Catalonia's leader-to-be, pro-independence 'since he can remember'

10th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Carles Puigdemont, the man who has been chosen to lead Catalonia to independence from Spain, has always been a convinced secessionist in stark contrast to his predecessor who only belatedly converted to nationalism.

Mayor of Girona since 2011, the 53-year-old journalist drew applause when he managed to convince producers of the very popular "Game of Thrones" to film part of the series in his small, northeastern city.

And now, in a twist worthy of the famous television drama, the baker's son is expected to be voted in as Catalonia's new president on Sunday evening after Artur Mas -- the wealthy region's divisive, incumbent leader -- stepped aside in a surprise move.

Puigdemont, who has experienced a short but meteoric rise in politics, will be tasked with leading the 7.5-million-strong northeastern Spanish region to independence by 2017 -- a process that will see him launch on a collision course with Madrid.

In Amer, the small village where he grew up that lies tucked away in mountainous terrain, a big separatist flag flies at the entrance and above the Puigdemont family bakery.

"We're a pro-independence family through and through," his sister Anna who runs the business told AFP.

His friend Salvador Clara, a left-wing secessionist councillor in Amer, added that Puigdemont had defended the independence of Catalonia "since he can remember."

Puigdemont has never hidden his separatist tendencies, not even when he joined Mas's CDC party in 1980 at a time when it merely wanted to negotiate greater autonomy for Catalonia -- far from the idea of breaking away from Spain.

For Silvia Paneque, head of the opposition Socialists in Girona, Puigdemont at times carries out a form of nationalism that "insists in separating those for and against independence."

Puigdemont was born on December 29, 1962 -- the second of eight siblings.

But he only emerged on the frontline of politics in 2011, when he was elected as mayor of Girona, ending three decades of Socialist rule in the city.

Then in July 2015, he became president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence, which groups together local entities to promote the right to self-determination.

For 17 years he worked for Catalonia's nationalist daily El Punt, which now publishes under the name El Punt Avui after merging with another paper. He later created a regional news agency and an English-language newspaper about his region.

"He always was very curious," said his sister, revealing that far from his current situation, he had intially dreamt of becoming an astronaut after seeing men walk on the moon.

Keen on new technologies, Puigdemont has used Twitter since 2007, just a year after the global social network was created.

"I'm interested in communication linked to Catalonia's outreach outside the region," he wrote in his blog.

He speaks English and French well just like his predecessor Mas, as well as Romanian -- which is where his wife Marcela Topor comes from, with whom he has two little girls.

But unlike his predecessor, who implemented unpopular austerity measures during Spain's economic crisis, Puigdemont is more of a social democrat who may be able to seduce the far-left members of Catalonia's separatist faction who were wary of Mas.

Their rejection of Mas was the reason why the pro-independence faction that won regional parliamentary polls in September was unable to agree on who should lead the new local government -- until this weekend.

"He doesn't come from the bourgeoisie of Barcelona like Mas but from the world of rural artisans, which gives him social sensitivity," says his friend Clara.

© 2016 AFP

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