Barcelona (ACN).- Catalonia’s political class is in mourning. Heribert Barrera, the eldest Catalan political leader, died last Saturday aged 94 years old from an embolism. Barrera was the elder of the Catalan independence movement and led the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) for almost two decades after Franco’s death. He became the first President of the reinstituted Catalan Parliament after Franco’s dictatorship, between 1980 and 1984. In his inauguration speech, on April 10th 1980, Barrera underlined the MPs' duty and honour to represent Catalan citizens, in all their plurality, and his personal engagement to guarantee a democratic Parliament, with real and civilised debates. His strong political convictions and commitment to democracy earned him respect from all of the rest of the political parties. However, in the last years, controversial statements have tarnished his public figure. Barrera had been ERC’s Secretary General between 1976 and 1987, and once the position was reinstituted he became ERC’s President between 1991 and 1995. In 1980, he was a key figure in allowing the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalism ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU) to run the Catalan Government for the first time, when he decided not to give his party’s support (ERC) to the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). Barrera gave more importance to building a Catalan nation than having a Left-Wing government. This Monday afternoon a non-religious farewell ceremony took place at the Catalan Parliament, with most of the Catalan political class in attendance. Former Catalan President Jordi Pujol thanked Barrera for his “patriotism” towards Catalonia and other political leaders underlined Barrera’s honesty and coherence. The current President of the Catalan Parliament, Núria de Gispert, emphasised that Barrera had left a “deep footstep, much deeper that he would have ever thought”.
Heribert Barrera was a strong supporter of Catalonia’s independence from Spain having joined politics in the mid-1930s, in the late years of the Second Republic. Barrera fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Fascist troops defending the Republic and Catalonia’s autonomy. In 1939, he went into exile in France, where, for thirteen years, he expanded his scientific studies. He had a bachelor degree in Chemical Sciences from the University of Barcelona. In France, at the University of Montpellier he got a degree in Mathematics and another one in Chemical Engineering. Afterwards he got a PhD in Physics from Paris’ La Sorbonne University. He was an assistant professor at the University of Montpellier, a researcher at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Hampshire. In 1952, he came back to Catalonia and won a university chair in Inorganic Chemistry at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). He was a university professor at the UAB until he retired from academic life in 1984 only to continue his political activity.
Political activity against Franco
During the Franco dictatorship he continued to undergo his political activity and participated clandestinely in the organisation of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party ‘Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya’ (ERC). ERC had been Catalonia’s governing party before the Civil War (during the Second Republic) and had been declared illegal by Franco’s Fascist single party Regime, meeting the same fate as the rest of the political parties. After Franco’s death, when the party was legalised again, he became ERC’s Secretary General in 1976.
Member of several Parliaments
Between 1977 and 1980 he was a Member of the Spanish Parliament. In 1980, he was elected Member of the Catalan Parliament, which he chaired between 1980 and 1984. He continued his activity as a Catalan MP until 1988. From 1991 until 1994 he was a Member of the European Parliament. In the late 1990s and 2000s, he did not completely retire from public life, despite his old age. He participated and chaired several cultural organisations promoting Catalan culture.
In the last years of his life, Heribert Barrera raised controversy with a text published in 2001 in which he stated that Catalonia’s identity was in danger because of immigration. Barrera’s words were considered by many as xenophobic. Since this point, Barrera’s previously widely respected reputation was seen as tarnished by his critics. In the following years, Barrera did not repeat such controversial statements, but he never retracted what he had previously said. Moreover, Barrera moved into another controversy with his own party when he criticised the last leadership of the ERC and distanced himself from it. He believed that the party was not putting enough emphasis on Catalonia’s independence and chose instead to support a small party that wanted to immediately and unilaterally declare Catalonia’s independence. In spite of this opinion he remained a member of the ERC, and the entirety of the ERC’s leadership was present at his farewell ceremony.