Carles Puigdemont, Spain's separatist kingmaker

AFP - [email protected]
Carles Puigdemont, Spain's separatist kingmaker
Exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. Photo: Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

When Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont was a journalist and travelled abroad, he would use a fake Catalan ID card to check into hotels instead of his real Spanish one.


He would arrive at night when less experienced staff were on reception and there was less chance of being caught, Puigdemont boasted in 2016 while serving as regional leader - the anecdote illustrating his deep desire to see Spain's Catalonia becoming an independent nation.

"You have to build the republic every day, you have to earn it," Puigdemont told AFP in an interview in 2018, months after fleeing Spain to avoid prosecution over his role in the 2017 botched independence bid.

Despite being wanted in Spain for his role in the crisis, the 60-year-old has unexpectedly found himself in the role of kingmaker after Spain's inconclusive snap election on July 23rd in which neither the left nor the right won enough seats to form a governing majority.

Spain's next government will depend on the support of the seven lawmakers from Puigdemont's hardline Catalan separatist party, JxCat.


Born on December 29th, 1962 in Amer, a mountain village about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Barcelona, Puigdemont is the second of eight siblings.

His family still runs the pastry shop his parents had in the village's main square.

Puigdemont - who is married to a Romanian journalist and has two daughters - plays guitar and was in a rock band in his youth.

"Fortunately there are no recordings left," Puigdemont has joked.

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After studying Catalan language and literature, he became editor-in-chief of Catalan nationalist newspaper "El Punt," then went on to head the Catalan news agency and also founded the English-language newspaper "Catalonia Today".

"In Catalonia, many people became separatists in an allergic reaction to Madrid's policies. Not him, he always had these convictions," said Antoni Puigverd, a newspaper columnist with La Vanguardia who used to be friends with Puigdemont, in 2019.


In 2011, Puigdemont was elected mayor of the city of Girona, a separatist stronghold, and five years later he was unexpectedly propelled to the head of Catalonia's regional government.

"He accepted the position out of a sense of responsibility and because he is an independence supporter, rather than out of desire or ambition," wrote Santi Vila, a former member of Puigdemont's administration, in his memoirs.

But the former journalist was thrust into the global spotlight in October 2017 when his executive held an outlawed secession referendum that was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.

READ ALSO: Fugitive Catalan leader could determine who governs in Spain 

Spain's government responded by sacking Puigdemont and his government and temporarily imposing direct rule on the wealthy northeastern region.

"There isn't a button that you can press to get a republic... it doesn't work like that," he told AFP in 2018.


'Hero or traitor'

Vila said Puigdemont went ahead with the explosive independence declaration because he had to choose between "being a separatist hero or a traitor" - and he preferred the first.

"He was certain his words and arguments would be stronger than the laws and resources of state power," Vila added.

Following the botched independence bid, nine Catalan separatist leaders, among them several of Puigdemont's former ministers, were arrested and jailed in 2019 for their role in the crisis, although they were pardoned two years later.

But Puigdemont and several others fled Spain to avoid prosecution, with the former leader moving to the Belgian city of Waterloo.

Although sometimes labelled by his detractors as a "fugitive" or "coward", Puigdemont is well-respected by part of the divided Catalan separatist movement, which has backed his efforts to avoid trial in Spain.

Still wanted by the Spanish authorities, Puigdemont wants an amnesty for all those wanted in connection with the failed independence bid.


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