Friday, February 7, 2014

Interview with Jordi Vàzquez, Help Catalonia’s editor

His name may not be known to most people, though very often most of us do read what he spreads in five languages beyond our borders. Jordi Vàzquez (Barcelona, 1971) is Help Catalonia’s editor, a volunteer-run website started in 2010 by six people interested in making Catalonia’s struggle for independence be known in English-speaking countries. From a Twitter account, they have become a digital outlet which explains Catalonia’s case in several languages, including English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Surely you may have already heard of it!

-Who is behind Help Catalonia?
Large amounts of selfless work. We have over 60 volunteers now.

-Are you backed by a political party?
Nope. We refuse support from any political party of any denomination. We support ourselves as an inclusive group of Catalans seeking independence, but we don’t accept any external political or financial support. That means, obviously, we have our own limitations. With some financial support we could strengthen our message and international campaigns. We will consider the possibility of getting some crowdfunding.

-What attracts international press attention on the Catalan process?
All those bizarre threats coming from Spain. Spain’s attempt at banning a referendum on independence is really shocking to them because such a thing has not happened in Western Europe in the last half century. Some people in Spain’s government are even in favor of using violence —like the statements by Spanish EUP Vice-president Vidal-Quadras show— and some are in favor of language displacement, while some freely ask for a military intervention of Catalonia. As a couple of examples, Guillem Agulló was murdered by a group of Spanish fascists in 1993, with no consequences to the perpetrators; also, the Spanish Constitutional Court curtailed the Catalan Statute of Autonomy which had been previously approved by a referendum in Catalonia. However, international observers are not that interested in learning about Catalonia receiving an unfair economic treatment due to fiscal plundering. Actually, most international media think that this was precisely what triggered the conflict at the start of the economic recession.

-Why are they not interested in talking about the fiscal inequality?
Maybe because they don’t think of it as a good enough reason for political secession. Though being now quite serious, it is neither the only nor the main reason to understand the everlasting conflict between Spain and Catalonia—of course!

-Are you in touch with all foreign correspondents sending news from Madrid?
Not as much as we should. They are not, in general, interested in listening to both sides of the story. A lot of courage is needed to write from Madrid about Catalonia and especially when, as it very often happens, the message from the Spanish press is so obviously unanimous. Their articles reflect what they read or even, sometimes, what they just translate. Getting to know them better as to have some influence in their opinions is not an easy task. Anyway, on Catalonia’s National Day we met with several foreign press teams that have already gotten in touch with us.

-Do you feel you have already won any battles?
Yes, surely the battle on terminology. We succeeded in introducing some essential words that have been well accepted abroad and are now being used in foreign newspapers such as “unionism,” “bullying” and “oppression” as synonyms of Spanish terrorism.

-What countries or regions are most favorable /sympathetic to Catalonia?
Especially Gibraltar which is, for historical reasons, sort of a bridge to the UK for us. Among the most favorable I would also mention Scotland, Ireland, Kosovo, Poland, and the USA ─where Spanish nationalism does not have a good reputation and many states do not accept Spanish as a second official language. Catalans are increasingly getting more demonstrations of support.

-Has the Spanish taken all of this seriously?
Underestimating the enemy is always a big mistake, let alone when it is powerful enough and able to spend, for example, €25M to buy just a couple of state of the art fighting helicopters which, by the way, Germans are not happy about. This is a David vs. Goliath type of battle, though we don’t need such heavy weapons to knock out the adversary because they are far too proud to look for any international involvements, the Spanish diplomacy being so arrogant. We have a potential ally wherever Spain has a foe. And not a few ones!

-Are you being watched by the Spanish intelligence service?
We do take our precautions to avoid being affected by having them spying on us. Besides, Help Catalonia was set up outside the Kingdom of Spain and would therefore be able to keep operating in case Catalonia were to be occupied by the Spanish army.

-How can Help Catalonia get any citizen’s help?
We have a confidentiality-friendly form on our website that anyone can use to enter their basic info and tell us about what they can do so we can determine the type of work they may best suited for.

-Did Twitter and other digital platforms give visibility to a silent struggle?
Absolutely, digital platforms are having a key role in our process.

-Therefore, the first 2.0 pro-independence process might be Catalonia’s?
Interesting idea, that’s a nice way to put it! Certainly the 2.0 digital technology has blown up the conventional ways of all classical political organizations. In Catalonia, unlike in to Scotland, there many informal or not coordinated pro-independence groups that are taking advantage of social networks.

-What areas are still left to be explored?
Large international campaigns to capture more attention to our process. We need worldwide actions that might garner support—big demonstrations and human chains are not enough. Our motto is “making friends worldwide.” By this we mean getting all the necessary support for when independence finally happens. Civil diplomacy is our main objective, because the Catalan pro-independence movement, historically either too proud or too shy, has failed to build strong support abroad from friends and allies.

Author: Meritxell Doncel (@m_doncel) / journalist and lawyer




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