Part-time political prisoner Oriol Junqueras has been having a bit of a rum time of it lately. The leader of the ERC Esquerra Republicana Catalunya hasn't been allowed to go out - out of prison, that is. State of alarm and all that, Oriol and fellow Catalan political prisoners have been unable to get day passes to do whatever it is they're allowed to get up to, which in the case of Oriol and others had once involved actually pitching up at the Catalan parliament. Otherwise, Oriol was enjoying his days out by heading off to a university and taking classes. In what, one might ask.
Anyway, join the club, Oriol. There are millions of others who have had to endure a form of incarceration, although admittedly it hasn't been quite like being in prison. Or one assumes not, and Oriol hasn't been nipping out regularly to stock up on some decent red from the local supermarket.
But now that we are all entering de-escalation, it would seem that this also covers the likes of Oriol. So, he'll be going back to preparing classes at the University of Vic and will also be working at the Monastery of Poblet, one of Catalonia's most emblematic historical places and a World Heritage Site, to boot. Historian and teacher Oriol will be tasked with helping to get two archives sorted out. And all of this work will mean that he gets four days out a week for twelve hours a time plus added hours to make up for the ones he's missed because he's been in lockdown. What!? Why don't they just let him out completely and have done with it?
Getting in the mood for ending his confinement, Oriol gave an interview to RNE, Spain's national radio broadcaster. This interview was broadcast on Thursday. It should have gone out earlier in the week, as in before the Congress debate and vote on extending the state of alarm. It wasn't broadcast when it was due to have been because of an intervention and protest by the council for public radio news.
In the interview, Junqueras issued a warning to Pedro Sánchez about cosying up to Ciudadanos in ensuring that he, Sánchez, gained the Cs approval for extending the state of alarm. The prime minister, the ERC leader said, needs to "decide whether he wants to embrace Ciudadanos or wants to keep the majority of his investiture".
When Sánchez secured his investiture in January, he had a simple majority of two in Congress. The Cs were among the parties who voted against. The ERC (and EH Bildu from the Basque Country) abstained, an agreement having been struck with Sánchez's PSOE and Podemos regarding talks about the Catalonia situation. Ciudadanos was and is one of the parties firmly against any accommodation of Catalan demands.
The ERC has thirteen seats in Congress, three more than Ciudadanos. While its seats alone are not sufficient to get PSOE and Podemos a Congress majority for anything, these seats certainly do come in handy. Without some tacit support from the ERC, the minority coalition is extremely shaky.
So, Junqueras was warning that the government could collapse, if Sánchez wasn't very careful, which was exactly the same warning delivered by the ERC's Gabriel Rufián during last week's debate. The ERC had previously backed the government in its calls to extend the state of alarm. They were no longer prepared to: a) because Sánchez needed to remember about the agreement with the ERC; b) because Catalonia should be making its own decisions regarding de-escalation and not have these imposed by Madrid; and c) because of the negotiations with the Cs in respect of the extension and quite possibly other things, such as talks about Catalonia.
A few weeks ago, Rufián had wisely observed that if he went on TV during the crisis and started going on about Catalan independence, the viewing public would be chucking their remote controls at the screens. It wasn't the time to be talking about self-determination, but now that de-escalation is occurring, it obviously is time. And Sánchez had better watch out.
For Oriol, though, there are no real concerns about remote controls being hurled at him. He is off at the day job at the Monastery.
God on Pablo's side
The Vox one-woman demolition squad in Congress, Macarena Olona, was back on the case of Pablo Iglesias last week. Maca wanted to know if the Podemos second deputy prime minister for social rights and the 2030 Agenda, will be "desisting from imposing the Venezuelan Chavista model on Spain". "Our democracy is bleeding to death," she suggested, "and it is not due to coronavirus".
Having got that off her chest, Iglesias declined to get into much of an argument, confining himself to observing that "this chamber and our society does not deserve that this government dedicates half a second in difficult times such as these we are experiencing to those who dedicate their time to asking about Venezuela".
Pablo might have added to the firmly pro-Church Vox that he has God on his side: that would have stolen some of Maca's thunder. The divine intervention had come from the founder of Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Father Ángel García, who had written to Pablo in order to explain the work that his charity is doing during the crisis and that he had given thanks to God for health and essential services workers and for the work of Pablo himself in seeking "a better world". "People like you and your team, with your work and effort, help to make a better world possible." "Let me tell you that God blesses you."