Marta Rovira: "Demanding that the deadline for the negotiating table be shortened weakens us"
BarcelonaMarta Rovira is the secretary general of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and, since March 2018, has been living in exile in Geneva (Switzerland).
What impression have the recent visits of Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras, Carme Forcadell, Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa left on you?
— At the beginning it was very new and very strange, but after a while the reconnection was very strong and you felt as if no time had passed. They looked very well and I think that they will really be catalysts, they will bring fresh air.
Has seeing them free and you in exile changed your perception of the decision you made?
— Not at all. The reasons why I came into exile are still valid and I am happy to have been able to work at the international level to help free them.
With the political prisoners pardoned, has the work you can do in exile lost momentum?
— The Spanish government has been working to try to explain that they are resolving the political conflict, but we are already reminding everyone we can at international level that repression continues because there may pardons but days later the Court of Auditors case started and the Catalan Paliament's Bureau members were taken to court.
But what incentive does the Spanish government have now to negotiate?
— We have a position of great strength at the negotiating table because we represent a great consensus that exists in our society, which is that this political conflict must be resolved through a referendum.
Well, what we heard from the Spanish government is that "they hoped you had learnt your lesson".
— I would answer that we have learned it so well that we will do it again, because we defend democracy and to defend democracy we will use all the democratic instruments we have at our disposal.
Even if the Spanish government had the will, it would still be necessary to convince the institutions of the state.
— That is why we have to provide this process of negotiation of the political conflict with guarantees regarding the process itself: if agreements are reached, they must be respected, they must be political, they must be democratic. In any process of negotiation of a conflict, the first meetings are to talk about the guarantees that are attributed to the process itself. We will see whether it is possible in September.
What guarantees would you ask for?
— Guarantees of compliance with agreements. We must not let the Spanish government escape from recognising that there is a political conflict here. What do we have to do as Catalan representatives? Go to the table, go strong, uninhibited. These days I heard statements by Elsa Artadi saying: "No, no, we are asking for the deadline to be shortened". I believe that we should not make such statements because they weaken us, because they inhibit us.
President Puigdemont said on Sunday that "a country is not made in offices" and Turull said that "after two or three meetings we will see whether there is a desire to resolve the conflict".
— I am the first sceptic. What we simply have to do with our government partners is to reach an agreement and have a profound debate. If this is a question of trust between us, we must be able to overcome it. I agree with Jordi Turull. We will see whether in two or three months' time this is a way of negotiating the political conflict. If it is not, we will also have to agree on what we do, how we walk away from the table, what gain in legitimacy it has given us.
And should we wait two years to see results or can we walk away earlier?
— It depends on the itinerary of the table, it depends on how the Spanish government feels. Let's get onto it, let's get to work, let's make them assume the initial agreement of this negotiating table, which is powerful and very good, which is that we will have the freedom to defend amnesty and self-determination. And from here we will see.
Do you find it disloyal that JxCat is expressing their mistrust of the table?
— No. I find that they are expressing a need that I agree with. We need to talk more, we need to debate more. We have to explain things to each other more and, if the issue between us is one of trust, we have to resolve it.
So if you tell me that you have to talk more, then it is that you are not talking enough.
— This is what I am working on and I am calling for a lot more talking. And I am also very optimistic since political prisoners were freed because I think this will be a revulsive. I believe that this will allow us to meet again, to talk again, to rebuild these bridges, these trusts.
The government has been in power for two months and now we're back to this again?
— I think that the government agreement was well struck. We still need to work on strategic consensus, the common and joint strategy, and in this I am also optimistic because there have been meetings since the first day.
Does it make sense for President Aragonès not to go to the conference of regional Spanish presidents this Friday?
— It seems right that the president should say: "Look, you and I have a negotiating table pending to deal political conflict and, therefore, we should meet there first".
How do you see him as president?
— I am very grateful, and I say it with my hand on my heart, for everything he is doing and how he is doing it, because his position has not been easy. He has been fighting and has been working like no one else.
The discussion of the general state budget will start soon. Will you have a common position with Junts?
— We want to talk about this with everyone. We can even try to share proposals, but everyone has to be willing to go all the way. What we cannot do is to be called upon to maintain common positions on the budgets and at the same time to be worn down because we are the only ones trying to achieve the best budgets for Catalonia. I only ask for honesty. We will once again explore general budgets and we will do so because there reality is a brutal social and economic crisis.
Is your dialogue with Jordi Sànchez fluent?
— Until now it has not been as regular or as fluent as we would have liked. From now on I hope it will be. In fact, he called me and told me that he also wanted to come and visit me in Geneva with Jordi Turull, Quim Forn and Josep Rull [the JxCat pardoned politicians]. I really want to see people with whom I had a very good relationship, such as Jordi Turull.
You have been general secretary of ERC for ten years. Is the price you have paid very high?
— For me it is not a price, for me it is an investment. Everything we have done is a political investment and I live it with pride. I would do it again and I would do it better for sure. With perspective it can always be improved and I feel very useful. I am very much at peace.
What would be the solution for you to return from exile: the reform of the crime of sedition or a favourable ruling from EU courts?
— The second, undoubtedly. Those of us who are in exile have to wait for the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to pronounce itself. It will be there that we will be able to see what possibilities are available to us. At the moment I consider it truly impossible.