The Catalan president Quim Torra has been insisting since his inauguration on his plans to stop and revert the effects of direct rule in Catalonia. One of the first measures from that seven-month period was the closing down of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat), an entity formed by both public and private institutions that had the task of promoting Catalonia abroad. Diplocat organized academic conferences on Catalonia around Europe as well as press, political and cultural trips for foreign personalities to learn about the country.

On Tuesday, Torra’s cabinet agreed to undo the “illegal” shutting down of Diplocat. Spokeswoman Elsa Artadi announced the plan in a press conference after a government meeting. The Catalan executive maintains that the Spanish executive was not in its powers to close Diplocat, as the decision ultimately depended on the institution’s board, which includes not only the Catalan government, but also the councils of Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona, the chambers of commerce, universities and other institutions. In fact, the Barcelona council already announced in December a lawsuit against the Spanish decision to shut down Diplocat.

In order to reinstate organization, the Catalan president Quim Torra is expected to call its board meeting soon. It will be this body that will then have to decide how to proceed in order to restart its tasks. Artadi explained during her press conference that shutting down Diplocat was “illegal” as it was not included in the agreement passed by the Senate to apply Article 155 in Catalonia.

The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia was considered by unionist groups as one of the main reasons behind the internationalisation of the independence case, and Spanish police officers are including the organisation in their investigations into alleged misuse of funds.

Employees always defended their work

Although the shutting down of Diplocat was announced immediately after the Catalan declaration of independence, at the end of October, workers were fired some months later, in April. Diplocat employees always said the organisation should be reinstated with the end of direct rule and denied they held a bias towards independence. They pointed out that “all delegations” visiting Catalonia through them “had the chance to meet with all parties with parliamentary representation as well as with diverse and plural entities from civil society.” They said that all parties, including those supporting direct rule, had participated in the organisation’s initiatives.

They also insisted that, from Diplocat, they “invited people clearly opposed” to independence in their events and sessions, with debates sometimes having “most of the participants clearly opposed to secession”. Diplocat workers said that their actions had always fallen within the scope of public diplomacy, which is different from regular diplomacy. “The actions of Diplocat were not aimed at setting up relations with foreign governments, but rather at broadcasting the Catalan reality to individuals and entities abroad,” they added.

Spain accused on “not doing enough”

However, Diplocat was often blamed by Madrid as the reason behind some international press editorials being in favor of a referendum or critical of the Spanish government’s stance on Catalonia. An MP from unionist Cs accused the then Spanish government of not “doing enough” to stop the “propaganda” that, according to him, Diplocat disseminated. “Diplocat has managed to create an international idea that Spain nowadays has something to do with that of Franco years,” said MP Juan Carlos Girauta.

These and other similar comments explain why Diplocat’s closure became one of the cornerstones of Spain’s direct rule in Catalonia. Former vicepresident Soraya Saénz de Santamaría joked about it, asking an audience of supporters: “Do you know how it is called now, Diplocat? Diplocat in liquidation”. The joke turned against her months later, when her PP government was removed from power. Then, social media users edited her Diplocat video to have her say the PP is “in liquidation”.

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