Photo: Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez – Photo by Adrià Costa
by Roger Tugas – 16/10/2017 @ 06:55h
Taking over from Carme Forcadell and Muriel Casals, the former presidents of the ANC and Òmnium, respectively, was never going to be easy. Their charisma and ability to mobilize greatly contributed to forcing the recent turning of the Government’s roadmap towards independence. In addition, their assumption of these roles came at a time of prominent feminine leadership in Catalonia, where Ada Colau leads Barcelona’s municipal government and Theresa Forcades leads the PAH (an activist group for those affected by the real estate crisis), and are perceived as a fresh change from male leadership. Difficult acts to follow, for the two Jordis. Jordi Sànchez (Barcelona, 1964) and Jordi Cuixart (Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, 1975) have been able to maintain productive tension in the street and evolve their organisations into support roles, away from the lobbying or pressure-group roles they previously held, in relation to the Catalan Executive.
In a sense, these new leaders of the main pro-sovereignty entities of the country – with implied permission of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI) – have been integrated into the de facto working group of the process, along with representatives of the Government and the parties – not CUP, however – to monitor and control progress, both of the organization of the referendum and the implementation of the results. In spite of everything, they have also been able to effectively put pressure on, when faced with indecision, nerves and instability in the political environment over the last two years. Thus, they were able to influence the Catalan government roadmap to include a referendum and more recently, after Carles Puigdemont suspended the declaration of independence, they continued to put pressure on, to draw the waiting periods for mediated dialogue to a close.
Whenever the government and the pro-independence majority in Parliament have required the staging of the street support or a show of solidarity with people detained or charged by the state, Sànchez and Cuixart were able to oblige. One of the latest examples was the manifestations after September 20th, as a response to the arrests of 14 government members Government and attacks on companies and departments to try to torpedo the organization of the 1-O.
Photo: Cuixart i Sànchez, on top of a Guardia Civil vehicle, trying to diffused the situation in front of the office of the Vice Presidency, on 20th September. Photo by ACN
These pro-sovereignty groups channeled the citizenry’s indignation to the departments of the Vice-President, the Economy and Finance, where thousands of people gathered, despite a security cordon which was intended to prevent their presence at the entrance. In the end, it was Sánchez and Cuixart themselves who took charge of managing the situation, liaising beween the Civil Guard and the crowds, dispersing the crowd, by megaphone, from atop one of the police vehicles – although a few hundred younger members of the congregation did thereafter refuse to leave.
The state has long been aware of the mobilization power of the ANC and Òmnium, both clear exemplars of grass-roots success, serving to empower citizens. This breaks the narrative pushed by pro-union leaders which casts independence as a movement driven by elites or as a movement which results from indoctrination or manipulation by a powerful nebulous set of interests. It has also served to stymie Spanish government efforts to foment internal division amongst pro-independence actors. Sánchez and Cuixart acted often and discreetly as the “glue” between different protagonists when differences arose – and have been critical in involving “the commons”. Both are skilled at mobilizing their organizations to be impactful, unifying many people behind a single act of solidarity, at critical moments when the risk of a break-up due to difference of opinion seemed high. In moments of institutional weakness, they showed that the street could respond in a unified way against the attacks from the State.
Photo: Jordi Cuixart i Jordi Sànchez leaving the National Hearing. Photo – Isaac Meler
For these reasons, and to weaken a critical leg of the independence movement, the State has placed ANC and Òmnium firmly in its sights, and begun implementing a strategy of politically-motivated legal actions. The first hit from the State landed at the beginning of the year, when two fines for a total amount of 330,000 Euros were leveled at each organization.. They paid them without too much fuss. The second was more impactful, when Sánchez and Cuixart were called to respond to charges of sedition, following the demonstrations of September 20th; a response to which they have already provided, and for which, on Monday October 16th, they will appear at a National hearing with the Public Prosecutor. And this is by no means the limit of the State attacks: the Guardia Civil is constantly closing down websites of organisations involved in 1-O, and continues to make efforts to force the freezing of their accounts, in an economic attack.
In spite of everything, these two leaders remain calm. The apparent calm both convey is something they have in common, and is indispensable, to transmit a sense of safety, both to citizens and fellow travelers on the road to independence. They have inherited this trait from their predecessors – in the case of Cuixart, he was in fact preceded by Quim Torra, but for a period of less than a year. In spite of their commonalities, the differences between Cuixart and Sànchez are still prominent, both in terms of the trajectory and the role they play within the pro-independence movement.
Photo: Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart showing the “punt” (full stop) protestors would wear, during the Diada (September 11th) in 2016. Photo – Isaac Meler
For the leader of the ANC this is not the first time that he has been the public face of an activist organisation, since he was a leader and spokesman, together with Àngel Colom, of Call for Solidarity, from 1983 to 1993. Likewise, at a professional level he has come up via public sector or social entities, as well as having had had a roles as an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Barcelona, the Deputy Director of the Jaume Bofill Foundation (1996-2001) then its Director until 2010 when he was appointed as an Ombudsman. He has also collaborated with the public administration on several occasions, coordinating the drafting of one of the five areas of the National Agreement for Education from 2004 to 2006, and then one of the Four areas of the National Agreement for Immigration, in 2008.
Linked for years to the ICV (a political party, a merger between the Initiative for Catalunya and The Greens), he took over from Forcadell in May 2015. He was the member of the national secretariat with the fourth most votes – behind Liz Castro, Agustí Alcoberro and Rosa Alentorn – but the orgnisation elected him as president, in a situation similar to that which happened a year later, when Liz Castro once again attained more votes than him, but he retained his presidency by a small margin of secretariat-level votes.
Photo: Carme Forcadell (right), accompanied by Jordi Sànchez and Liz Castro, who had been in competition for leadership of the ANC. Photo by ACN
Initially, he worked to re-direct the discourse of the ANC, incorporating social issues, and weaving together the ideas of independence and well-being. Although this was not a step far enough to win the support of the ERC (Republican Left of Catalunya party) or CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy, a pro-independence party), members of which saw him as less aligned than Forcadell, who had previously been an ERC Councilor in Sabadell. They accused him of aligning himself with CDC (Catalan Democratic Convergence party) to create Junts Pel Sí (the current pro-independence coalition majority in the Catalan Parliament), as well as creating controversy when he apologized, during the investiture debate, for asking for the votes of pro-independence forces, which was widely interpreted as his questioning the role of the CUP.
Be that as it may, he has differentiated himself from his predecessor, by perhaps being less direct, with a less assertive style. On the other hand, he moves very well between those writing the independence script, and, in fact, is very frequently observed by party sources coming in and out of the Generalitat, influencing the roadmap of the various main leaders. With him at the helm, however, the ANC has also maintained its mobilizing capacity, despite the fact that his leadership came during years in pro-independence ambitions seemed to demand less action on the street and more institutional-level intervention.
Photo: Quim Torra and Jordi Cuixart, during the presentation of a book by Torra on Murial Casals. Photo – Adrià Costa
In turn, Jordi Cuixart has definitively moved Omnium on, from an organization focused primarily on language and culture, to one also pushing pro-independence political activism. His interventions in meetings, are much anticipated and frequently controversial, his style draws much more on Forcadell than Casals, and he never fails to make mention of the Països Catalans (the wider historic Catalonia, which included parts of France, among others).
Linking independence to democracy
Thus, Cuixart’s role at the head of the organisation has not been applauded by everyone, as fellow committee members or more conservative voices of the PDECat denounce his left-leaning tones in some campaigns, in which he refers to “shared struggles” or tries to link all efforts to strengthen social or civil rights with the defense of the right to self-determination. Also, Cuixart intends to maintain “the commons” present in the pro-sovereignty bloc. He has been granted a sort of bridging role to liaise between the likes of Ada Colau and Xavier Domènech and the alternative left.
In this sense, Cuixart has asserted that independence equates with democracy. Omnium devised, for example, the campaign “Call for Democracy” – a multi-faceted effort to integrate differing perspectives at constituency level, whilst providing a platform upon which to foster debate on the nature of a new Catalan Republic, and attempt to integrated pro-self-determination leftists.
Unlike Sanchez, Cuixart’s career has mainly been in the private sector. He was the founder and Chairman of AraNow Packaging Machinery, as well as the patron-founder of FemCat, a foundation supporting Catalan entrepreneurs. In any case, he has shown in recent weeks that he is very capable of resisting State pressure, publically admitting he indeed committed the acts he is accused of, that is to say repeatedly calling for a permanent mobilization. No surprise, from someone who previously declared himself a conscientious objector, to Spanish military service.