On Tuesday ERC president Oriol Junqueras made an appearance in the Catalan parliament, his first since he was jailed on 2 November 2017. He was summoned by a parliamentary committee tasked with probing the suspension of home rule [following the 2017 failed independence bid]. While the session was two hours in length, it could be summarised with one single word (or three): “Dialogue, dialogue and dialogue”, was the motto which the republican leader repeated many times.
Junqueras insisted that, although he remains in prison, he would like to lead this dialogue himself: “It is our duty to talk to everyone. Indeed, I’m desperate to”, he stated. And he warned that, even though he is burdened by a prison sentence and barred from office, he will pursue political action once he is released: “I’m not going anywhere”. On this point he emphasised that he will “never” allow his prison sentence to have an influence on any talks. “We will be delighted to talk to everyone, to sit around a negotiating table or as many as it takes”, he remarked.
The Esquerra leader called on starting a dialogue with the State and highlighted the importance of his party’s agreement with the PSOE to engage in talks [about the Catalan issue]. “Nobody can claim to want independence more than us, more than I do. We are the champions of the republican cause and of dialogue. That’s why we practise it and demand it, and that’s why we’re sat at a negotiating table”, he said. On the subject of the talks due to begin between the Catalan government and its Spanish counterpart, which ERC and the PSOE have agreed to endorse, Junqueras explained that ERC are feeling both “enthusiastic”, but also “skeptical”. Both feelings are compatible, he noted. The enthusiasm stems from the fact that the State will be sitting down for talks, but ERC remain skeptical because previous talks with the PSOE never bore any fruit in the past.
The ERC leader also stated that they are even willing to talk to those who “cheered on” as he was taken to jail and he warned that “eventually anyone who celebrated our imprisonment will also get a taste of the dirty war waged by the State because the State simply cannot stop using the instruments it has always resorted to in order to fabricate evidence against those who oppose it”. Junqueras also made the most of this opportunity to get even with the Spanish politicians who led political parties when he was jailed and who have since stepped down. He referred to former PM Mariano Rajoy, VP Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and former Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. “The leaders who were most enthusiastic about suspending Catalonia’s home rule are gone now, whereas I’m still here”.
A new referendum
Without setting any dates nor going into detail about how they would go about it, Junqueras advocated a new referendum on independence, with or without Madrid’s consent. “A self-determination referendum is a normal thing. We want to stage another one and we will”, he pledged. The vote on 1 October 2017 landed the Catalan government in jail or exile, but Junqueras does not believe this should be a hurdle to try again. “We are not afraid, we never have been, and less so now. A prison cell is just a stepping stone to freedom”, he noted.
Irony and jabs aimed at Ciudadanos
Ciudadanos was the first opposition party to take the floor in what was their first session with this committee, whose set-up they had objected to and, therefore, had ignored it thus far. At the end of her address, during which she asked Junqueras if he’d be able to “look in the eye all the people you have inconvenienced”, Ciudadanos leader Lorena Roldán announced that she and her colleagues were leaving the session then and there. They didn’t even stay to listen to Junqueras’ response. The ERC leader made the most of the situation to make an ironic remark: “You won’t stay for my reply? That’s a pity, now that we’d started to dialogue … You keep leaving from places!”
But Ciudadanos weren’t merely the target of Junqueras’ irony. He also slammed them for claiming that the independence bid had torn Catalan society apart, families in particular. Junqueras adopted a serious tone at this point and asked: “Do you mean to lecture me about torn families when, once again, today I won’t be allowed to go home and be with my children?”. Still, he played down the fact that he had to return to the Lledoners prison facility with this final remark: “Sure, I’m going back to jail. But that’s alright. In jail I will meet many people who are much more honest than most of the powerful names that condemn us every day”.
The arrival of the prisoners at the Catalan parliament prompted a certain temporary return to unity between ERC and JxCat. The prisoners of both parties arrived together accompanied by Catalan president Quim Torra, vice president Pere Aragonès and Speaker Roger Torrent. Torrent and Torra were at the centre of the dispute between the two coalition partners [which has eventually led to a snap election due to be held in a few months]. Junqueras didn’t even mention it. Tuesday was a day for self-vindication, not for rubbing salt in the wound.