They shall not pass by Don Roberto And Me and Protests in Barcelona

The Cunninghame Graham house at Ardoch, near Cardross.

With General Franco’s remains freshly exhumed from the mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain’s public disavowal of his legacy must be ringing hollow in Catalan ears. The very thought of political prisoners in a European country in the second decade of the 21st century is one that beggars belief—a testimony to the length of Franco’s shadow, wherever his mortal remains happen to be.

Don Roberto died a few months before Franco took sole power, in 1936. Had he lived longer he would have ardently and vociferously supported the Republicans in their fight against the Generalissimo and his Fascists. Fascism was to Robert the ultimate anathema, and Spain was a country with which he had a deep connection through Doña Catalina, his maternal grandmother.

By birth, and as a result of his early years in South America, Robert was both an hispanophone and an hispanophile. He even looked Spanish. With his fine long face and trim beard he could have been a sitter for Velasquez; a hidalgo, a someone. He knew Spain well and visited the country regularly throughout his life.

As a boy he spent time in Cadiz where his grandmother was raised. Later he travelled widely in search of the dusty libraries where ancient documents recorded the history of the Conquistadors, while his wife roamed the arid Castilian hills in the footsteps of Saint Theresa of Avila. Early in their marriage the couple rented a house for some months in Vigo, Galicia. Later they investigated together the site of a gold mine in northern Spain, to which they had come across a reference in an edition of Pliny. As was so often the case with Don Roberto where the pursuit of material reward was concerned, the promise of gold proved illusory, the mine having been worked out several centuries previously.

“Finland and Hungary, Poland and Ireland, with Bohemia and Macedonia, all mortally detest their union with great oppressive States.” 

In the early 1900s his immediate hopes for the Catalans were as illusory as the gold, though prophetic nonetheless. In a letter to the Saturday Review in June 1906, he wrote: “A correspondent in your columns makes an ingenious and back-handed stab at Irish Home Rule under the pretence of writing on Spain and Catalonia. This is evident by the introduction of Ulster as an illustration and by the fact that he evidently possesses no knowledge of either Spain or Catalonia …

“Bulgaria, Serbia, Roumania, Norway have all seceded from greater Powers within the memory of man. Finland and Hungary, Poland and Ireland, with Bohemia and Macedonia, all mortally detest their union with great oppressive States. Nothing but force keeps any one of them a portion of the great empires to which they respectively belong. As to Catalonia, your correspondent may be sure that if, in the long run, she wishes to be free she will gain her independence, for the whole trend of modern thought and economics is toward the evolution of small states and every great and unwieldy Power, our own included, is on the verge of a break-up and a return to its component parts.”

Don Roberto believed profoundly in self-determination and would have deplored Madrid’s intransigence in the face of the Catalans’ peaceful pursuit of that objective. He knew well how unevenly distributed were the taxes that flowed from Scotland to Westminster, and would have sympathised with the Catalans’ indignation at subsidising the poorer parts of Spain.

  • Most of all he would have deprecated the sentences handed down to politicians for going about their legitimate business; and he would have had personal reasons to be appalled at the brutality with which the Spanish police set upon peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders. 

Don Roberto on horseback; the bust in the Scottish portrait gallery and the Monument that was raised in his memory in the eponymous park in Cardross Road, Dumbarton, and later moved to Gartmore after it had been vandalised.

He himself had suffered a serious blow to the head from apolice truncheon in Trafalgar Square on Bloody Sunday 1887, protesting in support of the imprisoned Irish nationalist MP William O’Brien. Arrested and sentenced, he spent six weeks picking oakum in Pentonville. With characteristic mischief, he later adorned the visiting card which informed recipients that he was a Justice of the Peace in the county of Stirling with a photograph of himself in prison garb.

… the story of the Scottish shop stewards and their actions would surely strike chords of outrage, sympathy and pride.

By contrast to his feelings on the plight of the Catalans, his heart would be lifted by Nae Pasaran, the recent documentary film about the workers at the Rolls-Royce plant in East Kilbride who helped to ground part of the Chilean airforce following the coup d’etat by General Pinochet in 1973. (The title of the film is a play on the Spanish civil war slogan ‘No pasaran’, ‘they shall not pass’.)

Realising that certain engines which had come in for maintenance belonged to planes that had been flown in the coup, the Scots union members refused point-blank to work on them, despite pressure from management. The documentary tells the full story of their stand and, through interviews with Chilean survivors, movingly reveals to the now elderly protagonists, for the first time, the extent to which their actions influenced aspects of the coup’s aftermath, including the saving of lives.

History doesn’t relate whether Don Roberto ever visited Chile—he would certainly have travelled close to the border, in Argentina—but the story of the Scottish shop stewards and their actions would surely strike chords of outrage, sympathy and pride, as it does for me. During a year of South American travel in my early twenties, I happened to be in Chile in early 1973 and directly experienced the shortages of everyday items resulting from the activities of CIA agents in fomenting strikes, in particular by the country’s transport unions.

To me, a naive young traveller in Santiago, slipping down dingy alleys to exchange dollars for black market escudos was an adventure. I little knew then that mere months later the Chilean air force would fly down the city’s boulevards to bomb the presidential palace, an action of almost unimaginable violence, equivalent to that of the RAF bombing the Houses of Parliament.

Catalonia protest and flag

To Don Roberto, the socialist, the internationalist, the anti-fascist, the humanitarian, let alone the Scot and adoptive South American, everything about Nae Pasaran, let alone those current million-strong gatherings in Barcelona, would speak to his deepest convictions.

Nae Pasaran is available on the BBC iPlayer until 19 November.

Don Roberto And Me | October 25, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Tags: General Franco, General Pinochet, Nae Pasaran | Categories: Catalonia, Cunninghame Graham, Don Roberto, Fascism, Internationalism | URL:

Violent clashes erupt as Spanish court jails Catalonia leaders

Clashes broke out on Monday as protesters blocked road access to Barcelona’s El Prat airport.

Protests erupted in Barcelona after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison.

The separatists were convicted of sedition over their role in an illegal independence referendum in 2017.

Another three were found guilty of disobedience and fined, but not jailed. All 12 defendants denied the charges.

Large crowds of pro-independence protesters clashed with police at Barcelona’s international airport.

Footage showed people attempting to break through a police line blocking one area of the building, while in another, officers hit protesters with batons and attempted to disperse the crowds with gas.

A total of 108 flights were cancelled on Monday, the Spanish airport authority Aena said.

Policemen hit a protester with batons outside El Prat airport in Barcelona
 Violent clashes erupted outside the airport

Thousands of Catalan independence supporters also marched in the city centre, blocking some streets and access to metro stations.

After the ruling, a new arrest warrant was issued for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who is living abroad. Mr Puigdemont told a press conference that Catalonians were victims of a “strategy of repression and revenge”.

What happened at the trial?

Some of the 12 leaders sentenced had held prominent positions in Catalonia’s government and parliament, while others were influential activists and cultural advocates.

During four months of hearings, they told the court in Madrid that they were victims of an injustice in a trial built on “false” charges.

The longest sentence of 13 years was handed to Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking pro-independence leader on trial, for sedition and misuse of public funds.

The prosecution had sought up to 25 years in prison for Junqueras.

The 12 former Catalan separatist leaders at trial in Madrid
The 12 defendants pictured in the court in Madrid on the final day of their trial in June

The new European and international arrest warrant against Mr Puigdemont was issued on grounds of sedition and misuse of public funds.

He fled to Belgium in October 2017 to avoid prosecution in Spain following the failed independence bid.

What has the reaction been?

Junqueras accused Spain of jailing people for their political ideals and pledged that the separatists would return even stronger.

But Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez insisted the leaders had been jailed for criminal conduct.

Mr Puigdemont said the sentences handed to separatist leaders of “100 years in total” were “an atrocity”.

“Now more than ever… it is time to react like never before,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”

Those on the street communicated feelings of anger and powerlessness.

“Today is going to be historic, you can feel it in the atmosphere. Serious things are happening, we can’t stay home,” Oscar Quiles, a 47-year-old real estate entrepreneur told AFP news agency.

“The indignation is just too much and affects too many people,” another protester said. “What they don’t realise is that we are very angry and we will not stop.”

Supporters of Catalonia's independence protest in Barcelona, 14 October 2019  
People took to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the court’s decision

Anger spills on to the streets of Barcelona

By Damian Grammaticas, BBC Europe correspondent

The sentences handed down have shocked many across Catalonia. Shortly after they were announced small knots of students – banners and flags held aloft – began marching in Barcelona, heading for the squares where they gathered during the independence bid two years ago.

Anger swirled in the air along with sound of whistles and loudhailers. “This is not justice, this is revenge” they shouted. Madrid deployed police reinforcements in the region and sections of the city’s streets were cordoned off to traffic.

The prison terms given to the Catalan independence leaders were not the 25 years prosecutors had sought in some cases, but they are nevertheless seen as an outrage by many Catalans.

The Catalan National Assembly called for “mobilisations around the globe” – including in the UK, France and Germany – in a tweet using the hashtag #StandUpForCatalonia.

Others used the hashtag to post footage of students marching in protest against the sentences moments after they were announced on Monday.Presentational white space

Meanwhile, both FC Barcelona and the Catalan football federation condemned the prison sentences and called for “dialogue and negotiation” to resolve the situation.

The federation added that it had suspended all football matches in the region to show solidarity with the leaders and their families.

Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters rallied in the city.

Catalonia independence protesters: ‘We feel like we are all being tried’

In 2017, police and protesters clashed in the streets when Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders went ahead with the referendum, which had been ruled illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

Who else has been sentenced?

Other separatist leaders to receive prison sentences for sedition were:

  • Dolors Bassa, former Catalan labour minister (12 years)
  • Jordi Turull, former Catalan government spokesman (12 years)
  • Raül Romeva, former Catalan external relations minister (12 years)
  • Carme Forcadell, ex-speaker of the Catalan parliament (11.5 years)
  • Joaquim Forn, former Catalan interior minister (10.5 years)
  • Josep Rull, former Catalan territorial minister (10.5 years)
  • Jordi Sànchez, activist and ex-president of the Catalan National Assembly (9 years)
  • Jordi Cuixart, president of Catalan language and culture organisation Òmnium Cultural (9 years)

The nine leaders, who had already spent months in pre-trial detention, were acquitted of a more serious charge of rebellion.

The remaining three defendants were earlier released on bail.

During their closing arguments in June, defence lawyers told the court their clients denied the charges of rebellion and sedition, but admitted to the lesser charge of disobedience which could have seen them be banned from public office but avoid prison.

How did they end up in court?

Prosecutors argued that the unilateral declaration of independence was an attack on the Spanish state and accused some of those involved of a serious act of rebellion.

Estel Oleart is a Catalan independence activist.

They also said that separatist leaders had misused public funds while organising the 2017 referendum.

Prosecutors argued the leaders had carried out a “perfectly planned strategy… to break the constitutional order and obtain the independence of Catalonia” illegally.

Forcadell, the former parliament speaker who read out the independence result on 27 October 2017, was also accused of allowing parliamentary debates on independence despite warnings from Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Some of the leaders, speaking to the BBC ahead of the trial, said the proceedings were political in nature. Any violence, they said, was on the part of police and committed against voters in a crackdown which made headlines around the world.

Three weeks after the banned 2017 vote, the Catalan parliament declared an independent republic.

Madrid stepped in to impose its rule on the region, and several Catalan leaders fled or were arrested.

What is behind the Catalonia controversy?

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid. The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem. In September, a march in Barcelona in support of Catalonia’s independence from Spain drew crowds of about 600,000 people – one of the lowest turnouts in the eight-year history of the annual rally.


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