Europe could have been remarkably different today if Catalan politicians accepted Russia’s alleged offer to help Catalonia achieve independence in 2017 – at least according to Spanish authorities.
If only they said “da” and agreed to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea as legitimate, an underground Russian group founded in Gorbachev’s time would have sent 10,000 men to Barcelona to force the Spanish state to submit. and, in the midst of much chaos and bloodshed, declare former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont as President of the Independent Republic of Catalonia. The Kremlin, meanwhile, is said to have paid off all of Catalonia’s national debt and supported the new country on the international stage, leaving the European Union embarrassed and divided.
This is not the plot of cheap spy news, but the latest wacky accusation the Spanish state has leveled at the leaders of the Catalan independence movement to undermine the legitimacy of their struggle.
Of course, as we all know, Russia did not attempt to invade Spain to help Catalan independence activists. In fact, it did not even recognize Catalonia as an independent state in the aftermath of the 2017 independence referendum. Moreover, the only “proof” of such an offer ever made is a recording that the police Spanish reportedly found on the confiscated phone of a Catalan politician. So far, authorities have not indicated that the offer has ever been reviewed by Puigdemont, nor have they provided any further evidence that an offer exists.
However, authorities have highlighted these unfounded allegations as one of the reasons behind a massive police operation against the leaders of the Catalan independence movement, which resulted in the arrest of 21 senior Catalan politicians and activists on October 28.
While authorities have charged those arrested with various crimes, ranging from the misuse of public funds and the abuse of power to money laundering, the fact that they named Operation “Volkhov” in reference at the front of World War II where Spanish fascists fought alongside the Nazis against the Soviet Union made it clear that their main objective was to add weight to their claims that Russia tacitly supported the Catalan independence movement.
People who are not familiar with the Spanish state’s relentless harassment and persecution of Catalan activists and politicians may find it shocking that a police operation has been named after such a dark chapter in Spanish history. , or that state authorities have publicly accused an extremely peaceful political movement of considering unleashing. a Russian militia of 10,000 men in Europe on such fragile evidence. But the Spanish security forces have long acted as if they weren’t working for a democratic European state but for an ancient fascist dictatorship. And being spied on, illegally imprisoned and accused of treason and terrorism simply for one’s political views is unfortunately a daily reality for Catalans fighting for independence.
Since the 2017 independence referendum, the Spanish state has worked tirelessly to intimidate and silence Catalan activists and elected officials. In 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court found nine high-level Catalan politicians guilty of “sedition” for helping to organize the independence referendum and sentenced them to 9-13 years in prison. Amnesty International considered that the verdict was “an excessive and disproportionate restriction on peaceful exercise [the convicted politicians’] human rights ”while the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called for the immediate release of these political prisoners. But, turning a blind eye to these criticisms, the Spanish prosecutors not only refused to reconsider their position but demanded the “re-education in the Constitution” of Catalan political prisoners in order to allow them to be released from prison for a few hours a day.
Many activists and politicians, including Puigdemont, have been forced to flee the country to avoid being detained. But the pro-independence Catalans, lucky enough to find an opportunity to leave the country before being arrested, could not escape harassment and persecution from the Spanish state either. The Spanish secret service illegally spied on them across EU borders, and the state used all avenues at its disposal to stop their political activities and obtain their extradition to Spain.
Puigdemont, who currently lives in exile in Belgium, has been a member of the European Parliament since 2019. However, Spain is actively working to convince the European Parliament to lift his parliamentary immunity – preventing Madrid from seeking his extradition. Another Catalan MEP, Toni Comlin, is in the same situation. Former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, who became an MEP alongside Puigdemont last year, was unable to take his seat in the European Parliament in the first place, as he was in pre-trial detention in Spain for the alleged crime of sedition for two years. years.
Quim Torra, who became president of the regional government of Catalonia in May 2018 following the forced dismissal of Puigdemont from office, was “disqualified” from office in September for the incredible “crime” of refusing to remove the banners in support for the independence movement and Catalan political prisoners from the facade of the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya – the historic building housing the offices of the regional government.
It is not just leading leaders of the movement that the Spanish government, justice and security forces are trying to intimidate and silence through politically motivated investigations and trumped up accusations. Around 700 Catalan mayors are currently under investigation for participating in the 2017 independence referendum. Many Catalan activists face charges of “crimes” such as organizing strikes and blocking roads. Several activists were charged with “possession of explosives” – which turned out to be mere fireworks. Even Catalonia’s top police chiefs have been accused of “sedition” for “not doing enough” to prevent Catalan voters from participating in the 2017 referendum – in the end, they were all acquitted.
All of these efforts failed to end the Catalans’ desire for self-determination, so it would appear that the Spanish authorities have now decided to slander the independence movement with ridiculous accusations of collaborating with Russia to achieve their political goals and provoke destruction and war. the EU.
Catalan leaders have never hidden the fact that they were willing and ready to speak to all nations, as well as influential political activists and journalists like Julian Assange, to increase support for their movement. They were also open to their plans to create a virtual Catalan Republic, a digital infrastructure not subject to Spanish control, in order to expand popular participation in regional policy and make it more difficult for the Spanish justice to intervene in their activities. policies. They are even trying to create a Catalan cryptocurrency and alternative means of digital payment to break free from the clutches of the Spanish banking system. These efforts are managed by the Consell per la República Catalana (Council of the Catalan Republic), a private organization based in Belgium led by Puigdemont.
But none of these efforts and initiatives signal the will of the independence movement to go to war with the EU, let alone invite Russian troops to Europe. Moreover, the idea that Russia would risk war with the EU and NATO to help liberate a nation that is far from its own territory is as absurdly ridiculous as it is embarrassing.
While the EU has done nothing to stop the Spain-determined crackdown on Catalan political freedoms beyond the occasional publication of empty statements, Madrid has still failed to extinguish the flames of independence and of freedom in Catalonia. As a result, the Spanish authorities now appear determined to stoke Europe’s deep-rooted fears of Russian intervention to be allowed to step up the pressure they have long placed on their Catalan citizens. However, even this new “Russian connection” will not be enough to make the Catalans give up their dream of independence. It could, however, help Hollywood screenwriters invent the plot for their next action-packed spy thriller.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.