Blue Remembered Hill

Jordi Pujol (whose name translates into English as 'George Hill') was the president of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia from 1980 through to 2003. A Christian Democrat, he had been arrested by Franco's police in 1960 for participating in various pacific anti-regime activities (he was beaten up and then jailed for two and a half years). Curiously, although the Catalans often voted socialist in the state elections, in the autonomous ones they kept on rooting for Pujol, probably because they saw him as a pragmatic, canny politician who wouldn't sell them out, at least not culturally (central governments of both left and right attempted, unsuccessfully, to deplete the use of Catalan in schools and the media while Pujol was president). When in power, he was a staunch regionalist – that is to say, opposed to independence –but declared himself in favour of seccession just a couple of years ago. Last July, he confessed publicly that he had a considerable inherited fortune sitting in an Andorran bank account, which he had neglected to pay taxes on for three decades. Almost certainly, Pujol had been tipped off that the Spanish government not only knew about this, but was about to spill the beans. So he spilled them himself first, with an apology for the mess made. For Catalans, the main reaction has been one of deep disappointment in a figure whose integrity was believed in, for the most part, even by those who didn't share his politics. Madrid's reaction, on the other hand, has been one of staged outrage: the head of the Tax Office, Cristóbal Montoro, made a remarkably smug declaration last month in which he gloated over Pujol's fall from grace and hinted that the expresident's guilt discredited the entire independence movement. This is not the first time that Madrid has tried to deflate the Catalan push for home rule by trying to humiliate individual politicians (whether guilty of something or not). They still don't realise – and there seem to be very few foreign observers who do – that what is happening here isn't the work of Catalan politicians. They are simply the tip of an iceberg which is drifting out of Spain under its own momentum.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, octubre de 2014.


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