Òmnium Cultural

Jordi Cuixart: "Out of responsibility, we must put pressure on politicians again"

7 min

BarcelonaAs it celebrates its 60th anniversary, Òmnium is about to reach 200,000 members, has a budget of €10m, 70% of which it allocates to Catalan language projects and its president, Jordi Cuixart, is a political rock star. What can go wrong? Much of the rest. That's why Cuixart has gone from serious to tender in his book Aprenentatges i una proposta [Lessons learned and a proposal] (Ara Llibres) and warns that without a street mobilisation that puts pressure on Catalan and Spanish politicians there will be no independence.

You say that when you hide what you are, you suffer, and that when you behave as you really are, you feel liberated.

— When I called home it turned out that never in my life had the whole family been so good, and in the end you end up saying: "Wow, if everything is so good, why are we suffering?" One of the great things I've learned is that now I know that the limit is not prison. And, therefore, to be sent there. I remember the director of Soto de Real, who one day sent me a message saying "If when your wife and [Òmnium vicepresident] Marcel Mauri say that you are a political prisoner, it doesn't help". Well, tough luck. My mother got very emotional when I called her from prison and she realised that I got emotional too. But I thought she didn't notice, until a sister of mine warned me. Then there was no longer any point in hiding it. And this showed me how important it is to tell each other that we love each other, as a lady said to me a moment ago in the street. And this has to make us recover the hope that brought us to the 1st and 3rd of October, despite the frustration we all feel.

Perhaps the frustration comes from decisions like abandoning the streets on days like October 3, 2017.

— If we get bogged down with reproaches, we're in bad shape. This is a book that tries to look to the future. On 1 and 3 October, the Catalan people had all the power, but we did not know how to turn it into strength. We had the power to lift the king of Spain from his chair, and the politicians did not know how to translate this power into political action. And, therefore, learning: if we want to do it again, three elements have to unite us, such as the capacity for mass mobilisation, non-violent struggle and power at the ballot box. Today these three elements do not exist.

So sending the people home the night of September 20 was a mistake?

— What we did on 20 September was to dismantle the State's trap, a calculated operation of leaving weapons in open cars, without any kind of police cordon, and they did it on the day they made more than 17 arrests, 50 searches of private homes, attempted to enter a political party's headquarters without a warrant, seized Òmnium magazines and closed down more than 70 websites without any kind of warrant. The state wanted there to be violence on September 20. At 10 o'clock in the morning I said on the radio that the rally would end at 12 o'clock at night. We saw that there were groups of people who were not our regulars, and we avoided falling into the trap. We were not organised that day.

And now you say that if people are organised the risk will be minimised.

— Non-violent struggle teaches that confrontation with the state has gradual steps. On October 1st we went from an exercise of fundamental rights to direct civil disobedience, and we skipped all the intermediate stages. Because massive exercises of civil disobedience require a lot of capacity to absorb frustration when the actions of that very day do not achieve the end for which they were conceived. That's okay, the non-violent struggle is an exercise in humility because it expects that, in the long run, the powers of the State will have to listen to your voice. From here comes the proposal that we make to Catalan society, that we need to do it again, but do it better, and this requires sacrifice, training, will and a capacity for mobilisation that we have to be able to recover, because we are aware that this capacity for mobilisation does not exist today.

Do you think that now you would find the same thousands of people?

— What is the aim of the repression in Catalonia? To divide those who are fighting. And as a society we are not divided. If anything, the social fracture in Catalonia is between the people who can make ends meet and the people who can't, and that is precisely why we are calling on Catalan society to resolve the political conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish state.

In other words, it will be a long time until you "do it again".

— Well, I have also learnt that in 2014 and 2017 it seemed that everything was disunity and that we would get nowhere, and in 2017 we ended up experiencing one of the most important clashes in Catalonia's contemporary history with the Spanish state. It is true that we are convinced that today we do not have the conditions to hold this referendum due to the disunity that exists between all the political forces, but the only way that a shared strategy can be drawn up is by putting pressure on politicians to listen to citizens' voices. Out of responsibility, we have to put pressure on politicians again. How long will it take? We cannot afford to drag it out if we see the magnitude of the real problems I was telling you about earlier.

Do you mean to say that this discourse is not naïve and idealistic? The pro-independence majority in Parliament is incapable of even approving the budget right now.

— Let us prepare ourselves precisely to be able to put pressure on politicians, those here and those there. And this is not an anti-party discourse, because the alternative to parties is a dictatorship, but we cannot stop being demanding with them.

Jordi Cuixart: "We need to do it again, do it better and recover the capacity to mobilise".

If the pro-independence majority does not approve these budgets, what are we facing?

— It would be dramatic if there were no capacity to reach agreements on the budgets. We would not understand that in the economic situation that I was telling you about and in the battle with the Spanish state they could not reach an agreement, so we call on the political class to work with the responsibility that comes with the serious economic situation that we are still suffering. Now there is discouragement among the people because of the disunity of the politicians. When people come to join Òmnium they ask us to put pressure on politicians through mobilisation. We tell them that if we want to continue fighting we need to make sacrifices and not lose hope.

This is for those who are convinced. But how do you mobilise the part of Catalan society that doesn't want to vote in a referendum for independence?

— Well, what the polls and electoral results tell us is that in a scenario of democratic normality, in Catalonia there is a majority feeling that the right to self-determination can be exercised. And the fact that the State acts with violence cannot be a limit to the legitimate aspiration of any national community to exercise this right to self-determination.

"Democratic normality", that is, agreed referendum. But do you think the Spanish state can agree on a referendum?

— We would make a serious mistake if we abandon the flag of negotiation. Now, the Spanish state does not show any predisposition to any kind of negotiation. But we, as a society, as activists, cannot give up defending what we believe to be the best for Catalan society as a whole, and that is that it can have its say through a referendum.

And how does it reach everyone?

— Well, precisely one of the great lessons of October 3rd is that having more supporters does not mean they are any less determined, on the contrary. The more determined you are, the more people you draw in. We saw it on 3-O, how the majority of social agents felt called upon to defend the exercise of fundamental rights. In prison I received a lot of letters from people who told me "I'm not pro-independence, but I'm a democrat and you shouldn't be in prison".

Are we one people? When the Independence bid was approaching its boiling point, the mayoress of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Núria Parlon, told me, seeing how some balconies were decorated with Esteladas and others with Spanish flags, that in order to gain Statehood we would lose the nation.

— A nuance. We are a people under permanent construction, due to emigration as a structural fact, and this is a source of national pride. I, the son of immigrants, feel fully represented. We would be mistaken if we idealised the concept of "one people" and thought that it was synonymous with a hermetic, rigid people, with no permeability or capillarity. Therefore, I dare to qualify the mayoress of Santa Coloma de Gramenet in the sense that it is a permanent construction, and we will be wrong the day we think that we have reached the definitive nation.

Jordi Cuixart: "Out of responsibility we have to put pressure on politicians again"

The problem could be that, while on the one hand we build, on the other hand we deconstruct. Now there are parents who perhaps do not find that Catalan is as important for their children as it was after the end of Franco's regime.

— Language is the nerve of the nation and the heritage of all the citizens of the Catalan Countries, and the independence bid is a political process. However, we have two states, the Spanish and the French, which understand multilingualism as an attack on their unity. We have an example of this with the new media law. But we have some responsibility, internally; in Catalonia when we claimed that we were fighting against the ruling of the TSJC on the obligation of 25% of Spanish in the classroom when in fact, without wishing to criminalise teachers, there were more than 50% of teachers who addressed their pupils in Spanish. The administration has also greatly neglected language. In Lledoners prison I found myself demanding that communications to prisoners be in Catalan as a minimum. The majority of prisoners in Catalonia understand Catalan, so why do you have to be addressed in Spanish by the Catalan administration?

If one day Esquerra, Junts and the CUP create another Junts pel Sí, would you accept to be the candidate for the presidency of the Generalitat?

— No, I'm not a politician, because I wouldn't feel comfortable. I would never have imagined that I could become the president of Òmnium either, and for me it has been an immense honour. One day I will return to the factory and I will continue to be an activist because it's in my blood, but I don't want to be a politician..., with all due respect.