From the prison of Estremera, the honourable Jordi Turull has granted an interview to El Nacional. Catalonia's minister for the presidency under Carles Puigdemont, removed from power along with the rest of the Catalan executive by the Spanish government's implementation of article 155, and since March 23rd, being held in jail on remand for a second period - a circumstance that has led to a convoluted interview process: it meant that, first of all, Jordi Turull answered a series of initial written questions, in longhand. The jailed Catalan minister then expanded his answers orally on Saturday - in the 40-minute period which prisoners are allowed with visitors.
First of all, how are you, minister?
I'm well...'by obligation', as they say. Mentally, I feel strong and solid, aware of the injustice which we have been made to suffer. Far from going downhill, I have felt a strengthening of my convictions and commitment to all that we are unjustly imprisoned for.
How do you cope with the daily routine?
The letters that we receive are a huge help. Each one of them frees you for a short time from all the isolation and monotony and gives you strength to carry on with your head high and your dignity intact. And as well, you think of things in the short term, in the sense of saying to yourself “look, at 7 o'clock I'll call home” or “today I've got person A coming to visit”.
What is a normal day like in Estremera?
Of the 24 hours in the day, you are shut in the cell for about 16. Here you take the opportunity to answer letters, to read books, newspapers and magazines that we receive, and to watch TV. When we are out of our cells we can participate in certain workshops and we also do the work that has been assigned to us. This month I am in charge of the cleaning group and I have to clean a whole wing of the prison module. Last month, after breakfast, my job was to clean the tables and mop the dining hall every day. I get up at about 7:15. We have breakfast at 8:30; we have lunch at 1:15 and dinner at 7 o'clock. After lunch they lock you in the cell until 4:30. At 7:30 they shut you in again until the following morning at half past eight.
Far from going downhill, I feel that my convictions have been strengthened
How do you relate to the ordinary prisoners?
In a completely normal and natural way. And as in all human groups there are some people you have more of a relationship with, and others, less. At the dining table I am with some Valencians who took me in well, and also with a Romanian. The prisoners call us “the Catalans” and they are surprised because, as they say, “you are normal”.
And to the other Catalan prisoners?
Josep Rull and I were sharing cell a short time ago. Now we are cell neighbours. We see each other a lot and share things and help each other. With those who are in the other module, Oriol Junqueras, Quim Forn, and Romeva, we see one another when there is a legal visit that involves all of us, which is quite often. And it is always a joy. We share all the information that we can among ourselves. On Sunday we all see one another at mass except for Raül.
Excuse the question, but here, do the PDeCAT and ERC parties get on better than in other places?
Here, you are in a very different dimension. We are in prison not to belong to one party or another. They have imprisoned us unjustly for having been members of the government of Catalonia and for having been coherent with our commitments to the people.
Often we think about what legacy of justice, democracy and freedom we will leave for the next generations. We mustn't let them down by just resigning ourselves or giving up, or by infighting. We came here together and we must also leave together.
There have been images published of Junqueras, Romeva and Forn. How did they take that?
It caused tension in the modules and across the prison. Some prisoners are saying that because of the Catalans they now search us more and no longer let us bring in things that we could previously. Publishing images and private conversations without permission is reprehensible and despicable. But since you have to make the best of things, I've tried to find a positive side to it. Now at least my family knows what my cell, and the courtyard, and so on, are like. It allows friends to get an impression.
I'm sure that you talk about politics, but the question is, do debates in Estremera lead to political decisions in the parties and the Catalan government?
Less so than we would like. It's not that they don't pay attention to us, but rather because prison is so limiting. In a period in which so many things are happening in so short a time and with such immediate effects, you are stuck in a cell for sixteen hours a day. Yes, we were able to take advantage of president Quim Torra's visit to tell him how we see everything. He knows what we think.
I will not accept judge Llarena's invitation to leave politics
As I understand it, there were differences between you that made it impossible to present a unitary candidature for the Catalan elections on 21st December. And thus Ciudadanos became the electoral list with the most votes. Have you talked about it again? Was any lesson learned?
To be frank, when there are subjects which we know that we will never agree on, we prefer not to raise them, and naturally, here inside, in terms of attributing blame, there is little of that. We focus on helping one another. The lesson learned? The people who write to us talk about what we can add, through unity and acting for the country. The independence process has been a bottom-up phenomenon. The people join hands and mobilize together. And thanks to this attitude we have got so far. The politicians and the parties need to try to do things as well as the people have done. Division and fragmentation discourages and demobilizes. The parties have to be at the service of the moment, and not the other way round.
In terms of the expected calendar, the next elections will be municipal. For the independence movement it is key to control the provincial capitals and largest cities in Catalonia and to do so it is vital to ensure that you are the most voted list. From Estremera, how do you see this?
I think this question was answered with my previous answer.
You were forced to give up your role as minister for the presidency. How did you take that? Do you think that some day you'll be able to return to it?
You feel bad about it because it was something taken from you more with a desire to punish you than to apply justice. Return to it? After the last PDeCAT party congress I decided that I had finished my political cycle and had to dedicate myself to something else. The circumstances did not allow me to do that then, but now everything is different: if I get out of here and they respect my constitutional rights, my will [to be involved] is total. What I will not do is accept the invitation of judge Llarena to leave politics.
A position? They have made me head of group 4 for cleaning rooms and corridors
Which position would you like to hold?
Position? They have made me head of group 4 for cleaning rooms and corridors.
There is a Catalan president in Berlin, another in Barcelona, there are prisoners and there are exiles and a country that has been ungovernable for the last few months. What do you think should be president Puigdemont's priority and what should be president Torra's?
People often talk about effective government. I believe that the objective is to provide “effective expression” of what Catalans have said at the ballot box and because of that, the existence of one president gives sense to the other. President Puigdemont has an important role in giving international exposure to the bias, the absence of guarantees in the way the court case is being conducted and to tell the world about the determination of Catalans to decide their future. President Torra has to seek and obtain dialogue for a negotiation that will give effective expression to the will of the Catalan people. And he also has to ensure that Catalans can see that there is a government that is working for them, for their well-being and progress. And this, by getting out on the street, the whole government, spending more time on the street and less in the offices.
Governing for all of the Catalans
Of course. We couldn't see it any other way. We have governed for all Catalans and those who say that we don't do so are those who have blocked us from doing so, and their allies. Now, Pedro Sánchez's Spanish government wants to restore universal health care. We were way ahead in that, and in providing support to families without resources who couldn't pay their electricity bills. What the Spanish state must do is stop vetoing the laws of the Catalan parliament and stop wasting the resources that Catalans have paid for, so that the Catalan government can continue to govern for everybody.
Indeed, you must remember that the CUP refused to support your investiture the day before you were ordered to return to prison. What feelings did that leave you with?
To have a 24 hour period, in which you go from making a speech for your investiture as president, to watching the cell door close in front of you was a sensation so intense that I can't explain it properly. What is certain is that it precipitated the order for my imprisonment. All the procedural minutes show that. It wasn't that I wanted to be president to avoid prison. On the contrary, the investiture vote increased the risk and I accepted that.
Then the CUP announced it would become part of the opposition.
Has the CUP ever given us parliamentary stability?
Would you have supported the motion of no confidence against Rajoy?
Yes. For many reasons. To shake off and get rid of the paralysis represented by Rajoy and the Aranzadi squad of Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who directed the repression. When a thing is not working it just keeps getting worse. You have to take the risk to trying something new when there is an opportunity.
Do you now see the immediate future with new hopes?
Well, there is the PSOE of “I'll support Catalonia” and the PSOE of article 155. More than hopeful, I am waiting. Now they have the opportunity to tackle politically what is happening in Catalonia. We'll soon see if they take advantage of it.
It's not because of Barcelona's suburban trains that we have gone to prison or into exile
So do you think it is worthwhile to talk about self-determination to Spanish president Sánchez or is it better to focus on more specific and immediate questions?
To answer that, let me say that it's not because of Barcelona's suburban trains we are in prison and exile. It is a question of finding the way to express the ambitions and needs of Catalans. President Sánchez has to be aware that mentally, Catalonia embraced self-determination a while ago and that needs to be faced politically and a legal solution found. In other conflicts that are much more complex and far less peaceful, dialogue, negotiation and agreement have been found. Here, it must be possible too.
Is the freedom of the prisoners a bargaining chip in a negotiation?
No. The freedom of the prisoners is an essential prior step for generating a climate fruitful for dialogue. Everybody knows that as long as there are prisoners and exiles the political situation in Spain will not return to normal. I have received some very surprising letters from people who tell me they are “unionist”, but who say they cannot accept our imprisonment as normal and assert that as long as prisoners remain, the streets will not calm down.
You were an activist right from the early days of the CDC party, then in the PDeCAT which it evolved into, and in Together for Catalonia (JxCat). What future do you see in your party and in the independence movement as a whole?
The party has to be an instrument and not an end in itself. PDeCAT has to be a party of synthesis, the party of the political centre, the backbone, and it has to be generous and act in the service of this great movement that has led one of the greatest acts of democratic radicalism and dignity in Europe.
A little self-criticism would not go astray.
Self-criticism has to be made, but with the level of repression that we are suffering I refuse to beat myself up, and even less so in public. If we have dirty laundry, we have to wash it at home. Have you heard any self-criticism for the repression on 1st October?
Minister Ponsatí has said that they were bluffing.
I don't see it like that. What we didn't expect was that in the 21st century, the Spanish state, a member of the European Union, would respond with brutality to a democratic demand.
Will the unilateral approach carry on being the best strategy?
Well, we now know what response it gets. We now have a map showing the complications of that route. The Poles from the Solidarity movement gave us their support, but they warned us that they didn't succeed until the third attempt, all the time looking for new paths, that were maybe longer, but more feasible. And we can find those.
What does it mean that the Catalan government has to fer república - "build the republic"?
It is the same as what we used to say, fer país - “to build the country”. It is a matter of preparing the ground. If we hadn't built the country before, we wouldn't have reached the following phase.
What do you miss most about Parets del Vallès?
To talk about Parets it is to talk about home. With everything that entails. And the people. The people who saw me being born and who have seen my daughters being born. I miss them, my daughters and Blanca and that sentence repeated so often “I'll be right back, I'm just going to see my parents”... and to chat with the friends that you bump into in the street.
Have you thought about what you'll do first when you get out of here?
Thank so many people who don't know me and have supported me. I told my wife this and not only did she understand, she also said to me that when I get out of here she will take a month off, because she is continuously and tirelessly active helping and taking part almost every day of the week in events in support of the prisoners. And I will be especially grateful to my daughters' teachers, who have supported them in this situation, well beyond what they needed to. I will never be able to thank them enough for what they are doing.