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Home » Content » Benoît Pellistrandi: “Catalan nationalism has entered a racist drift”
The word 'Catalunya' must stop being a totem, a sacred reality in which there are only friends or 'botiflers' [traitors]. This is not how political Catalonia is built. Catalonia has to go back to being an open, cosmopolitan society and not a mythologized image.

Eva Canton

Paris – Monday, 04/22/2019 | Updated at 08:29 CEST

Benoît Pellistrandi

The French historian and Hispanist, Benoît Pellistrandi (1966) has been director of studies at “Casa de Velázquez” from 1997 to 2005 and has just published ‘Le Labyrinthe Catalan’ (‘The Catalan Labyrinth’), a brief essay on the genesis and consequences of the Catalan crisis in which he denounces “nationalist disloyalty” and the deformation of reality on the part of the leaders of the ‘Procés’ (comment: pro independence process). “The Catalan crisis is a political product that plays with the internal balance of a great European nation”, he says. 

Pellistrandi, who on next April 23 will present his work in Madrid together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, swears with laughter that the book is not an assignment given to him by the Spanish Government.

Have you seen anything positive in the ‘Procés’?

Frankly not. The responsibility of politicians is to create common good and make coexistence possible. With the ‘Procés’, the Catalan government has played only in favor of one side. It is normal for a government to follow a majority program from a partisan point of view, but it also has institutional responsibility. The principle of democracy is that no decision must have irremediable consequences.

You speak of supremacist theses that reveal the true face of identity and an exclusive nationalism.

I see the racist drift as a logical consequence of the genealogy of Catalan nationalism. It starts with a cultural nationalism (whoever speaks Catalan is a Catalan, which is what Herder said of the German) and in the end we arrive to a racist vision. I am not saying that a sort of ‘Catalan Nazism’ has been created, but the intellectual risk is there.  Reading certain texts written by Quim Torra (comment: Catalan president)  makes your hair stand up, because he overtly despises those who are not Catalan.

What do you mean when you mention the risk of “Weimarization”?

I posit that whenever elections are repeated five or six times in less than seven years, instead of resolving a political conflict, institutions weaken. In the Weimar Republic, political forces were unable to stop a minority movement which faced a fractured landscape.  Even though we are not in the 1930s, the global context after the economic crisis has broken the consensus on the socioeconomic model and as a result we see the rise of many kinds of selfishness.

Do you think there are points of connection between the pro-independence drift and European populism?

Yes. I interpret the pro-independence version of nationalism as a populism; as a proposal that offers a way out of the crisis by breaking the mold. It is striking that in the debate on independence there is a blind spot. There is no talk of practical consequences. And I understand it, it´s because passions do not arise through talking about how things are going to be funded. Dreaming of a liberation discourse is populism. It is simplifying problems, not facing reality.

What role has Carles Puigdemont played? (Comment: previous Catalan president)

We should start by talking about the resounding failure of Artur Mas (Comment: Catalan president previous to Puigdemont). Puigdemont became an accidental leader and is now a blocking element. Oriol Junqueras – comment: ex. Catalan VP – , who has not reneged on any of his pro-independence ideas, knows that a different strategy is needed, but Puigdemont has castled himself. I hope it will all end up in lifting the ‘Puigdemont obstacle’.

Oriol Junqueras can be the way out of the jam? Let’s not forget that he is in jail.

It depends on the imagination of the political leaders elected by the Spanish people on April 28 and May 26. We will see if there is an exercise of collective intelligence. I have witnessed the controversy over a potential pardon, which is a Government prerogative. If a president decides to pardon the prisoners, it is because he has arguments for doing so and it will be a political option in order to try to channel the problem. It will also have arguments against doing so, but voters of some parties in Catalonia would see that as “a revenge from the State apparatus”.   No solution will be liked.

Do you see a possibility of reforming the Constitution so that a referendum is held in Catalonia?

If you want to reform your house, you have to ask the owners community for permission whenever it affects shared spaces. If  Catalans decide, it will have consequences for the Spanish. In addition, we have a problem: who is Catalan? Those who are registered in the electoral census of Catalonia? One option is federalization, but that means putting the regional map back on the table. It would take a pact between all political forces and I do not see such conditions existing.

Has the Catalan crisis resurrected the worst face of Spanish nationalism?

Of course. That is very striking. The sort of Catalanophobia that has developed in Spain is worrisome, something which in my opinion, is one of the reasons for votes going to Vox. Meanwhile, in Catalonia Hispanophobia has developed.  Both are absolutely reductive nationalisms.

What have you discovered about Catalan nationalism when writing the book?

I did not find any magic. I’ve seen it as bitter, unpleasant. I speak of its political discourse, not of Catalan reality. When I finished the book I realized that Catalan nationalism lacks any kind vision.

In order to get out of the labyrinth you state that Catalonia has to become Catalonia again.

The word ‘Catalunya’ must stop being a totem, a sacred reality in which there are only friends or ‘botiflers’ [traitors]. This is not how political Catalonia is built. Catalonia has to go back to being an open, cosmopolitan society and not a mythologized image.


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