Jordi Cuixart: "The negotiating table is doomed to failure if people are not listened to"

8 min

BarcelonaThe president of Òmnium, Jordi Cuixart (Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, 1975), receives ARA in the town of les Garrigues, where he is with his family after regaining his freedom.

You told me in Lledoners prison that you wanted to get out of prison as president of Òmnium. You have done it and you are celebrating 60 years of the entity.

— Yes, it's true, I remember the conversation, and yes, we are celebrating, of course we are.

What is the strangest thing about freedom?

— In the early days I was very surprised by how many things people do with physical freedom, the impacts, the frenetic pace. Now I find it hard to find half an hour to be able to meditate and be with myself and alone.

How do you reconvert the relationship with the rest of the prisoners after so much time together? Do you call each other?

— I miss them a lot. I have spent more years with them than with my two children, and I love them very much. We did everything together and we didn't spend the whole day talking about politics because it wouldn't have been healthy. The politicians were able to say, "OK, there's dissent, but on a day-to-day basis we have to be together". And I was very grateful for that.

You differentiate between politician political prisoners. In theory you are not a politician...

— No, and in practice neither. I am an activist and, therefore, I am very clear on what activists do, which is to put pressure on power, rulers, politicians so that they listen to the voice of the citizens. I am not a politician, but it is true that we try to influence politics as efficiently as possible.

What sense does Òmnium make 60 years later?

— A lot. Our founders, Riera, Millet, Carulla and Cendrós, created industrial empires but at the same time they had the generosity to complicate their lives. These men were activists. And just as they exercised civil disobedience by training Catalan teachers when it could not be done, we have exercised non-violent struggle and civil disobedience when it has been appropriate in defence of fundamental rights.

Were you ever afraid that you might be outlawed?

— Yes, at first I was worried, but I don't think they dared to outlaw Òmnium, and this is to the credit of Catalan society. That they didn't dare to go against Tv3, against the Catalan school model. It means that people have much more strength than they think. There are many more victories here that over the years we will end up highlighting. It was also a good decision when we decided to return public subsidies and have a 100% private budget.

Has Òmnium had to recover a more political profile than it had 20 years ago?

— Òmnium, that is, Catalan language and culture, has been at the service of both social cohesion and the structuring of Catalan nationalism. That is why this Catalan nationalism is so transversal and inclusive in a society like ours, where migration is structural, and we have not thrown language and culture over our heads, on the contrary. We are a single people, and this people is under permanent construction. That's why it's inevitable that Òmnium is a politicised entity, but not a political party.

Do you think that at some point this one people has been endangered?

— It is clear that in the Spanish state there has been a strategy to try to fracture us as a society. And how is it done? Well, for example, by causing job losses. What the state did to encourage companies to leave one of its territories is an outrage.

Are pardons a victory?

— The fact that we can be here today doing this interview under this birch tree is a victory for Catalan society as a whole because the Spanish state has not been able to keep us in prison any longer. But a pardon is not the solution because we have more than 3,000 repressed people and we are seeing how the repression not only does not stop - but is increasing.

How can pressure be exerted to obtain amnesty?

— From the civil society we have to keep on pressuring our politicians to find a way to give an answer. We entered with two hundred thousand signatures in Parliament and we will insist and persist on the idea that part of the solution to the conflict is the end of repression and this requires an amnesty law.

Jordi Cuixart and Esther Vera during the interview

Is Catalan society mobilised, or is it mobilisable at the moment, as it was in 2017?

— I am optimistic. We see how people month after month reaffirm their commitment to the entity and how every year we receive new members. The covid is wreaking havoc and this does not allow us to mobilise on the streets as we would like. But when it all eases we will have to go out again to the squares and streets to put pressure on the powers, all of them, including the judiciary.

And would people be receptive to this call to take to the streets?

— We have to continue with all the care that the pandemic situation demands, but we are confident that we will once again have an 11-S in which the mobilisation will once again show that people still want to exercise the rights condemned by the Spanish state. The pardon also aims to send a message to Catalan society: "Hey, we have pardoned them, but watch out, if you demonstrate you might not be so lucky". The only way to combat this effect is to take to the streets and protest again.

You have been lucky with your "We will do it again". What is it, that we will do again?

— Exercise fundamental rights. I am imprisoned for having called a demonstration, for having exercised freedom of expression and because I put pressure on our politicians to hold a referendum. When I say to the Supreme Court "We will do it again", it is neither cockiness nor pedantry, but to say that I am exercising my rights. What the sentence says is that you have the right to demonstrate as long as you do not influence politicians. Well, you tell me never to win, and when I speak out against climate change it is because I want to reverse it.

Are you free today because of international pressure, because of the interests of the PSOE in Parliament -or because of everything together?

— It has been the sum of factors but for me the most decisive has been the international pressure and that of Catalan society. The international pressure for me is both exile and the European courts, which have expressed themselves very clearly, and the Council of Europe and the UN. Neither those who believe themselves to be strong are so strong, nor those of us who might be tempted to believe that we are in a situation of weakness, are weak. A proof of this is that Mr. Pedro Sánchez had said "There will be no pardons" - and we will see how long they last -, but we have had them.

What do you mean, how long they last? Do you see yourself in prison again?

— The third chamber of the Supreme Court still has to decide on certain things. For me, going back to prison is not an option that can't be ruled out. And it would be a mistake for this to condition our action as activists.

Doesn't prison condition the way you look at things?

— I don't want to go to prison, but I'm also very lucky that I already know what it's like. I've already lost my fear of it and it won't be a limit to my actions. What we ask is that it should not be a limit for the movement as a whole. In fact, I was moving within the parameter of serving the full penalty. I'm glad I was wrong.

The judicial battle will continue.

— I am the only EU citizen who has lost his right to a second judicial instance because he had no immunity. Well, gentlemen, if they want to put me back in jail, we'll see each other in Europe. And when the sentence comes, it will legitimise everything we have done and the movement will have even more strength.

What is the mandate of 1-O [the Catalan referendum for independence]?

— 1-O is a collective heritage from which the decisions that politicians have to take emanate. It is very important that we all know where we belong. An activist is not the same as the president of the Generalitat. For us this is what 1-O is: an exemplary act of civil disobedience in Europe.

Did you ever fear there would be more violence?

— States usually provoke the non-violent movement so that there are people who break the non-violent discipline. I think that here too we all together have to begin to distinguish between pacifism and nonviolent struggle, which are different things. Struggle is simply action that is not violent, but it is action: it is mobilisation, it is taking people to the streets, it is preventing the police from beating you with your own body. How can you guarantee that some of the hundreds of thousands of people who are being beaten with truncheons by the police will break the non-violent discipline? It's a risk, but once again it was shown that Catalan society acted with an exemplary attitude.

You say that JxCat and ERC are not so far apart. Can they agree on a common strategy?

— The goal we have is to redefine a shared strategy. Among other things, because neither the CUP nor Junts nor ERC nor the comuns are so far away from each other. The negotiating table is doomed to failure if the people are not listened to. If they try to create a negotiating table that only responds to short-term, electoral or whatever interests without listening to the voice of the people, we will not move forward.

Do you think it can fail?

— I have full confidence that politicians will play the role of politicians and for me good politics is that which is capable of listening to the citizens. I was in Soto del Real and I listened to the politicians running in the Spanish elections "I'm not going to talk, I'm not going to sit down and talk..." Listen, Mr. politician, you have the obligation to talk to everyone, to those with whom you agree and above all to those with whom you disagree.

Does Pedro Sánchez have any leeway with the PP pressured by Vox, with a politicised judicial system, etc.?

— He has all the tools at his disposal. Or what do we think it is, this politics thing? It is to take brave decisions. Or is it that because of the PP and Vox we renounce democracy? Faced with the challenge of the extreme right, what you can't do is give ground. Well, Mr Sánchez, you now have real possibilities to reverse the situation.

Is there a problem of democratic quality in Spain?

— Spain is a democracy but perhaps it was less so than we thought. There is a Supreme Court that controls absolutely all the political life of the State, and this is not normal.

Do you miss more Spanish voices saying "Democratic quality is not enough"?

— I am very grateful to my friends Trueba, Sánchez-Cuenca, Alberto San Juan... But there have also been clamorous silences. Is nobody surprised that the president of a cultural entity could be in prison? They are also seeing that it is not that we have awakened the beast of fascism, it was already there and now it is attacking them. I have no problem fraternising with all the democrats in Spain and the whole world, but we cannot renounce our convictions in the name of a certain fraternity.

Jordi Cuixart walking in the countryside

Were you surprised by the reactions to your embrace with Iceta?

— The first thing I did as president of Òmnium was to go to him and say: "Listen, here we have a great consensus of the country around the Catalan school and the language. The PSC will be there, right?" He said yes. That is why when I see Miquel Iceta I see him as he is, and all these great agreements, and, therefore, I will not play with fire and confront the citizens of Catalonia.

Have you thought of going into politics, of taking this step?

— No. I will not go into politics. Being an activist makes me very happy and I don't think being a politician would.

What is your priority now?

— To continue to be useful in the factory but also to give back to my children everything that prison has taken away from them. They have been the real victims of repression because I have continued to be the president of Òmnium but they have been deprived of a father for four years. And I am sure that tomorrow they will also understand that I did it because I love them.