Strona główna/An Interview. A Key to Catalonia

An Interview. A Key to Catalonia

Aleksandra Zińczuk: Is there going to be bloodshed in Catalonia?

Xavier Farré Vidal:  Everybody hopes that it will not happen. The government and police made a dreadful mistake, when the acts of violence took place during the referendum held on the 1st October.

Is Catalonia fighting for its freedom? Does democratic Spain actually lack democracy?

Freedom has not been curtailed, we still have free media and current situation can be criticized openly. It may be changed though, if Article 155 enters into force [the article of the Spanish Constitution that permits the government to implement coercive measures against the province violating legal order of the state – editorial note], which remains the great unknown even for the governing themselves. However, current situation cannot be compared with the one existing in Turkey, as it is speculated.

Does ‘the emperor has no clothes’?

The government contradicted itself. If the referendum had been declared invalid, the deployment of the Guardia Civil [police] was unnecessary. Moreover, after the speech of the king some part of citizens felt that suddenly there was no place for them in their own country.

What identity of a Catalan is made of: in order to become one you should speak Catalan, support Barça [FC Barcelona], dance Sardana or be born in Catalonia?

(laughing) I don’t dance Sardana. I come from a small place L’Espluga de Francolí, where my parents spoke Catalan. We had neighbours from Andalusia. I remember when we were visiting our friends’ parents spoke Spanish to us, though we, the children, spoke to each other Catalan. You don’t have to be born in Catalonia to be a Catalan. You can simply feel one irrespective of the place you were born in. So far, language has been the main factor to define Catalan identity. However, here we are actually referring to flexible national identity, which is also open. It is not some closed room where there is not enough space for others, on the contrary.

Bilingualism does not apply to whole country.

Officially, it is adopted in five provinces: The Basque Country, Galicia, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands (three of the aforementioned provinces speak the same language, Catalan). There are some other principalities, where languages do not enjoy official status yet, for instance the Asturian language.

In this case, what is the bottom line of the existing language dispute?

Some political parties, especially The People’s Party of Catalonia started to introduce a certain narrative that children in Catalonian schools do not study Spanish. Oddly enough, when it comes to results of baccalaureate in the Spanish language, results in Catalonia are one of the best. Lessons at schools are taught first and foremost in Catalan, though some classes are conducted in Spanish. Spanish may also be heard during the breaks. Teachers are obliged to know Catalan on an advanced level [C level – trans. note]. In any case, for a Spanish speaker Catalan does not pose many difficulties since it belongs to the same language family. Films showed in our cinemas are dubbed – in general, 97% of dubbing is in Spanish and 3% in Catalan. The existing situation of diglossia concerns varied spheres of daily life.

Why the Catalans are nicknamed the Poles?

There are several versions of the origin of the name Polacos for Catalans, which is a negative definition. Perhaps, one of the most well-known dates back to the times of civil war in Spain, when there were many Poles in the Republican army, who were also known as Dąbrowszczacy [The Dabrowski Battalion that was fighting on the republicans’ side against the divisions of Francisco Franco in 1936–1939 – editorial note]. Spanish did not understand the Polish language. For many of them Polish sounded totally foreign, the same was with Catalan.

What undergoes the process of radicalisation – the government of society?

There are two forms of nationalism in Spain. Obviously, they must not be compared to other forms of this ideology that existed in the 20th century. There is one kind of nationalism, 'invisible’ one, as in other countries where the shape it gains is defined as patriotism. However, there is also nationalism that does not have a state or any political structure with power to rely on, as it is in Catalonia. In truth, these are two kinds of nationalism, where one of them is defined as natural, whereas the other is perceived threatening. Nowadays we observe the process of sudden radicalisation of the first type, the 'invisible’ one. We should make ourselves aware that all kinds of nationalism are the same in their essence.
On the other hand, it has to be emphasised that Spain possesses multinational and multicultural heritage which is not always accepted. Sometimes arguments and lack of understanding surface when there is someone involved who speaks another language.

Several years ago separatist tendencies were restrained in the Basque Country. Now other provinces of Spain invigorated by Catalonia may feel the urge to increase their autonomies.

Moreover, just recently two referenda were held in Italy, one of them in Lombardy, where citizens opted for larger autonomy. All this is felt as potential hazard for the existing state structures of the European Union. As far as the Basque Country is concerned, they have been granted tax sovereignty which is bigger than the one given to Catalonia. The Basque Country is a prosperous province with 7% GDP. Catalonia, in comparison, generates as many as 19% GDP.

In Spain there is no place for discussion about concentration camps that existed during the dictatorship times. These camps served as a place for assassination of political opponents. It is quite possible that social oblivion and the fact that Franco’s regime was not called to account may have contributed to the current situation.

Nobody breaches the subject of holding Franco’s regime to account, this narrative does not exist, which is a complex issue. In Spain in the period of transformation it was decided to implement the rule of tabula rasa, start building the state afresh. It was an immense compromise. Later on, when democracy was restored, as well as rather recently, people felt the need to find the places where members of their families had been executed and buried, therefore history emerged again, especially the one that had not been worked through.

Is the independence movement in Spain the phenomenon of recent years?

Endeavours to obtain independence are more deep-rooted. The state was shaped to its current state in the 18th century, as well as the rest of Europe. It may be assumed that the foundations of the state of the day in Spain were laid after the war in 1714. It should also be borne in mind that it was a successional European war and not a Spanish one. Therefore, it brought the dilemma with the monarch, who had to be put on the throne. The crown was passed over to the House of Bourbon, a successor of French tradition, who implemented in Spain the central state model. Afterwards there were three Carlist Wars in the 19th century that can also be referred to as civil wars, a dictatorship, a civil war in 1936–1939 and another dictatorship of General Franco.

Although there are publications devoted to this topic (e.g. For a Sack of Bones Lluís Anton Baulenas), yet in public awareness these issues seem if not forgotten, than at least unstructured.

It is rather interesting that in literature 2001–2010 is the period when many books of account-settling character were written. Unofficially, it is claimed that this trend was launched by a well-known story Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas. It is worth noting that on literal level history is as important as the narrator. Here it was possible to create narrative based on facts as well as on collective memory. There are also many other authors and a lot of publications in different languages devoted to the topic. Among them are the earlier mentioned Baulenas, who wrote one of his books in Catalan, Galician writer Manuel Rivas, Catalan Maria Barbal and Antonio Muńoz Molina, whose In the Night of Time written in Spanish touches upon the events of the earlier period, namely the very beginning of the civil war. A short story cycle by Almudena Grandes or one of the best books about civil war – Los girasoles ciegos – the only novel of prematurely deceased Alberto Mendez.

Coming back to the tense situation in your country: what kind of solution is there?

Antoni Puigverd put it very well. The key word he suggested to characterise the whole matter of Catalonia’s independence is RESPECT. It is respect for another culture, language, and respect for otherness. One of the issues of contemporary Spain is the fact that its residents refer to it as to a multinational country, though in practice not everybody is keen to agree on that. On the other hand, actual knowledge of the heritage of other cultures such as Catalan or Basque in whole Spain is in fact rather limited and patchy. A few years ago upon coming into effect the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia the People’s Party that used to be in opposition back then, launched a campaign against the Statute which metamorphosed into the campaign against Catalonia. Around 4 milion signatures had been collected and submitted to the Constitutional Court in Spain that had been holding back on the decesion for four years. The first mass demonstration held in Catalonia on the 11th of September (The National Day of Catalonia) was a reaction to all that. The existing situation led to the state we find ourselves at the moment. Indeed, over the years both side of the dispute harboured different subdued reactions and emotions. Referendum might have been a solution to that, where all citizens of Catalonia could give their decesion legally. Notwithstanding the fact that nowadays Catalonia seems to have only two solutions, there is also a third one offering an open way for some kind of federalism. One way or the other, I believe, we are facing the moment where it is time to ponder over the structure of the state and work on it, since every solution is intertwined with changes of the existing political and legal footing. We are still looking at it through the prism of old state categories.

It is clear, that reversion of perspective in regard to state and people is necessary not only in Spain…

The mindset about a nation-state that includes only one language, one culture, the monolith state, should be entirely altered. It is a question of future Europe as a federative state without inner frontiers, neither real nor mental. However, at the moment this conception remains only in imagination. Will we be able to see the changes that shape Europe into its new form?

26 October, 2017

Xavier Farré Vidal – born in 1971, poet, translator from Polish and Slovenian; works at The Jagiellonian University; translated works of Czesław Miłosz, Adam Zagajewski, Zbigniew Herbert, Aleš Debeljak, Lojze Kovačič, Tomaž Šalamun; published five volumes of poetry. An anthology of his poems Kompas na śniegu (EMG Publishing House / wydawnictwo emg) translated into Polish came out in 2015.
Xavier Farré Vidal runs the blog:

Translation: Galyna Shportko

Barcelona w obiektywie Romana Kravchenko.

Barcelona w obiektywie Romana Kravchenko.

Z reżimem generała Francisco Franco kojrzy się nalot na Guernicę. Stał się inspiracją dla Pabla Picassa do stworzenia jednego z najważniejszych obrazów XX wieku. Na ilustracji mural przedstawiający dzieło hiszpańskiego artysty. Fot. Papamanila (lic. CC BY-SA 3.0).

Z reżimem generała Francisco Franco kojrzy się nalot na Guernicę. Stał się inspiracją dla Pabla Picassa do stworzenia jednego z najważniejszych obrazów XX wieku. Na ilustracji mural przedstawiający dzieło hiszpańskiego artysty. Fot. Papamanila (lic. CC BY-SA 3.0).

Xavier Farré Vidal. Fot. Joana Lluna.

Xavier Farré Vidal. Fot. Joana Lluna.