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THE OBSERVER

From the oasis to the Grand Place

The Catalan oasis came to an end when the Mossos d’Esquadra searched Barcelona’s Palau de la Música on July 23, 2009 and left the premises carrying thirteen cardboard boxes. They had arrived before 10 a.m. to the surprise and growing stupefaction of public opinion. At midday, chairman Fèlix Millet left the Palau hiding behind an umbrella that he has maintained throughout all these years in the form of silence and negotiated confessions, privileged connections, and delays due to changes of judges and appeals filed by his lawyers. The workings of the Palau during the Millet years, the only chairman whose portrait is not displayed in the musical institution today, represent Catalonia in the time of the oasis, now long gone. The Catalonia which President Maragall spoke of, prompting President Jordi Pujol to feign offence because one would no longer even be able "attend weddings" of the Convergència and PSC society.

Tomorrow the ruling will be handed down concerning the plundering of the Palau and the alleged payment by Ferrovial of €6.6M in commissions to Convergència, in return for government contracts, using the Palau as a "pipeline" to funnel the cash, in the words of the Prosecutor. The former executives of Ferrovial and former Convergència treasurer Daniel Osàcar have not admitted to the actions indicated by the Prosecutor, who has asked for 14 years and 9 months for Millet, 10 years and 10 months for Montull, 8 years for Osàcar, and 2 years for Gemma Montull.

The years of judicial instruction and trial of the main case of alleged political corruption in Catalonia has coincided with a national transformation that has put an end to the comfortable Catalonia of the judicious shopkeepers and Pujol supporters. It was a way of doing politics that the traditional players in Spain look back on with nostalgia.

The pro-sovereignty movement has many components. Some have a social basis, others are economic, political, or identity-based. But the facts are that, in these years of the Process, Catalonia has turned the page on corruption and, in contrast with Spain under the PP, this nation and its political system of leadership and parties is not the same as it was eight years ago.

The final cry of a certain Convergència was sounded yesterday by Artur Mas, president of PDECat, the leading player in the metamorphosis of the majority from supporters of the concept of autonomous power to supporters of sovereignty. He is also the man who inherited a party that was in the hands of one family, and where until recently you could still hear that it was normal for companies "to want to chip in".

Today Convergència has been emptied of content and its heir, PDECat, has been surpassed by the initiative of president Carles Puigdemont, who has always shunned the discipline and servitude of the party. Mas understood, two years after abandoning the presidency of the Generalitat, that whatever the Palau ruling, the shock wave would come to damage the reconstruction of Catalonia’s liberal center.

When ERC's victory seemed a sure thing and after the declaration of independence on October 27th and the application of Article 155, Puigdemont reacted to ensure his survival, and so did a party in transformation. The severity of the decisions made on October 26th, with the failure to call a snap election due to a lack of trust in the response of the PP government, the mutiny by part of the Junts pel Sí group, ERC's exit from the Government, and the commotion on the internet by the guardians of orthodoxy (when it's free) all helped Puigdemont make up his mind. Pained by the lack of support from ERC for a joint slate and mistrusting many of those who were in theory on his side, the President and a few loyal supporters put their money on the institution, which he still represents, in an electoral list that, for practical, organizational, and legal reasons was affiliated with the PDECat.

Mas has stepped aside asking his party’s leadership and those surrounding Puigdemont to get on with each other. In the words of someone very close to him: "If Mas was able to get on with Duran ..." The equilibrium between the PDECat and the Puigdemont camp should pave the way for a centrist, liberal, pro-sovereignty platform. That is why they will have to overcome the challenge of rebuilding their political personality, of acting in a broad-based, meritocratic manner. To behave like a political party without the tics of the old Convergència, and reinforce the virtues of its territorial roots on the back of its team of qualified party officials. Still more urgently, Carles Puigdemont, the main asset of JxCat, will have to decide what his role will be. The mandate from the Catalan people is for a pro-independence president, and Puigdemont had vowed to return to Catalonia. It is clear that if he returns his final destination will be a Spanish prison cell, and the actions of the Spanish justice system leave no doubt of its lack of respect for the exercise of elected officials' political rights. An investiture by proxy will be blocked to all effects and purposes, but not symbolically. It will be the time to choose between people and institutions.

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