Ernest Maragall, interviewed by Esther Vera

Catalan MonitorInterviews

Photo: Esther Vera and Ernest Maragall (Credit: Ara)

February 4th, 2018

Ernest Maragall, intereviewed by Esther Vera, Director of l’Ara (The Now) newspaper

Ernest Maragall arrives at the ARA office glued to his iPad, where articles to read are stacking up. He speaks with the free air of someone who has been practicing non-conformism for three quarters of a century.

EV: The other day, at the Parliament constitution session, presiding over the elders’ cabinet, you made a very political speech.

EM: Some said almost the opposite. I was criticized very harshly because I apparently do not know how to be old …

EV: What were they implying you were meant to do?

EM: Shut up, I suppose. Observe, watch from the sidelines. I did exactly the opposite. Now is the time for one to exercise freedom and not lose one’s commitment to society to which one belongs and to which we owe everything we have.

EV: In that speech, you said “a goodbye to Spain”, and at the same time referred to difficulties being had, in saying that goodbye.

EM: Yes, I can explain that. The difficulty of saying goodbye to Spain these days can be seen, cemented into the decisions of the State. I try to avoid saying Spain [and prefer “The State”] because ‘Spain’ is a term we should respect, and seek to make ours.

EV: So is the problem with the State, and the government?

EM: The bottom line of the conflict in which we are living is that on the one side we have a a State which abuses its legitimate power and a society which seeks to build an alternative democratic power. With this abuse of power, the state is destroying its own rule. Therefore, it is legitimizing what we consider it inapplicable, obsolete. It is the State which is destroying the Constitution, the law of criminal prosecution; the State which abuses the Criminal Code. There is a significant majority of Catalan society who want to build something worthy and better than that. Something without abuse of power and with respect for everyone.

EV: Did you ever think that after the transition we would see Catalan politicians as political prisoners?

EM: Obviously not. A few years ago that was unthinkable. The whole undertaking up until now, since 2010, was based on the hypothesis of formulating a political emancipation project, which demanded respect and proposed a new offer of understanding with Spain, which had already rejected the Statute of 2006. And the State continued to reject it with more and more force, to the point of becoming a machine of democratic destruction. This should not make us forget that behind the State there is a citizenry and a society. There are democrats in Spain and Europe. We must make this democratic conviction valued, and heard.

EV: Has independentism underestimated the force of the state?

EM: We had not calculated that the State could reach these extremes, to the point of using institutional violence and going so far as to annul the separation of powers. The most interesting thing about this new discovery is to see how this learning can be turned into a success in our future strategy, at this new stage, however.

EV: You went from defending the unilateral option to a change in strategy in record time…

EM: The unilateral option, in actual fact, didn’t exist. It consisted of making a decision with a sufficient democratic base, and from there, sitting down with the other party how we concretized it institutionally, in what period of time, etc. We knew it was a turning point, and that that decision had to be accompanied by a long, complex democratic process.

EV: So when the decision to implement the UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was taken, it was known it would not be effective?

EM: Its effect was meant to be that it would open the door to an institutional dialogue which acknowledged it. We had sufficient democratic evidence with 9-N, 27-S and 1-O, and now with the 21-D elections. But there is still a way to go through a democratic verification of our will. Neither by dint of our relationships with the state, or by the emergence of a demoncratic majority are we in a position to take decisions based on a simple parliamentary victory. This does not diminish the legitimacy of 1-O nor does it make the us abandon the majority republican conviction.

EV: But it does show that at this time we have to start to think and act differently.

EM: It seems to me that the debate is no longer over whether we should take a unilateral decision or not, but understanding what it means to challenge the state.

EV: And what does it mean?

EM: That should be done intelligently, with the greatest ambition, and by moving forward with the construction of the basic instruments of a Republic. Not simply relying on the ability to challenge, mobilize and direct confrontation with the institutions of the State. We may have to go back, but do it with the right tools and instruments. From the strengthening and expansion of this social majority we want to have. The recovery of our institutions is a priority objective. The cancellation of 155 is the same thing. At the same time, be calculating the content and timings of our challenges against the state. We will get a sense of what the right direction is from the conception of this democracy power, conceived to challenge a clear abuse of power.

EV: On October 26th [2017, the day before the so-called Catalan declaration of independence], Puigdemont was called a traitor, when it was suspected he might call elections. This same word is applied now when he talks of a new strategy. What has changed?

EM: It is one of the mistakes we have to learn from. We need to know that diversity is indispensable, but just as much as unity. Unity also means accepting that everyone exercises their responsibilities based on their best convictions. The word traitor would be eliminated from the dictionary if you applied this principle to these questions. In this case we are all headed to the same ship, and what we have to do is build a ship that goes ahead.

EV: Society demands clarity. Does Puigdemont have to be president? Can he president?

EM: We all want him to be president. At this point it is obvious that there are certain difficult conditions which are part of the abuse of power being undertaken by the State. The roles of Puigdemont, of Junqueras, of the Government, are subject to an evident alteration, an intervention from the State. This is where we have to know how to make decisions, and where Puigdemont himself must end up finding his best role. We cannot do without the Puigdemont asset. If we now find a way so that investiture can be completed, fantastic. We are working on this. But it should not be simply a gesture, or symbolic, it must mean the real concrete position, as head of the institution. With a functioning Government, with a president that may constitute that government.

EV: What is the formula?

EM: I do not think that an investiture spectacle that is devoid of content is of interest to anyone. A nomination which is valid a few hours and then ceases to be effective thereafter. And that implies many people have to become involved and take on diofficult responsibilities… how many prisoners are worth a non-president? How many more judicial processes and claim must we open up, knowing how the State acts

EV: How many prisoners is a non-president worth?

EM: None. I do not want any more. I do not think that Puigdemont wants it, either. Surely neither JxCat nor ERC want it, nor the CUP. How do we better fight abuse? By offering you more victims? For the sake of a sublime, symbolic and heroic gesture without continuity or the possibility of becoming a useful tool? Or do go via another route, which we must learn how to find?

EV: You called it a a “symbolic recognition”?

EM: Let’s let those who are negotiating get on with their work. Let Puigdemont himself describe it as he sees it. I say that from a position of absolute respect for his situation. We need him, absolutely. The concept of President Puigdemont cannot disappear. We have to remember that the recent elections have been held within the framework of 155, which can not erase the status of president.

EV: Is there a risk, given the President’s messages which were seen this week, that his position has been weakened?

EM: We must protect it, accompany it institutionally. That is why we need a Government here, and a Parliament. That Roger Torrent should now assume criminal responsibilities, which we would have to accept that he continued 155, would be the worst way to protect Puigdemont in his essential position in the international arena. There is an element of collective responsibility in knowing that Puigdemont is our active representative, and we cannot allowed that to be impaired, humiliated or degraded in any way.

EV: Do you see a future in which we have recovered our institutions?

EM: There is the legitimate argument by people who say that even once we have an investiture, this would not imply the disappearance of 155. But there is however, in existence, a formal decision by the Senate which says that 155 is to be lifted automatically at the moment there is a newly constituted Government . But are there risks of rising tensions even after this, of course! And we have to be prepared to deal with them. The abuse of systematic power, repeated and multiplied, must legitimize us and encourage all the democrats in this country, whatever their conviction regarding the Republican project is, to rise up. Their silence begins to be a sign of unintended complicity. This is true for all Catalan people. It is not about putting oneself out there to defend the Republic, but to defend democracy. The same applies to all Spanish Democrats. The action of the State is humiliating.

EV: To this criticism that you demand from the Spanish democrats in their state about the deterioration of their own democracy, comes the response in the Catalan elections – a victory for Ciutadans (Citizens Party).

EM: I am not at all in agreement with the attitude of those who shouted down the Ciutadans leader as she left Parliament. It seems to me a grave mistake. We have to do the opposite. Only from a base of respect of the citizens who have chosen her party as representatives can we move forward.

EV: What is your opinion of the king in this crisis?

EM: The king has actually managed to make us even stop considering him as someone worth referring to for advice. At a certain time we might have thought that the king could have been a moderating interlocutor, at least. The moment he became a hooligan of abuse of power, he ceased to be an advisor to us all. He is telling me that he is not my king. He is denying me my citizenship.

EV: Have you visited the political prisoners?

EM: I have not been able to, yet, in part because of the gratuitous additional cruelty by the State that in this land, we treat Catalan prisoners worse than in any other situtations we have experienced, including during the conflict in the Basque Country. It’s out of hand.

Is there a democratic involution underway?

The worst thing is that there is this coherence between the decisions of the government and the judiciary. This is not only a democratic involution with regards to the loss of quality of procedures, guarantees and basic rights, but also for the whole of the establishment of Spain, beyond parties or institutions. I look forward to seeing this all come to pass, soon, in the European Courts and in the United Nations. Large companies should know that accepting the abuse of power goes against their interests. It is more than proved that there is a correlation between quality of life and the quality of democratic. Absolutism has become the dominant culture in the State. They want to convince Europe that it is a conflict about identity, or about an anti-solidarity group, and yet it seems to me that everything that is happening points in another direction.

EV: The European states defend themselves.

EM: There is an omertà between the European states that is currently applied to protect the interests of Spain. At the same time there is an awakening of European society, via political and cultural think tanks. Anyone with a little independence or perspective contemplates or observes what’s happening here, with a mixture of stupefaction and progressive indignation.

EV: Within the independence camp hasn’t there also been a degree of quietness, or silence?

EM: There has been excessive focus on independence, itself. We are doing well to speak of a Republic more now, because that has more meaning, and more dimensions. We are now partly paying the price for not have gone out and won over the country, across a variety of dimensions. This is a part of what we have to do now.

EV: Aren’t we in a great hurry now, and in need of expanding the base?

EM: We are in a hurry and we have our work cut out for us. We can’t allow ourselves to get into confrontations which lead us to disaster. We must choose which challenges we take on, democratically, and as openly as possible when appropriate, without losing the conviction or our concrete resolution to improve our country. We must share it, offer this European perspective. It will be the best way to win this 50% which we want. Let them see that we are not going against anyone.

EV: Did you not want to be the Speaker of Parliament?

EM: It seems to me that someone on the networks said that, and was speaking out of turn. Nothing more. I’m delighted that its Roger Torrent. Today we can already say that he has been a total success.

EV: If a cabinet seat were proposed to you, would you accept it?

EM: I am three quarters of a century old! We should have a government, institutions, and a Parliament of Catalonia working at 100%. That said, wherever I’m needed!

Original Link: