It's a month since he found out Spain's Supreme Court had decided to sentence him to 13 years in prison, but it's already over two years since he was first sent into custody. Former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras (Barcelona, 1969) granted El Nacional an interview from Lledoners prison, responding to our questions by letter. In it, he discusses that sentence and continues to defend dialogue to solve the issue of Catalonia, "whoever the Spanish prime minister may be".
Note: This is an abridged version of an interview conducted, and published in Catalan and Spanish, before Sunday's Spanish general election.
It's now more than three weeks since the sentences were announced. How are you?
Stronger and more certain than ever. With the calm of someone who knows they're innocent. We've been preparing ourselves for a long time, because we know this state. We knew that they wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to imprison us and impose harsh and vengeful sentences.
How do you face up to 13 years in prison?
With the feeling that we did what had to be done. I feel very proud to be in prison for having set out ballot boxes, for having held a referendum. We had a democratic mandate and we fulfilled it. This century between us in prison will make clear the state's mistake, the state's grave mistake towards democracy. And by being in prison, we will demonstrate the state's mistake every day.
I feel very proud to be in prison for having set out ballot boxes. And by being in prison, we will demonstrate the state's mistake every day
The sentences have sparked great indignation among a significant portion of Catalan society, which has responded with numerous protests. What's been your experience of that from Lledoners?
It's confirmed to us that the pro-independence movement is more alive than ever and that the citizens of this country will be what they decide democratically, not what a court or the Spanish government decides [they will be]. If they thought that by imprisoning democrats and protesters and persecuting a political movement we would give up, they can drop that idea: we are those who never tire and never give up. We won't stop fighting until we achieve our objective: the independence of Catalonia.
Very large and clearly peaceful demonstrations have been seen, but also some with dumpsters being burnt and protesters throwing stones at the police. What's your view of that?
Our path is peaceful, democratic and en masse. Passive resistance, non-violence in the face of police and judicial brutality. We believe that it's the best way to take down a state which is ever more authoritarian and scared of democracy; its injustice punishes them far more than it does us. It gave us enormous strength to see the marches for liberty overflow the streets of the country, the people of this country are extraordinary.
Puc entendre la frustració que els ha generat aquesta sentència, és pura venjança i injustícia, però no puc estar d'acord que la via pacífica no serveix per res
A piece of graffiti that was a huge success during the protests read: "You've taught us that being peaceful is no use". Do you understand why some independence supporters, especially younger ones, feel this way?
Obviously I can understand the frustration these sentences have generated. It's pure revenge and injustice, but I cannot agree that it's useless. You only have to look at where we were just 5 or 10 years ago and where we are today: independence is irreversible, inevitable. And we have to understand that prison is another stage on the path towards liberty. I can assure you that there is nobody in a greater hurry to achieve the independence of Catalonia, nobody. But I want to truly win it and we will look for the most effective paths to do so.
Despite PSOE's hardline position, your party continues to defend dialogue. What makes you think that now they will accept to sit at the negotiating table?
You demonstrate far greater courage defending dialogue in the face of continued refusals than by yielding and accepting the refusal. The more they block dialogue, the more we will defend it, so that internationally they see the absolute intransigence of the Spanish government, whoever is prime minister. We are lifelong independence supporters, we were when we were only 8%, we are the ones who don't give up and who always defend the interests of our citizens and we'll continue to do so despite the state's refusal. How do they plan to solve this conflict otherwise? By imprisoning us and refusing us? I have no doubt that we will win and they will end up sitting down at a table and that the people of Catalonia will vote in a self-determination referendum. No independence process in the world has been easy, but they didn't give up for that, and we aren't of the type to give up.
Junqueras attached a personal note to our readers to his responses to the interview.
The note reads:
Allow me to share with you, readers of El Nacional, a greeting from Lledoners [prison] and a commitment to construct the Catalan republic!
Oriol Junqueras, Lledoners, 7th November 2019