Quim Torra, the radical Catalan separatist anointed by Puigdemont

Quim Torra is a newcomer to politics but has long been a staunch Catalan separatist
AFP

Barcelona (AFP) – Quim Torra, the man chosen by ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to be his successor, may be a newcomer to politics but he has long been a staunch separatist.

Puigdemont on Thursday stepped aside from being re-appointed leader of the region a day after the central government stepped in to block him from once again becoming president of Catalonia.

The man the self-exiled Catalan leader has named as his preferred candidate to form a regional government is a dyed-in-the-wool independence advocate cut from the same cloth.

“We need a really strong government and a really strong country, Catalonia right now faces a monumental challenge,” the 55-year-old father-of-three told Catalan television TV3 on Friday.

“We’re not only talking about a political crisis but a humanitarian crisis with people in prison and in exile,” he added, referring to nine separatist leaders jailed on charges of rebellion and others, including Puigdemont, abroad.

A native of the Catalan town of Blanes, on the Costa Brava, Torra only entered politics a few months ago.

But he has been a major cultural figure over the last decade pushing for the region to fully break from Spain.

After a long career with the Swiss insurance firm Winterthur, Torra used a severance package to set up a publishing house in 2008.

There he specialised in reviving texts by Catalan journalists from the civil war and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which severely repressed Catalonia, among other regions.

He soon made a name for himself in Catalan nationalist circles, joining various separatist organisations, including those that helped organise the huge rallies that eventually led to last year’s independence push and subsequent political crisis.

Until 2015 he also managed a cultural centre in Barcelona’s El Born district which became notorious for pushing for independence.

He only entered politics in December when he was elected to the regional parliament as part of Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia grouping, even if he himself is not from any party.

– ‘Loyalist’ –

In March he gave a rousing speech to the regional parliament calling on separatists to keep up their campaign against the central government in Madrid. 

“The cause of freedom for Catalonia is a just cause, the cause of independence for Catalonia is a just cause, the cause of the Catalan Republic is an honourable cause,” he said.

“Do not think for a moment we will give up, not even a millimetre, to defend the justice, legitimacy and honourability of this cause,” he thundered.

Those convictions will be music to the ears of the more radical elements of the Catalan independence push. But regional opposition groups who want to stay part of Spain are rattled.

Ines Arrimadas, leader of the liberal anti-independence party Ciudadanos, accused Torra of being Puigdemont’s “puppet.”

“He is the most radical that Puigdemont could find and the only one who voluntarily accepted to be the puppet of Mr Puigdemont,” she said Friday.

The anti-independence Socialists’ Party of Catalonia added: “We regret that the independence bloc has chosen a person with one of the most sectarian profiles.”

On Friday, Torra apologised for several 2012 tweets that appeared in Spanish media despite him having deleted them, one of which reportedly said: “Spaniards only know how to plunder.”

“If someone felt offended by those tweets, I apologise as it wasn’t my intention,” he said.

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, told AFP he believed Torra was a “loyalist” and “surrogate” for Puigdemont.

“He is a person who is very loyal to Puigdemont and he is also a hardliner in terms of independence,” he said, adding that as a political newcomer, Torra has no ties to any political party.

“He will do what he says.”

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