Mikko Kärnä (1980) is a Member of Parliament in Finland. He is a member of the party currently in power, the Centre Party. Kärnä has presented motions on Catalonia within the Finnish parliament, and wants to promote debates on the topic. From his Twitter account he explains the Catalan case in the world, he has posted texts explaining the declaration of independence in Catalonia on his blog, and has also presented motions to other Nordic countries to explore if they could play the role of negotiators. He says that everything revolves around respecting the hard-won freedoms present in Europe. In this telephone interview with VilaWeb, Mikko Kärnä explains his personal position, and how the case is seen is his country.
VW: What is happening in Catalonia from your point of view?
MK: Now everyone is waiting for the 21-D elections. And I see that the separatists have said they will respect the results. But I’m worried about the Spanish reaction. And I think most of the media are asking Rajoy the wrong questions. Because here, the question on our lips, is what will he do if the independentists win? Will he respect the results? Will he respect the consolidation of the Catalan Republic? Or will he simply add more article 155 to the equation? And for how long? Until he gets the results he wants?
VW: Were you expecting a violent reaction from Spain?
MK: I had been following the Catalan case, for about a month before the first of October. And I was worried even then. I expected the European Union and the European countries to speak out. And that they would do so before the referendum. And that they would say that violence would not be accepted. But the intensity of the violence, that did catch me by surprise. It was really terrible. It was clearly organized violence. And it attacked the values and political freedoms that are central to us in the EU.
VW: How is it that you are following the case so closely? Do you have Catalan friends? Do you know Barcelona?
MK: In fact, I have actually never been to Barcelona. Yes, I have a couple of Catalan friends. But it’s simply that this is a very important case and issue for the European Union. I believe in the EU. I believe in the values: human rights, democracy and the principle of subsidiarity that we have created. That is why I am so saddened by the silence of the EU. And so proud of the government of my country, who had the courage to condemn the violence that took place during the referendum. This really pleased me. And I repeat, I do not see this as a Spanish internal affair. It is an internal affair of the EU. If this had happened in Turkey, for example, we (the EU) would have been the first to condemn it.
VW: Why do you say that it is a European affair?
MK: The people who say that the matter is a Spanish internal affair and that the EU has nothing to do with it, say this because they want to make things easy within the nation states. I believe in Europe. A Europe that is able to conceive of different types of areas. A Europe in which decisions are taken at levels close to the citizenry. The closer, the better. You can therefore understand that if this is my point of view, that for me the Catalan case is very important for the EU. What are we, a federal union, or a union of independent national states? I am very concerned about the escalation of the tension that we could see coming out around the 21-D elections. We have to make sure that the elections are fair, and that Spain respects the results.
VW: Do you fear the Spanish reaction?
MK: I don’t fear the Catalan government, or the Catalans. I have always seen that Catalans were willing to negotiate and talk with Spain. Always. On the other hand, I know, there are still Spanish Civil Guard and National Police stationed in Catalonia. I think we will see essentially free elections, and free voting. But what then? What happens if the independence parties win? Will we continue in the same impasse? The impasse is unresolvable unless the Catalans and Spaniards sit down and negotiate. The most important thing is having them negotiating at the same table. At the moment Spain has been very inflexible, and they say that they have nothing to negotiate, with regard to the independence of Catalonia.
VW: Will we see the Finnish government as mediator, then?
MK: We have long experience as mediators. And many of the most successful international mediators are Finnish. Therefore, it is possible. From my point of view, the first step to be taken is the following: an active and open process of negotiation between Spain and Catalonia. However if Spain says that they do not want to negotiate, then it would be very difficult for us to mediate anything. But if both sides asked for it, I think we would be prepared to help. I think so.
VW: Have the Spanish or Catalan governments called at your door and asked you to become a mediator?
MK: I can’t answer that question.
VW: You are a member of the Center Party. A party of liberals. It is the party that governs Finland. Is the government, or your party, planning to take any action?
MK: I want to make it clear that the opinions I express are mine. I am not speaking on behalf of the government right now. I speak as an MP. I know however that many more parties share my opinions, across our parliament. In Finland, traditionally, we have seen foreign affairs not as if we were judges, but as if we were doctors. We want to help, not judge. And we are willing to help if both parties want us to help. To mediate, to negotiate. What happened on referendum day was absolutely unacceptable. And I’m really worried about what could happen on 21-D. I fully understand the final decision of the Catalan government, which decided to declare, but not to force independence, due to the threat of force, or violence.
VW: You are a Saami and independentist?
MK: No. I am ethnically Finnish, but with Saami roots. On the Saami topic we would need four days to speak. To put it briefly: we have four types of Saami, or indigenous peoples, in Finland. It is a topic that must be resolved. At the moment, we have accepted them as indigenous peoples. And they have all my respect. But the Saami topic, for me, has nothing to do with the Catalan issues. To start, they do not have a pro-independence movement like you [in Catalonia]. In any case, to be clear, if one day the Saami people want to vote on independence, they would have every right to do so. That’s all it would take. And then we the central government would negotiate with them. In Finland, nothing like what happened in Spain would occur. Nothing at all like that.
VW: Finland would not have forbidden the referendum or sent half the government to jail?
MK: Exactly. We would have accepted the referendum, and its result.
VW: Half of the Catalan government is in prison. What should the EU do?
MK: That is a complex issue. According to the Spanish government, they have broken the law. That is clear. But from my point of view, this means that in Europe we have political prisoners. It’s shameful. Fortunately, I am very pleased that many Nobel prize winners, such as our former president, Martti Ahtisaari, have condemned this. And they have demanded that Spain allows Catalan politicians to return home and be able to participate freely in the December elections.
VW: What should independentists do, if they win?
MK: This is very difficult to answer, for me. I express my respect for the decisions of the Catalan government, freely chosen. I do not have all the information on hand to know what to do. Having said that, as an outside observer, if the independentists win the elections, it will imply the consolidation of the Republic. It would mean that people believe in independence and in the Catalan Republic. And then Spain will have to negotiate.
VW: Now I would like to know the reaction not only of politicians, in Finland, but newspapers, and the man on the street.
MK: The Catalan theme is not just a matter for politicians. The press and people also talk about it. I am very proud of the Finnish press because it has followed the case very closely. And if you follow my Twitter you will see that I upload many links to the main newspapers which sympathize, like many people on the street, with the Catalan case. The press has done a good job. Not all journalists, of course, are in favor of independence, and some believe it will never happen. Some have this opinion. Others think the opposite.
VW: You are from a centre party. Do people from the left and right also have an opinion on Catalonia?
MK: With my colleagues we have discussed the topic – we found it fun. This was because support for the Catalan cause was found in my centre party, on the left, on the right, and from the greens. It’s not a partisan topic. It goes beyond party lines. As you may know, this year Finland turns 100 years old. In December. I have tried to point this out many times: when we voted for independence in our parliament, a hundred years ago, we had two hundred MPs. The independentists represented half. One hundred deputies. 50%. We see that you have 135 deputies. And I think that they were seventy, who voted for independence. That is to say, support for your independence is greater.
VW: Very interesting. And what happened, after the vote, in Finland?
MK: Our independence was not peaceful. We declared independence and Russia, in fact the USSR, agreed. But just after a bloody civil war broke out. Whites against reds, who wanted to stay in the USSR. And history says that the whites won and Finland reached independence through a civil war. A very nasty one. Finnish versus Finnish. The whites had the help of Imperial Germany, and the reds, of the USSR.
VW: Without trickery, and without an army. That is how we want independence, here in Catalonia.
MK: It should be possible. We are in 2017. And if humanity has understood anything, it is that, with civil wars, especially in Europe, there is nothing to gain. We must be able to negotiate. It is clear that if one day Catalonia is independent, and the Republic is recognized by the other states, you will need to have the necessary requirements. And that means control of borders and to be able to defend yourself. But this is a task that you have to manage later. Not now. Now, the first thing is to debate. That the EU, Spain and Catalonia decide how they should continue moving forward, and what must be done.
VW: If the EU does not mediate, I do not believe that Spain will come to the negotiating table…
MK: And that is exactly what our former president and Nobel Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, said: the EU should get involved in the case of Catalonia. And mediate. And another former President, Tarja Halonen, also said that she could not understand the EU’s current stance. The EU should obviously be able to negotiate.
VW: How did your motion to the Finnish parliament end up?
MK: The motion is in parliament. It is underway and has two parts. The first part says that Finland should promote, within the EU, political freedom and a negotiated solution between Spain and Catalonia. The second part says that when Catalonia can demonstrate that it has the necessary requirements to be an independent state, the government of Finland will have to be prepared to meet with the [Catalan] President and recognize independence. But, like everyone else, you will understand that the Finnish government cannot recognize independence that has not yet taken place. At present your politicians are in jail, and the Spanish government has applied article 155. I am gathering signatures, and we still have to see if the motion will go on to the Committee on Foreign Affairs or not. I am also considering making a motion to have a political debate within the parliament of Finland on the EU and Catalonia.