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As Catalonia Plans Independence from Spain, Julian Assange Advises Organizers on Secure Messaging

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Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau is calling for Spain to remove thousands of state police who have been deployed to Catalonia ahead of tonight’s expected declaration of independence by regional President Carles Puigdemont, possibly triggering intervention by Spanish forces. We speak with WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who has been advising those pushing to secede on how to communicate securely even as the state pushes back.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Spain, where thousands are expected to gather outside Catalonia’s Parliament in Barcelona this evening, when regional President Carles Puigdemont is expected to declare independence from Spain. This is Puigdemont’s first address to Parliament following an October 1st referendum that produced an overwhelming vote for secession and provoked a standoff with the Spanish government, which ruled the vote illegal. Tonight’s announcement could trigger intervention by Spanish forces. Puigdemont originally promised to declare independence within 48 hours of a victory for the secessionist campaign, but has instead called for negotiations.

Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau said Monday the results of the referendum are not enough to declare independence, but also urged Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to help decrease tension by removing thousands of state police who have been deployed to the region.

MAYOR ADA COLAU: [translated] I ask you to immediately revert the intervention on the Catalan institutions and to withdraw the extra police deployed in Catalonia. These are indispensable steps to open a dialogue and recover institutional normality.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes after hundreds of thousands rallied in Barcelona Sunday in a massive unity rally opposing independence for the country’s Catalonia region. Pro-unity organizers said their slogan, “Let’s recover our common sense,” is aimed at generating dialogue with the rest of Spain. Their supporters include Nobel Prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and the former president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell. Organizers said nearly a million people attended the rally, while Catalan police put the number at 350,000. In either case, the rally was larger than a mass pro-independence mobilization last week.

The rally came as Catalan leaders claimed about 90 percent of those who voted in a banned referendum a week ago supported independence. Spain’s government called the independence drive unconstitutional, and a police crackdown on the vote left over 900 people injured.

On Monday, a spokesman for Spain’s governing People’s Party compared Catalan’s president, Puigdemont, to the former Catalan President Lluís Companys, who was jailed after declaring a Catalan republic in 1934. He was exiled in France after the Spanish Civil War and later extradited by Nazi authorities and killed by a firing squad in 1940 under the Franco dictatorship.

PABLO CASADO BLANCO: [translated] Last October 6, the 83rd anniversary of Companys’s declaration of independence passed almost unnoticed. I believe history shouldn’t be repeated. And let’s hope tomorrow nothing will be declared, because maybe the one who declares it will end as the one who declared it 83 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Catalans who support the independence referendum have had help from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who tweeted hundreds of times in the days leading up to the referendum, including a video that advised Catalans how to communicate and organize through secure channels. This is a clip.

JULIAN ASSANGE: The Spanish state security is repressive toward the Catalonian population, make it easy for them to understand the structure of Catalonian society—who speaks to who, what do they speak about, who’s important, who’s not important, etc. So, you protect yourself, you protect your friends. If you protect your friends, you protect your community. If you protect the community, you protect the whole society. …

In a situation like this, where there is serious repression developing against people who are trying to communicate their political desires, then, actually, we have a responsibility. A burden falls upon us, those people who understand, to try and teach everyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange in a video he posted to Twitter.

For more, Assange joins us now from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Julian, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s happening in Catalonia and why you’re so interested in it, and the kind of aid that you provided, technical aid.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Good morning, Amy.

I don’t have a position on independence itself. I think that’s a matter for Catalonians. But that is precisely the point. They are 7.5 million people. They clearly form a people, under that definition, and therefore they have a right to self-determination. And that can either be provided for by the Spanish state, or if it cannot be provided for within the Spanish state, then they have a right to make their way outside of the Spanish state.

But I wanted to speak about significance, because most Americans will think, “Well, it’s Spain. It’s some regional issue involving Spain. Why does it matter?” This is the most significant change of relationship between population and state in Western Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And its effects will spread all over Western Europe and into the United States and, because it’s Spain, also substantially into Latin America, Spanish-speaking Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you feel that way?

JULIAN ASSANGE: OK. The conflict that—the conflict that is occurring, let’s just background a little bit. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. People will be familiar—perhaps more familiar with that city than the region. That’s very interesting. That, in some sense, reflects the suppression that has been happening in Catalonia over many years. So, there has been this struggle for Catalans to maintain their language and culture over 300 years of Spanish colonialism of various forms. And this really became—it’s been severe over a long period of time. For example, the language being banned as each new technological development came along, so, for example—or cultural development. Plays, for example, banned. When the printing press became cheap and accessible, printed writing banned in Catalan. When the telephone entered in the late 19th century to Spain, speaking Catalan on the telephone was banned. Under Franco, speaking Catalan in public banned. Teaching it in school, likewise banned. And then an attempted ethnic dilution of Catalonia, pushing Spaniards from other provinces, such as Andalusia, into the Catalan population to try and dilute them. So, they have had this struggle for a long period of time. They are a distinct culture. Somewhere perhaps between French and Spanish, the language is perhaps closer to—closer to French. OK. So that’s the grounds, a very long-term struggle, an independent culture trying to gain self-realization.

I think that looked at—looked at it correctly, that World War II began in Spain. It did. It began as a proxy war in Spain. That was the Spanish Civil War. And now, we have a perception, English-speaking Westerners have a perception, that the fascists lost World War II. That’s false. That’s false. They won World War II in Spain. Franco won in Spain. And he continued on, with U.S. backing, up until 1975, when he died peacefully in his bed. There was not a revolution in Spain. There was not an occupation that set the reset button on the existing families and institutions and class structure in Spain. Franco died peacefully in his bed. And an example of the rollover that then occurred is that seven of his ministers went on to found the party that would become what is now the ruling party, PP, in Spain, which is headed up by Prime Minister Rajoy. So, those facets of undealt-with Francoism penetrated into the systems of the judiciary, the bureaucracy and, significantly, into the culture. And those are what have led to this conflict, this impasse.

Let’s look at it. You’ve got a population that is becoming more powerful in Catalonia, for one reason or another, relative to the state of Spain. Now, that would normally mean that the state of Spain has to engage in some kind of negotiation process. It has to be nicer to Catalonians, make them feel more comfortable, make them feel not as scared, give them some kind of concession, increase autonomy, etc., a confederation, something like that. Instead, the response has been to react to this political condition over the last 10 years with judicialization of politics. “No, we say it’s illegal, fundamentally illegal, for Catalans to increase their self-determination, and therefore it’s not going to happen.” That brittleness, that judicialization of politics, comes from the—in my view, comes from the remnants of how the '78 regime was formed in the transition from Franco, with the U.S. ushering in that process with the king. So it's now led to this impasse.

There’s another factor, as well, which is the right-wing government of Rajoy is in a very weak position. It was only elected on 20 percent of the vote—sorry, 20 percent of the population. It’s a minority government. And it has been wracked by corruption scandals. Every few days, there’s news of that corruption scandal. And Prime Minister Rajoy was forced to testify, about a month ago, in relation to one of those corruption scandals. This is very, very serious. It’s equivalent to Barack Obama or Donald Trump being forced to testify about a corruption situation.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to—

JULIAN ASSANGE: So, the government is, instead of trying to negotiate or conciliate with the struggle for Catalonian independence, is instead taking a maximally hard line and instead provoking moves towards Catalonian independence, including, as you mentioned, just yesterday, threatening to arrest the president of Catalonia and even perhaps have him killed, end up like the previous president who declared independence, who was shot by a Franco firing squad.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Spain’s finance minister, Luis de Guindos, who said Europe’s center-right finance ministers support Spain’s central government in dismissing Catalonia’s independence referendum.

LUIS DE GUINDOS JURADO: [translated] Everyone has supported the position of the Spanish government. This is not about independence. This is about a rebellion against the rule of law. The law is the basis of not only daily life in Spain, but in all of Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning filmmaker Isabel Coixet told El País newspaper, “Not being an independentista doesn’t make you a fascist. It simply means that we think feeling Catalan and Spanish are not antagonistic concepts.” The filmmaker Isabel Coixet also told The Guardian the debate about national identity has drowned out all other issues. She said, “I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what the new Catalan republic is going to be like,” she says. “Frankly, I find it hard to tell the difference between a right-wing centralist party and another one that is Catalan nationalist.” Now, she was quoted saying all this before police attacked the referendum vote and hurt over 900 people. Julian?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, I mean, this is—it’s pretty tiresome. You know, you see the so-called left in Turkey. Do they support Kurdish independence, or do they oppose it? They oppose it. You see so-called left in the socialist party in Spain. Do they support Catalan self-determination, or do they oppose it? They oppose it. So the same thing happens everywhere. The mainstream left, if you like, the equivalent to the Democratic Party in the United States, well, their ambitions are most fulfilled, their personal or group power is most fulfilled, by merging with the state itself, and therefore they become an—they become part of the state apparatus. But the only way to keep the state honest, in an ultimate calculation, is that people have the right to say that they’ve had enough, as individuals, to leave, and as a peoples or an area, to push toward secession or some kind of new deal. So, I find that, yeah, a bit—frankly, a bit distasteful. But I want to speak about this—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me—Julian, let me just—


AMY GOODMAN: I want to read you another quote, but, I mean, in terms of the film director Isabel Coixet, I don’t think you could describe her as equivalent to the mainstream Democratic Party in the United States. I mean, people who are deeply anti-fascist, of course, or anti-Franco, are also concerned. But again, this was before the violent attack by the Spanish police.


AMY GOODMAN: But let me read to you from The Washington Post what Anne Applebaum wrote describing you, and I want to get your response to it. She wrote, “With the aim of dividing people, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who had showed no prior interest in Spanish constitutional politics, suddenly threw himself into the Catalan referendum campaign. Beginning on Sept. 9, he began tweeting his demands for a referendum and his attacks on the Spanish government, rapidly becoming the most quoted international commentator on the subject on Twitter. Similar to the tactics used in the U.S. election, he was helped in this effort by Russian state media as well as a network of Internet trolls and automated bots, which spread his comments further. The Spanish-language edition of Sputnik, a Russian state news website, has mentioned and quoted Assange in headlines more often that it did either the Spanish prime minister or the president of the Catalan Assembly. The motives are clear enough: Anything that divides a European country is good for Russia.” Can you respond to what she wrote in The Washington Post, Julian Assange?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, well, this is Anne Applebaum. She’s a neocon. She’s the wife of the former Polish foreign minister. And she plies her trade of slander. So, I—it’s all false. I suppose that it’s a positive sign, in some way, you know, that some people see that there’s some impact. But the Russian state has formally opposed it. They were nowhere on this. The Russian media was nowhere on this situation. I think they’re probably concerned that a successful, or apparently successful, independence push by Catalonia will lead to similar pushes in Balochistan and so on. So they’re mixed.

Interestingly, the U.S. mainstream press and the U.K. mainstream press is substantially supportive of the Catalan effort. That’s either because there’s no U.S. or U.K. interests in the matter, and therefore journalists are simply free to write what is most appealing and interesting to their readers, or because there is a slight U.K.-U.S. interest. A new state, of course, will need new friends, will need new arms, will need new intelligence. The U.K. is in its Brexit negotiations, and so the EU having another thing to deal with can, yeah, lessen the capacity of the EU to bully the U.K. during its negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. We’re talking to Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, is—well, has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy for well over four years now, for fear of being arrested by the British police. And we’ll talk to you about that, Julian, your status in the embassy right now, given that Sweden is no longer seeking your extradition, why you have to remain in the embassy. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Julian Assange in a minute.

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Julian Assange Marks 5.5 Years Inside Ecuadorean Embassy as UK & US Refuse to Confirm Arrest Warrant

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