I’ve sent an e-mail with the following text to 43 MEP, representing all political groups, from the six founding countries of the EEC. Since it is not a personal letter, hereby I open it to the whole EU bureaucratic apparatus, to whom I address it.
“I’m so tired of my coward,
old, and ruthless land.
I’d love moving to the North,
where people is meant to be clean,
noble, cultivated, rich, free,
clever, and happy…”
Dear Mr/Mrs —-,
The lines you’ve read were written in 1954 by Salvador Espriu, one the most prominent Catalan poets of the 20th century. I’ve done my best to translate them from Catalan, the language they were written in, and now I’ll try to explain to you what was Espriu talking about.
In 1954 Spain was still under Franco’s dictatorship, following his victory in a Civil War (1936-1939) he won thanks to the keen support he got from Hitler and Mussolini while the European democracies, unable to understand for whom the bell tolls, denied their support to the Spanish Republican Government. In 1954 Spain was considerably poorer than Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg or The Netherlands, the six countries that three years earlier had signed the Treaty of Paris, the seed of the current European Union; and Spain had a much higher rate of illiteracy than any of them. In 1954, Spain was an unpleasant company: the United Nations was still refusing to admit Spain due to Franco’s links with Hitler and Mussolini.
Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands were “the North” Espriu was talking about. And the spirit and values that led them to the Treaty of Paris are what made them look, to Espriu’s eyes, clean, noble, cultivated, rich, free, clever, and happy.
This is one of Espriu’s most celebrated poems because it portrays what was a widespread feeling among Catalans: shame. Shame of ourselves, an inferiority complex towards “the North” not just because they were “rich”, but also –mainly, as it is shown in the poem- for values such as being “clean, noble, cultivated, free, clever, and happy…”. “The North” was not a geographical reference, it was a set of values, and this is at the very root of the euro-enthusiasm that Catalonia had shown ever since Spain joined the EEC in 1986.
But this is not the case anymore. It is so because the European Union does not represent anymore the values of the North Espriu was talking about. At least, not all of them.
Yet, the speech delivered by Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Durão Barroso in Oslo, on behalf of the European Union when the EU was awarded the 2012 Peace Nobel Prize, was deeply moving. They spoke of “scars of spears and swords, canons and guns, trenches and tanks” that the EU was healing with fraternity as its “fundamental purpose”. They also talked about “a lasting peace, not a frosty cease-fire” and they recalled a few stirring images: Willy Brandt kneeling down in Warsaw, Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand, and the human chain that went from Tallin to Vilnius, in 1989…
Well, if these “symbolic gestures”, as they called them, portray the values Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Durão Barroso were talking about, what sort of values are portrayed by gestures that by no means could be called symbolic such as the thousands of people drowned at the Mediterranean sea? What values are portrayed by the not-at-all symbolic agreement by which Turkey is free to do whatever they want in Afrin provided it keeps away from the EU the refugees escaping from war? What values are portrayed by the not-at-all symbolic images of Catalan politicians being jailed for organising a referendum? What values are portrayed by the not-at-all symbolic images of jailing the people that, inspired by the human chain that went from Tallin to Vilnius, organised a human chain that in 2013 linked Catalonia from one end to the other? What values are portrayed by the not-at-all symbolic images of the Spanish police beating people attending pooling stations in Catalonia?
With deep sorrow I feel the European Union does not represent anymore the values that inspired the Treaty of Paris and that have allowed to think that, quoting Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Durão Barroso, “a lasting peace, not a frosty cease-fire” could be achieved.
With deep sorrow, I think this dream is no longer achievable. I’m writing to you just in case I am wrong, and the EU still has a chance to retrieve the values of the North Salvador Espriu was dreaming of.
Joaquim Bosch i Batlle
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