Catalan independence leader vows never to quit fight
The leader of the largest pro-independence force in Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, has vowed never to quit in his fight for a referendum on redrawing the map of Spain.
Junqueras, a bearded, 45-year-old former university historian who now leads the secessionist Republican Left of Catalonia, said he was confident the Spanish government would eventually have to bow to the wishes of Catalans to hold a vote on independence.
Political leaders in the northeastern region are campaigning to hold a vote on November 9 on whether to break away from the rest of Spain.
But they face outright opposition from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling conservative Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists, which refuse to countenance a breakup of Spain and say it would flout the constitution.
"I am convinced that democracy will eventually find a way," Junqueras told AFP in an interview, saying Catalans were largely in favour of holding a vote whether or not they favoured independence.
"I will do everything possible to make it so, so that the dignity of the citizens be respected," he added.
"Obviously I will not surrender, I will not give up, I will not leave, I will not tire. I will carry on trying. If many of us try and we are a majority, obviously we will end up winning."
When Oriol took over his party in 2011, it was riven with internal dissent.
Three years later, Republic Left of Catalonia is the second largest force in the regional parliament, ruling in alliance with regional president Artur Mas's Convergence and Union coalition.
In the European Parliament elections in May, Republican Left of Catalonia emerged victorious in the region for the first time since the 1930s.
- How will they stop us? -
Nevertheless, the pro-secessionist party faces major obstacles in its campaign for independence for this region of 7.5 million people, which is fiercely proud of its distinct language and culture and increasingly resentful of its treatment by Madrid.
In April, Spain's national parliament rejected Catalonia's request to hold a November 9 independence referendum by a landslide 299 votes to 47.
Catalonia's political leaders nevertheless remain determined to find an alternative legal route to a referendum.
Junqueras has previously refused to rule out even a unilateral declaration of independence, and he questions whether the Spanish government is able to stop a determined region from going ahead with the referendum.
"The key question is what does the Spanish government think it will do to stop citizens from voting," he said.
"When there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of voters with papers in their hands queueing up to vote, what does the Spanish government think it will do to stop it?"
Even if a referendum is held and it eventually leads to an independence process for Catalonia, Junqueras argues that ensuing negotiations would have to include Spain and the European Union.
"This would not be a unilateral exercise. Not even bilateral between Catalonia and Spain because the various interests of the European states in Catalonia are immense, such as the public debt or the stability of southern Europe," Junqueras said.
"We are in a multilateral scenario and it will be resolved multilaterally."
Junqueras moved from the university classroom to politics in 2009 when he became a member of the European Parliament before taking over in 2011 as mayor of Sant Vicenc dels Horts, a commuter town near Barcelona.
He soon took the reins of Republican Left of Catalonia, which was still nursing its wounds after heavy electoral losses.
Riding the wave of growing pro-independence sentiment, Junqueras's party was the second-biggest vote winner in regional elections in 2012, giving it the power to extract an agreement from Mas to hold a November 9 referendum on self-rule.
"Our conviction is that agreements should be respected," Junqueras said.
"The referendum is the best possible democratic instrument and it generates a broad consensus among the Catalan people."
© 2014 AFP