Independence trial: Two international visitors to Oct 1st referendum emphasize voters' pacifism

Both denied that they were observers during 1-O, although they admitted to visiting several polling places


The 23rd session of the trial of the Catalan pro-independence leaders brought the first appearances that required translation by an interpreter, those of the German politician Bernhard von Grünberg and of New Zealander Helena Catt, the spokeswoman and person in charge of a research team hired by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) from July to October 2017 to analyze the situation in Catalonia. The latter testified in English at the request of the plaintiffs. Both denied that they did any work as election observers during the October 1st (1-O) vote, although they did admit to having visited several polling stations that day and also to meeting with several pro-independence politicians. Regarding the referendum, they emphasized the peaceful nature of the voters that day. Von Grünberg had requested to visit Catalonia himself and paid all his own expenses. Catt confirmed that she received a salary of about €8,000 from Diplocat, as already confirmed by Albert Royo, former secretary general of the organization, when he declared as a witness.

Von Grünberg, a former German regional representative of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the land of North Rhine-Westphalia, said that he was present in Catalonia on October 1st for his "personal and private interest" in the referendum. In fact, he also witnessed the consultation of November 9, 2014, the elections of September 27, 2015 and the elections of December 21, 2017. At all times he made it clear that he personally covered the expenses connected to the stay, and he avoided mentioning the political party he is affiliated with in Germany.

"I want to maintain my independence," said Von Grünberg to questions from Benet Salellas, Cuixart's lawyer, and said that regarding this question he could speak for himself and for the rest of the observers. However, he dismissed the significance of the possibility that Diplocat would have paid his expenses, because it would be "normal" in German political and institutional foundations. It was he who initially asked the secretary general of Diplocat, Albert Royo, to be in Catalonia on 1-O out of "personal interest", but pointed out that "in no case was it a priority to observe or validate elements of the vote". The witness explained that a joint report was written by all the participants in the program, although he did not specify who it was sent to.

Von Grünberg explained that he saw how "the police burst into the premises by breaking doors after removing the barriers". "They dispersed the people who were there," he pointed out. He explained that he then went to the polling station located in the Ramon Llull School in Barcelona city and witnessed "people injured by rubber bullets who were taken to hospital —this is the case of Roger Español." When asked why he travelled to this specific school in the center of Barcelona, he pointed out that it was part of "the most convenient itinerary", but he later revealed that the group of visitors —accompanied by a member of Diplocat— received a call from a person, whom he did not name, who told them about what was happening at the Ramon Llull School.

One month in Catalonia

In the case of Catt, she did invoice Diplocat for her fees for the research work and the agency paid, as she explained, the housing expenses in Barcelona from September 4 to October 6, the time she was there. Specifically, she said she received a salary of €8,000. Former Secretary General Albert Royo had already stated that this team had invoiced its study, and the Prosecutor's Office in its indictment document identifies €114,592 in total fees plus €62,712 in accommodation and travel expenses. To inquiries from prosecutor Consuelo Madrigal, Catt admitted that the report they wrote included a chapter on the referendum, but that the rest was more about the "context" of the situation. However, she said she did not know what happened on 20-S and said she had "poor memory" for remembering important events in September in Catalonia.

Initially, Catt could not remember any of the government officials with whom she met and just said that she attended the meetings that they ordered her to go to, an instruction that was sent from an email address that was not connected to any particular name. "We were introduced to these people as being able to give us information about the referendum; they did not tell me what they did”, she noted.

“I do not support independence"

In turn, Von Grünberg defined himself as someone who doesn’t support Catalan independence and pointed out that none of the political organizations for which he has worked do —even though he did not want to mention the SPD at any time. On police violence at the polling places, he praised the "steely discipline of voters" after making long queues and "being subjected to a situation of intimidation", a circumstance added to the fact that "they did not exercise violence at all, although they were in a situation where that could easily happen; and yet despite this, it did not arise."

On the attitude of these citizens, Von Grünberg assured that he was "very surprised at the tranquility and self-control" of the voters. "I did not perceive a violent or aggressive attitude, but rather an admirable situation of tranquility and restraint," he insisted. The witness made it clear that in no polling station did he see the arrival of the Spanish police and security forces, so he could not answer as to whether or not the officers warned the public that they would use force before taking action.