The fears of Barcelona’s honorary consuls
Finland’s honorary consul Albert Ginjaume, the third diplomat to be fired for ideological reasons following pressure from Spain, speaks of a "witch hunt"
Albert Ginjaume is not the first, and he is unlikely to be the last. Finland’s honorary consul in Barcelona was dismissed several days ago by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs following diplomatic pressure from Spain. Ginjaume sees his dismissal as the result of a "purge" or a "witch hunt" within the diplomatic corps on ideological grounds. Latvia’s consul Xavier Vinyals, followed by the Philippines’ consul Jordi Puig, were 'purged' before Ginjaume.
Speaking to ARA some months ago, Puig declared that the honorary consuls live in fear, especially those who are Catalan, since they are afraid their names feature on the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ list of diplomats who are sympathetic to Catalonia’s pro-independence cause. In spite of repeated attempts by ARA to contact Barcelona’s consuls, virtually no one is willing to talk, not even off the record. One of the few who has agreed to speak admits that since news broke of what happened to Xavier Vinyals "I’m very vigilant about what I say and where I say it". Meanwhile another diplomat declared that "the situation is really screwed up" and that they had agreed with their ambassador "not to say a word about the current political situation".
What was Albert Ginjaume supposedly guilty of? As the general secretary of the consular corps in Barcelona —he was also the intermediary between the consuls and government institutions—, Ginjaume organised a lunch with Mercè Conesa, who is both the president of the Diputació de Barcelona [the Provincial Council of Barcelona] and the mayor of Sant Cugat del Vallès. Is this such a crime? Apparently so, since Finland’s ambassador in Madrid, Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen, called her consul in Barcelona the week before the infamous lunch —which took place on 1 February— to ask him why he was meeting with a "pro-independence mayor". Jortikka-Laitinen admitted that the Spanish Foreign Ministry had informed her of the meeting with Conesa, and the consul explained that it was one of the lunches the consular corps’ executive committee holds every month, and that Conesa was being invited in her role as president of the Diputació. "At the time I thought she found the explanation satisfactory, but then I realised it was a warning, since I was dismissed a week later ". The previous consular lunch organized by Ginjaume and his team was with Josep Lluís Bonet, President of Freixenet and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, who is well-known for his opposition to Catalan independence.
The former consul of Finland admits that he is unaware of the existence of the lists which his colleague Jordi Puig mentions, "though if they exist, I must be at the very top". Another of the Catalan consuls declared that "I haven’t done anything which would warrant my name appearing on any list". Xavier Vinyals, the former consul of Latvia, was the first to ‘face the chop’ in October 2016 for flying an Estelada [the flag associated with those who support Catalan independence] from the consulate’s balcony, a claim he categorically denies. Unlike Puig and Ginjaume, Latvia had no intention of sacking Vinyals, in spite of pressure from the Spanish authorities. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by García Margallo, withdrew Vinyals’ accreditation as a consul to Spain. As a result, Vinyals warns that one needn’t actually do anything to risk "facing the chop": "The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs no longer judges specific actions (such as his or that of Jordi Puig, who posted a picture on Facebook of a demonstration on 3 October) but, rather, the views of specific individuals". Vinyals, who feels great sympathy for what his former colleagues in the diplomatic corps are going through, is also unaware of the existence of the supposed lists, "but I do know that the ministry wants to replace all the consuls who don’t think the way they want them to think".
Albert Ginjaume states that his conscience is clear. As a result, he has requested a one-to-one meeting with Enric Millo, the representative of the Spanish government in Catalonia, who has informed him that he will meet him when he is able. This Monday, however, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, held an official meeting with Ginjaume, during which the former diplomat was able to give his version of events. According to Ginjaume "If the Catalan independence process has been unsuccessful, it is due to a lack of foreign support. Spain realises this and remains watchful. They’re afraid of a consul making any moves that could politically influence another. If they do, they give them the chop". One of the consuls who spoke to ARA admitted, however, that they and some of their colleagues have been doing whatever they can in support of the independence process and that they had been in contact with Catalan government advisers until they were dismissed following the imposition of direct rule by Madrid.
It appears unlikely that the "purge" will end with Vinyals, Puig and Ginjaume, and in the coming months we are sure to see more changes within the ranks of honorary consuls.