Silvia Angulo, Barcelona, 29 September 2022
The ex-president of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, at the Palau Robert (Barcelona)
Interview with the 129th President of the Generalitat (27 December 2010 – 12 January 2016)
Artur Mas: “The sovereigntist project has been going downhill since 2017”.
Artur Mas (Barcelona, 1956) is very critical of the current situation of the pro-independence movement. He is also critical of the government and points out that after years of a “supposedly progressive” government, no progress has been made in resolving the political conflict and putting an end to “judicial or economic repression”. Mas, who had his house seized for years to face the claim of the Court of Auditors for the 9-N, continues the legal battle for the external action of the procès.
The current moment
“We have neither a shared final objective, nor the way to reach it, nor recognised leadership”.
When did the procés begin?
In 2012 when three events took place. The first was the Diada demonstration. Then Rajoy’s no to the fiscal pact and the third was the early elections that I called to find out the support for the right to decide, which ended up being supported by 80%, when the PSC was still in favour. At party level the result did not go well for me.
A referendum was called on 9-N in 2014 and you wanted the 2017 referendum to be binding?
The idea of 9-N is that it did not have an immediate consequence. It was a consultation that had to lead us to another stage, which was the plebiscitary elections. 1-O was like 9-N, but it was said that the result was binding and if the Yes vote won, independence would be declared automatically.
It wasn’t like that.
No, it was not. But the approach was different, and everything is a chain. In 2012 the procés began, then in 2014 came the 9-N consultation, Junts pel Sí and the plebiscite of September 2015. Then 2017, 1 October and what we have known. A chain of decisions until October that took us upwards, and from that moment on I think the sovereignty project went downwards.
Were all the decisions good?
Not all of them, but there are more good ones than bad ones until October 2017. Since then, the issue has become more debatable
In what sense?
With 155, unity and the joint list were broken. It was not a good decision and since then the discussion, the envy, the differences in strategies, the non-recognition of leaderships, the politics in Madrid…
Did you believe at any point that you could agree on a fiscal pact?
The PP had an absolute majority, and I knew that it would not come out with a signed agreement, but I had hoped that they would not be so politically short-sighted and that a working group would be created. They slammed the door on us, and we had to change course. I did not decide on my own, I called elections to see if the Catalans supported it and we entered a new screen because we went from defending autonomy to defending sovereignty.
But nothing changed in Madrid…
Madrid raised the decibels of repression, even brutality.
Didn’t the demonstrations against the cuts of your government have anything to do with the change of course towards independence?
If so, why do we now have a pro-independence majority in the government when the economic situation is different? The cuts were made because the European prescription was austerity. The second origin was when Spain was forced to cut back and austerity was centrifuged towards city councils and communities, and in Catalonia more was done because we were starting from the legacy of the tripartite. We were up to our ears in debt.
How did you experience 1-O?
It was a great joy and gratification. I saw a heroic attitude on the part of the country defending the ballot boxes and the schools. With a load of illusion and then I saw the other side with sadness and anger at an intransigent, repressive and violent state.
Didn’t I expect the police charges?
It was a possibility, but I thought that the state would be smarter and could end up ridiculing the new vote by saying that if we wanted to, we could do it and that the government would not listen to us. What made the world go round was the Police and the Guardia Civil slapping and handing out.
Did you talk to Puigdemont to get him to call elections?
I experienced it up close and he did what he could. Having decided to call elections, in the end he did not do so, and understanding the reasons, it was a decision that was not shared. In the end, environmental pressure, Twitter, Madrid’s cocky attitude and internal distrust prevailed…
Is 1-O a mandate?
It is a summit to reach a higher summit, which is for Catalonia to become an independent country in a federal Europe. It is very complicated, but the alternative is to settle for a smaller and smaller autonomy, controlled and more residual. Either we settle for it or we set ourselves a very complicated goal that provides a path if you know how to follow it properly.
And how should it be travelled?
You must know where you are going, how you are getting there, a common and shared path and not everyone on their own. You must have someone to guide you and with leaderships recognised by all. Now we have neither a shared final goal, nor a shared way to get there, nor recognised leadership. And that’s not how we will get there.
Do these requirements in today’s Catalan politics seem unattainable?
No, they are not. It was possible in the early years of the procès-electoral process, with a lot of pushing and shoving, mistrust and without being paradise, but it was the way. Junts pel Sí was created, bringing together almost the entire pro-sovereignty world, including people who came from the PSC and Iniciativa.
Is the complicated relationship between ERC and Junts pel Sí the result of 1-O?
It already existed, but from that moment on it overflowed and we are still there.
Do you think Puigdemont should take a definitive step aside?
He has already done so. Perhaps not in the explicit way I did. He is a reference point, and he is out in a tough personal condition and has to be taken into account in the resolution of the conflict. It is not only a question of how the prisoners get out, but also of how the exiles return and the repression is ended through trials or the Court of Auditors.
Is this what is being addressed at the dialogue table?
Progress is what it is. There have been some pardons. That is all. I do not detract from that, but it does not resolve the political conflict. In addition to there being no repression or judicialisation, a political solution must be proposed. The dialogue table is light years away from achieving this.
Do you think the government will break up?
I don’t think so because I don’t want it to. I understand that Junts is pressing, but I don’t want it to break up. If there is a rupture, how will we make it credible that we want to achieve independence?
Can the convergent space be recomposed?
I experienced the disintegration as an inevitability. Internal unity could not be guaranteed and that had never happened before. I regret it and I take it badly. I hope that this reunification can be achieved.
Where is independentism heading?
It is somewhere in between. I’m not saying it’s in no man’s land. There is no sign that we can take the path seriously. Declarations and gesticulations are another matter. We are more spectators than actors in making things work.
On 1 October
“I saw a heroic attitude in the defence of the ballot boxes and the schools; then I saw another face with sadness and anger”.