Society 06/04/2021

Farewell to Arcadi Oliveres, the economist who wanted a fairer world

Defender of the "other politics", he was a prominent figure in struggles such as pacifism and anti-globalisation

4 min
Arcadi Oliveres photographed in 2012

The social movements have lost today one of their most beloved - and respected - voices. Arcadi Oliveres (Barcelona, 1945), an economist by training and pacifist by conviction, has died at the age of 75. He played a significant role in the protests against the Afghan war, for dedicating 0.7% of GDP to developing countries and fiscal objection to military spending. Oliveres was also one of the voices that in 2011 stood most clearly alongside the Indignados movement, convinced that a more direct democracy was needed. He taught applied economics at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and for 13 years presided Justícia i Pau, an organisation that works for the defense of human rights, social justice and peace. He also chaired the Fundació Universitat Internacional de la Pau. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of January, he spent his last days at home, where he received many visits. "These days are happy days, I feel very loved," he told ARA in an interview.

Utopia is possible

Oliveres firmly believed that another world was possible and he always defended it. He was tireless, he would go anywhere to share his ideas and fight against inequality and for disarmament. He visited hundreds of schools to reverse the official discourse and explain that utopias are possible. In Another World (Angle Editorial) he said it clearly: "Is another world possible? I believe it is. And I think it is also necessary in the face of the accelerated degradation of our planet. We live immersed in systems of power relations, control and bonds that overwhelm us every day". Even so, he was an optimistic person: "Far from the most passive pessimism, I am one of those who like to find notes of optimism, although every day we receive negative impacts, even if change does not happen from one day to the next". If there are intentions, he explained, there is already a beginning of change.

Arcadi Oliveres and David Fernandez talk at Clownia Festival in 2017

Change, however, is not possible without being well informed. Oliveres was an expert on North-South relations, international trade, foreign debt and defence economics and a voracious reader of the international press. He had a large newspaper library and kept practically every copy of Le Monde.

Honest and consistent

In his books he not only proposed to change things but also explained how to do it. He went round and round the alternatives that could make a fairer world possible and he always explained them with great enthusiasm. Oliveres was an extremely honest and coherent person. Very critical of the capitalist system and unbridled consumerism, he put his ideas into practice. He always said, with those gentle eyes that tended to smile, that he bought his clothes second-hand and his house was extremely austere. He was also a very generous person in all aspects, he never said no to anyone.

He always chose his own paths, paths inherited to a large extent from his family environment, since he was brought up by a pacifist and Catalanist father and an extremely vital mother who fought to improve the neighbourhood. As a child, one of his teachers was Lluís Maria Xirinachs, who on the first day of class told him that this was not a classroom but a republic. Another decisive teacher was Francesc Botey, a Piarist who spent long periods of time in the Third World. He received a more progressive education than the times he lived in. He went to university in the midst of the revolution of May '68 and at a time when the anti-Francoist struggle in Catalonia was flourishing.

There he also had professors who had a great influence on him, such as Jordi Nadal and Manuel Sacristán. He was an activist from a very young age. In 1976 he took part in the Marxa per la Llibertat (March for Freedom), for which he was arrested. He often recalled the night of 26 September 1975, towards the end of Franco's regime. The next day at dawn Juan Paredes Manot, also known by his nickname, Txiqui, was executed. Oliveres was part of the campaign against the death penalty and tried everything to avoid it, including calling the Vatican. "Since that night in 1975 when Txiki was shot, every 26th of September I sleep badly," he said

In 2013 he promoted, together with the nun Teresa Forcades, the Procés Constituent de Catalunya and two years later he received the proposal to lead the candidacy of Catalunya Sí que es Pot in Parliament. He rejected it. "I have never imagined myself as a member of parliament", he explains now in the book Paraules d'Arcadi. Què hem après del món i com podem actuar.

He was dedicated to the "other politics", the ones carried out outside institutions to try to change things. In fact, already in the moments after the outbreak of the 15-M, he was asking the indignados in an interview with ARA , that they should not become a party and enter politics: "It would be the death of them". A convinced optimist, he believed that another world was possible and that it was worth trying to the end.

Oliveres, in a 2012 archive photo

He got his doctorate in economics at the Universitat de Barcelona, although he had previously tried to study engineering to satisfy his father. During his student years he was very involved in the clandestine assemblies of the Sindicat Democràtic d'Estudiants de la Universitat de Barcelona and participated in the Caputxinada of 1966. Later he joined the organisation Cristians pel Socialisme, Pax Christi and the organisation Justícia i Pau, which he presided over for three terms.