What’s in a word?

‘a fugitive from justice; a fugitive from a dictatorial regime’ (Dictionary.com)


‘a person who has escaped from captivity or is in hiding’ (Google)


‘the journalist is concerned only with the fugitive moment’ (Collins)


‘a person who is running away or hiding from the police or a dangerous situation’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

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‘Fugitive’ is an interesting choice of word to describe Brussels resident and Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. It brings to mind FBI Top Ten Most Wanted lists of terrorists, serial killers, murderers and rapists. More importantly, it has been a favourite of Spanish unionist politicians since November.

Definitions of the term clearly reflect the looseness of this particular choice of word. Has he escaped from captivity? Is he in hiding? Is he running away or hiding from the police? Is he fleeing from justice, or from intolerable circumstances, i.e. a dictatorial regime?

And why has the word become the primary descriptive term for president Puigdemont used by the media this month, weeks after the international arrest warrant was lifted at the beginning of December? It became the go-to phrase when reporting Puigdemont’s trip to Denmark and then again following Puigdemont’s selection as sole presidential candidate. Previously, the loaded term was only an occasional choice in the English-language media.

The Collins definition includes the interesting secondary meaning of ‘ephemeral’ and gives a quote that uses ‘the journalist’ as an example:

‘the journalist … is concerned only with the fugitive moment’ A. L. Guerard

But more pertinent are the words of legendary Anglo-Australian journalist, John Pilger:

Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth’. They simply cipher and transmit lies.

Recently, it has been heavily used in English-language newspaper articles that then go on to ignore the questionable legality of court decisions, the creative interpretations of the rebellion and sedition laws, the creative reasoning for the rejection of the appeals by imprisoned Catalan politicians and civil leaders, the use of the ‘any measures necessary’ phrase of article 155 to trump all other laws and the latest aberration from the Constitutional court outlawing Puigdemont’s investiture unless he is present.

Despite the Spanish government constantly demanding respect for the rule of law, its courts show no respect for the letter of the law. And, of course, by not even attempting to report facts, by borrowing the inflammatory vocabulary of Spanish unionism, foreign journalists are complicit in the repression taking place in Catalonia.

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Here are a few examples of its use in English-language newspaper headlines and articles since president Puigdemont travelled to Brussels:

Mirror (02/11/2018): Eight Catalan leaders jailed by Spanish courts with international arrest warrant issued for fugitive president (Jason Beattie)

Telegraph (05/11/2017): Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont released by Belgian judge pending extradition decision (James Badcock/James Crisp)

Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive former president of Catalonia, has been conditionally released by a Belgian judge while the decision whether to extradite the deposed Catalan leader and four of his former regional ministers back to Spain is taken.

Associated Press, published in Voice of America (15/11/2017): Catalan’s Fugitive Leader to Campaign From Brussels

The fugitive leader of Catalonia’s secessionist movement said Wednesday that he will again be his party’s leading candidate in upcoming elections for the Spanish region while he fights extradition from Belgium.

Associated Press, published in Voice of America (27/11/2017): Fugitive Catalan Leader Launches Campaign From Belgium

The fugitive leader of Catalonia’s separatist movement has launched his campaign for the upcoming Catalan elections from Belgium, where he awaits extradition.

LA Times (10/01/2018): Catalan separatists agree to reelect fugitive Carles Puigdemont

Catalonia’s main separatist parties said Wednesday they have agreed to reelect fugitive Carles Puigdemont as president of the region later this month, although how to make that legally possible is still up in the air.

Reuters (12/01/2018): Fugitive former leader cannot rule Catalonia from abroad says Madrid (Sonya Dowsett)

Catalan separatists agreed on Wednesday to try to re-elect Puigdemont as regional leader, raising the scenario of the fugitive former leader governing by video link from Belgium. He faces arrest in Spain for sedition and rebellion.

Associated Press, published in ABC News (19/01/2018): Fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to leave Belgium, travel to Denmark for university forum next week

Press Association, published in Independent.ie, Daily Mail, etc. (22/01/2018): Fugitive politician Carles Puigdemont proposed as Catalonia leader

Associated Press, published in Washington Post (22/01/2018): Ex-Catalonia leader speaks at Danish panel

The fugitive former leader of Catalonia has arrived in Denmark, despite threats from Spain to seek his immediate arrest there…

The fugitive former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region has spoken in Denmark about an upcoming constitutional referendum in the Faeroe Islands, a semi-autonomous Danish territory…

The speaker of Catalonia’s parliament has proposed former regional leader Carles Puigdemont as candidate to form a government, despite his status as a fugitive from Spanish justice.

Independent (22/01/2018): Fugitive politician Carles Puigdemont proposed as Catalonia leader (Jon Stone)

The fugitive and self-exiled Catalan politician Carles Puigdemont has been formally proposed as the leader of a new government by the speaker of the Catalan parliament.

Telegraph (22/01/2018): Carles Puigdemont declared ‘only candidate’ for president, as Spain fails to detain Catalan leader in Denmark (Hannah Strange)

Carles Puigdemont was officially proposed as the new Catalan president on Monday as Spanish authorities failed in a last ditch attempt to secure the detention of the fugitive leader during a risky trip to Denmark.

Times (23/01/2018): Catalan parliament picks fugitive leader Puigdemont to be its president in exile

Deutsche Welle (23/01/2018): Carles Puigdemont: Fugitive Catalan ex-leader called to form government (es/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters))

Guardian (27/01/2018): Puigdemont could return to Catalonia in bid to retake office (Sam Jones)

The fugitive former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could return to the region this week in an attempt to retake office, three months after he was sacked by the Spanish government over his push for secession.

Financial Times (27/01/2018): Spanish court blocks Puigdemont reappointment

Fugitive leader of Catalan pro-independence parties is dealt a fresh blow.

Euronews (27/01/2108): Fugitive Puigdemont must return to form government, court rules

Catalonia’s fugitive former president Carles Puigdemont cannot be re-elected without returning to Spain, the country’s constitutional court has ruled.

Associated Press, reprinted in Telegraph (28/01/2018): Exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont ordered to return for re-election (Michael Stothard)

Spain’s top court said on Saturday that Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government.

Associated Press, reprinted in Voice Of America (28/01/2018): Catalonia’s Fugitive Leader Must be Present to Win Re-election

RT (28/01/2018): Top court insists fugitive Catalan leader must return to Spain to be re-inaugurated

Deutsche Welle (28/01/2018): Spanish court rules Carles Puigdemont must return to Catalonia to form government (jm/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa))

The Spanish government argued in its case to the court that a fugitive from justice could not become the head of the regional administration.

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