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The Catalan Way – The View From The Baltics

An opinion piece from Lithuania on the Baltic-inspired background story to the recent “human chain” or Catalan Way formed by nationalists across Catalonia in support of the proposed referendum on independence for the region. The Lithuania Tribune:

“Last Wednesday, 11 September 2013, 1.6 millions of Catalans held their hands in a 400km human chain linking Catalonia, the region whose capital is Barcelona, from north to south, from El Pertús, on the border with France, down to Alcanar, on the border with the another Catalan-speaking region of Valencia.

What was the reason? To show support of the independence of Catalonia to the international public opinion. The chain, which has been set with no incident, in a completely peaceful ambiance, with many families and senior citizens joining in, was a successful civic demonstration intended to raise awareness about the will of the Catalan people to get self-determination through a referendum, similar to the one to be held in Scotland next year.

Assemblea Nacional Catalana is the grassroots organisation which supports the independence of Catalonia. They organised the Catalan Way and the massive demonstration on 11 September 2012 in Barcelona. As it was clear that the Spanish government was not going to concede a referendum in Catalonia they decided to organise something bigger, a human chain, and they did not hesitate last April to get in touch with former organisers of the Baltic Way back in 1989.

Although Europe has seen many human chains linked to diverse causes, contacting the Baltics was clearly aimed to link the Catalan independence process with a peaceful model, with no points in common with what has happened in other parts of Europe and the World which have suffered more traumatic events.

Moreover, there was a strong additional value due to the fact that the Baltic Way was recognised by UNESCO and included in its “Memory of the World” register. Catalan values, linked to openness to the world, community building and peace, perfectly fit with the values of the Baltic Way.

Thus, in the presentation of the Catalan Way, on 19 June, M. Henn Karits and M. Ülo Laanoja, two members of the organisation which staged the Baltic Way in Estonia, were present to provide logistical information to the Catalan Assembly.

No need to say that many anonymous citizens of the three Baltic countries, currently living in Catalonia, have participated in the Catalan Way, some may even say they have been in the two human chains, like the Lithuanian Jolyta Blyzite from Panevėžys, who was interviewed by the Barcelona-based newspaper ‘El Periodico’ hours before the human chain. She stated: “The Baltic Way made ​me a responsible citizen.” The Catalan M. Xavier Vinyals, Honorary Consul of Latvia in Barcelona, who participated in the Baltic Way in Riga in 1989, also participated in the Catalan Way. He is one of the few Catalans, if not the only one, who has taken part in the two events.

Moreover, it has to be noted that on the very same day – 11 September, while hundreds of thousands of people formed the human chain, the only incident involving this occurred hundreds of kilometres away, in Madrid, when a group of far-right thugs violently got into the delegation of the Government of Catalonia building in Madrid where an official act was being held shouting “Catalonia is Spain” and caused personal injuries by beatings and tear gas, even to children.

The Irish Ambassador was there among the public. Although these thugs only represent themselves, much of the Catalan society wonders how these groups can act with impunity in Spain, in contrast, for example, with the social rejection that falls on them in central European countries such as Germany. The scandal became even greater when it was revealed that one of the thugs has family ties with several members of the Spanish government and, although all of them were arrested, they were released some days later.

Prime Minister of Latvia, Valdis Drombovskis, speaking to the Catalan press, said that if there was legitimacy in Catalonian process towards full sovereignty, why Catalonia shouldn’t be recognised as a new state? His statements created a trending topic on Twitter under the hashtag #ThankYouLatvia, generating thousands of bilateral friendly tweets between Latvia and Catalonia.

The Prime Minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Butkevičius, said one day later to the same news source that “Every country has to find its own way and Catalonia has the right to self-determination”. A similar reaction was generated around Lithuania with many Catalans saying that they had already decided where to spend their next holidays.

No one really knows how this might end. But it seems that just as the Baltic countries were recognised in the early days by the Scandinavian countries, it could well happen that the political aspirations of a significant part of the Catalan people have met prized allies in the other part of Europe and this relationship has just now begun to be discovered.”

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