is Albert Royo a witness in the case against the separatist leaders? And why does he face charges himself in a separate regional court case?

François Meylan sums it up on June 1, 2019 in his ”Dénonciation des fausses ambassades catalanes au Parlement européen”. The eight page document is a complaint to the European Parliament over the “fake Catalan embassies as means to misappropriate means and spreading propaganda”.

The Swiss activist of Spanish descendence documents abundantly how the Catalan representations run by Diplocat pretended to be embassies representing a state government. Somehow, this wishful thinking was supposed to turn the region into the country that some wanted it to be. The nation-building slogan of ”Fem pais” was taken from the school halls to the global scene.

Shedding darkness

And really, none of this is a secret, although Albert Royo did his utmost to shed darkness over the relations between the regional government, its exterior department, Diplocat, the representations abroad, and the role of the visitors. The whole point of Diplocat was not to sell Catalan cava or lure even more tourists to Barcelona, but to push the separatist cause.

Diplocat was one channel; ANC and Òmnium Cultural were the other two main channels funnelling public money and standardized David and Goliat narratives into the global, collective consciousness. Even if the charges for uprising and insurrection should fall, the charges for economic crime will in all likelyhood send the separatist leaders in prison for a long time.

Although once the separatist leaders are convicted, the Spanish government gets a chance at doling out the forgiveness that the Socialists hope will appease the Catalan nationalists. An amnesty would mean they do not have to actually continue in prison, although they would probably not be allowed back into public office for a very long time.

Confusing and confounding

Spain’s supreme court has gone to long length to find out exactly what went on in Catalonia during the fall of 2017. Witnesses have been brought in from afar; and so it was Dr. Helena Catt from New Zealand who first admitted to having been paid for a favourable report: 8,000 euro.

Follow the money! is always a good rule in criminal law. And who did what is the other question at the core of the interrogations of the foreign witnesses.

What has come to light, through the testimony of Andrej Hunke and others, is that Diplocat paid all costs related to the bringing in a number of foreign politicians and journalists. During the referendum, they were understood as election observers, even thought their accreditations simply said ”international guests”, whatever that is.

The Danish visitors were not called as witnesses. Yours truly spoke to the most enthusiastic amongst them, and it was clear that Ms Bergqvist really believed she was an international observer to the secessionist vote. Mr Dragsted stated on October 1, 2017 to Le Monde’s correspondent Sandrine Morell that the elections clearly did not live up to basic standards. Asked by me in 2018, he stood by those words as quoted in Morell book, En el huracán catalán, but stressed that it was the Spanish state’s fault for not allowing the referendum.

So the Danish politician knew that the referendum he observed was illegal. It was illegal because according to the Spanish constitution, and the Catalan bylaw, no part of the country may simply decide to break up the common framework of the state. If the Catalan nationalists truly want an independent state (which is doubtful by now, after seeing the European Union’s and the business community’s adverse reactions), they must do like everyone else: by means of patient political work convince a social majority.

Preferably without spending more public money on a partisan cause, and refraining from using public and state subsidized schools and media as means to an end.//

Subscribe to get sent a digest of new articles by Sara Høyrup

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.