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THE OBSERVER

The Philosopher’s Stone

Sometimes life seems like a fruitless search for the philosopher’s stone, but fortune consists of discovering, as soon as possible, that the philosopher’s stone is in your brain and in your hands. We’re beginning a new year with new opportunities; to make mistakes and to get things right, to excel or to disgrace ourselves. A year to taste the elixir of life, so sweet and so bitter.

Today’s ARA is pure life: a collection of stories made of greatness and tragedy, of dreams and opportunities which will carry on marking our lives this year.

Refugee country with rights and responsibilities

Mustafà Assaloum is a 23-year old Syrian who crossed two thousand kilometres on crutches to escape from the war. A bomb had claimed one of his legs. He’s a refugee from the war that has destroyed Syria and thousands of lives. Our journalists Cristina Mas and Xavier Bertral have been active observers of Assaloum’s adventure over the last year. Today we can recount the end of another chapter.

He has arrived in Barcelona and the staff of the Institut Desvern de Protètica (Desvern Institute of Prosthesis), who understand exactly what it means to travel two thousand kilometres on crutches, have helped him to walk again. Mustafà Assaloum has never appeared in this paper with his crutches, saying it’s a question of dignity. He wants a life and he wants a full one. He’s one of the 898 refugees that the Spanish government has let into the country, just 5% of the total quota of 17,337 promised to the European Union.

We welcome young Assaloum, all those who have arrived before him, and all those who will arrive after him. We welcome them with generosity and realism, aware that Catalonia is diverse, pluralistic and that Europe wants to maintain societies based on the values of being welcoming and respectful, on the ideas of the Enlightenment and on the freedom of men and women. When we talk about Europe, in reality we’re talking about each and every one of us. Welcome, refugees, to our own rights and responsibilities.

A shifting political scene

Whoever confuses independence with the philosopher’s stone will pursue it bitterly. The political scene in Catalonia requires a complex alchemy of perseverance, tolerance and generosity to increase majorities and clarity.

One year after the departure of ex-president Artur Mas from the political scene, Carles Puigdemont forcefully reiterates the conditions he set before accepting the presidency: on the one hand, to not enter into party wars and, on the other, to lead the country to a referendum and then resign. If at any moment Puigdemont could reconsider his position, the small battles within his party to stand out and the tactics of the members of ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) and CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) distance him from exercising power. If his party, PDECat (Catalan European Democratic Party), ends up losing its main asset with Puigdemont, as now seems likely, it will add another obstacle to the loss of ideological profile that the conservatives are paying for their leadership of the independence process.

Artur Mas has left the door open for a posible return, and looks like a melancholic prince, repeating that he didn’t quit, but that he was forced out. Mas, who had the courage to organise the 2014 unofficial independence referendum in the face of many warnings and predictions, didn’t clearly read the situation in the subsequent 2015 Catalan parliamentary elections. When he offered his head to the CUP for the votes to form a government, he not only offered his own martyrdom, but also the government he had presided over and the conservative vote that had placed their confidence in him. PDECat is now starting to look for another successor, with the names Neus Munté, Mercè Conesa, Santiago Vila and Marta Pascal all being floated. At the same time, they are awaiting the trials of Artur Mas, Irene Rigau and Francesc Homs for having had the bravery to organise the 2014 vote.

Meanwhile, ERC is immersed in a "mannequin challenge". A disciplined party with a cross-spectrum message with which they want to represent and capitalise on the JxSí vote (Together for Yes). Their strategy is to become a party which welcomes everyone “from the communists to the social Christians and progressive liberals”, as one of their leaders says. In fact, their evident closeness to Antoni Castellà’s DC (Democrats of Catalonia) is a powerful joker in the fight to become the heir and representative of separatism if the JxSí coalition breaks down. When vice-president Oriol Junqueras speaks of “the people of order” and “true liberals”, referring to the ERC, he’s clearing his path to the presidency over the blurring of the lines of the right.

Prestige of the patrons

If the hardships of the economic crash have been overcome without more damage than all that already caused, it’s thanks to the power of Catalan society. Thanks to the tertiary sector and also thanks to the citizens who work for and contribute to a better society. Their will and personal contributions have historically been a great asset to this society, which has compensated for the absence of a state. Coming out of the crash, we will have to take advantage of the opportunity to not commit the same errors again and also to arrange and honour the roles of those who have contributed to the protection of culture, medical and scientific development and the enriching of society with their resources. What do they do and who are these patrons of Catalonia? Are there are any left? See our answers in today’s dossier. Happy reading!

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