Barcelona president sets sights on political career
In a newspaper interview, Joan Laporta expresses his interest to start a political party which aims to seek independence for his country, Catalonia.The president of European football champions Barcelona said Monday he was considering creating a political party to seek independence for Spain's Catalonia region and running for office himself.
"I am attracted by the idea of running with a new party open to all other parties or platforms that believe Catalonia needs its own state," Joan Laporta told El Mundo newspaper in an interview.
Catalonia, whose main city is Barcelona and which has long been home to an independence movement, will hold regional elections in the autumn.
"I will decide before Easter and I will announce it when my mandate as head of FC Barcelona is finished (this summer)," the 49-year-old lawyer said.
"What's clear to me is that, if I run, I want to be president (of the regional government)."
He said he has had discussions with Catalonia's main nationalist parties.
Laporta's club leadership has at times been controversial, but he has nonetheless presided over a hugely successful era for Barcelona, one of the world's most famous teams.
They currently lead the table, unbeaten after the first 16 games of the season, with a two-point lead over arch rivals Real Madrid.
But the club's success has brought high expectations: Laporta was almost ousted in 2008 after Barcelona failed to win any titles over the previous two seasons.
"Barca goes beyond football," he told El Mundo. "We are participants in one of history's most moving epics: the one that guides suppressed people toward freedom."
Laporta said that, before reaching a decision on whether to begin a political career, he wanted to know whether the some 20 percent of Catalonians who polls show favour independence were ready to pursue the idea.
"I don't know if Catalonia wants a leader or a martyr," he said. "Me, I don't want to be a martyr. But I want to be a leader. And the national aspiration to obtain freedom for my country seems wonderful to me."
Laporta, who has headed Barcelona's club since 2003 and was re-elected president in 2006, told the newspaper that "we are a nation that lacks a state".
"It has already been shown that the Spanish state has not resolved the problems of Catalonians, whether they be economic, social, cultural or linguistic ..."
Those in favour of Catalonian independence say the region, which is heavily industrialised and accounts for 25 percent of Spain's gross domestic product, contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets in return.
The Catalan language, which was banned during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, is widely used in the wealthy region.
Laporta said the region meets "all the conditions to be a great European country." Spain includes "good people" who would "let us leave in peace" if a referendum favours independence, he said.
A partial and unofficial referendum was held in Catalonia in December.
An overwhelming 94 percent of those who voted said 'yes' to the question: "Do you agree that Catalonia become a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?"
But only about 10 percent of the region's population of more than seven million were called on to cast ballots by the organisers in 166 selected towns and villages, and turnout was less than 30 percent.
AFP / Pierre Ausseill / Expatica