Interview with Roberto Fernández
Peru Erroteta – 9 May 2021
Professor of Modern History. Catalan and Spanish 18th century specialist historian. Promoter and rector of the University of Lleida, National Prize for History. Among his works is the great Manual of the History of Spain and Catalonia and Bourbon absolutism: History and politics. He just published “Combat for Concord”.
Concord (adjustment or agreement between people who contend), referring especially to the Catalans?
For eight years, my very institutional vision of the public university, made me never make any statement on the subject of Catalonia and its relations with Spain, parties, or anything that had to do with politics in general. In such a way that journalists, when they asked me for my opinion on this or that question of the process, they themselves, jokingly, answered themselves. “The Rector says that the University does not think about politics.” But in that time I did accumulate readings, feelings, reflections, discussions … I had a book in my head that I had not seen on the market. They asked me for a lecture at the Madrid University, in which Juan Cruz, Zarzalejos, Durán and Lleida were present … Hence the need to express things that I think have not been said by a good part of the literature on the process arose, and some proposals that I think could be interesting.
At this point in the process, is harmony not something that many try to relegate to the space of good intentions?
In the process there have been three main victims. The first, reason and realism, which has succumbed to passions, as a central element of politics. Therefore, I believe that Catalan society has to return to reason and realism. It has to silence the passions to be able to meet again the Catalans, and try to find consensual solutions. The second victim has been civil coexistence. Although I know that there is a part of my pro-independence compatriots who do not agree, there is a lot of data that shows what is evident: that there has been a division in Catalan society, which practically leads to a civil and sentimental fracture, which even affects family and friends. The third victim is the position that we Catalans have had regarding our future and that of Spain, from Antonio de Campany, to Valentín Almirall, passing through Prat de la Riba itself: Hispanic Catalanism. Independence nationalism is another different political paradigm, which has seen Catalanism as the enemy to beat. Catalanism has always said that Spain must be in Catalonia, because Catalonia is part of Spain.
Where do you start treating injuries?
Faced with this fracture, we must oppose what I call the three “Cs”: conciliation, harmony and social cohesion. We have to return to Catalonia, when it comes to doing politics, to the culture of respect, tolerance, dialogue and empathy. Because in a nation there can be many nationalists, but if the nation is divided, in the end there is no nation. Consequently, we Catalans have to make an effort (in which the politicians would have to be the first) in the Parliament of Catalonia, where our partial sovereignty of the Catalans resides, to discuss how to reach a great consensus of what the future of Catalonia, maintaining the social cohesion of the Catalan people and not its division. Proposal that we have to take to the rest of the Spanish, to try to see to what extent the current situation can be channeled.
Does nationalism fit into reason, or is it just a by-product of passion, as historically it seems to have been?
In the book I indicate that, in the face of a Spanishist right, perhaps too rigid in its approaches (which is also an inconvenience to seek paths of agreement) I prefer patriotism, and that I am not in favor of nationalism. Because nationalism becomes an ideology that ends, necessarily, being exclusive by creating a binary world between “them” and “us”. But that in Catalonia there are compatriots who want to create a new State or who believe that this would be the best for the people of Catalonia is absolutely legitimate. I simply ask you to recognize those of us who think that this would not be good for Catalonia, and that it would also harm the rest of Spaniards and the European project. Those of us who think that have to be considered also as Catalans, in an absolute and total way. It is, from the existence of that social and identity bipolarity, that we have to resort to pragmatism, without any fear. Each one can have their maximum political program, as happened, for example, in the transition. But you have to accommodate political practice to reality. And the reality is that you have as much strength as other people in Catalonia have, who think in a totally different way. On the back cover of the book, I say that in the current circumstances, if one of the two blocs that, unfortunately, has created the Frontism in Catalonia, thinks that it can defeat the other or tries to do so, it is absolutely wrong, and it goes against the interests of the citizens of Catalonia.
How can pragmatism make its way in a toxic atmosphere like the one that prevails in Catalonia?
I’m not saying that nobody gives up anything. Indeed, nationalism obeys much more to romanticism than to the Enlightenment; to identity questions than to pragmatic reason. You can have a maximum program, even if it is sentimental, but in politics there is something more important, which is realism. There is no politics without realism. And if that realism says that there are people who have a totally opposite opinion, or you choose violence or to recognize that you have to live together and ensure that there is harmony and social cohesion, and that for that it is necessary that you look for common denominators. For Catalonia to continue being it is necessary that we do it among all Catalans and for it to happen it is necessary that we articulate realism and pragmatism. Lendakari Urkullu was kind enough to receive me as President of the Rectors, at the time of Puigdemont. He told me that he was still pro-independence, although he believed that independence was not possible in the 21st century and that the cohesion of the Basque Country was above all else. That is what I want for my Catalonia.
Is the nationalist DNA capable of modifying itself to the point of accepting what it is proposing?
Pragmatism has to be practiced by all contestants. From a doctrinal point of view, one might think that nationalism is not pactist, although, by the way, it has been so in the last 30 years of Spanish history. The pact between Catalans, through realism and pragmatism, trying to respect, tolerate and dialogue to try to create harmony and social cohesion is a necessity. The opposite is young men fighting as in Goya’s works. I am willing to fight the end of the Catalan independence movement, I am very critical of the means they have used, but I recognize that they are a sociological, sentimental reality that is not going to disappear by magic. But they also have to know that there is a world of evident constitutionalists, which also has great strength. What I am saying is that it is necessary to agree, in the Parliament of Catalonia, with the only red line of legality. Everything can be agreed legally. Could the reform of the Constitution, if carried out, contemplate the right of self-determination of the Communities? Yes. What is there to get for it? A parliamentary majority in Madrid, to approve it. As for any law. That is called democracy. What did Ibarretxe do? He went to the Congress of Deputies, presented his associated State plan; Congress said no. He resigned and the PNV adopted another political line. The unilateral and insurrectionary way is not true because the Spanish Constitution does not allow it.
Do you consider, as Urkullu has said, that one of the most serious problems in Catalan politics is the role that private entities have acquired in it, lacking political legitimacy?
One of the most damaging phenomena that has occurred in Catalan society has been the attack on institutions. It is not acceptable that when President Puigdemont has to decide whether to call regional elections or opt for the unilateral route, something of enormous importance, he receives at the Palau, institutional headquarters, not only the CUP or Esquerra Republicana, but also Omnium and the ANC. For Puigdemont, some were the true Catalonia, and those he did not summon were not Catalonia. It is extremely serious that private associations have a role of institutional relevance that does not correspond to them.