One of the most unpleasant things about the current political situation is that we have converted the exceptional into normal. Catalonia, the political Catalonia, but also the economic, the financial, the Catalonia of trade unions, associations, small businesses, obviously of the media - without this, it would be impossible - all the Catalonias that exist, have got used to coexisting with the democratic anomaly which is what the continued presence of political prisoners and exiles signifies. And one walks into the prison of Lledoners or Puig de les Basses or Mas d'Enric, or travels to Brussels, Geneva and Scotland - where our legitimate representatives are, having been excised from the institutions or the pro-independence organizations - time and time again and one cannot get used to the situation. In the separating glass, in the doors that open and close noisily, as one passes through each of the compartments of the prison accompanied by a guard. This, in the case of prisoners. It's not that different for the exiles, in the situation of a prison without bars in which they live, far from their people and their world. Far from what freedom really means, both one group and the other.
This Thursday I have an appointment with Oriol Junqueras in Lledoners and as with each and every prisoner with whom I have talked for more than two years in the different Catalan prisons and in those of Madrid, the same thing inexorably happens: they arrive smiling, without any expression of bitterness, clothing that is naturally casual - shirt and jeans, sometimes a tracksuit; they put their hand on the glass where it is joined by yours a few centimetres away. Sometimes they bring a backpack, sometimes not; sometimes notebooks with very varied notes, not always political; and they are usually more interested in listening to what you explain than speaking.
For Junqueras, it's a special day, as the prison regimes board has just, a few minutes ago, released the news that both he and Raül Romeva have been granted permission to leave prison to work for a few hours in application of the article 100.2 of the prison regulations. Junqueras arrives with his inseparable Romeva, who will only stay for a few minutes as he has a visit from Ernest Maragall, in this case, in a room inside the prison, due to the position he holds. Junqueras says he decided long ago that if he was granted leave to work outside the prison, he would use it to do what he knows best: to give classes, to teach and to learn. As a person who is practical, when he can be, he has chosen the Universitat de Vic's Manresa campus, a few kilometres from Lledoners. In a notebook I take notes by hand, as always. Although this time will be different: unlike on all the other occasions both with him and with the other prisoners, these notes will not be kept for the future, but rather, a part of their reflections will see the light in public, immediately, by his decision.
Really, life has unexpected turns. Manifestly unjust prison, and you leave for a few hours to teach, to educate students. What subject will you impart?
Professor Junqueras will do what he enjoys doing most: teaching. I always learn and teach. I've done this all my life, from a young age. Also in prison. I remember in Estremera prison they told me: the use of mathematics is to commit crimes. I've thought about that a lot. I'm looking forward to teaching. I'm very enthusiastic. What will I do? The history of thought. It will not be a chronological history but picking out some great ideas and see how they have developed throughout history. The evolution of economics, of science, scientific advances, religion, physics... My field is infinite and I am inexhaustible. I can go for years like this and every day explaining something different. This also includes the evolution of freedom. Like societies, individuals gain and lose freedoms, the role of democracy ...
Professor Junqueras will do what he enjoys doing most: teaching. I always learn and teach.
This week at the Moncloa Palace the dialogue table between the Spanish and Catalan governments has met. What can be expected of it? Reasons for optimism do not exist since the Spanish state has a history of opting for repression rather than dialogue...
I know that experience teaches us that it's very difficult, but we must take it as seriously as possible. Maybe it won't achieve anything, but maybe there will be something, something. I'm convinced that the international community and also Catalan society will take into account and understand the enormous efforts of those who believe in the dialogue table, ahead of those who don't want to even hear about it. That they will entrust their future, that they will show their confidence, in those who have taken the disposition to dialogue more seriously. And it is ERC [the Catalan Republican Left] who has trusted most in the dialogue table from the beginning. Dialogue is the flag we have believed in and we cannot give it to those who have never believed in it, like the Spanish state. It would be a fundamental, unforgivable mistake.
Dialogue is the flag we have believed in and we cannot give it to those who have never believed in it, like the Spanish state.
There are many critical voices, who say that this path has already been taken to no avail.
It's always easier to shout than to talk. The fact that it is very difficult, we already know. We are light years apart in our diagnoses and proposals. But we are here because we dare to do the difficult things, such as when we held the referendum and assumed repression with dignity. Some say that Gandhi was wrong in talking and engaging in dialogue, that Martin Luther King was wrong because he couldn't change the opinion of the white community and American power, or Nelson Mandela, who had suffered repression and at the same time was the leader of dialogue. But things happen because they have to happen and this is our battle now. At least, the battle of ERC, who forced the creation of the dialogue table.
I've spent much of my life studying this [Spanish] state and I know how it reacts. To me, the way it behaved on 1st October and the weeks following, I was not surprised. On the road to liberty there are many people who lose their liberty. We know that the state does not want to hear talk of dialogue, but precisely because it is difficult, it is a great merit that it has been achieved. Our effort is sincere, we take it seriously and that's why we ask for confidence. Let all those who want us to have dialogue follow us, come with us. So that it has the confidence of the country. We already know that the solution to our problems is self-determination but this will only come if we get stronger and stronger and forge supports among unions, companies, the media, social entities, civil society, etc. Then we can implement the result of 1st October. We sit down to dialogue with generosity and with total honesty.
We ask for confidence. Let all those who want us to have dialogue follow us, come with us.
More skepticism or confidence?
I'll tell you one thing: look, my first four court declarations after being arrested and transferred to Estremera prison were one before the National Audience court and the other three before the Supreme Court. Two of the four coincided with the nights before my children's birthdays and the third with the night of Three Kings. What is the mathematical probability that this would happen? It must be very, very low. Well it happened to me. This is how the Spanish state acts with its most vengeful face. The days when it can cause the most pain. Finding the potential for that to happen is a mathematical challenge. I would like readers of your newspaper to calculate the odds and think about them. It will help us to move forward, as vice-president Pere Aragonès said, today at breakfast with readers of El Nacional.cat, to fill the streets and the tables simultaneously.
President Quim Torra has publicly declared the Catalan legislature to be at its end, and has stated, without setting a date, that elections will be called after the budget is passed. What, in your opinion, should the election calendar look like?
The important thing is to pass the budget to help the people, to have more resources in hospitals, more money for education, more financial autonomy to meet all the country's needs. The calling of elections is in the hands of the president to whom we wish good luck and the best possible outcome, like everyone else. I hope they are right in their decisions since that way it will be greater merit for us to win.
An election in which ERC will have a new candidate, after having the same one since 2012, that is, Oriol Junqueras...
Why does that have to happen? That's not the scenario I foresee.
Once I have all the rights of an MEP, my desire is to be candidate for the presidency of Catalonia again
The Supreme Court has sentenced him, among other convictions, to 13 years' disqualification from public office...
Yes. But I expect that the Court of Justice of the European Union or the General Court of the European Union will grant me full redress of my rights, and in accordance with the ruling of December 19th of last year I will acquire my full status as an MEP. That's how it should be and that's why we have presented and will present all the necessary demands before the European judicial authorities so that they can find in our favour and solve the current anomaly. Once I have all the rights of an MEP, all the convictions fall away, and my will is, if the party agrees, to be the candidate for the presidency of Catalonia again. If that weren't to happen, something I don't contemplate, there will always be someone better than me. ERC has a very good team.
But up to now this has not been the case and it seems unlikely...
Why? We're now waiting for the European courts and for a ruling in our favour on immunity. I trust in the European courts and also that this situation will end up happening because the law is very clear. But well, we're a wonderful team and I'm proud of my colleagues. Pere Aragonès is a very well qualified person and a formidable candidate. He's not my heir because I also learn from him, as I do from others like Marta Rovira. We have great heirs to the dignity we lived through during the 1st October. The road to collective freedom requires that some lose freedom, but it is better that we lose it for the sake of the freedom of society. And I have left to my people, the commitment to freedom. And this serves for Pere Aragonès and Marta Rovira and so many others.
At present, Marta Rovira's situation is different to yours. Does she have to be there, in the election candidature?
The party would be very pleased for her to be on the list but that is her decision. But I know her well, I'm convinced she'll be happy to join and contribute generously, like everyone else does. The commitment of our people is epic and overwhelming.
Tomorrow is the first event of the Council for the Republic in Perpignan, with the enormous symbolic presence of president Puigdemont and ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí being on Catalan soil. How do you feel?
I feel good that all kinds of events are taking place and I hope they can also do the same in Barcelona, in Lleida, in Sant Vicenç, everywhere. I also want to share things, experiences and participate in all kinds of events and I will leave here, because this will happen, and I will be very happy surrounded by a lot of people. I hope they have an event that is as open as possible.
If I could I'd go to Perpinyà, just as I hope they'd come to an event of mine
Would you go there if I could?
Yes. Just as I hope they would come to an event of mine. The more people we all have, the better. I have said before that Junquerism is about being open to others, penetrating in terrain that is difficult and convincing those who are not ours.
The conversation goes off in other directions and the interview for El Nacional.cat comes to an end. The rest will have to remain, along with the other reflections by the other political prisoners and exiles. Junqueras gets up to say goodbye and shows off his Bulgarian, a language he is learning in prison. Learn and teach, as he said at the beginning of the interview.