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在线翻译:
szdaily -> Person of the week
Carles Puigdemont: The man who wants to break up Spain
    2017-October-13  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

HE’S either a freedom fighter, the defender of the Catalan voice or a disloyal radical risking it all to break Spain apart, depending on who you ask.

A mayor from the Spanish hinterland, Carles Puigdemont was relative unknown until he was thrusted into the leadership of Catalonia last year. His election to office was the result of a compromise ending a deadlock among separatist parties.

It was “a last-minute and accidental arrival through the back door,” Puigdemont recalled in an interview earlier this week at the Gothic palace of his regional government in Barcelona.

Now, as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent a formal notification to Puigdemont on Wednesday demanding that he clarify whether he had declared independence or not, Puigdemont, 54, sits at the heart of a constitutional crisis for Spain, an insurgent in the eyes of Madrid.

If he denies it, he risks losing his coalition and his leadership. If he doesn’t, Rajoy will start the legal process to force him out and administer Catalonia from Madrid.

On Oct. 1, he had claimed victory in an illegal referendum on Catalonian independence from Spain, and now he must determine his next course of action while the world watches on.

The prospect, however, seems to leave him unbothered. Puigdemont may be an accidental leader, but he is a purposeful proponent that Catalonia — prosperous and distinct in culture, history and language — should be independent.

A former journalist, with a Beatles mop-top haircut, he was already calling for separation from Spain on the streets of Barcelona in the early 1980s, when secessionism was a marginal movement in Catalonia.

Stubborn but “honest and resilient,” with childhood memories of Spain’s Francisco Franco dictatorship until 1975, is how biographer Carles Porta characterizes Puigdemont.

The baker’s son from the mountain village of Amer — about 100 kilometers from Barcelona — “learned to be a fighter” when he was sent to boarding school aged 9, writes Porta.

Passionate about Catalonia and its heritage, he joined a nationalist Catalan party in his late teens.

Friends said he had a keen interest in the outside world. A photo taken in 1982 shows 20-year-old Puigdemont and a group of exchange students in Geneva during an international conference.

At 21, Puigdemont survived a serious traffic accident, leaving him with facial scars covered by a hairstyle that still draws remarks, even in his own Catalan European Democratic Party.

It is a fate shared with Rajoy, his arch-rival and Spanish prime minister. Rajoy has car accident scars under his beard; Puigdemont has forehead scars under the fringe of his brown mop of hair.

By the early 1980s, Puigdemont had thoroughly learned the Catalan language and history and rose from sub-editor to chief editor of the regional newspaper El Punt Avui.

He also founded a Catalan news agency and an English-language newspaper in the region as well as published several books and essays.

Puigdemont visited Slovenia in 1991, just after it had declared independence from former Yugoslavia – after a banned referendum and brief armed conflict.

His wife, Marcela Topor, comes from Romania, and Puigdemont is fluent in the language. The couple has two daughters.

By 2001, Puigdemont had become the mayor of Girona, not far from his home village of Amer, and a regional parliamentarian. According to friends, he was not a natural politician but has evolved rapidly.

In 2015, Mayor Puigdemont became chairman of an association of municipalities that favored Catalan secession from Spain.

In January 2016, still largely unknown in Spain, Puigdemont was picked to replace Artus Mas as regional leader to lead 7.5 million Catalans to independence.

Mas had become deeply unpopular with far-left separatists for austerity measures during Spain’s severe economic crisis.

On inauguration day, Puigdemont said: “This is no time for cowards.”

“I know we are launching a process that is neither easy nor comfortable,” Puigdemont added.

Some 21 months later, Spaniards and European Union leaders are opposing to Catalan independence and accusing Puigdemont of recklessness that culminated in the referendum Oct. 1 that was banned by Spain’s constitutional court and repressed by Spanish police.

More than 90 percent of those who voted favored independence, but turnout reached just 43 percent of the Catalan electorate in a ballot that fell short of electoral standards.

Puigdemont has said he is not afraid of going to jail over independence, while calling for EU mediation, which Rajoy has rejected.

Security forces used batons and fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Many were injured.

“We were forced to do what we did, not wish to do,” said Spanish government delegate to Catalonia, Enric Millo. “Puigdemont and his team are solely responsible” for the violence, he added.

Careful not to undermine Rajoy, the European Union has merely called for dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid.

Brussels has said that an independent Catalonia, which generates a fifth of Spain’s economic earnings, would automatically exit the bloc and would have to reapply to join.

Whatever happens next, however, the chances of Catalonia leaving Spain soon remain remote, observers say. Rajoy can invoke emergency powers to suspend Puigdemont and give Madrid full administrative control over Catalonia, though such a step could provoke backlash.

When pressed, Puigdemont is coy about how he could actually form a new Catalan state, given the additional difficulty of gaining recognition of Catalonian independence from the European Union.

“There is no button that you push and the next day you become independent,” he said.

Puigdemont has accused Rajoy of ignoring Catalans in the name of the Spanish Constitution.

A few months after taking office last year, Puigdemont visited Rajoy for the first time. The meeting seemed cordial, and the prime minister gave Puigdemont a facsimile of part of the first edition of “Don Quixote,” in which the legendary knight-errant travels to Barcelona.

Puigdemont never received a follow-up invitation, he said, after he made clear to Rajoy his commitment to an independence referendum.

Earlier this month, Rajoy told parliament that he could not negotiate with a Catalan leader who flouts the constitution.

“In Spain, there’s somebody trying to end national sovereignty and inventing a parallel jurisdiction,” he told lawmakers. “We’ve got to avoid this folly — that’s the priority — and after that I’ve got no problem talking.”

It does not help that both men are in vulnerable political positions.

Rajoy runs a minority government and his political survival is now at stake. Puigdemont leads a fragile coalition of separatists, which disagree profoundly on economic and social issues and what kind of Catalan state they would like to build.

“Puigdemont is not seeking power — he took this job with a single idea in mind, to lead Catalonia to independence,” said Jose Antich, director of El Nacional, a Catalan online newspaper.

“His top priorities are independence, independence and independence. It’s not about also improving education or creating a better government.”

Asked whether he was force-feeding voters the promise of statehood without first explaining how a Catalan republic would function, Puigdemont argued that the new Catalonia would be discussed if and when the project was approved.

“If you’re hungry, you know that you want to eat,” he said. “You don’t know what’s on the menu — perhaps it’s not your favorite dish — but you will eat.”

It’s unclear if Puigdemont will achieve his ends or not, but he knows one thing for sure. If a new republic is declared, he’ll leave Barcelona – and probably politics – in his quest for the “sense of normalcy” he claims to have lost.(SD-Agencies)

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