Oriol Junqueras: "We cannot hand over the flag of negotiation to those who do not want the Republic"
Oriol Junqueras (Barcelona, 1969) arrives at ARA headquarters not knowing how long his open prison regime will last and will have to re-enter prison. Right now, the ERC leader divides his time between campaigning and his family.
How long do you think the open prison regime that the Generalitat has granted to political prisoners will last?
— We have no idea. Experience shows us that they try to keep it to a minimum. Until now the Public Prosecutor's Office has appealed against every measure and it wouldn't be strange if they did it again.
Did you miss rallies? In Badalona you looked excited...
— I have a great time. I like talking to people, communicating in conditions similar to freedom, because we are not yet free. And it seems to me that our message is understood and is useful for the country.
What has changed compared to December 2017 so that you can now win the elections?
— Well, many things have and others have not. Repression has not changed. We want to win because we think we are the most useful for the country. We managed to win on 28 April, 26 May, 10 November, and each of these victories has brought positive changes for the country, for example, changes in important cities such as Lleida, Tarragona, Vilanova, Sant Cugat, Figueres, cities that had been governed for decades by the same political parties. It has also happened in the Spanish elections, where we have made a very useful contribution, for example by helping to approve budgets that overturned Montoro's PP budgets, which were extremely restrictive and did not allow the European funds to be used. To do this is to be useful for the people. And what is maximum usefulness? Well, an independent Catalan Republic because we would have more resources and we could do more work.
You are now defending a broad path. Does this path involve winning in the metropolitan area?
— The fact is that any project for a country has to aspire to win throughout its territory, and has to aspire for the territory to breathe in the same way everywhere, to have a shared project.
And you didn't know this before 2017?
— We tried but this last decade is when we have managed to change town councils where the socialists ruled ad aeternum and that is why the PSC sees us as their main rival. We are the only party that can shake their domination of the institutions in the metropolitan area, which they think they own. And the PSC is also our main rival because in Catalonia it represents those who have always been in power, and who will therefore do the same as has always been done. And this country needs a real change, and that is why we have to win in the metropolitan areas and everywhere.
Was the message in 2017 scary for the metropolitan areas?
— Well, I'm sure that part of society felt that the project we embodied was not sufficiently addressed to them, that they felt excluded. We made a huge effort, and we are convinced that this project makes sense if it is addressed to everyone. This project has to be addressed to everyone and it has to be done by all of us. And if we can contribute to incorporating part of Catalan society, so much the better. It is better for us internally, but also towards the international community. And this is the only possible way to build the Republic. Because what we have learned is that there was not enough of us in 2017. Because the State, on their side of the scale has repression and dirty war; we only want to have votes, social consensus and broad majorities to balance the scales. Notice that even now they want us out of the game, because they know that if we participate, if we compete on equal terms, they will not beat us.
Pere Aragonès says that independence is not declared but achieved. How is it achieved?
— It is clear that we need everyone's involvement. If on 3 October 2017 we had had more involvement from some social and economic spheres, we would have been in a better position to defend the result of the 1 October referendum. At that time we all perceived the hostile attitude of some big companies, of the financial sector, of most of the media... It is clear that we need more tools for the challenge we face.
Does this mean that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of 27 October 2017 could not be more than a symbol?
— To begin with, it served to fulfil the democratic mandate and the electoral programme. And I explained that in order to fulfil the programme it could lead to prison and that we would have to accept this. Because prison is part of the road to freedom. Many others have been before us. We had to fulfil that mandate even if it was at the expense of our personal freedom. And now it is essential that we take advantage of every time we go to the polls to show that we have an increasingly large majority.
Laura Borràs proposes to vote on the UDI in the Parliament again if pro-independence parties obtain over 50% of votes. What would ERC do?
— The thing is that voting on a UDI or proclaiming an independence that lasts a few seconds is no good. What is needed is to make it viable, and it will be viable when it has broad majorities in favour and not against it. We do not want a UDI every three months or every three years, or one that lasts three seconds as unfortunately happened in 2017. We want a Republic for life.
Is this a way of trying to put pressure on you?
— I try to contribute not to harm any project partner, and avoid entering into sterile polemics and bet on shared strategies.
What makes ERC's offer different from JxCat's?
— We are a party with 90 years of history, the most repressed party in the history of Catalonia and without a single case of corruption. We have always been committed to social justice, to prosperity for everyone. And I am proud to be part of a project that the State knows is the most antagonistic and dangerous for its continuity.
You say that Laura Borràs, as a candidate under investigation, would not have been able to be part of the ERC lists.
— We would never have a candidate in this situation. And, in fact, we have never had.
Would you invest her as president if she wins?
— We are convinced that what we will need to do is to invest Pere Aragonès. We are absolutely convinced that we will win, among other things because he is the best for this country. Now we will not give up and, therefore, what I want to ask all pro-independence supporters, those who are in favour of the referendum and amnesty, is that they make an effort to work together. Either we all work together or we will not make progress because it is clear that the adversities we have to overcome are immense, in the pandemic and in the economic crisis. We have to get this country back on its feet.
Are you satisfied with the Catalan Government's management?
— Surely everything can be improved. But this Government has helped to ensure that schools remain open and safe, it has helped to ensure that the death rate per million inhabitants is tremendously lower than in Madrid, for example, it has made it possible to have five satellite facilities in the main hospitals. And I am proud of all this, and I defend it with passion.
How do you force the Spanish government to hold a referendum? With passion alone...
— Passion helps to build large majorities. As Raül Romeva explains, the referendum will be inevitable, they will not be able to avoid it because there will be so many of us that it will be enough. That's why we don't believe in "the worse the situation, the better for us" doctrine. The worse the situation, the worse for us, and we see it every day with the pandemic. There is no such thing as "the worse the situation, the better for us". I see it in the people around me, with the difficulties they have. And if we don't reduce mobility on the streets, the virus triumphs. And all over Europe, measures taken are as drastic or even more drastic than here. It's a very delicate balance, very much so.
Is it easier to get along with Iceta or with Illa?
— Neither one nor the other. The PSC and ERC are two incompatible parties, they represent opposing models. We are pro-independence and republican, and they defend an outdated, corrupt and centralist monarchy. They are the incarnation of all kinds of corruption as we see in L'Hospitalet. We want a fair growth and they are the defenders of few and huge companies at the expense of consumers.
Is it possible to sit down and talk when there are political prisoners?
— You always have to talk. What did the Irish independence fighters do? Or Mandela or Gandhi? Talk, from the inside and from the outside. And the Irish negotiated to hold a referendum which they won but not on the whole island. We don't have to do any different.
Your commitment to dialogue won't change even if you lose.
— That won't happen [laughs]. But we have to continue negotiating because there is an important part of this country that wants to know that we are making every effort to dialogue. And a part of the international community as well. That's why we can't hand over the flag of negotiation to those who are against the Catalan Republic. Because otherwise we will never become a republic. And what we want is to win.
Does being in prison help the Catalan pro-independence cause internationally?
— Sure, because it makes more people realise the enormous democratic abnormality that exists in the Spanish state. And they realise how deep our conviction is. And if for the freedom of Catalonia we have to renounce our personal freedom, then so be it. I have seen it done at home. And many people have seen their parents and grandparents do it, and we cannot do any less. We must do everything in our power to make a better country.
Mr Junqueras, were you able to take your children to school today?
— Yes, and it's also very nice because my daughter is five and a half years old and she says she remembers when I took them to school, when we crossed the railway bridge, the trains whistled at us, they waved at us. And when they locked me up in prison the trains stopped waving. And my daughter wanted the train to greet her again. And on Monday and today, when we crossed the bridge, the train greeted us again.