SPAIN must abandon repression and return to politics and democracy if it wants to recover the credibility it has lost through the Catalan crisis.

Diana Riba, whose husband Raül Romeva, the former Catalan foreign minister is one of the pro-independence leaders on trial in Madrid, told the Sunday National that some of the “elites” who were part of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship are still in power 40 years after it ended.

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In an exclusive interview, she said European leaders – who have refused to intervene in the stalemate – were waiting for the results of the independence trial and the Spanish general, local and European elections this month and next.

“Spain has seen how its young democracy has been weakened by the fact that it failed to channel peacefully and democratically the legitimate political aspirations of one of the historical nations that currently make up the Spanish state,” she said.

The National:

“Instead of opting for politics, as was done in the case of Scotland or Quebec, they opted for oppression. This has caused many people to realise that the transition to democracy, which took place in 1978, was not as exemplary as they have tried to make us believe. And this has happened, to a large extent, because there was a part of the elites of the dictatorship, like those in the judiciary, who maintained power after the transition.

“If Spain wants to recover the credibility it has lost in the international arena, it must return to politics and democracy and abandon repression.

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“It does not help to spend money on international campaigns to ensure that you are a democracy if, afterwards, your actions do not accompany your words.”

Romeva is on trial for sedition and rebellion for his part in the October 2017 independence referendum, and has been in “preventative detention” for 14 months.

Riba is now preparing to stand in the European elections in May, on a joint ticket with Oriol Junqueras, leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). She said she decided to stand after speaking to her husband during one of the five phone calls he is allowed every week.

“He told me that Oriol Junqueras, vice president of the government in pre-trial detention, had told him that he wanted me to accompany him on the list,” she said.

“I thought about it for a few days, we talked about it calmly and the answer was a resounding yes.

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“He asked me because Raül was an MEP for 10 years and therefore it is an institution that we know very well.

“In addition, the situation of repression that we are going through forces us to take a step forward. We have decided to transform the rage and impotence that the unjust imprisonment of our relatives generates in political action and in mobilisation.”

European leaders have faced mounting criticism for their refusal to intervene in the impasse, describing it as a domestic issue – despite the existence of political prisoners – which Spain denies – at the heart of the bloc going against their principles.

European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said in October 2017 that Catalan government representatives were willing to engage in talks with the Spanish government, but Madrid refused.

However, Riba said the referendum – marred by police violence that shocked the world – had raised Catalonia’s profile in Europe.

“A very important current of public opinion has been created in Europe that condemns repression and sympathises with Catalonia because it does not admit that people are imprisoned for their ideas,” she said.

“As an example, recently 500 deputies from 25 different countries signed a motion in support of the [imprisoned] President of the Parliament, Carme Forcadell. Although some of us have been fighting for this political project for decades, the Catalan issue until very recently was not on the international agenda.

“After the last few months, the high institutions are waiting to see how the trial against the Catalan government ends and, in particular, the results of the April and May elections.

“Victory for the independence movement in these elections will be a very powerful message that will show the need to establish a dialogue and a political solution which, until now, Spain has refused.”

Opinion polls have put support for independence in Catalonia at almost 80%, with a high level of backing even amongst pro-union voters.

But Riba said Catalans are very pro-Europeans and while they are frustrated at the inaction from Brussels and Luxembourg, they would turn out to vote: “I am sure that, in view of the attitude of the current community institutions, people will turn out to vote en masse to change them and to send a clear message to Europe: Catalonia wants to decide its future and wants to do so in the framework of the European Union.”

Through it all, she added that Romeva was handling the trial and incarceration, with serenity: “Raül understands prison as a political tool... part of this peaceful struggle.

“Prison must be an instrument to show democrats of the world that manipulating criminal law to repress an ideology is not acceptable.

“Leaving politics and opting for repression will solve absolutely nothing.”