Javier Aristu (Murcia, 1949) transmits distance, but the impression vanishes in an instant. He loves the word and clearly express his message. Professor of Language and Literature for more than 35 years in high schools in Seville, and in the European School of Brussels, he has accumulated a long career as a defender of liberties.
His book The Office of Resisting recovers the memory of many activists who fought for democracy. Perhaps that is why he understands that the Catalan independence movement is wrong when it equates its movement with a defense of democracy.
He sees it as something very different,related to populist phenomena that have appeared throughout Europe. But Aristu wants to contribute and help to open a new political framework in Spain, which, in his opinion, must go through a federal project. He has promoted, together with Javier Tébar, the conferences of dialogue between Cataluña and Andalucía, with two editions, the first in Seville, and the second last week in Barcelona. Militant in the PCE in the Seville of 1969, where he moved in that year, Aristu starred in a frantic political activity, which led him to participate in the founding of Izquierda Unida in 1986, after being a city councillor for the City of Seville.
He abandoned political activity in 1989, but keeping the passion intact. He wants to contribute and build bridges of dialogue and this is shown in his blog En Campo Abierto and in the magazine Pasos a la Izquierda, in which he is co-editor. In this interview with Crónica Global, he points out that “it is completely fallacious to say that the independence movement is democracy”, but insists that the different should be recognized: “Diversity does not imply inequality. Catalonia has a history, a factor of diversity, hat deserves to be constitutionalized”.
–Question: What truths are there, in your opinion, in the Catalan independence movement?
–Response: The “truths”, so said, sound like a metaphysical or dogmatic dialogue between two positions. I do not see it that way; rather I think that what expresses the independence movement is a social maladjustment of enormous proportions, and a huge confusion of a part of Catalan society that thinks, in the face of a brutal impact that has affected the foundations of the Catalan social consensus, that with independence it will solve the problems that this impact, especially the globalization, and changes in the global economy, has provoked in its previous social consensus. And for this purpose an enemy has been sought, in this case already known: Spain, and a new collective imaginary has been constructed, at least as a majority imaginary, as is independence. More than truths, therefore, what I see are signs of a deep labyrinth. This mess is occurring in other societies – let’s see Italy, let’s look at the Brexit -; what happens is that in Catalonia there was already a previous template, the extreme nationalism that became independentism, and has been used in this crisis as a false exit from the problem . Marina Subirats defined it as “the available utopia” but I get the impression that it could rather turn into a “dystopia”.
What is now Catalonia to the eyes of an Andalusian student, professional or politician?
– It depends on which Andalusian we ask, on where that Andalusian is located in her own labyrinth of contemporary social commotions. I would say that for the most part there is no special aggressiveness or animosity against Catalonia; yes, there is a great surprise at how the response to the error of the Constitutional Court has been developed by part of certain Catalan elites. It is evident that among certain Andalusian social strata, those more linked to centralist cultures, which have never understood well the autonomies and the processes of modernization of the Spanish political framework, there is a very negative attitude against the Catalan. Today the government of the PP and Citizens exemplifies that attitude, unfortunately, but they are not the only ones. However, I believe that, among the majority Andalusian public opinion, what predominates is surprise, disgust, fatigue above all, and the feeling that Catalans are separating from a common project; but not the aggressiveness that has been tried to be spread with that regrettable event “a por ellos”.
-Andalusia is seen from Catalan nationalism as a burden to increase self-government. Is it an unfair and interested perception?
–I believe that Catalan nationalism has always had its eyes focused exclusively on Madrid. The capital of the kingdom has been its reference, its obsession. Andalusia was seen from Pedralbes as something exotic, curious … but nothing important. It was despised, ridiculed, ignored, but not given importance. We were the south, the poor south. Everything begins to change with the immigration of the sixties, when the Andalusians begin to occupy the Catalan squares, streets and geography, and since the eighties with the State of Autonomies. 1981, when the referendum of 151 was won, means that Andalusia earns its right to equal itself with “the rich Catalans”. From that moment on, Andalusia ceased to be the cursed society of the south and became the most populated Autonomous Community of Spain and played a political role of the first order in the government of the State. That caused surprise and bewilderment among the Catalan right; it never understood that the Andalusians could decide that way. Forty years have passed and many things have happened: pujolismo, tripartite, deindustrialization, 3 percent in Catalonia. And in Andalusia we have experienced the development of the minimum welfare state, the consolidation of our own administration model, the configuration of a new theoretically left-wing political elite that has governed for 36 years. But above all, in the last ten years, other, probably more important things have happened: the profound restructuring of public policies in the EU, which has led to fabulous cuts in social spending, the loss of European financial aid on which the Catalan and Andalusian developments of the 90s of the last century and the first decade of the 21st were based. Spain is today a country subject to an impressive debt, it has no resources to continue with the growth rate of the last 40 years. And all this causes competition and races to see who gets what little there is left.
– So, what happened?
–A part of the Catalan political class has thought that it could function better without depending on Spain, without the burdens of a Spanish society that is at an undeniable historical crossroads; but neither more nor less than other European societies (we return to Italy or to France itself). And Andalusia is afraid that the Catalan process will dismantle the system that had been operating until now. Neither of them recognizes that the current phase of reconstruction of a new framework of productive, social, economic, administrative relations depends on our European environment. That’s why Andalusia, with a sure narrow look, sees that Catalonia wants to take the money; and Catalonia thinks that Andalusia takes money in useless ventures. Both positions I think are wrong and a new look is needed, a more global and more comprehensive perspective of the problem in all its breadth.
Aristu, promoter, along with Javier Tébar, of the dialogues Andalucía-Cataluña / MC
– Has Andalusia taken advantage of its self-government, or has it been a card identified only with the Andalusian PSOE?
–It has undoubtedly taken advantage of the possibilities given to it by the Statute, the relationship with the State, decentralization and, especially, I insist, the European integration. Without Europe today we would be much worse. With this self-government, a decent state of well-being was built – educational infrastructure, health, social coverage for the weakest – an important network of infrastructures and, also, an autonomous imaginary that will be impossible to avoid. Andalusia is and will continue to be a decisive element of the future of this country; everyone in this country must realize it. What it surely has not been able to do, and in this I also speak about the governments of the PSOE, is to build a project based on a more egalitarian, more innovative and less dependent on the State, that is, on the Junta de Andalucía which is the State in that region. Our Community has oversized, surely, its political-administrative apparatus or, rather, has not developed a powerful civil society articulated around its business, professional, associative fabric. The only well-articulated society, surely the most powerful, is organized around the religious, the world of brotherhoods and fraternities. From there, only two organizations have some associative potential among progressive people: the PSOE, which, despite the defeat, I still think has important social networks, and Comisiones Obreras, without a doubt the most powerful in terms of capacity of social mobilization. There are others, no doubt, more reduced or with less impact but important because they are to do with the ecological project, feminism, new urban demands, etc. That’s why I think that identifying Andalusian autonomy only with the PSOE is limiting the analysis. There are more things, even if recognizing that this party has given a mark to our recent history.
–You know well, as reflected in your book El office de resistir, the different anti-Francoist struggles. You got to know the work of Alfonso Carlos Comín. Was he one of the intellectuals who best understood what was happening in Andalusia?
–In fact I saw Comín only once and from afar. I keep in my memory an intervention, in full Transition, it was towards the winter of 1976, when he, Simón Sánchez Montero and Nicolás Sartorius gave an impromptu rally in the Patio de Banderas, in Seville, with hundreds of people. A whole generation, fifteen years, separates me from Comín. I never talked to him but it is evident that anyone who came close to him was caught by his magnetism. Then, several decades later, I studied and read him through the collection of his complete works published by the Foundation of his name. I have it written in my book: Comín is a decisive intellectual to project a new and completely innovative image of the Andalusia of the economic deveopment, the one that at the same time that began its timid process of industrialization, launched hundreds of thousands of agricultural and peasant workers to the Catalan industrial cities. Comín dismantles the idealistic, subjective theories about an Andalusia built on coated paper or on brown paper. His book La España del Sur (1965) is the first great sociological approach to that Andalusia that began to industrialize. And his later Noticia de Andalucía (1970) is a social chronicle full of empirical data that, if we read it today, can still give us a very accurate perspective of Andalusia. The Andalusia of these years has changed, in some cases a lot, with respect to that one; the importance of Comín was that he approached in his moment and in his time the entrails of the true Andalusia of that time. The Catalan author showed the mastery to connect the agrarian issue -the classic Andalusian theme- with the urban-industrial question that was already the novelty of that time and with the issue of emigration and regional development. In this way, I say that following in a certain way the Italian path of literature on southern development, Comin established the paradigm that “the question of Andalusia” in those years was to undertake the resolution of four problems imbricated: the agrarian, the balanced industrial development, emigration and the model of territorial development. As you can see, this has been the Andalusian question during our democracy, settled however in a different way to what Comín foresaw. But his legacy is there, no doubt.
– Do you understand that his son, Toni Comín, is now enrolled in the independence movement and that he considers that Spain has a problem with democracy, for not having marked differences – in his opinion – with the Franco regime?
– Regarding the first thing, the fact that his name is Comín does not mean that it has to follow the path of his father. It is up to each one and to each generation to face their own destinies and their own options. It is difficult to understand, however, that the pro-independence response is attributed to a supposed deficit of Spanish democracy. It is a fallacy. This democracy, in fits and starts, with many difficulties and efforts, broke with the Franco regime as a political system, which is evident, four decades ago. Quite a different thing is that at this time certain exponents of an extreme right are seeking to build on our unfortunate history of the Franco regime an undesirable project. In Italy, seventy years after the disappearance of fascism and the death of Mussolini, people like Salvini are still claiming to belong with them. And Salvini is in the Italian government. In France, six decades after the Liberation people with nostalgia of Petain still appeared from time to time. I would like to point out that the independence movement, as a political proposal of the old Catalan nationalism, is surrounding itself with content and methods that question precisely the democratic foundation. It is completely fallacious to say that the independence movement is democracy, that its mobilizations are democratic and that precisely Spanish democracy is an authoritarian regime. The events of September 6 and 7, 2017 are proof of a very serious institutional attack against democracy.
Javier Aristu, at the Palau Macaya, in Barcelona / MC
– Is it really Catalan nationalism the one building a fictional account of the whole of Spain and of Andalusia in particular?
– Definitely. Every nationalist narrative has to fabricate the constituent elements of that narrative capable of convincing or seducing its faithful. A story is designed, a concrete action of the present is insisted upon and a utopia is built for the future capable of maintaining the illusions of its people. But I would like to say that both Catalan nationalism has produced an interested story about Spain and Spanish nationalism, which also exists and is reborn, has done it on simulations to sell the idea of a false Catalan identity. And regarding Andalusia, I insist on what I said before: the only story about Andalusia that has existed in Catalonia, or at least is the one that has dominated, was a story of a nonexistent southern area which was more market for Catalan products than land with which to show solidarity. Today, the contradictions of having a decisive social component within Catalan society, coming from those southern remoteness, a component that is already a constituent part of the Catalan social body, forces us to rethink many things on the part of nationalism. Although Esquerra Republicana (ERC) still maintains that ideological charge “of exclusive Catalanism” (see the lists of the party and the surnames that make them up, saving the anecdote of a Rufián or a Pérez), that political force is obliged to rethink its relationship with the new and different components of the plural Catalan society. Pluralité oblige …
– Is there a joint exit, between the large autonomous communities, to overcome what has happened in recent years? Is the development of autonomy irreversible, or is it considered that it is possible to enter into a process of devolving powers to the central Government, as Pablo Casado defends?
– That joint exit is necessary. A unilateral exit is not going to be possible, nor desirable. The increasingly firm debate is whether we can continue with the model designed from the autonomous processes of the 80s of the last century. Possibly we are led, to some extent, to a restorative process that would pass through a constitutional reform of the Constitution of 78. The debate is exciting, has been taking place in academic fields for years and there are essential contributions of legal experts. I remember an article by Professor Cruz Villalón in El País last year where he argued that after the Catalan process and the unfortunate dynamics of attributing the concept and distinction of -let’s call it- “nationality” to almost every one of the current autonomous communities, a process that had occurred in the first decade of this century, it was inevitable to start from a zero point at the time of undertaking a constitutional future. The problem that Professor Bartolomé Clavero has raised very clearly is that the Constitution of 1978 defined “nationalities and regions” (Article 2) as the way to solve the real, historical and latent problem of two territories that have been raising an integration dispute since the 19th century: the Basque Country and Catalonia. With that formula it was about solving that problem. It happens, says Clavero, that from the trajectory of several sentences of the Constitutional Court that constituent spirit has been diluting and if, in addition, all autonomous communities are going to be “nationalities”, the problem has no constitutional solution with the current mechanisms available. That’s the reason behind starting from scratch, as says Cruz Villalón, but I do not know if it will be possible. In any case, the best positive contributions that have been made in recent times raise a federal solution, which means an important rethinking of the current regional model. It is not so easy to move from the autonomic model to a federal design. I think that implies understanding the paradigm of Spain, and with it the other paradigms of Catalonia or the Basque Country, quite differently from what is understood today by political, Spanish, Catalan or Andalusian representatives. But the federal solution would be a good solution. It happens that neither Catalan nationalism, today pro-independence, nor Basque nationalism, always pro-regional laws, are in favor of this solution. And we find ourselves with a Spanish right that is retreating to stages prior to history, today it is already prehistoric. It is not only that the son of Adolfo Suárez denies the offspring of that fundamental politician in the Transition because of his sense of opportunity, it is also that the Spanish right is retreating to positions that are going to make a possible agreement very difficult. The traffic jam is phenomenal and I hope that these elections begin to unblock it.
– Do you share the idea of Bartolome Clavero, expressed in the Dialogues Andalucía-Catalunya, that the political culture that has been adopted in Andalusia prevents progress for self-government in Catalonia and, in general, advance in the autonomous state?
– Clavero has offered nuances and clarified that statement days after the Dialogues. I recommend you reading his recent article in the blog En Campo Abierto where he makes it clear what he understands is happening in Andalusia. I believe that the current territorial blockade is taking place because of three vectors of negative forces: the independence movement is not being able to understand that unilateralism and independence are impossible and that causes its impossibility, at the moment, to negotiate an improvement of its self-government; the Spanish right, the PP and Citizens, have placed themselves in another very negative position to facilitate an improvement of the autonomy of the Communities, they speak directly of recentralization, which is to open the Pandora’s box of conflicts; and the PSOE of Andalusia has had until now a position also very closed to the Catalan claim. The Andalusian left, call it PSOE, IU or now Adelante Andalucía, has established its competition ground from that claim of “Andalusia as the most”, that is, equalization at all levels with respect to Catalonia. But to start from that is to pose the matter badly. Diversity does not imply inequality. Catalonia has a history, a factor of diversity, which deserves to be constitutionalized. It was in 1931, it was in 1978 as claimed by Clavero and others. Then other communities have come and they have considered that they deserved also, and rightly, to be recognized in their right to autonomy, to self-government. And they were, either through 151 or through 143. That is the spirit of the Constitution of Autonomies. What does not make sense is how things developed in 2006 because Catalonia claimed its right to be called “nation or nationality” (Catalan Statute of 2006); Andalusia followed that course in a mimetic way, believing that if it did not, it would be a lower category autonomy. And that is the error. Andalusia has a personality as a political entity – I do not believe that it has to be recognized in history as a nation to be less important – recognized by everyone. To put on a somewhat pretentious costume to pretend that we are like the one that is the most can make us fall into ridicule. And this makes Andalusia, instead of being today a spearhead to progress in self-government, or to move towards a federal model, from the diversity of each of the communities, call nation, nationality, community or whatever you want, to commit itself to the style of what I call, now that we enter Holy Week, “all the same”, that call of the foreman of Sevillian float bearers so that all go at the same pace to take the processional float forward. No, “all equally” cannot be the emblem of a federation, and it is also impossible.
Javier Aristu, in Barcelona, with ‘Crónica Global’ / MC
– Is there a real dialogue between Catalan and Andalusian civil society? What more can be done? Do their citizens know each other, beyond the family relationships that many have?
– I think not, that dialogue is almost non-existent. Except for the well-known television programs of Jordi Évole, sometimes more foam than content, or other initiatives of smaller scale, the dialogue has been non-existent or at least inconsistent and not long lasting. There is no structure or scaffolding to implement it, not even e flexible one to maintain and operate a minimum dialogue. And I believe that it is indispensable. In the Dialogues Catalonia Andalusia that we started last October in Seville and continued a few days ago in Barcelona, both sides have begun to perceive the need for this initiative and to reinforce it and give it stability. But look at this anecdote: to both meetings we invited the Andalusian businessmen, to the CEA, and none of our invitations have been responded, they even have not said yes or no, they have simply given the silent response. However, in Barcelona we counted on the presence of Josep Sanchez Llibre, the President of Foment del Treball, the Catalan employers’ association. Are there differences in perception? Evidently and unfortunately the Andalusian businessmen could do much more to rebuild relationships and help a better climate. However, paradoxically, it has been Comisiones Obreras, of Catalonia and Andalusia, who have bet from the first moment for that meeting, for this type of relationship. They do see the importance of facilitating from the social and economic world the establishment of a climate of dialogue and recognition of the other. And this comforts us and encourages us.
— Is that the real mattress that makes the relationship bearable, the one of those relatives who visit each other and tell each other the different realities?
– I understand that this has more to do with social anthropology than with politics. I am not in a position to talk about what is happening inside the family social world of cities of immigration, in Santa Coloma, today more Chinese than possibly Andalusian, or in Hospitalet or Sant Adrià. Many of the people I deal with in Seville and with whom I worked in politics years ago have relatives and connections in Catalonia, in those cities. And news arrive from here and from there come impressions of common life. I think that Catalan citizen of Andalusian origin, or Extremadura or Castilian, should feel surprise, suspicion and possibly rejection of attitudes as dominant or exclusive as militant independence. And that will undoubtedly be a slab that will last for years within Catalan society. But at those levels, precisely, it is where a dialogue between citizens, Catalan and Andalusian, is possibly more bearable. Nowadays in Catalonia there is a Catalan culture that is not the one that surely comes out in the official channels of the Generalitat but which is in the basic framework of that combined, complex culture, made of floods, which is the current Catalan culture. Poveda or Mayte Martín are not Andalusian, they are Catalan, but they are at the best level of flamenco. The other day I was in the presentation at the Taifa de Gràcia bookstore of the latest story by Javier Pérez Andújar, La noche fenomenal. Are we in the face of Catalan culture or Javier Pérez Andújar is an extraterrestrial in Barcelona? Nobody would say with a minimum of shame that its author is not Catalan. And now, the phenomenon Rosalía, a Catalan from Sant Esteve de Sesrovires, reinforces that concept of a Catalan culture made up of many cultures, not only that of the Catalan language. In short, Catalonia is today, fortunately, as a whole, a society made of many contributions, as it has always been and as it is in most of the present urban societies.
–In spite of what the independence movement indicates, the movement is not transversal, and according to the different surveys a difference emerges due to questions of language and family descent. The Catalan-speakers mostly sympathize with the independence movement, and the Spanish-speaking people, for the most part, reject it. Do these cultural differences indicate that the idea of a sol poble has not been effective?
You place me before one of the kernels of the science of Catalanism and I am a simple observer of what is happening. My knowledge about Catalan history is superficial. In any case, I think that the idea of ”people” does not help define either the problem or the solution. I clarify myself better with concepts such as society, citizenship, or others. That of “un sol poble” was a great invention of the PSUC leaders who tried to synthesize, as Jordi Amat explains very well in his Llarg procés, what the Catalan left had never been able to do before 1960: to reconcile the social demand, that which gave meaning to the entire Catalan worker network, mainly anarchist, until 1939, with the national demand, obsession of the small and middle bourgeoisie. When at the end of the 1960s the PSUC, and later the Comisiones Obreras, proposed the formulation of a “sol poble“, it must be understood that this arises from, on the one hand, the social reality represented by the arrival in waves of hundreds of thousands of people. “People from the south” who will be part of the Catalan industrial and daily landscape; and, on the other hand, the consequent theorization of communist intellectuals about the need to launch a project of alternative culture to that of the bourgeoisie and which, as Giaime Pala showed, was based on a “Catalanism adapted to the new times, popular and leftist”. This will therefore give rise to a cultural struggle between two exponents of that Catalonia: on the one hand, Catalanism has been recently recycled through the effort and work of Jordi Pujol and, on the other hand, the popular Catalanism of the PSUC people and characters like Josep Benet. They were two different proposals, alternatives surely. It happens that it won the one that won. When Pujol triumphed electorally in 1981 and the PSC was the second Catalan party the project of “popular Catalanism” is extinguished: the PSUC disappears and Benet ends up swarming in the Pujol circuits. Resuscitating, therefore, in these times that idea of a “sol poble” is at best anachronistic; I believe, as I have said, that it was possibly subordinated to a concrete political strategy of struggle against the dictatorship and tension of alliance / confrontation with / against the Catalan bourgeoisie. Today, Catalan society is crossed by more types of contradictions and conflicts, more of a global and European type than those of Andalusian immigration. And that is the immense error of the independence movement, to believe that a political project of social consensus can be built at the beginning of the 21st century, based on paradigms from the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.