NOV 29, 2019 – 15:15 CET
Getty Images: Carlos Alvarez
Speech by Javier Cercas after receiving the Francisco Cerecedo Award of the on November 28, 2019.
In the first place, I would like to tell you an anecdote that I have told some time again and that, being in the presence of King Felipe VI, I feel compelled to repeat.
On one occasion, King Alfonso XIII, your great-grandfather, decorated Miguel de Unamuno. And they say that, during the ceremony, once the King had imposed the award, Unamuno snapped: “Thank you, sir, I deserve it!” Naturally, Alfonso XIII was a little surprised – not much, I think, after all he knew the character: in fact, not long after he sent him into exile; the case is that the King was surprised or pretended to be surprised, and said: “Wow, Don Miguel, you are the first winner to tell me that; everyone else had told me the exact opposite: ‘Thank you, sir, it is an honor that I don’t deserve…’ ”And at that moment Unamuno interrupted the King: “And they were right”.
Well, I would love to show today the same magnificent pride of Don Miguel. Unfortunately, anyone who takes a look at the list of winners who have preceded me in the Francisco Cerecedo Prize will understand that it is not possible, and that I have no choice but to tell the truth; that is, that this award means a great honor for me, and that, unlike Don Miguel de Unamuno, I do know that I don’t deserve it. I say it with absolute sincerity.
I feel too much respect for journalism to consider myself a journalist. I did not study journalism. I have never worked in the editorial office of a newspaper, or on a radio or television. I have never been a correspondent for any media, nor a reporter. I have not even made a living writing in the newspapers, and of course my writing speed is wildly anti-journalistic, because it is more or less that of Oscar Wilde, who once declared: “Today I spent the day writing: in the morning, I removed a comma; in the afternoon, I put it back on”. How is it possible, then, that I have been awarded a journalism award, and to top it off as important as this? Should we blame for the mess only to the senseless generosity of the jury? Or am I, like Monsieur Jourdain, that character of Molière who had spent his entire life speaking in prose without knowing it? Will I also, without knowing it, be a journalist?
It’s possible. After all, for twenty years I write regularly in the newspaper EL PAÍS, which means, I suppose, that although I am not a journalist, perhaps I can consider myself, more modestly, a newspaper writer. More modestly, but with no less pride: not in vain, that category of writer is, in our tradition, an illustrious category. It has been said so often that it is almost a cliché: much of the best prose written in Spain during the last two centuries has been published in the newspapers. Now, ideas do not become clichés because they are false, but because they are true, or at least because they contain a substantial part of the truth. It is undoubtedly the case of this one: it is enough to remember that he who is, in my opinion, the best prose writer of our nineteenth century was, above all, a newspaper writer, if nothing more than a journalist: Mariano José de Larra; it is enough to remember that Azorín, Ortega or Josep Pla were, perhaps essentially, journalists.
The truth is that I, in the newspapers, arrived late, like almost in everything. It is also true that, although essentially a novelist, writing in newspapers changed my way of writing novels, or simply my way of writing. I want to say that, at a certain point in my life, writing in the newspapers forced me to stop being a cabinet writer, bookworm and even a little autistic, and forced me to go out in the open and contrast the writing with reality, It forced me to write a sharper, more vivid and faster prose, pushed me to try to say the most complex things in the most transparent and direct way possible, and helped me, in short, to try to write the books I have always dreamed of writing: books that are easy to read and difficult to understand; books that, like the best I know, any reader in good faith can enjoy thoroughly and without stumbling blocks, but that, at the same time, not even the most conscientious or demanding reader can exhaust completely, simply because they are inexhaustible, because they never end saying what they have to say, as Italo Calvino wrote of the classics. In short, newspapers have given me much more than I have given them. So it shouldn’t be journalism who rewarded me today, but me who rewarded journalism.
I know that our true political dilemma is not Monarchy or Republic, but better or worse democracy
There is one thing, however, that does make me feel a journalist, and that makes me link with authentic journalists. I mean respect, even love for the truth. Especially today, when it seems that more lies are told than ever, when the stifling suspicion that we live in the era of lies besieges us.
It is not an unjustified suspicion. Just as the economic crisis of 1929 gave rise in a large part of the world to the emergence or consolidation of fascism, the 2008 crisis has led to the emergence, also in much of the world, of what we usually call national-populism; This is not a repetition of fascism, because in history nothing is repeated exactly, but it is, in many ways (as Federico Finchelstein has shown in an important book), a transformation of certain features of fascism, because in history, as in nature, nothing is created or destroyed — it is only transformed — which means that everything is repeated with different masks. Be that as it may, the poisonous extension of that national-populism has been accompanied by true invasions of lies: we have seen it in the United States of Donald Trump, in the United Kingdom of Brexit or in the Catalonia of the so called procés, all of them diverse avatars of this phenomenon (however different), all of them causing deep crises and deep divisions in our societies.
I just mentioned Catalonia and, as I am Catalan and I am in the presence of the King, I must make a parenthesis.
Let me be clear, your Majesty, I am a faithful voter of left-wing parties, although – I don’t know if I explain myself – I’m not always their supporter. Let me be clear as well that, in my view, the Monarchy that you embody is a Republican Monarchy; or put another way: that it is a democratic monarchy precisely because it is based on republican values - freedom, equality, fraternity – and that is therefore, whether or not it is said, implicitly or explicitly, heiress of the last and frustrated experiment of the Spanish democracy, the Second Republic. So, like any Spanish citizen who is on the ball, I know that our true political dilemma is not Monarchy or Republic, but better or worse democracy: the proof is that we all prefer a million times a Monarchy like, say, the Norwegian , that a Republic like, say, the Syrian. Taken for granted the above, I would like to tell you something that, I fear, the Catalans have not told you clearly that we should have told you. I would like to thank you because on October 3, 2017, while a group of felon politicians tried to impose on the majority of us, by force, a minority project, unequivocally undemocratic and deeply reactionary – that is, while those politicians lashed out at our freedoms and trying to repeal the Statute and violate the Constitution, abolishing the rule of law – you told those of us who were on the side of democratic legality that we were not alone. Because we were, I repeat, the majority, hundreds of thousands, millions of Catalans, but we felt alone. And we were afraid. Much more fear than we now want to remember, much more than we would like to confess, much more than you imagine. And that day you, sir, told us that we were not alone, and – this is the most important thing – by telling this to us it was the democratic state that you represent which told us. That we were not alone, you told us. That you weren’t going to leave us. And that, this time, at least this time, they would not pass. And they did not pass.
So thank you very much.
But I have deviated from the subject. To return to it, and even if I am not a journalist, I would like to give you a great scoop, a bombshell: Jorge Manrique never said that any past time was better. Great poets never say nonsense, and Manrique, God lives, is one of the greatest. What Manrique actually said is that “in our view” any past time was better; that is to say: the past is almost never better, but it almost always seems thus to us.
The lie is the main instrument of domination of men, and that is why the first duty of a bad journalist is to spread it
The observation, of course, is very accurate. No: in our time there are probably no more lies than ever, although it often seems so; lies, in politics and outside of politics, have always been told, because man is the animal who lies. What does happen today, it seems to me, is that lies have greater diffusion capacity than ever. And it happens because one of the fundamental facts of our time is the growing, unstoppable, almost omnimode power of the media, to the point that there is no hyperbole in saying that the media not only reflect the world, but also shape it, in a way they create it. This means that the media have an extraordinary responsibility; also journalists, who are the media and can use them for evil, spreading lies, or for good, spreading truths. I don’t reveal any secret if I add that there are journalists who don’t use them for good. The reason is evident. We know that power and money are blind, insatiable forces by definition, whose essence consists in the pure repetition of themselves, in the search for their pure endurance: power by definition wants more power; money, more money. And we know that, in order to perpetuate themselves, money and power do not need free men and women – that humanize them and set rational limits to their voracious and uncontrolled expansion – but that they need submissive citizens, with which power and money try to control the media, to control the reality they configure. How? By spreading lies, since we all also know, at least from the Gospel, that truth produces free men and women, while lies only produce slaves.
It is like this: the lie constitutes the main instrument of domination of men, and that is why the first duty of a bad journalist is to spread it, while that of a good journalist is to fight it, even if power and money prefer it, or precisely because they prefer it. It is true that, unless resigned to becoming a slave, any citizen is obliged to fight the lie; but the authentic journalists are those who fight in the front line, and who run the most risks. It is sometimes a heroic fight, which usually does not end in the halls of a hotel as beautiful as this, in a ceremony as wonderful as this, with a King and a Queen, as if we were in a fairy tale. No. Some journalists risk their lives in that battle. Some lose it. They are the authentic journalists. And they are so because they show that the truth continues to matter, it is still relevant: that’s why power and money fear it. These journalists show that the truth is today, in fact, more revolutionary than ever, precisely because at times we are overwhelmed by the depressing impression that the lie has overcome. They show that, as lies have greater dissemination capacity than ever and journalists more responsibility than ever, honest journalism – the one who fights with the truth in hand against the tyranny of lies that power and money try to impose – is more than ever necessary. Also, of course, more difficult. Because today it is not enough to tell the truth; In addition, you have to destroy the lies, starting with those big lies that are manufactured with small truths and that are the worst lies, because they have the taste of truth. These brave journalists demonstrate, in short, what every authentic journalist demonstrates: that the fight for truth is a fight against slavery.