Interview with Robert Sanahuja
October 17, 2021
Member of Federalistes d’Esquerres since 2017, when a group of people from the Penedès and Garraf joined the association. He has worked at the Barcelona Provincial Council. He was a councilor in Vilanova i la Geltrú City Council, and is a member of the PSC.
Is your environment and, in general, what we understand as territory, an ocean, a nationalist ‘minor sea’, or vice versa?
It has had periods. At first, it was a smaller sea, very different from the coastal towns. But as we drifted inland, it began to look like an ocean. The stream was going in the opposite direction. Nationalism, independence, was taking over all these villages.
Is the phenomenon more recent or old?
There are historical precedents. In the areas where Carlism was more entrenched, a certain independence has been born. This, which has been very noticeable in the villages, was already in full swing in 2010. Meanwhile, Vilanova i la Geltrú, for example, resisted much more, because it was an industrial city, with a different demographic profile. But in Vilafranca, Sant Martí, Sant Quintí de Mediona, and even in Sant Sadurní, you could already see that things were booming.
And further back, during the civil war of 1936, was there no longer a nationalism trying to break through?
I would say no. During the war there were many Francoists who dominated the territory. The elites were Francoists. Until well into the 1960s, there were no opposition movements to the regime. Many of them were born next to the Church. It was the Church that approached the groups, gave them support and even the means to come together and develop. Which, in any case, did not happen until the 60s or 70s, at the end of the Franco regime. Then, with democracy, most of these villages had CIU and socialist councils.
In addition to the Church, were they part of the proprietary elites, chiefs or figures of the old regime?
Not much. The old structures, with more roots in the territory, had already been overtaken by developmentalism, factories and industrial poles. This mixed with the emigration that came to meet the demand for labor. Sant Sadurní, with the entire cava industry; Vilanova, with Pirelli and the manufacture of cables… In these territories emigration was very significant in the 60s. Many of them and their children and grandchildren are still Spanish speakers, but it goes by neighborhood, which lately is noticeable every day more. We have examples of Spanishspeaking parents who have turned into Catalanspeakers. When all the integration was done in the school, Catalan was very popular and people learned it. That has changed. Spanish speakers still are so. They communicate in Spanish, and no longer interact as they did ten or fifteen years ago.
And how does a federalist navigator feel in these troubled waters?
Now we feel like a flame is shining around here, and we need to keep feeding it. This has not been the case in recent years. We have lived in a toxic, even physical, atmosphere in every village. All covered with pro-independence symbols. A sea, really. Roads, entrances to towns, inland… All this creates an image that also affected the relations of the citizens themselves. Non-independence activists were excluded from everything. Sanitary cord. And that continues today. In Vilanova i la Geltrú, for example, the pro-independence groups rule in a coalition of Esquerra, CUP and J x Cat, without taking the other groups into account. And family relationships have suffered a lot, too. People have stopped talking to each other. If you know someone thinks so, then stop talking to them. In the villages there was a very cordial relationship between everyone. Attendance at bars or shops has not been completely discriminated against on the basis of political affiliation, but it has been somewhat discriminated against. Going shopping and looking bad. And, of course, when it comes to hiring, pro-independence governments have not been ashamed to favor their followers with investment plans, purchases, subsidies…
Who are most disliked by the pro-independence side, the so-called xarnegos, the botiflers, the Spanish speakers…?
There has been a mix there. Many Spanish speakers have joined, due to various circumstances. In all these villages, the entities dedicated to folklore are significant: ‘castellers’, ‘bastoners’… All that was going on around the main festival was a nucleus of pro-independence power and propaganda. They have taken the ‘castellers’ for a walk around the world, with the estelada flag. Here are people from all over. It’s like the workforce of independence. All this with gestures like dancing behind the church or the town hall, instead of in front, depending on the political color. They are exclusionary movements, which further thin the climate, because people stop participating in them.
In any case, despite complaints of passivity from non-nationalists, perhaps we should be thankful that the blood has not reached the river?
That was our fear. We saw that a confrontation could take place here. All this, in the midst of a very deep economic crisis, which forced us to think about how to survive. We are now entering a new cycle, in which pro-independence pressure has dropped a lot. We no longer have everything covered in propaganda. We are beginning to regain some local normalcy. Something that in itself is already important. You no longer have that oppression. Also, there are many voices that say that these people neither govern, nor know how to govern day to day, nor do they want to do so. Their story is monothematic.
But reality, like the old mole, continues to dig beneath the apparent surface…
I think we are like that now. These people are still on their pedestal, talking about their things, but the reality, pure and simple, is that Europe as a whole has started a project to get out of the tsunami of Covid with renewed ideas. Something that starts from Piketty and others, and that ratifies Von der Leyen. They are in the same line: we must build an economic model, which does not destroy the planet, in specific terms; with step-by-step measures; there will be money to do so; we will care a lot about youth, and so on.
All this, naturally, in federal terms…
Of course. These are the lights that we now have and that we must encourage to transform, in our case, the structures of the state. Creating a culture in society in the sense that this is the system: understanding each other. The discourse of being always in trouble with the neighbor. The initiative on the union of two towns of Extremadura, Villanueva de la Serena and Don Benito, is good news, because the economies of scale and the benefits that derive from them can be important. This is an attempt to overcome that discourse about my enemy being the people next door.
This, in the case of Catalonia and not only here, begins and translates to fighting in the first place with your own neighbors, with those who do not share your particular view of things…
This is the main problem. The vicious circle of Catalans against Catalans. That does not translate, as many say, into one half against the other, but into a ruling class against the majority of the people of Catalonia. And something even more serious can happen, because if this is not fixed well we will have two different Catalonias, divided, even territorially. A kind of Belgium. The Catalonia of cities and that of villages.
Overcoming this threat also involves federalism for the villages…
The models that have led us to the pro-independence mess have caused relations to be broken, not only between individuals, families and within villages, but between peoples themselves. We created the commonwealths, which was already a bit of federalism. Federalism is not just a matter for states. It has many levels at which it can be applied. This area is water deficient and we are supplying water to all the villages of the Penedès and Garraf without any difficulty, because we resort to a model of federalist collaboration.
Light, in short, at the exit of the tunnel?
The way in which health management is conducted with the Covid, the conference of presidents, and other signs of inter-territorial rapprochement show that federalism is not only convenient, but something simple, easy to understand and apply.