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Catalan Independence Effort Divides Families; Artist Ai Weiwei Captures Refugee Crisis in New Film; Going to School with a Goddess Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:00] NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN HOST: Tonight, will Catalonia break away from Spain? The Catalan foreign affairs council joins me live as the region

standoff with Madrid reaches a tipping point.

Also ahead, China's most prominent dissident, Ai WeiWei, turned his attention to global refugee crisis. He tells me his new documentary is a

call to action.


AI WEIWEI, FILMMAKER/PRODUCER, HUMAN FLOW: These refugees are human and they are just like us. They have been putting up to this dramatic,

horrible situation. It's our responsibility to find a solution for that.


ELBAGIR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Nima Elbagir seating in for Christiane Amanpour in London.

The Spanish government says it will act to, quote, "Restore law and democracy" as Catalonia declares independence, including the possibility of

revoking the region's autonomy.

It comes a day after hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona with Catalan and Spanish flags, rallying for the region to remain in the

country. But their leaders are pushing on in a bid for independence after a highly controversial referendum.

Catalonia's regional president insists he wants to mediate the crisis with Madrid, but it's holding on to the threat of unilaterally breaking away.


CARLES PUIGDEMONT, CATALAN REGIONAL PRESIDENT (through translator): The days are going by. And if the Spanish states does not give a positive

response, we will do what we set out to do.


ELBAGIR: Barcelona's mayor today cautioned that the only path forward is dialogue.


ADA COLAU, BARCELONA MAYOR: I understand that the president is a man of principles, who has (INAUDIBLE). We are finding ourselves in an

exceptional moment. And we need to think about the whole country and not make rash decisions.


ELBAGIR: The crisis is being felt from Spain's halls of power to its kitchens and living rooms.

CNN's Atika Shubert is covering the divide tearing out Barcelona family. She joins me now.

Atika, thank you so much for joining us.

There was a sense that that so-called silent majority, the 40 percent who didn't vote for independence are finally this weekend making their voices

heard. And that's having a pretty big impact, isn't it, Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You're right. This is reaching into kitchens, it's been making dinner tables into political

battlefields. And, you know, I spent the day talking to families who are seeing this divide their families. Sons and daughters, siblings at each

other's throats about this. And I spoke to one woman today, she's 70. She's a grandmother.

You know, she says she has two very respectful grand daughters, but she can't have a conversation with them about this. She showed us around her

home where she proudly displays her Spanish flag and the Catalan flag. She is Catalan. She says she's born and bred here and she feels it in her

blood, but she just can't convince her 16-year-old granddaughter not to go for independence. And she was adamant about that.

She was out on the street yesterday. So I asked her, you know, how do they have a conversation at home.

Take a listen to what she told me.


MARIA ROSA MAYO, GRANDMOTHER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): She has to respect me and I have to respect her, but when the family is gathered together, there

is no debate. No discussion. She is an independent. OK. She just is. I respect that. But in this home, she has always seen, we are one. Spain

and Catalonia.


SHUBERT: Now we've also spoken to another family, where the son is clearly for independence. He says it's the only way forward, but the father says

absolutely not. This is a crazy idea.

And the thing is it's a topic they've been avoiding. But this in a way the referendum has force them to have this discussion. What they don't want,

however, is for this to all come to a head and become violent. And this is what a lot of families fear may happen tomorrow if there is a declaration

of independence. They worry that the army could get sent in. The police could take action and this is very, very deeply divisive for society but

also for families clearly.

ELBAGIR: It's such a great reminder, Atika, of what is actually at stake here.

Thank you so much.

Raul Romeva is Catalonia's foreign affairs councillor and he joins me now.

Mr. Romeva, thank you for joining us on the program.

[14:05:00] So the question of course that is on everybody's mind is will the Catalan leader declare independence?

RAUL ROMEVA, CATALONIA'S FOREIGN AFFAIRS COUNCILLOR: Well, basically, a parliament, because it's a decision that has to be taken at the parliament.

The parliament is a sovereign institution and the parliament is supposed to acknowledge what other people set on the 5th of October.

Let's remember that the 5th of October, we had the referendum despite all the attempts from the site of the Spanish institutions or the Spanish state

to impede this to happen. Despite all the violence that we saw, despite the 900 people who were injured because of the police, despite all attempts

from the Spanish police to close down several Web pages. The referendum took place.

And from that perspective, more than 2 million people went to vote just to express democratically and peacefully their wish, their will that Catalonia

should be an independent state.

It is important that this voice is heard. The people, seven years in a row, has earned the right to be listen. And that's what the parliament

tomorrow has to do. Listen to their people.

ELBAGIR: But given how much is at stake, you saw in Atika's piece there that this is tearing apart families. Given how much is at stake, given the

violence and potential for chaos. Are you feeling the pressure? Do you think that you should be forging ahead with this?

ROMEVA: We have to be honest about that because, actually, when you talk about the violence, violence is only in one side. You haven't seen any

violent action in seven years in a row of demonstrations of millions of people in the streets in Catalonia. You haven't seen any single violence

in the narrative, in the speeches of the Catalan leaders. Never, ever.

So from that perspective, what we have always demanded is a political dialogue. It's the opportunity to democracy, to allow everybody to express

themselves. So in one side, you see violence. That is clear. That's a repression we are seeing from the Spanish side.

On the other side, you see that 80 percent of the Catalan population, regardless if they are in favor or against the independence, that they

demand to vote democratically. So these are the two choices that people have in front of them.

And I have the feeling that if we are honest with our self, the normal thing to in a democracy is to let the people speak out, whatever they think

about it and to express themselves peacefully and democratically. That's what we have demanded for years.

ELBAGIR: Absolutely, sir. But given that this was not a referendum that was carried out under normal circumstances so, therefore, the standards of

observation that you would expect in something that had such a huge impact, what to no faults of your own, do you not think given that people who

oppose this are starting to make their feelings heard, that perhaps it's time to step back from the brink.

ROMEVA: Well, actually, everybody could see what happened on the 5th of October. There was a very, very, very violent repression from the police,

impeding the people, normal people, families who went to vote. And that obviously creates a lot of uncertainty and insecurity.

How the people can feel safe in a state that is bidding in a non- discriminate way simply because they exercise their right to vote.

Let's remind as well that we have actually 800 out of 900 mayors that have been warned by the constitutional court. You know if they cooperate with

the referendum, they will be prosecuted. We have the spokesperson of the parliament that is being prosecuted.

We have the members of the cabinet, that means the president and the ministers that we have among us, we have on us a criminal lawsuit. The

problem that we are confronted with right now, it has to be with a lack of fundamental rights. And this is what the people is receiving as very


So, actually, what is the alternative to democracy to this? We need to acknowledge that this is a situation that needs to be responded in a

negotiation table. The problem is that nobody else is at the negotiation table but us. And this is what is causing as well a lot of uncertainty.

Not only in the population, but also in the international arena. And this is why we were able to contest.

That is why we insist so much and in a very, very repeated way that we want to talk. We need to deal with it. The problem is that nobody is listening

to us from the Spanish state side.

ELBAGIR: So there are no communications between you and the Spanish government currently?

[14:10:00] ROMEVA: Unfortunately, we have even invited international mediation. Actually, we have the call for -- from the others. You

probably have seen them, more recently. Several Peace Noble Prizes calling to a dialogue.

We have responded positively to this. We say we are ready. We want to go to the negotiation table. We are ready to start talks, because we

understand that when you have that amount of people telling you that there is problem, what you have to do is to listen to those people regardless if

you agree with him or not.

We are keen to accept those mediation offers. We are insisting on the fact that we want to go to a negotiation table. Unfortunately, on the other

side, we are always receive with violence, with reparation, with judicial prosecutions, with any type of attempts that even now they are simply

taking back the powers of the autonomy in Catalonia.

That is what we are confronted with. So, again, repression and balancing one side and we have democracy on the other side. We want to choose



ELBAGIR: Sorry, Mr. Romeva.

ROMEVA: Let's allow everybody to sit down at the negotiating table.


ELBAGIR: If the Spanish government was willing to sit down at the negotiation table with you, would you accept anything less than

independence? Would you be willing to reach some other kind of solution?

ROMEVA: We are ready to go to a negotiation table. If they have an offer to make, we are very much keen to listen to that. If they have something

to propose in order to drive that situation on a different manner, we are very much keen to listen to that proposal.

The problem is that for years, for ten years, we haven't received any offer, any proposal. And, actually, everything that we have received are

obviously bringing our laws to the constitutional court, repression, condemnation, all kind of criminal laws. That's what we have received.

Never, never, ever a single proposal. So still in that conditions, we are ready to listen if there is a proposal to put at the table. But what I

think he's failed to recognize is that we have made hundreds of offers that they have never, never, ever accepted to even discuss about this from the

side of the Spanish government, unfortunately.

ELBAGIR: We heard from Manfred Weber, who is part of one of the leading parties, the biggest party in the European parliament, that the European

Union will never, as far as he saw it, would never acknowledge Catalan independence.

Does that concern you? I mean, essentially it would make you economically unviable.

ROMEVA: Well, basically, if somebody considers that Catalonia is in dialogue, which is not true, no studies recognize that point. Actually,

everybody understands that economically, it's perfectly viable.

What we need to understand is that Catalonia is economically interlinked with Spain and with Europe. So there is no point. There is no point to

threat the Catalon economy with those arguments because at the end, who is going to be punished by those decisions will be the Spanish economy and the

European economy.

So from that perspective, we insist once again, it is no one interest that we do not go to a negotiation table. Well, it's safe otherwise. It is in

everyone's interest that we drive this in a negotiation way. That is what we are demanding for years. And that's what we expect the European Union

also to convince the Spanish state institutions to understand because otherwise it's not going to have an easy solution for no one.

Not only for the Catalons, but -- not for the Spanish either and arguably not for the European Union.

ELBAGIR: Thank you so much, Mr. Elbagir. Thank you for coming on the program.

ROMEVA: Thank you.

ELBAGIR: I want to turn now to a different view. Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo, a Spanish journalist and historian was meant to be joining us.

But, unfortunately, we're having a few technical issues so we are going to go to break.

When we come back, a rebel with a cause. Artist Ai Weiwei on his latest work.

Following the great migration of refugees. Human flow is next.


[14:15:50] ELBAGIR: Welcome back to the program.

They face a desperate and dangerous journey to safety, but today it was a safety they just couldn't reach

A boat carrying Rohingya refugees capsized in the water crossing to Bangladesh, killing at least a dozen people.

It's only the latest tragedy to strike Myanmar's Rohingya population. 500,000 have fled the country since late august to escape violence and

persecution back home.

The plight of the world's refugees is the subject of a harrowing new film by the acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He joined me from New York to

talk about his latest work called a Human Flow.


ELBAGIR: Ai Weiwei, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for being with us.

WEIWEI: Thank you.

ELBAGIR: Today, another refugee tragedy. A boat carrying Rohingya refugees capsized. Most of the dead were children. It feels like this

really is a never-ending cycle. And to have such a celebrated artist as yourself who identified as a refugee and you can really see in your

interactions with the refugees how much you bring of yourself to it, what did you hope to achieve by focusing on this.

WEIWEI: I think that we have to bring up the consciousness of the public from every level. The refugee crisis is the human crisis. You know, we

are related. You can easily see ourselves in those refugees and we have to act up. You know, we have to really -- there's no excuse for us not to pay

attention and to find solutions for this crisis.

ELBAGIR: Let's talk about the film, itself. It's playing right behind me. It is an extraordinary work. And these are some of the areas that we have

covered that are really familiar to most of us who watch television. And yet you seem to have kind of taken what is familiar about the reportage and

the close up and then kind of discombobulated people almost by then having these beautifully lit panoramic views that almost feel like a feature film.

Was that intentional?

WEIWEI: Yes, it is intentional to give way to refugee situation. A human look rather than just a noose. We kind of give a few more seconds to those

faces and the ordinary people's feeling under their actions.

So to understand, refugees are human and they are just like us. They have been putting up on this dramatic, horrible situation. Its our

responsibility to find a solution for that.

ELBAGIR: What if anything do you think you've learned having given so many years of your life to this project, to this crisis?

WEIWEI: I think humanity, human rights is something we can really grab. You know, there's all kinds of political argument. We have to come down to

benefit each individual's human rights and to protect those very basic values. The world has just become a big mess.

ELBAGIR: So very much a continuum of the work that you are known for -- the dissidents, the political activism, the work you did in China.

How much at this point of you is an activist and how much do you think is still an artist?

WEIWEI: I think the work together. For me at artist, activist, it's one and it has to work together because we have to announce our self and

express our self and we have to find a way to communicate. Those issues always relate to aesthetics, moral and philosophy. You know, we cannot

separate our aesthetics from our philosophy.

ELBAGIR: There are these really extraordinary moments in the film, where it almost feels like you are drawn out by what you see, the moments when

you're interacting, the moments when you're speaking to that young boy about swapping passports and potentially swapping houses.

[14:20:12] Was there one moment that you can describe to really, you felt, changed you, that touched you in a real way.

WEIWEI: Well, you see your face in those refugees. You really go to tense hour in between them. Then you really feel you're part of it. You know,

that's my feeling. I think they are part of me and I'm part of the. And even they all have very horrible stories. You know, each of them have

stories you almost cannot really listen. It's all the same.

It's such a difficult journey and they are trying to find -- you know, trying to find shelter and trying to find a possible future for their

children and a big, big proportion of refugees are children.

So those almost strike me every second. You know, it's not just single story, but they are stories basically saying it's about the human dignity

and human's will to survive.

ELBAGIR: Human dignity is a very interesting, jumping off point. You talk about your new project. "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," that's opening

in New York given that New York is the home city of President Trump who famously spoke a lot about fences and walls during his election campaign.

Was there a specific message you were hoping to convey by placing your project there?

WEIWEI: I think I brought those projects in New York really on time. You know, this is a moment. U.S. policy has been dramatically shifting from

pushing away people or limits people, immigrants and the refugees, which is quite sad situation because basically New York or United States have come

from -- all the people are immigrants or come from -- most of them come from some kind of refugee in certain moment in history.

So we realize those kinds of things happening right in front of us, which is quite shocking.

ELBAGIR: Thank you so much for being on the program. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.

WEIWEI: Thank you for having me.


ELBAGIR: And from the flow of humanity marching across the world to the living goddesses whose feet can't touch the ground.

Imagine a world of divine children coming back down to earth and going to school. That's next.


[14:25:46] ELBAGIR: And finally tonight, imagine going to school with a goddess.

Well, I should say a retired goddess. In Nepal, the living goddesses or Kumari are part of a century's old tradition chosen at around three years

old. They are worshipped as incarnations of a Hindu deity. Living in a temple that only allowed out for 13 feast days every year. And even then

they're not allowed to touch the ground. Their rein ends at puberty when Hindus believe the goddess departs the girl's body.

Today, Katmandu's most recent Kumari, Matina Shakya, is starting school for the first time at age 12. Stripped of the elaborate makeup and now allowed

to walk herself, she went to school with the family she had barely seen during her nine year reign and was received with a celebration from her

classmates and teachers.

Once freed from duty, the child god's struggle to return to normal life. But a Supreme Court ruling in 2008 means Matina was educated behind her

sacred walls for her sake as well as her successors who was chose just last month. We hope education will ease the transition from the heavens to the

earth below.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can listen to our podcast and see us online at

Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from London.