Who, and what, is the far right-wing Catalan independence movement?

The National Front of Catalonia wants to limit immigration and make Catalan the only official language

Patriots. Nationalists. Frontistes. This is how the members of the Front Nacional de Catalunya (FNC) [National Front of Catalonia] introduce themselves. Concepts that make JxCat, ERC and the CUP uncomfortable, who have publicly shown themselves to be in favour of blocking any relationship with an ideology they consider to be part of the extreme right. The party that usurped the acronym of the historical formation created in 1940 in Paris by exiles of the Catalan State avoids the label of racist and presents itself as identitarian. "The FNC was born as an anti-fascist, patriotic and liberating movement of the Catalan people and we maintain the same spirit", said the FNC leadership on Saturday, trying to deny the xenophobic character attributed to it by other pro-independence groups. He did so after controversy was generated when the first vice-president of the Catalan Parliament, Josep Costa (JxCat), took part in a political summit that explored a unitary list for the 14-F elections, in which members of the National Front and Força Catalunya (another far right-wing group) also participated.

"We are a nationalist, patriotic and democratic party that defends Catalanness without complexes, an orderly party for independence", said the general secretary of the Front, Jordi Casacuberta. He had already been a militant of the Front, and then went to Estat Català, ERC, Reagrupament and Unitat Nacional Catalana (UNC), the latter being home to some neo-Nazis linked to the Boixos Nois, as the photojournalist Jordi Borràs points out in his 'Diccionari de l'extrema dreta a Catalunya'. "I was not there very much, I was not at ease and that is why I left", says the current leader of the Front.

Borràs, an expert in extreme right-wing movements, considers the FNC to be "an organisation that uses xenophobia as yet another political tool", but he does not dare to say the same of Força Catalunya because they have not yet presented their electoral programme. The historian Carles Viñas believes that the latter party should be considered "ultra-nationalist", but not "extreme right". Both parties now defend an unilateral solution for the independence of Catalonia.

The creation of the new FNC was already surrounded by controversy. Former members of the party, which was dissolved in 1990, complained that the new party's ideology was not in line with the principles defended by its leaders in exile. The new FNC had been registered in 1999 by Casacuberta himself and Xavier Andreu, who was linked to neo-Nazi movements. "I don't justify or excuse myself for anything, but in any case, there are militants currently in other political forces who have similar pasts", the Front leader explains. The founders also include Moisès Font, who had been a Minister for the Plataforma per Catalunya, yet another extreme right-wing party, in Olot.

Recatalanising Catalonia

In its statement of principles, the FNC notes that it opposes "any discrimination on the basis of origin, belief, gender or sexual orientation,  and that it advocates for  the religious freedom of all citizens",  but they denounce that "Catalonia, lacking political power, has no real capacity for integration, and the current model of multiculturalism endangers the continuity of the Catalan identity".  For this reason, they advocate for a "profound process of recatalanization of Catalonia",  making Catalan the only official language.

Regarding immigration, the FNC, in addition to defending the fight against illegal immigration, is committed to a "moratorium on immigration until its own immigration policies are defined" and, only in case of need, defends the arrival of "qualified immigration who is employed in their country of origin". It also advocates policies of voluntary return to countries of origin.

Força Catalunya also strongly believes in the Catalan identity and positions itself " against totalitarianisms of any kind, whether right-wing, left-wing or based on fundamentalist and extremist religious doctrines". ' Primer Catalunya' is one of the slogans used by the group led by  Santiago Espot, president of Catalunya Acció. Like the FNC, it also rejects being described as racist and xenophobic.

His third attempt to make the leap into Catalan politics, after trying his luck with the Partit  Espinaltià and with Solidaritat, has been to defend the rights of Catalan speakers. For instance, he called his followers to protest in front of a primary healthcare centre, in order to ask for the dismissal of a doctor on duty for demanding a patient to address her in Spanish and, spurred on by the echo of the initiative, he also denounced a shop assistant of the Corte Inglés for not speaking to him in Catalan.

In July, after the former Minister of Culture Mariàngela Villalonga criticized the fact that the Parliament spoke too much Spanish - in reference to Ciutadans -, Espot said that in the Catalan chamber "one must speak  only in Catalan".  "We must stop understanding Spanish in Parliament, and if the colonisers of Cs, PP and PSC want to leave the Chamber, no problem. Let them go to La Rioja or Melilla", Espot said. In 2010, he boasted of having  anonymously denounced  three thousand stores for not labeling in Catalan.

Roger Mallola, a head of Força Catalunya, rejects being identity-based or xenophobic: "We are not like that, we simply defend what all Western countries that are sovereign do, which is to impose certain rules, such as the Netherlands, which requires a teacher to learn Dutch in two years in order to be able to practice", he adds. Mallola makes it clear, in any case, that they advocate drafting a law to regulate immigration if Catalonia becomes independent. "We have to set the percentage that Catalonia can assume", he concludes.

A cordon sanitaire in Ripoll

Until very recently only the FNC had institutional representation. This took place in the Ripoll Town Council, however,  last March the councillor Sílvia Orriols left the formation due to discrepancies with the party lead: they considered that the position on national and immigration issues was too moderate. Orriols has founded her own party, Aliança Catalana, and explains that "the dark past of some members of the Front" also led her to her decision.

In last year's local elections, Orriols managed to collect 503 votes and was the first and only elected member of the FNC in Catalonia. A few weeks before the elections, JxCat, ERC, CUP and PSC in Ripoll already established a common front against the extreme right and committed in writing not to make a pact with the FNC to govern. A year and a half later, no one has disagreed with that agreement, and the cordon sanitaire has fenced off many proposals from the Front. Some of the most controversial proposals have been to prohibit the workers hired by the council from wearing hijab during working hours, or to ask the local government not to allow a third mosque to be opened.

The Front Nacional de Catalunya knows that the strength of the extreme right-wing independence movement has been, until now, residual in Catalonia. They are also aware that without polemic situations such as the meeting with Costa -ERC demanded the resignation of the vice-president of Parliament- they would not have any kind of media exposure.

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