Football fan excused from election duties

A 43-year old Atlético Madrid supporter has kicked politics into touch by successfully using the European Declaration of Human Rights to dodge electoral duty and attend the Champions League final instead.

Football fan excused from election duties
As the banners on Madrid's town hall demonstrate, many Spaniards are more passionate about the forthcoming European cup final than the European elections. GERARD JULIEN / AFP

José Antonio Hernáez was delighted to receive two tickets to watch his team play in the final of the world's top club football competition, the UEFA Champions League.

"The Mattress Makers", as the club is known due to the red-and-white stripes of its strip, are due to face off against local rivals Real Madrid in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 24th.

As a season ticket holder, he had already watched in ecstasy as his side triumphed over Barcelona to lift the domestic La Liga trophy last weekend.

But his happiness was cut short by the arrival of a letter informing him that he had been chosen to perform the civic duty of working at a local polling station on the following day.

Like many Spaniards, Hernáez was more interested in the European contests of his chosen sport than in the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections at which he was to assist.

He wrote to Spain's Electoral Board and cited both article 13 of the European Declaration of Human Rights and the Schengen Agreement to assert his right to travel to Lisbon for the match.

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In the letter he pointed out that as he had been only three-years-old the last time Atlético played in a European Cup final, a defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in Brussels in 1974, this would be his first ever chance to attend such a match.

He also noted the logistical difficulties of getting home in time, according to Spanish daily El Mundo.

As the final whistle of the final is not scheduled to be blown until 11.30pm, he pointed out that the soonest he could be in Madrid would be 7am the following day, but that any unforeseen travel delay would make it impossible for him to make it to the polling station in time.

Fortunately for the football-mad Hernáez, the board agreed with him and released him from his responsibilities.

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Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

Catalan separatists hold their annual march in Barcelona on Sunday, but won't be joined this year by their leader, whose support for dialogue with Madrid has divided the movement.

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

The annual “Diada” on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and has traditionally drawn vast crowds.

Under the slogan, “We’re back to win: independence!” organisers hope to mark the comeback for a movement still reeling from the failed 2017 independence bid and then the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our reliance on political parties is over, only the people and civil society can achieve independence,” said the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an influential association which, over the past decade, transformed this once-minor anniversary into a massive annual event.

READ MORE: Why does Catalonia have its own ‘embassies’ abroad? 

But the ANC, the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement, has been very critical of dialogue started between the Catalan government of Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist, and Madrid.

It said the “October 1 victory,” when separatists organised a 2017 independence referendum despite a ban by Madrid, and the pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament “must not be wasted in dialogue with the Spanish state and on internal squabbles”.

This year, Aragones has decided not to attend the march.

Last year, his presence drew derisive whistles from some of the 108,000 people who turned out to demonstrate at what was one of the smallest turnouts in a decade, police figures showed.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if my presence there was used against the government I run,” he told regional public television on Wednesday, referring to his separatist coalition which groups the left-wing ERC and hardline JxC.

Aragones belongs to ERC, which favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC wants to maintain a confrontational approach.

Other ERC government members won’t attend Sunday’s march, while JxC representatives will.

A movement in crisis

Gone are the years when vast crowds would paralyse the streets of Barcelona, when the Diada drew more than a million participants in the run-up to the 2017 independence bid. 

Five years on from that frenetic autumn, when the Catalan government made a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, the context is very different.

Those behind the bid were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, although they were later pardoned.

READ MORE: Spanish intelligence did spy on Catalan separatists with court approval: report

Others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatists sharply at odds over how to move forward.

ERC — a small player in Spain’s national parliament, but which has offered crucial support to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government — says it is fully committed to dialogue.

That hasn’t changed despite recent revelations that the Spanish intelligence service had spied on separatist politicians. But the hardliners are running out of patience, disappointed with politicians whom they see as reneging on their promises.

“We at the ANC don’t understand how the Catalan leader is happy to pose for photos with the leadership in Madrid but doesn’t want to do the same with hundreds of thousands of Catalans who want independence,” the group said.

Sunday’s march will be a delicate moment for a very weakened movement.

“The context has changed radically following the pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine,” said Ana Sofia Cardenal, a political scientist at Catalonia’s Open University, suggesting people have more immediate preoccupations.

“The mood among the people is different now, even among those who back Catalan independence,” she said. They want “the politicians to resolve the problems” that people are facing in daily life.