The former Catalan regional vice-president jailed for his role in the failed attempt to secede from Spain almost four years ago has signalled his support for a pardon from the Madrid government and suggested that unilateral efforts to secure independence are now “neither viable nor desirable”.
Oriol Junqueras, who leads the Catalan Republican Left party (ERC), said the best way to end the political standoff over regional independence remained a Scottish-style referendum agreed with the Spanish government.
Junqueras was one of nine Catalan independence leaders imprisoned over the parts they played in the illegal referendum in October 2017 and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence a few weeks later. In October 2019, he was sentenced to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds, and barred from holding public office for the same amount of time. Three other independence leaders were found guilty of disobedience but were not jailed.
In a carefully worded article published on Monday morning as the socialist-led government of prime minister Pedro Sánchez prepares to pardon the 12, Junqueras acknowledged the independence movement had made mistakes.
He said the Spanish state’s response to the unilateral referendum – which was marred by violence after Spanish police used force to try to stop the poll – had appeared to many Catalans to be “less and less legitimate and more and more remote from democratic principles”. However, Junqueras added: “But at the same time, we also need to be aware that our response wasn’t seen as clearly legitimate by a part of [Spanish] and Catalan society.”
The former vice-president also indicated a change of heart on the issue of pardons. Shortly after he was convicted, he said, “they can stick their pardon where the sun doesn’t shine”. While he did not explicitly mention pardons in the article, he wrote: “There are gestures that can ease the conflict and the pain of the repression and the suffering in Catalan society, and any gesture that serves to dejudicialise the conflict helps make that path possible.”
Junqueras once again urged the government to “take the Scottish route” so that people in Catalonia could vote on their future. “It’s the option that yields the most guarantees and immediate international recognition,” he said. “Because we know that other paths are neither viable nor desirable as they actually keep us further away from our objective.”
The ERC takes a more measured and pragmatic approach to independence than its fellow separatists in Junts per Catalunya, the party led by former regional president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest after staging the referendum and declaring independence. A spokesperson for Junts said the party would not be renouncing unilateral approaches.
Junqueras’s call for a political solution to the crisis came as Sánchez called for an “honest, pragmatic, common sense” approach to the issue.
Sánchez, whose political opponents accuse him of considering the pardons because his minority government needs the ERC’s support in congress, has already spoken to the new Catalan regional president, Pere Aragonès, and the two are due to meet later this month to resume talks on the Catalan question.
Speaking at an event in Barcelona on Monday, the prime minister appealed to Aragonès and others to abandon the recriminations of the past.
“Let’s swap the threats for proposals, wherever they spring from,” he said. “And let’s not look for justifications or reprisals but for solutions – and let’s do so pragmatically, honestly and with a huge amount of common sense, because that’s what our politics needs. That new ‘us’ will be greatest success as a society, both here in Catalonia and in Spain as a whole.”
Aragonès also expressed a desire to find a negotiated solution, saying: “It won’t be easy – it will be extraordinarily difficult – but it’s our duty to the people of Catalonia.
The issue of pardoning the Catalan leaders remains deeply divisive in Spain. A poll for El Mundo found that 61% of those surveyed did not agree with the move, while 29.5% backed it.
Although the government will have the final say, Spain’s supreme court issued a non-binding report opposing the pardons last month, saying the sentences handed out were appropriate and noting those convicted had not shown “the slightest evidence or faintest hint of contrition” for their actions.
A rally against the pardons – to be attended by the leaders of the conservative People’s party, the centre-right Citizens party and the far-right Vox party – is due to be held in Madrid on Sunday.