Thanks to Foreign Friends of Catalonia, who translated my article to English. I share it from my blog
Establishing a portrait of Catalan ‘supremacists’ has become common ground. It is a phenomenon linked to the surprising discovery that a considerable percentage and possibly even a majority of residents in Catalonia have converted to Independence, irreversibly perhaps. Those refuse to continue living in the Kingdom of Spain. Recent yes, but not strange. The various CIS (Spanish Centre for Sociological Research) surveys conducted over the last decades would paint a picture of Catalans as being the least friendly. They would describe us using words such as “stingy”, “aloof”, and “selfish”; terms similar to those used against the Jewish people in prejudiced European societies always suspicious of a “strange group” within the community. Even the antisemitic jokes have also been often used against the Catalans in Spain.
Now, with a systemic crisis of the ’78 regime, whereby the republican sovereignty has had a salient role, this trend has exacerbated. The distortion of the conflict, from the “go-for-them” attitude present in the media and the judiciary including the manipulation of the lowest instincts by certain political groups, has contributed to construct a dehumanisation of seven and a half million citizens who are being criminalised regardless of their political beliefs. Or even worse, dividing people into categories as if those millions of Catalan people who have made the decision to break with Spain were intrinsically perverse, something like a heretical species who need to be ‘disinfected’, as Spanish minister Borrell declared.
This version has undoubtedly been boosted by the media oligopoly, specially the television, which in Spain has never been characterised by its plurality. On the contrary, as Javier Muñoz Soro, a researcher from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, has studied: the actions of the Spanish media at present follow a clear trend in journalism comparable to that during Franco’s dictatorship. This is now being funded by those business sectors closely linked with Francoism while traditionally serving as an instrument to boost a uniform authoritarian spirit within Spanish society, coupled with a television culture in a country where the level of reading and critical conscience are well below average. All elements which do not fit the requirement of the national identity idea tend to be ignored in case they misrepresent the cliched image of Spain/Madrid breed.
We would be lying to ourselves if we believed that this anti-Catalan prejudice was recent. In fact, Spain’s repression against Catalonia has been one of the essential ingredients for the existence of Spanish identity. In other words, nothing brings people together more than having a common enemy, be it internal or external. It is not widely known that the term “Polish”, as applied to the Catalans, originated from the first years of post war, when the Francoist army imitating Wehrmacht, would use this term to call the Catalan recruits so that they would not forget they were a subjected people. Quevedo’s anti-Catalan harangues had an anti-monarchical tone “a monstrous political abortion,
free”; that is, not submitted to the absolutist spirit of the Spanish monarchy. In fact, one of the identity signs in Catalonia is its dislike for power and liberal tradition. This makes the most totalitarian regime in Europe uncomfortable since they are incapable of getting rid of the stalest monarchy such as the one occupying the Spanish thrown at present.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The use of the term “Nazi” to qualify the independence movement is indicative since it stems from the anti-Francoist resistance itself. The movement which took part openly with WWII, side by side with the allies and the resistance (against a Spain who sent 50,000 soldiers wearing the Wehrmacht uniform and who is also co-responsible for the Leningrad siege war crimes). But, of course, the media have adopted Goebbels’ stance: a lie when repeated a thousand times can become true.
Any lie, to become credible, must contain elements of truth. It is true that, amongst 1930s Catalan intellectual circles, certain hostile ideas referencing the Spanish rural migrants were spread. Reports such as those of Carles Sentis or Josep Maria Planes, fed the “Murcian” myth, not just about their origin but because many of them would integrate socially via the CNT, which was based on a crude rival conflict with the progressive and Republican Catalan group of that time. However, it was probably more to do with the demographic statesman Josep Anton Vandellós who in his book “Catalonia, a decadent people?” reinforced the dislike towards those migrants who did not speak Catalan, alleging that a linguistic and cultural substitution would take place if nothing was done about it due to the low Catalan birth rate (which demographic professor Anna Cabré calls “the Catalan system of reproduction”) and the doors would open to a strange population.
Quoting isolated cases, making a mere anecdote appear as the norm, misrepresents reality. From the beginning of the 20th century until the Nuremberg trials, Eugenics was in vogue and it was considered to be prestigious and intellectual as a political proposal. A proposal assumed by the Nazis and the anarchists themselves, who spread these ideas in magazines such as Eugenics, Health & Force, Studies, Conscious Generation, amongst others. In fact, even the anarchist movement, which helped integrate so many rural and Southern migrants in Catalonia were hostile to certain cultural trends (ie., animal cruelty, alcoholism, prostitution and associated diseases, in favour of birth control, but also in favour of the sterilisation of those not considered apt). In fact, before the German eugenic laws were issued, this type of politics were already experimented in some North American or Scandinavian states.
Francoism was not averse to this perverse idea either, with initiatives by the Spanish Mengele, the psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, obsessed with removing the “red gene” from Spanish society and responsible for the thousands of children abducted from Republican families, with the Catholic church’s enthusiastic participation.
Where there is no discussion possible, except, of course, amongst those who repeat the lie of a supposed “Catalan racism”, is that Catalonia is a nation without a particular ethnic component. A cultural nation although, as a historian, it would probably be more of a post national identity based on a resistance against being assimilated by a hostile state. Vicens Vives’ well-known book, “News from Catalonia” written in 1954 (censorship banned its publication with the original title: “Us, the Catalans”) considered the land to be a “land of through travel” where a diversity of peoples and individuals lived while embracing a heterogeneous amalgamation in constant flux. For example, during the 16th-17th centuries, and based on the census and documentation of the time, around 40% of the work force was formed by occidental migrants, escaping French feudalism. Modern Barcelona, seafaring and cosmopolitan, as well as most of the maritime areas, attracted mercantile and technical diasporas from the whole continent, especially the Italian coast. In late 19th century, with a population of 2 million, migrants mainly came from Valencian Country and Aragon. Around the beginning of the
20th century, Andalusian migrants began to arrive in Catalonia, many of them escaping the rural repression and political persecution at a time when many important social movements were taking place. Barcelona, the capital of anarchism, was a place of refuge ideal for those needing to hide.
Undoubtedly, what has often been forgotten is that with a population of around 2.7 million people before the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia welcomed 1 million refugees from areas controlled by the Spanish army. A million refugees fleeing from a sure death or a repression which, with no exaggeration, the British historian Paul Preston has qualified as the “Spanish Holocaust”. Many of them managed to go on exile at the end of the war (440,000 is the total Republican exodus in 1939), although many others were able to integrate into a Catalan society hostile towards Francoism.
During Franco’s reign various migrant waves arrived in Catalonia. Besides, many of those came from the losing side of the civil war and staying in their towns would mean facing systematic repression. Moving to Catalonia where life was not necessarily easy, meant they could live in anonymity, although others preferred to stay and face hostile Francoism. It is also true that another type of migrants appeared: a significant number of civil servants belonging to the regime: falangists, military, police, and their families, whose mission consisted of repressing the civil population who were allergic to the regime, and some of these allied themselves with sectors from the Catalan bourgeoisie who sympathised with the regime. A number of these and their descendants are the ones occupying political posts in Ciudadanos (C´s) and the Popular Party (PP). This explains their obsession against Catalanism, besides feeding a violent ultra-right movement backed up by the judicial and political forces. Therefore, it is not strange to see how they applaud the Police Headquarters (a place renowned for the torturing, extra-judicial executions, or European Abu Grahib) in Via Laietana, Barcelona, during their demonstrations.
Demographically, the Catalan population surpassed the figure of 2.8 million according to 1940 census to that of 5.1 million in 1970 (especially intense with another wave of immigration, more economical than political, going from 3.9 to 5.1 million). It is true that, amongst the Francoist elites, the deliberate aim was to force a “spanishization” of the Catalan society. Of course, this multiplication of Catalan society (it is said that in 1975 there were more residents born outside Catalonia than inside) posed a brutal challenge for Catalan identity. With this, and united by anti-Francoist sentiment a united bond is formed between moderate Catalanism amongst the Catalan middle classes and the clandestine working movement. This kind of understanding has often been symbolised by the figures of Jordi Pujol and Paco Candel. The former by moving away from the Vandellós´s view and stating that “Catalan is everyone who lives and works in Catalonia” and (the tag line that always gets forgotten) “who is not hostile against them”. This detail is important since, many of the political representatives who call themselves “constitutionalists” follow a hostile and hateful discourse versus Catalonia, it’s language and its culture and, in reality, they aim to reduce Catalonia to a region assimilated into official Spain.
The latter, Candel, author of one of the most fundamental books of the last century, “The Other Catalans”, proposes a plural and transversal vision of Catalanism, an interesting message adopted for decades, even now, with the idea that everyone should show their Catalanism in their own way. In other words, Catalanism is not founded on an immutable essence; on the contrary, it represents an amalgamated idea with its diverse components being added in order to reinvent identity at every new generation. This implies that Catalonia assumes, to a certain point, an idea of “post national” identity following the American and Canadian or Argentinian style, away from the Ius Sanguinis concept, which determines identity from ethnicity (Spanish are only those descendants from the Spanish) and an immutable past (usually reinvented according to myths), which requires a cultural assimilation according to Castilian mould. Any element which transgresses this is rejected or reduced to a subaltern and folklorized condition.
This idea is very relevant. In reality, the idea of incorporating oneself into the Catalan nation via goodwill explains how successful the linguistic immersion has been. Contrary to the anti-Catalan propaganda and the absurd accusations of supremacism, they were the ancestors of people from Andalusia, Extremadura or Murcia who pressurised education authorities for the use of the Catalan language to become the main language taught in schools. It is a social strategy. Families believed that their children ought to master the language of the country in order to increase their possibilities at the workplace and become equal in their adoptive country. Catalan became a passport to go up the social ladder and an expression of respect towards a welcoming society. Mastering the Catalan language implied being able to mix socially in a society familiar to diversity. Friendship groups are mixed and, after a few decades, the majority of Catalan society thinks of the present and future, not the past. For many children and grandchildren of Andalusian descent it is absurd to think that their origins could determine their affection, in a context where identity changes at a high speed. Knowing two languages allows one to submerge into two cosmoses, besides the possibility of participating in collective building of a dynamic identity. Dual identity (the demographic sector that tends to be at 40% feeling both Spanish and Catalan) has been maintained for the last decades despite increasing persecution of Catalan identity due to the Francoist bunker spirit. And, despite this, the “I feel more Spanish than Catalan” view has been reduced (a 10.2% in 2916 and going down).
It is true that, from the 90s, and especially thanks to individuals like José María Aznar, there has been a constant effort to suppress institutions and identity. In other words, Francoist aggressiveness has re-emerged in a gradually degrading democracy. Anti-catalanism, with its obsession against the public presence of the language (it still surprises them that more PhD thesis are written in English and Catalan than in Spanish, or that written radio/press have surpassed those written in Spanish), the language immersion, TV3 (Catalan public broadcaster), etc has instilled a hostile public opinion against Catalonia.
Why? Beyond the moral dimension, there lies the fear that they are losing Catalonia. Contrary to the repeated lies in the media, this trend is not due to nationalistic profile, to Albion, to the Russian input or to any imaginary conspiracies or rebellions. If the emotional disconnection experimented by many Catalans is due to Catalanophobia and the silence of others, there exist deeper issues which explain the progressive alienation between Spain and Catalonia. We refer to, for example, a different political culture: one based on maintaining Francoism in their strategic institutions, and another being the militant antifascism. This would explain the emergence of parties that follow continental logistics rather than Iberian. We also refer to an identity, that of the Spanish stemming from Castile, unmovable, excluding less malleable to plurality and highly intolerant, and the other the Catalan, dynamic, mutant, reinventing itself at every generation. Besides, it is easy to be Catalan, you only need to want to be.
However, what mostly alarms the State sectors who design political and social strategies is precisely these deep changes which make Catalonia less of a Spanish space and more of a global one. In fact, those who call themselves constitutionalists, but are more “unionists” since they aspire to follow a role similar to that of Ulster’s protestant monarchy, are afraid of becoming defunct in the public debate within Catalan society. These belong to a “Spanish Catalonia” stripped of any sign of identity different to Madrid, Valladolid or Seville, subservient to economic interests and cultural concept of Spain’s capital. Hence their obsession against the language, the education and media systems, with a hatred towards Catalonia not outside metropolitan area of Barcelona.
In short, the 117,000 residents of Catalonia and born in Extremadura live alongside 207,000 Catalans born in Morocco. According to the census, 1.3 million residents born in Spain and 1.4 million born abroad. This implies a new reinvention of Catalan identity and some find this difficult to accept. Especially when a good part of leading politicians from PP and Ciudadanos (C´s) are highly hostile against immigration (not theirs of course) or in their unionist demonstrations (where there is usually ultra-right presence which often attack African or Asian citizens), the idea of Catalonia having a Spanish component evolving due to being in contact with other cultures is considered heretical. With this hatred and dislike for anything Catalan there is a fear towards what they consider a declassification. Why, in a Catalan Republic, wouldn’t an Andalusian have the same rights and duties as an Algerian, an Argentinian or someone from Lleida? Those who believe that the only nation, the Spanish one, is the only one that exists and is determined by blood and genes (in Spain, I remind you, Ius Sanguinis rules, while I do not know of any Independence supporter who does not believe in Ius Solis), are preoccupied by the equality that so much seek.
There are other factors they fear. It is clear that Catalan is the person who lives and works (or not) in Catalonia, and with no hostility. In other words, Catalan is anyone who wishes to be. An ethnic Catalonia is not viable. According to the Catalan Institute of Statistics, only 24% of Catalan citizens born in Catalonia have four grandparents born in Catalonia (around 16% have “eight Catalan surnames). However, according to surveys, the percentage of Independence followers over the last few years has ranged from 45% and 55% and increased to 60% amongst those born in Catalonia, also amongst the age below 40, and growing. 31% of independence supporters have no grandparent born in Catalonia, percentage which grows as those consulted are left wing or a higher educated level. Higher education does not mean being “supremacist” by the way, but it relates to people who are more connected to the plurality of the country. Identity has nothing to do with genealogy, or even birth, simply with goodwill. Zero Catalan surnames, such as myself or David Fernández or Antonio Baños, give us enough freedom to be whatever we decide.
Who is Catalan? Let’s put the question in different terms. Who is Spanish? Beyond administrative level, is Spanish the British resident in Costa del Sol who does not speak or wishes to a word of Spanish and detests his neighbours living in his own bubble and complains that no one speaks to him in English? The answer is obvious. That is why Catalan identity, though flexible and relative, is contrary to essentialism. Independence is a question of Republican hegemony. That’s why Francoism has declared war on us.Afegeix un comentari