Being a girl scout in her childhood has made huge contributions to her becoming political, says Elena Jiménez, international representative of Omnium Cultural in Barcelona, Catalonia, in a new episode of Avaşîn Podcast. “In Catalonia, that is a powerful youth movement. It gave me an awareness of being a citizen of the world, but also of having a national identity. When I started to travel to represent the scouts at an international level, I found out that scouting in Catalonia is different from scouting in other places in the world. We don’t wear uniforms, we don’t have a strong hierarchie, we are, let’s say, a bit hippie, more connected with nature, not competitive, and tries to engage people in local communities. I learned how to change things I think are wrong.”
It contributed to her awareness and to standing up for herself, also when she grew up and noticed that she was sometimes approached differently because she was Catalan and not Spanish. The interesting thing is: her parents are both from Spain, not from Catalonia. Elena says she is ‘from Catalonian culture’. How should we look at that? She’s Spanish, but Catalonian as well?
Elena: “It’s a normal thing in Catalonia: many of us have roots in Spain and have come from Spain and have immigrated to Catalonia in the 1950s, after the civil war. People were looking for a better future, economically. This is also my background.”
She said being Catalonian is not a nationalist identity but much more connected to civil rights, and the wish to be respected as a political community. Elena: “I learned my first word in Catalan when I was five, in school, because at home we spoke Spanish. Now we speak Catalan because we started changing. That’s a very common thing in Catalonia because 30%, 40% of the population has its roots somwhere else. So Catalan identity is not based on nationalism but based on a civic commitment of people living in a community.”
Children in Catalonian schools have their full education in Catalonian language now, and Catalonia has its own parliament. Nevertheless, the rights of the people are not respected. It is, for example, frustrating, to say the least, that progressive laws that are passed in Catalonian parliament are often overthrown by the Constitutional Court in Spain. That is also where the wish for independence is rooted: “
Can you detach the wish for independence from nationalism?
Elena Jiménez: “Having your own state is a way to have the tools to live in an interconnected world. Our rights could also be respected in a federal structure. This could have an effect in the EU as well, that we have the right to represent ourselves there as Catalonians when proposals can be made about transportation or maritime issues or whichever subject. It works like that in the German federal states as well. So before the 2017 referendum, we we advocating for democracy, for our right to vote and calling on people to participate in the referendum. At that moment, Omnium Cultural wasn’t promoting independence yet, like now. But whether you want a state or a federal system, people should have the possibility to decide. Se we demand our right to self-determination. But if they decide they want a federal state, well, it’s not only on Catalan people because the rest of the country would have to want it too.”
Will there be a new referendum for independence?
Elena Jiménez: “We always repeat the sentence that the former president of Omnium, Jordi Cuixart, who is now in jail as a political prisoner for almost four years because of the referendum, well, it was because he was leading a big demonstration ten days before the referendum and during his trial with the other political prisoners, he said in Catalan: “We will do it again”. And this has become our slogan now. We want our right, our right to decide, to demonstrate, our freedom of speech. We will exercise those right. If it’s in a referendum or in another way, we will see.”
Elena explains that there are some 900 people now that are facing criminal procedures for their civil rights activism. “We are closely following all these procedures, but we are also filing court cases ourselves against police who were involved in violence. We have lawyers who work pro-bono and we as Omnium are also engaged in such procedures, beause in Spanish law, you can be involved as a social movement.”
Such activism is new for them, she said: “We were always engaged in social activism, in fighting for the Catalan language, but all of a sudden since 2017 we find ourselves going to trials and to prisons to visit our people. We were not familiair with that.” She sometimes foolows the news about Kurdistan and said: “For Kurdish people it is different, they are suffering from much more violence against them than we in Catalonia experience, but we have met Kurdish people and they have been very helpful. For example, we were at the UN and we we trying to get our message across there, and we met Kurds and they explained to us how it works to advocate internationally, to get attention.”
It made her realise again how important international solidarity is.
Elena Jiménez: “International solidarity is like oxygen. Jordi Cuixart said it is crucial for him in prison too, to get letters and to get visitors from other parts of the world. It made him very emotional sometimes, to be connected to other people who struggle.”