Profile: Champion of the games in Catalonia: President Pujol enjoys his Olympic moment

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The Independent Online
Earlier this month the Spanish newspaper El Pais published a survey in which Spanish citizens said who they thought had done the most to make the Barcelona Olympics a success. The results caused rage and resentment in several quarters and jubilation in one.

Most credit was given to the Generalitat, the Catalan autonomous government. Trailing far behind in the public mind came the central government of Spain and Barcelona's city government, while the International Olympic Committee limped home fourth.

In Catalonia itself, only 5 per cent thought the central government had put most effort into the Games, although Madrid has invested pounds 1.3bn in the Games, not including pounds 500m invested by Spain's telephone company. The Catalan government has invested pounds 600m.

Jordi Pujol, Catalonia's ebullient president, it was noted in Madrid with irritation, was grinning from ear to ear. 'The only smile Pujol knows,' an El Pais journalist wrote, 'is the smile of satisfaction.'

Pujol had transformed Spain's debut as Olympic host into his own most successful self-promotion ever. As one of his party officials said last week: 'The idea has caught on that the Games belong to the Catalans, and when they say the Catalans they mean the Generalitat and Pujol.'

In case anyone had missed the point, Pujol invested pounds 3m in an international publicity campaign last week to remind the world that Barcelona is in Catalonia: ' a country in Europe with its own language, culture and identity' and, most galling to those who, unlike Pujol, have been out labouring in the Olympic vineyard, 'the country that managed to capture the Olympic Games for its capital, Barcelona'.

Barcelona's mayor, Pasqual Maragall, a member of Felipe Gonzales's Socialist Party, thought the Olympics were to be the celebration of Barcelona's renaissance, a moment when heads of state and government would flock to his city and shake his hand, a moment that would be a tribute to his influence with his fellow socialists in Madrid. Instead, it is as though the mayor has built the theatre, erected the scenery and hired the cast, only to find Pujol at centre stage on opening night.

Pujol embodies for his fellow Catalans that potent mixture of pride, enterprise, pragmatism, resentment and opportunism that makes up Catalan nationalism. For 12 years he has harried, pushed and cajoled Madrid on Catalonia's behalf. He has known when to push and when to give; he has fed nationalism at home to strengthen his hand in Madrid - always with the threat that if more is not conceded now, far more will be demanded later.

Jordi Pujol i Soley was born in Barcelona in 1930 into a well-to-do middle- class family in that part of Spain that can claim the oldest and best organised of bourgeoisies. His first nine years were dominated by the agonies and turmoil of the Republic and the Civil War. In January 1939, the fall of Barcelona to General Franco's troops marked the death of the Republic and exile for 200,000 Catalans.

Franco took revenge on all things Catalan: the language was banned in schools, books were burnt, place names changed and posters put up all over Barcelona instructing 'Spaniards' to 'speak the language of the Empire'.

Exhausted by the Civil War, pragmatic Catalonia put its mind to recovery, though sporadic incidents of protest continued. It was not until Pujol's generation emerged in the Fifties that Catalan nationalism recovered sufficiently from the ravages of Civil War to return as a force.

Pujol had studied medicine and gone on to work in the pharmaceutical industry. But his professional career was overshadowed by his political activities. He joined Cristo Catalunya, a profoundly nationalist Catholic youth group. He and his fellow members expressed their nationalism by singing Catalan songs, making pilgrimages to Monserrat, dancing the sardana, and supporting the Barcelona football team against Real Madrid, said to be Franco's favourites. Their activities were moderate but not without risk, as Pujol was to discover.

In June 1959 Franco visited Barcelona. Pujol and a group of supporters led the singing of the prohibited Catalan anthem, La Senyera, in the Catalan Palace of Music during a concert attended by the Generalissimo. Most of the singers were arrested on the spot. Pujol, despite warnings that the police were coming for him, waited at home, to be arrested two days later. Some people identify that moment as the birth of Pujol the public man, the man of Catalonia.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Overnight Pujol became the romantic symbol of the Catalan struggle. On his release after an amnesty two years later he quickly became a leading figure in a movement that encompassed almost every political faction in Catalonia.

Pujol's modus operandi has been likened to weaving: taking fabrics of diverse strands and turning them into a cloth called Catalonia. It began with finance. In the mid-Sixties he helped to found the Banca Catalana, a small bank that he used to promote Catalan cultural and economic interests. He used his economic network to create a cultural network, then in 1974 founded the Convergencia Democratica de Catalunya, the political party he still dominates. He defined his politics at the time as Swedish-style social democratic.

Pujol proved adept at manouevring in the political transformation that followed Franco's death in 1975. In Spain's first post-dictatorship elections in 1977 he was elected to the Congress in Madrid. His party, however, did not sweep the board in Catalonia - it came third, behind the Socialists and Communists. A few months later Pujol joined the provisional Generalitat of Catalonia and in the first autonomous elections in 1980 Convergencia emerged as the leading party and Pujol became Catalonia's first president, a post he has held ever since.

The Socialist Party, to most people'e surprise, had slipped to second place - a result attributed to a devastating performance by Pujol, whom his colleagues nicknamed 'the human locomotive'.

Pujol had come to power on the slogan 'Let's get to work]' In the four years between 1980 and the next elections, he pushed and chiselled until, by 1984, the Generalitat employed 80,000 people and was set to become a state within the state. Pujol ran impressively efficient education, health and social services and was rewarded in 1984 with an overall majority.

His continuing popularity at home depended on being ungrateful to Madrid; on maintaining the Catalan sense of being unfairly taxed and oppressed by the Spanish state. There was a personal element, too, to the bitterness of his relations with the Socialist government.

In the early Eighties the state had to intervene to prevent the collapse of Banca Catalana. The Barcelona public prosecutors, after investigating the bank's affairs, recommended that charges should be brought against Pujol. He in turn accused the Socialist Party of using 'left-wing prosecutors' - employees of the Spanish state - to attack him.

The bank, the prosecutors said, had engaged in activities that failed to meet the test of sound banking. But they were activities that did Pujol no harm at all on home ground: the bank had lent bail money to jailed Catalan trade unionists in the Franco era, financed unprofitable Catalan publishing ventures, and had been less discriminating than other banks in backing projects that might help Catalan development. It was not fraud in the usual sense, but the prosecutors did not feel indulgent. The affair became a cause celebre in Catalonia, with huge street demonstrations in Pujol's favour. Madrid gritted its teeth.

In the end Pujol was not prosecuted because, since he was president of the Catalan government, the state required a special court resolution to proceed, and did not get it. The Catalan supreme court ruled in Pujol's favour. But the affair soured relations in the Eighties and Pujol is said never to have forgiven Felipe Gonzales for what he saw as persecution.

He is a touchy man, pugnacious, bad-tempered when he feels he is under attack. He is Catalonia's grumpy father figure, an image tempered by the good nature of his wife, Marta Ferrusola. The mother of his seven children, she smoothes the jagged edges of his political obsession.

Pujol, now 61, was comfortably elected for a third term earlier this year and there is every possibility that he will go for a fourth. But in the last three years his position as the symbol of Catalonia has begun to be eroded: he is being outflanked by more fervent nationalists, more confrontational separatists and advocates of independence. He risks becoming a victim of his own success. In the last elections nearly 25 per cent of Catalonia's six million voters supported the Catalan separatist party, the ERC. One remarked that Pujol talked big, but acted small.

It is not an unfair comment. Pujol has dangled the threat of separatism in front of Madrid while counting on the fact that Catalans like to yearn for 'freedom' without wishing to make any sacrifices to obtain it. In this respect history, in the shape of growing regional power in the European Community, is on his side.

Pujol's agility earns him both affection and contempt from his fellow Catalans. He has been described as a symbol and a caricature of Catalonia, his defects of character - pragmatism and opportunism - applauded because they are the defects of all Catalans. He long ago abandoned the romanticism of his early youth for the game of interests, but in Catalonia this game has the status of national sport. It seems likely to enter a new phase if, as is widely expected, the Socialists lose their overall majority nationally in the next elections and need Pujol's support to stay in power.

Back at home the question for Pujol is whether, having guided Catalonia towards the realisation of her identity, he risks being passed on the outside by Catalan movements aiming to be (as the Olympic motto puts it) faster, higher, stronger.