The house in Parlavà that Lluís Llach (Girona, 1948) used for years as a workplace and recording studio has become his refuge during the pandemic. From here, he has continued to work on the commission he received from Catalan president Quim Torra to promote a constituent debate on the Catalonia that its citizens want in the future. "Those who are pro-independence and those who are not," he insists. After months of work, this process has entered the consultation phase and the goal now is to get as many people involved as possible to know "how people would like the future to be."
In a conversation with ElNacional.cat, Llach does not hide his disillusionment with parties and politics, irritation at the lack of unity and the "confrontation of egos". He warns that the pro-independence parties are disconnecting from the people and that Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (Junts) are settling into what he describes as "neo-autonomism" - a return to an acceptance of Catalonia's status as a Spanish autonomous community. "It's a terrible mistake," he warns.
What is the situation of the independence process at present in your view?
The independence process has experienced complicated situations in the last few years. I was privileged to be in Parliament following a kind of continuous rise in social temperament that began in 2010-2011. It was a time when we all knew what we wanted to do. It doesn’t mean we didn't make mistakes, because we did and a great deal, but we knew what we wanted. And besides, I would say no splits. It all ended in an epic way. It was an epic in early October, and the disaster was also epic. The landing was forced and disastrous. But, despite not reaching the goal, there was an extraordinary social impulse, which during those months was maintained.
For the people in the street, if we are clear about anything, it is that without unity we get nowhere
But unity was not maintained. Why?
Already during the Torra government you could see that it would be very difficult. The people in the street, if we are clear about anything it is that without unity we get nowhere. Some politicians don't see that, but the people in the street are very clear about it. The last election is when it became official that ERC favours a calm strategy. Junts, as far as I know and from what I have seen in exile, continued with the radicalization. And the elections came. And a government was formed, with a CUP that is still a bit lost, a Junts that has contradictions within it, and an ERC that strategically says exactly the opposite of four years ago. Thus after the elections we enter into a period, already coming before, which is flat.
The CUP, still lost; Junts, with internal contradictions, and ERC, which strategically is saying exactly the opposite of four years ago
Has this situation affected support for independence on the streets?
The people are there, the people are very disappointed. They don't understand what the politicians are doing, that nothing is being prepared, that there is no unity... When you read the manifestos you say "but they are saying the same thing, with a few nuances, with their different tempos..." Please! So I see a lot of disillusionment, from an institutional point of view, here in Catalonia, and disillusionment about how politics is being practiced.
Because we are leaving the state in a comfort zone that in theory favours it fantastically well and it looks like it should calm it down, but what’s very clear is that it isn't calming down. The Spanish state is very complex, and the judiciary and the deep state are carrying out brutal, scandalous repression. Needless to say, the Court of Accounts is oriented towards inquisition to say the least. And with an executive that continually sends its state solicitors and prosecutors against the independence movement, even those favouring pacts...
Without confrontation, you leave the state in the role it prefers. It is a wrong strategy
The conclusion of your analysis seems very pessimistic, doesn't it?
I think we are in a wrong strategy for both Junts and ERC - ERC as the protagonist and Junts as its support - which is leading us nowhere, because without confrontation you let the Spanish state take on the role it prefers. We have been told for a few weeks now that the dialogue table will not discuss anything that has been called for, neither independence nor self-determination. What does that mean? That if there is no deep unitary strategy that is preparing, during these two years [of commitment to the dialogue strategy], alternatives to negotiation, they are leading us to a neo-autonomism.
And where does that end, politically?
In two years, or three or four, we may find ourselves in different scenarios. One, most likely, that the PP will win at the level of the Spanish state. If the Catalan government really wants to negotiate, the normal consequence of a negotiation are that the far right wins [in Spain]. In addition, this time the right will not come to play the role of 1978, this time it will want to implement its electoral programme, which is the annihilation of the rights of Catalans.
What if the PSOE holds on in government?
We could find ourselves in 4 or 5 years voting on a Statute like the one of 2010, I am not saying like the one of 2006. In our Catalan society, in which 70-80% are in favour of the right to self-determination, this is democratically unthinkable. From the point of view of the Catalan political parties, it's a spectacular collapse. That’s not why grandmothers went out and defended the ballot boxes! Therefore, we are making a mistake. This is not to say that a confrontation like 2017 is possible. Carme Forcadell has been widely criticized for saying that unilateralism is impossible today. She shouldn't be criticized because she didn't mess up anything. And there is no structure that allows us to think that we could stand up to it again.
Here we should be preparing the structures of a new democratic and peaceful onslaught
So what alternative is there?
For me, the strategy would be to try to govern the small areas that we have the power to with the advantage that Pedro Sánchez will try to win all the possible votes here with this genius of politics that is Illa, thanks to Europe. Sánchez will sell what is a European policy as a Spanish policy. If Catalonia has any economic possibilities, this is what needs to be managed. But, from the bottom up and from within, and sincerely, here we should be preparing the structures of a new democratic and peaceful onslaught, but with all the learning of what has been experienced so far.
Now, people cannot be mobilized. They need to regain faith in the institutions
So, the bottom line is that we're not doing what we should be doing. Who is responsible?
For me, it is a totally wrong strategy, of the three parties. But it goes like this: one is the spearhead and it has won the elections, and it is totally legitimate what its does, and Junts takes the role of following it and therefore we are in an era of neo-autonomy for two years. So now, who mobilizes the people? ERC? No. Junts? No. The CUP? No. People cannot be mobilized. People need to regain faith in the institutions before them. The people are there, I see it every day, in the Constituent Debate. Everyone is discouraged, but they are there. The chip has changed. Going backwards, from the point of view of the people, is no longer possible. Now, it’s a wrong strategy, I say it publicly because I have no responsibility and that’s it. It is a terrible mistake.
But what would be the right strategy?
I am not a politician, but I believe that both parties and organizations have, for more than a year and two, been preparing a whole structuring of society in other terms. Not giving the impression that the situation we have now is what needs to be addressed. What we have now is at most a step towards something very different which is to try to regain the spaces of freedom we want to win.
First, looking for the unity that is impossible to find. I hope people are trying. Then, respecting each other. I see it in the Council for the Republic. There is a government that went into exile, which was, furthermore, as planned. I can testify to that. Except for one person, everyone said the government should leave. The only one who said he wouldn't go was Oriol Junqueras, I believe.
We are so small that instead of appreciating the power of Puigdemont, he is considered an asset to be eliminated. That is small-minded politics that scares me.
And in fact, the Council for the Republic, which has been organized in exile, seems to be one of the reasons that provokes confrontation...
The Council for the Republic is a magnificent tool. But what's happening? President Puigdemont is there and president Puigdemont is a valuable electoral asset. I would criticize him and I have told him personally, but he is an asset. And we have been so small in our home for centuries - perhaps that is why we are what we are - that instead of seeing this power as an asset to use, it seems to be considered an asset to be eliminated. And that is absurd. Three MEPs with their structure, with a person who is the president in exile, with a communicative power that no one in this country has, who says "ah" and it appears in every newspaper... he is treated as an adversary. That is small-minded politics that scares me. It leaves me distraught. The same could be said of Junqueras, or Cuixart ... They have immense value and should be taken advantage of. What we mustn't do is what is being done.
The obsession of the parties since 155 is to close up again and repeat their old policies
And what is being done? What is the goal?
That. Trying to fight for party political hegemony. Let’s imagine it the other way around. The parties that for two years [2015-17] tried to burst the bubbles, since the imposition of article 155, instead of looking for unity, return to the bubbles and protect themselves absurdly inside those bubbles. And what happens with these bubbles? They reaffirm themselves and the obsession is to repeat their old policies, which is good for politics of an autonomous community but not a policy for independence and national liberation.
The inter-party fight for political hegemony plus personal dislikes and personal egos made this get out of control
You who know all three parties. What's the problem? Parties, people...?
The functioning of the parties is now a problem. This bubble thing that seems anecdotal is very important. The great thing about JxSí [Together for Yes, 2015-17 governing Catalan electoral coalition] is that, through the will of the citizens themselves and with the collaboration of 12 people who were flying around, we broke the bubble. From 2015 to 2017, the bubbles were broken. They have now been reformed. And then, mistrust between politicians sometimes overcomes political intelligence. This is very important. After 2017, people were very hurt for reasons that are also understandable, assisted by the entire Spanish state apparatus, which leaked what it needed to at the appropriate time... political hegemony plus personal dislikes and personal egos made this get out of control.
And how is this situation resolved?
I always have the theory that it will be when the people return to the front line. Unless the political class regains its intelligence and sees that it is committing suicide, people will have to take the lead. It's very difficult because people can only take the lead if they get organized.
And how can people get organized in the midst of these internal clashes between parties?
At the moment, the only ones that could organize it are Òmnium Cultural, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the CDR and few others. Òmnium is looking for union, like everyone, me too, and that paralyzes it. From a political point of view, the Assembly is much clearer. The ANC should rebuild its contacts and prestige in society to be a great tool. Ideally, it should be the political intelligence of our political leaders who see that this [current approach] is leadings nowhere, that it is leading us to failure. I understand the difficulty. It is very difficult, because we have a state that has shown us what it is like, but we have to play the good cards we have, one of them is international. Never before has Spain been so discredited. This should be strengthened through the tools we have, those that can be assembled from here and the Council for the Republic.
Some people feel bad that the Council for the Republic wants to represent the 1st October referendum because now the 1st October causes hurt to some people
But you admit that the Council for the Republic makes people very suspicious...
For that reason, because they see it as an adversary, not as a tool that can do them an immense favour in this strategy. And if the Council for the Republic has shown anything, it is that there are people ranging from the CUP to Iniciativa, and Junts ... They are all there and the ERC has always been invited to have a representation. I can witness that. All you have to do is say in the Council for the Republic that you want to enter and you are there. Some people feel bad that the Council for the Republic wants to represent the 1st October because now the 1st October causes hurt to some people. That is, do we now have to throw out the most important political and social asset of the country, why? To undermine something that is a tool? Please.
If there is democracy, the process has a long life and a final victory guaranteed
After all this, is the independence process over?
No. I would ask another question. Is democracy over? If democracy is over, the process is over, but it is because democracy is over. If there is democracy, the process has a long life and a final victory guaranteed.
Will there be an independence referendum?
There will be what it takes. It does not necessarily have to be an agreed referendum or a referendum. Here, there was a referendum that was not agreed upon with the state, but there was a turnout that was immense. The well-over two million 'yes' votes that there were, in a referendum agreed with the state, would be a clear victory. And now, is that useless? The 1st October can only be replaced by a referendum agreed with the state and recognized by Europe. Since we had to do it secretly and bring in the ballot boxes and carry out the most wonderful civic action any country could magine, it can only be replaced by one set up along those lines.
The unilateral route is also part of the negotiating table: if you don't negotiate, we'll try it
And the unilateral route?
It's possible. Why not? In 2017, we did not know how state would respond. We made mistakes, and many, out of naivity. Even me, who had experienced the Franco regime. But we don't know what the situation will be, in the state, in Europe, what will happen in Scotland... Many things could happen that would lead to a given thing occurring at a certain moment. Therefore, I would not abandon any path, the unilateral one, not at all. It is also part of the negotiating table: if you don't negotiate, we'll try it.
After 2017 you decided personally to go back to your writing in Senegal, but you came back on a commission from president Quim Torra and are now pushing for the constituent debate. What is the goal?
One day in 2018 President Torra called me, who I knew very little, but knew of his intellectual and personal honesty and value, and said something to me that suddenly diluted the importance of going to Senegal, he told me we are in a society where the creativity empowered in people has been extraordinary. We are a mobilized society. But on the other hand, so many things we have done, those who are for independence and those against, because we want a better country, and we have never said what this better country should be like. I had been chairperson, due to the death of Muriel Casals, of the Committee for the Study of the Constituent Process in the Catalan Parliament, and I thought that it would be good that, when we need this work, it is done. That if there is ever a Parliament that wants to be constituted in a Constituent Assembly, it has the job done, a script written for the participation of the people. This excited me. I was gripped by this idea, and let’s get back to it. It is not a pro-independence project at all. It is totally transversal.
What phase is it in?
In the final phase which is the participatory one. We have a questionnaire with 144 questions, which in some way touch on all areas that can challenge to put social coexistence into practice, divided into seven constitutional areas.
From the Constituent Debate they have put a lot of stress on a system that guarantees a participation as high as they can and at the same time the confidentiality of information...
That was the hardest part and we have a great system, for which we have to thank the people who volunteered to work there. They have created a mechanism that is not only very participatory, but very discreet, transversal, very protected, it absolutely protects the anonymity of the people who participate in it.
How will all this information be made known?
This information, there is an entity called Fòrum Cívic i Social which does not do more than communicate the results and solemnly take them to Parliament because, if ever the political forces want to be constituted themselves as a constituent power, we know what a large part of the country thinks. And that’s why participation is so important.
It is important is that we have the participation of thousands of people in the constituent debate
When will this process end?
The participatory part will end in December. If we think it is necessary, because of the pandemic or because there is a very strong dynamic of participation, it can be prolonged. But in theory, in December it ends. What is important is that we have the participation of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who participate freely and personally.
And at the end of these debates and this consultation across the territory, what comes out?
How people would like the future to be.