President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC)
“It has to be shown that the dialogue with the state is fake’”
Catalonia’s largest civic organisation in favour of independence has a new leader. Here Dolors Feliu talks about the challenge of making the results of the 2017 referendum effective
“If a civic candidate list is put forward and that list wins the election, the first thing it will do is make independence effective”
Dolors Feliu was elected president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) after winning more than a two thirds majority in the first round in a plenary session of the organisation’s national secretariat in May. A lawyer specialising in constitutional law, Feliu has been part of the ANC since Catalonia’s foremost pro-independence organisation was founded in 2012. Feliu says she joined after seeing how Catalonia’s statute of autonomy was cut back and she decided that the only way to advance socially as a people and overcome powerlessness before the state was to achieve independence.
What were the main points of your programme to contest the presidency?
I put forward a programme based on the foundations of what the ANC has been during all these years, all the work that’s been done to resist repression, to mobilise people and to promote peaceful confrontation is part of a process of learning about the democratic models for achieving independence. And now we need to go one step further. The ANC wants to promote a very broad movement and we must be capable of embracing all sensibilities in a national congress of all organisations with the same aim.
Which organisations will it include?
That’s yet to be defined, but we hope it will include the likes of the Council for the Republic, Constituent Debate, Omnium, Platform for the Language, the Coordinator of Associations for the Catalan Language... Some are obvious and others not so much, such as the Intersyndical union, which could perfectly well become part of this congress. But we hope the organisations themselves will show they want to join the initiative.
What is the purpose of your term?
To follow the roadmap we already have on the table that was approved by the secretariat to achieve effective independence.
Right. No politicians. Independence cannot be made effective without a vote. That’s clear. We currently have political parties that don’t seem able to make this mandate effective, but there are many other ways to achieve it, such as voter groups, or candidate lists composed specifically for this purpose.
You mean putting forward a civic candidate list for the next election?
Yes. A list of people who are detached from political parties, who want to make independence effective. This will be the only option if the political parties do nothing to convince the public when an election is called.
Is this recapturing the idea of the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) electoral alliance, but without politicians?
The idea of Junts pel Sí didn’t end, although there are different interpretations of it. But the initial idea was a good one.
How will the ANC maintain the impartiality it has always aimed for regarding partisan politics?
The ANC has always kept its distance from partisan positions and will continue to do so. But this does not mean that it can’t promote a civic candidate list to launch a specific project, which is to make Catalonia’s independence effective.
Following democratic and peaceful criteria?
Indeed! Through a democratic process of citizen mobilisation, peaceful resistance and action, actively condemning repression, and promoting the defence of fundamental rights. Many times, people do not remember that peaceful resistance also has an aspect of physical confrontation and this is key to making independence effective.
Do you think the public is ready to return to the fight after what’s happened since October 2017?
The October 1 referendum showed that the public was aware of the situation and wanted a change. This idea is still there but people need a horizon to aim for. It’s clear that the 52% majority in parliament that was the result of the last election is not able to take this step forward. The public needs to identify their vote with more specific things.
But there are many obstacles...
People need to be aware that we live in a state that is repressing us, where we cannot apply a policy of language immersion, where we cannot move forward to curb climate change as we would like, where the measures we want to apply to solve the problems of housing are struck down, where we are prevented from responding to energy poverty... And we can’t do any of these things because we don’t make the decisions in Catalonia; rather the state imposes them on us. Freedom of expression and our fundamental rights are being repressed. And there’s only one way out.
Do you have faith in people mobilising to take action?
If theres’s one way forward, it’s people mobilising. We have seen recently the Spanish defence minister saying that anything goes to stop independence. Shouldn’t we wake up to this situation? We need to be prepared!
What is the timescale?
At the latest, the deadline is the next election. If a civic candidate list is put forward and that list wins the election, the first thing it will do is make independence effective.
Is progress really possible?
Yes. Carme Forcadell has already said it: the state never fails. There are occasions for us to stand up and protest every day. We’ve seen it with the Pegasus affair, with the statements of Commissioner Villarejo, we’ve seen it with the questions over the August 2017 terror attacks, we saw it with the protests in favour of Pablo Hasél... Any of these situations can be the impulse for people to decide to take a stand. That means we can’t rule out this happening before the election. Things are happening every day that make it more likely.
Despite all this, we haven’t seen the mass protests needed to drive such radical change.
Although people haven’t taken action, they do feel it and we can’t rule out that changing at some point. A large demonstration took place in Barcelona in July 2010 and nothing seemed to happen. September 11 of that year was a normal day. And September 11, 2011, too. But then September 11, 2012 was massive. Nothing seems to be happening right now, but people are well aware of what is going on and they are defining what they want in the future. This is how great collective gestures come about.
How are we seen now abroad?
From the outside, the lack of movement that we also detect is very much reflected. It must be shown that the dialogue with the state is fake. It seems that the debate on Catalonia is over, but that’s not true. Once it’s seen that dialogue never existed, things will change. A dialogue that excludes self-determination, amnesty for political prisoners, independence and a referendum is no dialogue at all. What the state does is simply let time go by, when the conflict is more intense than ever. It’s true, however, that the Pegasus case has shown the outside world that the state has been spying on the independence movement.
When it comes to making independence effective, what needs to happen to get the international support that was absent in 2017?
We must believe. We have to fight and we have to keep the fight going. We have to do away with the idea that peaceful confrontation is just sentiment and work must be done to condemn the great repression of the democratic action that we want to promote. Only then will we gain support. We already know that Britain and Canada are ready to accept democratic secession as a path to independence, and the war in Ukraine has shown us that this is not the way to change borders. We must understand that the referendum is not the problem but rather the solution to border disputes, and even more so when it comes to listening to the will of a people who want to exercise their right to self-determination. Border disputes in the 21st century can only be resolved in a context of peace.
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