SANT VICENÇ DELS HORTS
Junqueras with his 6-year-old daughter Joana at her home in Sant Vicenç. Pedro Madueño
It is the first interview granted by the president of ERC after recovering his freedom. We note his sincere desire to reach an agreement with the central government, but he admits the difficulty of achieving it
Interviewing Oriol Junqueras (Barcelona, 1969) is one of the most thankless tasks for a journalist. He hates making headlines and loves to ramble to commit as little as possible. In this first interview that he grants after recovering his freedom, at his house in Sant Vicenç dels Horts, we see his sincere desire to reach an agreement with the central government, but he admits the difficulty of achieving it.
“We are facing a great opportunity that we have always wanted”
— After three years and almost eight months in jail, how are you doing? Is he the same Junqueras or has he changed?
Better than what others value. I think I have not changed in anything significant, beyond the fact that being in prison allows us to verify that there is also a lot of humanity and dignity there. There are people who deserve to be deprived of liberty because it is a danger to coexistence, but most should be in school or in a work plan.
— During this time you have insisted that there was no other path than the one you have taken, but I want to insist now, was it worth it?
Undoubtedly. We have always defended democracy, human rights and universal values. Defending the right to vote of citizens is legitimate in any democracy. Furthermore, we are convinced that what we are accused of is not in the Penal Code and therefore cannot be a motive for a crime.
Difficulty of agreements
“In the world there have been negotiations with starting points that are also very far away”
— Why did you choose prison and not exile?
Because it seemed to me that it was good to be close to my family and citizenship. I understand that some of my colleagues or friends have opted for exile. It seemed to me that it was part of me, of my trajectory and way of being, to assume that prison is part of the path to freedom, as in other parts of the world or at other moments in history.
— President Pedro Sánchez came to Barcelona and at the Liceu ceremony proclaimed: “We are where we are”. Where are we?
Well, we are involved in a peaceful and civic conflict, at least on our part, but of great proportions. What we propose is perceived by a part of Spanish society, and by a relevant part of Spanish institutions, as a great challenge. We are in the middle of multilateral elements. And more in a globalized world in which the wills of citizenship, the responsibilities of the different institutional levels intersect.
— A very generic answer.
Because I imagine that we are better than two, three or four years ago. We are facing a window of opportunity that we have always wanted. We have always said that these issues should never have left the realm of politics, they should never have been prosecuted. We are facing the opportunity to bring this issue back to the table of politics in the highest and noblest sense of the expression, which is the search for the well-being of citizens. We should take advantage of it. It does not depend only on us, but also on other political actors, public opinion, the media, businessmen, unions … We must not renounce the banner of dialogue and negotiation for the majority of society and the international community. If someone wants to give up the dialogue, let it be the others. In no case us.
“The worse, the better is an oxymoron that does not work; we want the best for everyone”
— But, I insist, how do you assess the performance of the Sánchez Government?
To this day, it seems that the attitude of the Spanish Government when considering a negotiation is the best we have known in the last decade. I think we can conclude that at the moment the current Spanish government has an attitude more committed to dialogue and negotiation than the last PP governments. On the part of the Government of the Generalitat, it has always been willing to do so. I have heard it from all the presidents of the Generalitat of the last decade. Well, this table seems to be a commitment by the two governments and we hope they can put it to the test, test it in the sense of doing a performance test over the next few weeks and months to see where we are able to go.
— To what extent can the fact that Esquerra now preside over the Generalitat be a more definitive, decisive factor in reaching a good agreement?
It is a very relevant situation that the presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya belongs to President Aragonès. And we hope that among all, together, because it does not only depend on us, we will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. The Government of Pedro Sánchez has received a strong wear and tear in the decision to grant pardons.
— How do you assess that decision and the trajectory of Pedro Sánchez in the Government?
Well, wear and tear we surely all suffer in different measures. But those of us who are willing to work for the welfare of society must be willing to take the wear. We are not here to seek easy applause. I wish it had been assumed by many more than us, earlier and with more conviction. It will not be easy, but we should vote on independence”
Oriol Junqueras President of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)
— I didn’t ask you about your weariness, I asked you about Pedro Sánchez’s wear and tear and how you have valued this gesture that he has had towards you…
That it is part of the obligation of all of us to work for the common good. Whoever he is, the person you quote or don’t quote, or ourselves.
Granting of pardons
“It is part of the obligation of all of us to work for the common good”
— Haven’t you had any phone contact with him since you got out of jail?
Not since we left or since we entered, not during, not through, not after, not before, not ever. The starting positions to reach this agreement are very distant. And both parties will have to give in. Yes. In the world there have been many negotiations whose starting points were very, very far apart and agreements have been reached. It is about everyone making efforts without giving up the defense of democratic rights. That point of rapprochement could ultimately be a referendum.
— Could a consultation be proposed in which Catalonia once again expresses its support for a reform of the Statute or for a different fit in Spain, but that is not a referendum on independence, yes or no?
It is easier to agree on the mechanism that has to resolve this conflict, which is democracy. The vote is essential. It is more difficult to agree on what to vote on. We believe that it should also be possible to vote on independence. We understand that the perspective of the Spanish Government is different. If we were not in such opposite positions, we would not have reached where we have arrived. Is not easy.
— Will it be fast?
Most likely not, but it is essential.
“Almost half of Spanish society supports the measures in favor of dialogue”
— Before you mentioned that Spanish public opinion is very against it, perhaps more at the institutional level, not so much socially.
I understand that Spanish society, legitimately and taking into account the political and communicative discourse that it has received over the years, opposes certain measures. I also note that this opposition is not as great as some would like. And that almost half of Spanish society endorses the measures aimed at promoting political resolution. In contrast, some Spanish parties have a more intransigent attitude.
— And is it possible that this great agreement between Spain and Catalonia can be reached, without counting on the PP? Do you think that an effort should be made so that those sectors most recalcitrant to the pact join this majority of the 50% you mention?
We must always make an effort to try to convince the more the better. But there are political formations that do not have much interest in talking to us. We cannot force them. Yes, we can try to address the general public. I will never tire of trying.
“Our commitment to amnesty is absolute and will be raised at the dialogue table”
— Following the events of October 2017, ERC is making a more pragmatic discourse to try to broaden the supporter base. What do you think when Artur Mas or Carles Puigdemont affirm that they wish ERC had made that discourse when they governed? That maybe things would have ended differently.
I don’t usually value the opinions of others. We are responsible for our words. And our discourse is that it will be better if we are more. We have always said it. Nor is there anything new in which we speak of multilateralism. This is compatible with being unilateral in the defense of the right to vote, as is the duty of any citizen to be.
— But beyond the exercise of the right to vote, if we want to achieve our objectives, we need the recognition of the international community. And I have not yet heard from any international representative who would recognize a Catalan republic whose proclamation has not gone through a referendum.
We want to be part of the EU. But to get to that point there are many strategies, there is one of the worse the better. This type of oxymoron that can be attractive from a literary point of view, from a political, economic, and social point of view does not usually work. The worse, the worse. I insist, it can be part of the discourse, of the oratory. And there are undoubtedly many politicians who are brighter than me in the use of words. But looking at the facts, I think the better the better. We want things to go as well as possible for Catalan and Spanish society. Because in the end our economies are intertwined.
Round of visits
“I will go to see Marta Rovira in Geneva and the MEPs in Strasbourg”
— In this phase of dialogue that is about to begin, one of the setbacks that exists is the situation of the people who are outside. How is ERC going to fight for this problem to be solved?
Our commitment to amnesty is absolute. Out of conviction and from a pragmatic perspective. There are more than 3,000 reprisals. Both President Puigdemont, the Secretary General of Esquerra, Marta Rovira, etc., know without any doubt that our commitment to defend their rights, in amnesty, is absolute and total.
— Will this topic be brought to the dialogue table?
Undoubtedly. We will carry amnesty and self-determination. The political question that we have pending, for us, is an independent Catalan republic within the framework of the European institutions, and with the best possible form of relationship with the Spanish State. These days it has been highlighted that the President of the Spanish Government concluded in Barcelona saying that he loves Catalonia and the Catalans. It seems good to me to use this type of expressions. I have used them. I want the Spanish to do their best.
— It is said that Esquerra’s model will resemble that of the PNV. In Euskadi, the president of the Euzkadi Buru Batzar commands more than the lehendakari. In Catalonia, can Pere Aragonès be a tutored president?
I don’t think the Lehendakari agrees with what you just said. In my case, and in the case of Pere Aragonès, we are not only colleagues, but we are friends. We have worked together in various fields in the party, in the Government, in the Conselleria d’Economia i Hisenda. I have watched him work for a long time and he has all my esteem, respect, admiration and support. He will not be in tutelage.
Relationship with the president
“Aragonès and I are not only colleagues, we are friends; he will not be tutored”
— From now on, what steps will you take as president of ERC?
The agenda for the next two weeks includes dialogue with economic and social sectors and also some way out abroad. Next week I will visit Geneva to meet Marta Rovira and international interlocutors. And the following week, a visit to Strasbourg coinciding with the plenary session of the European Parliament, where all the Catalan pro-independence MEPs will be, both those who are in forced exile and those who are not.