Catalan prisoner Jordi Cuixart: “It’s through fear that Spain might suffocate civil disobedience”

With his 700th day in prison fast approaching, the president of Òmnium Cultural unveils his new book and comes to grips with the idea that he will spend many more days behind bars

With his 700th day in prison fast approaching, the president of Òmnium Cultural unveils his new book and comes to grips with the idea that he will spend many more days behind bars once Spain’s Supreme Court has handed down a verdict. As he said at the end of the trial against him and the other independence leaders, when the defendants were allowed to address the court directly, Cuixart’s priority is not getting out of jail, but to use jail as an amplifier to encourage civil disobedience, “a moral duty” to channel the “legitimate, democratic, peaceful” aspirations of the people who are hoping to change the law. The president of Òmnium Cultural presents his new book on the back of his success when he challenged the State with his last words in court. It is entitled Ho tornarem a fer [We’ll Do It Again] and in its pages Cuixart shares his thoughts on the trial and the path that the independence movement should follow.

Cuixart writes about a State where liberties are increasingly curtailed and the 1978 regime is fighting tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. In fact, according to Cuixart the trial for rebellion “is a domination attempt orchestrated against the pro-independence movement” with Justice Manuel Marchena as a leading figure. “The authoritarian stance of the presiding judge, Manuel Marchena, who kept making unilateral decisions that were far from conducive to a fair trial, has eventually produced the PP’s intended result with no need to go through a back door”, Cuixart explains in his book, which was unveiled on Thursday in Barcelona’s Centre de Cultura Contemporània (CCCB).

Cuixart recalls how philosopher Marina Garcés “was denied the chance to describe the emotions she experienced on the day of the independence referendum”, whereas many of the two hundred Spanish police and Guardia Civil officers who took the witness stand were allowed to “speak at length about their feelings and emotions, describing the ‘horror’ they felt when they saw the ‘looks of hatred on the voters’ faces’ on the day”.

Fear and disobedience

“It’s through fear that Spain might suffocate civil disobedience. That’s why it is so important to work so that we won’t be overcome by fear”, Cuixart writes. His book combines reflections from prison with excerpts of his two addresses in court. He also recalls how he initially took his lawyer’s advice and renounced his principles two months after his arrest, when he thought he had a chance of being released from the Soto del Real facility: “I remember the tears of shame as I told the judge what I had agreed to say with my lawyer”.

“When laws can only be enforced and upheld through force, perhaps their days are numbered”. Cuixart makes a case for a “permanent mobilisation” and “civil disobedience”, the two instruments that allow a society “to move forward”. That’s why he takes pride in the vote of October 1 2017, which was “the most massive exercise in civil disobedience in Europe’s recent history”, and the protest of September 20, which landed him in court. “Criminalising that peaceful protest in Barcelona city is akin to condemning the right to protest against the State’s powers, too. We have an obligation to keep protesting precisely to preserve that right, because the judicial power cannot be impervious to the public’s objections and it must be held to account unless we want judges to wield unlimited powers”, Cuixart writes in his book.

There are many quotes by key figures in the fight for civil rights and disobedience, such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Pussy Riot, Emmeline Pankhurst and Howard Zinn. Cuixart borrows the social historian’s concept of “civil obedience” to slam the current balance of power. Cuixart complains that “in Spain civil obedience has permitted over 600,000 evictions since 2008, even though banks received a €60bn bailout from the state’s coffers. Likewise, in Catalonia —one of the most prosperous regions in southern Europe— one in four people are at risk of social exclusion”, as he commends the hard work put in by the Plataforma d'Afectats per la Hipoteca [a group that brings together people hit by mortgage defaults] and the Aliança contra la Pobresa Energètica [Alliance Against Energy Poverty] in Catalonia.

Unity without short-sightedness

So, now what? This question remains unanswered as it resonates on a daily basis within the pro-independence camp, which has been lacking a road map since 2017. “At the moment we don’t know if it will take another referendum to achieve independence or perhaps a different democratic instrument that may channel the will of the majority; but we do know that, above all, we will preserve our basic rights using civil disobedience when necessary”, he insists.

Cuixart is persuaded that the general public and the political parties must stay “united” in order to make headway. He remarks that “we need to be perfectly clear that our common cause is greater than all our individual causes”.

The president of Òmnium urges everyone “to speak their mind, without hedging” and to drop “short-sighted footwork that does not go to the root of the conflict”. “We have no choice but to act with greater consistency and frankness than ever and avoid any pretence that ignores the nature of facts”, he notes.

With his 700th day in prison fast approaching, Cuixart will miss the presentation of his book. “I think you are never ready to go to jail. In fact, even today I am surprised that getting out of here is not my priority. Well, it is not. And I assure you it’s not because I wish to be a martyr or because this is a nice place to be”.

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