Manel Manchón 5/23/2021
The historian Jordi Canal, in his office / CG
The author of ‘July 25, 1992‘ points out that the nationalists left mortally wounded the Catalonia which was possible after the Olympic Games in the 1990s
Jordi Canal (Olot, 1964), research professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris is clear about what has happened in Catalonia since the recovery of democracy. As editor of a collection published by Taurus, Canal has coordinated different works on historical days in Spain, in the last hundred years, covering from the crisis of 1898 to the 23F coup of 1981. But he wanted to work on a very specific day and year: July 25, 1992. That is the title of the book, with an even more clarifying subtitle: Spain’s coming back to the world. For Jordi Canal, the 1992 Olympic Games were a milestone; for Spain they meant a great showcase for the world, but for Barcelona they were decisive. However, in his opinion, the obstacles of the nationalists prevented the continuity of that “possible Spain” that was being drawn. And he points out that from the 1990s on, Catalan nationalism “wounds to death” that modernizing project, which is “finished off” with the independence procés. For this reason, his value judgment is now conclusive:
“Stating that the pro-independence people have changed since 2017 means not understanding anything at all”.
Question: Could it be said that that day, July 25, 1992, Spain entered the modernity that it had dreamed of since the last years of the Franco regime? Is it the culmination of a series of efforts aimed at bringing Spain to the forefront of European countries?
Answer: The inauguration of the Barcelona Olympic Games, on July 25, 1992, was a good synthesis of a new society and country, reshaped since the Transition, which demanded another look from the outside, away from worn-out clichés, while asking for a more suitable and active place in the concert of nations. How could it be otherwise? Of course, some burning issues persisted, but the global product was exciting. The day of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Barcelona represented, in my opinion, the return to the world of Spain after almost a century of absence. The Barcelona’92 Games showed hundreds of millions of people in all corners of the planet – television was one of the keys to the event – an admirable Spain, Catalonia and Barcelona. The Olympic Games were crowned with success. As stated at the closing ceremony by the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, they were “the best Games in history”. For the people of Barcelona, the Catalans and the Spaniards constituted an injection of self-esteem and normality.
Q. What did they mean?
A. Among the main tasks that the Spanish Governments of the Transition and of consolidated democracy had to tackle in the last quarter of the 20th century, the exit from isolation and reintegration into Europe and the world was decisive. It was obviously not dissociable from democracy, modernization, stability and freedom. The successful incorporation, in the eighties, to NATO and the European Community was to mark a trend of profound transformation. The years 1991 and, above all, 1992 stand out as the high point of the change of position and image of Spain abroad. Madrid hosted, between the end of October and the beginning of November 1991, the Peace Conference on the Middle East, which reinforced the international prestige of the country. In 1992 the Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Universal Exhibition in Seville, the II Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government and the Cultural Capital of Europe in the city of Madrid coincided. Spain openly presented itself as a democratic, modern, economically sound, advanced, creative nation and society capable of undertaking and intervening in universal problems. It was a great moment.
Q: In the book there are a number of main actors. Regardless of all subsequent criticism, is King Juan Carlos I the main supporter of Olympic success?
A. In a society with such a tunnel vision as the current one there is a tendency to think about the past in terms of the present. And that prevents understanding things at the time. Criticizing Juan Carlos I for the scandals and corruptions of the 21st century should, however, be compatible with highlighting his fundamental role in the 20th century in the democratization, normalization and projection of Spain after the Franco dictatorship. In the case of the Games, when Narcís Serra and Juan Antonio Samaranch began to work on the idea of a Games in Barcelona, neither the UCD and the Calvo-Sotelo Government nor a part of the PSOE nor the Spanish Olympic Committee wanted to support them. The situation is only unlocked when the king shows his unconditional support for the Olympic project. And since then the commitment of Don Juan Carlos, the royal family and the Crown with the Barcelona Games is decisive. This culminates in the continued presence in the two weeks of the Games of the King and other members of the royal family, attending the tests and encouraging Spanish athletes and teams. It should be remembered that in the great exhibitions of 1888 and 1929 in Barcelona, the regent María Cristina de Áustria and King Alfonso XIII had, respectively, a fundamental role.
Q: What is the myth and reality of the institutional collaboration between the Government, the Head of State, the Mayor of Barcelona, the business world, the IOC and the Generalitat?
A. The collaboration existed, certainly, although there were tensions and logical confrontations. But the agreements and the will to collaborate prevailed. The least collaborative was, without a doubt, the Generalitat. It contributed little money and put sticks in the wheels whenever it had the chance. Pujol and the nationalists then maintained a double attitude: in public they ensured their faithful collaboration, while privately they tried to put obstacles or throw their puppies to boycott acts. While Pujol declared his commitment to the Olympic Games, in the office next door his faithful Prenafeta watered with millions the protesters, from the Nationalist Youth to the Crida, and even invented their slogans, such as the famous Freedom for Catalonia, accompanied by his own son and the eldest son of Pujol. On an economic level, the Games and everything that was done around it was paid for mainly by the Government of Spain.
Q. Can it be said that Jordi Pujol’s Generalitat was absent until the last moment?
A. I would not speak of absence, but rather of distrust and duplicity. Pujol could not completely hide his activism, regardless of the institutionality. He saw two or three dangers in the Games. In the first place, he was suspicious of a success and leadership of the mayor of Barcelona, which would strengthen him as a future political rival in the Generalitat in the future, as he was. Second, he was not leading the project and many things could not be controlled. And, finally, he saw in the Games a possible instrument of Spanishization, at a time when an intensive and successful process of Catalan nationalization was being carried out by the schools and the media. He was present in all the important events, although it is evident in the photos of the time that he was the only political leader who was not entirely happy with what was happening.
Q.The independence movement continues to recall that the circumstance was taken advantage of just to attack pro-independence activists falsely accused of terrorists. A myth has been created about it, based on a judicial operation carried out by Judge Garzón. How can it be valued now?
A. Coinciding with the terrorist actions of June 29, 1992 in Barcelona and Banyoles, a little less than a month before the inauguration of the Barcelona Olympic Games, the misnamed “Operation Garzón” began –Baltasar Garzón was not, on this occasion, the only judge who acted – with the arrest, in different parts of the Catalan geography, of pro-independence activists accused of belonging or having belonged to Terra Lliure. The operation had started months before and the Civil Guard had been investigating for almost two years, including the infiltration of a mole. The announcement of the gang’s abandonment of arms in 1991 did not stop the investigations. Those arrested between the end of June and the middle of the following month exceeded four dozen. The macro-trial against 25 of the pro-independence activists took place in 1995, with a total of 18 convicted. Some had previously used the legal formula of repentance and reintegration. The independence movement circulated a conspiracy version, which remains until today, according to which everything had been decided in an ultra-secret meeting in the German town of Baden Baden – the dates range between 1989 and 1991 – which the king attended. Juan Carlos I, the President of the Government of Spain Felipe González, the Minister of Defense Narcís Serra, the Minister of the Interior José Luis Corcuera, the President of the Generalitat Jordi Pujol and the mayor of the city of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall. The two executing arms of collusion size would have been Judge Baltasar Garzón and the general director of the Civil Guard, Luis Roldán. Things are much simpler. The existence of the violent independence movement and of Terra Lliure – although in the process of dissolution – was a fact in 1992 and so were its contacts with ETA. Threats against the Games really existed, both from Terra Lliure and from ETA. The security of the Barcelona 92 Games was of great concern. Hence this important operation against terrorism. Not everything was done well, far from it, but greater evils were avoided.
Q And that same independence movement wanted to boycott the Games, with the participation of Jordi Pujol’s own children. Was it a disloyalty that was not appreciated at that time and that has led us to what has been experienced since 2012 in Catalonia?
A It was a disloyalty from the pro-independence side and also from a good part of Catalan nationalism that still did not considered itself as separatist. There were people in the front line who later would have an important role in the procés: Madí, Forn, Jordi Pujol junior, Pep Guardiola, Jordi Sànchez and many others. It was, in any case, one more disloyalty of nationalism in a long list, which goes from the Transition to today. What happened in 1992 and the pro-independence attitude were forgotten too quickly, with the help of the CiU that the socialists needed in 1993 to govern, and the popular in 1996. It is clear that to understand the procés you have to look at that past. The Pujolistas nationalized Catalonia in the eighties and nineties with calm and depth. Without that, what happened in the second decade of the 21st century is totally incomprehensible.
Q. Was it necessary to also organize the Universal Exhibition in Seville that year? Could Spain go ahead with all those events?
A Spain was able to go ahead with all these events. Everything went quite or very well. It was hard not to seize a possibility that might never happen again. The Expo was also fundamental in Spanish foreign policy vis-à-vis Latin America. And the concrete benefits, at the level of urban modernization and services, for both Seville and Barcelona, were enormous. It was worth the effort.
Q That collective effort, which generates illusion, which achieves social, political and business involvement…well, why do you think it collapsed so soon after? What could have and was not done?
A It breaks down for different reasons. In Barcelona, as the Barcelona model dies of success in the 21st century, becoming a city that attracts more drunken tourism than large investors. In Catalonia, since the 1992 Games are the last great moment of another possible Catalonia, more open to Spain and the world, more mestizo and bilingual, more plural and less self-absorbed, more cosmopolitan and less village. That possible Catalonia was mortally wounded by the nationalists in the nineties and the beginning of the century and was mercilessly finished off by the procés. Finally, in Spain, after 1992 came the recession of 1993, the fight between the left that lost power and the right that got it in 1996 is very hard and, likewise, after the governments of Felipe González and Aznar a new stage comes about of political mediocrity, lack of projects and overconfidence. The 2008 crisis just took everything away. It seems to me anyway, that collectively we have not been able to do a good pedagogy of the great successes of the last quarter of the 20th century, from the Transition and the Constitution to the Olympic Games, the stability of the monarchical regime, the entry into the single currency or the defeat of terrorism. It is a great unfinished business.
Q In other words, could Spain today organize an event of these characteristics with similar support, in all respects?
A I do not think so. It was another moment. They were other Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain.
Q – Can the Generalitat be trusted again at some point, by the central government and state institutions?
A It seems difficult to me, if things do not change a lot, that the Government and the State institutions can trust the Generalitat. Our pro-independence rulers have shown, actively and passively, that they are not to be trusted. Disloyalty had never gone so far. Just stating that they have changed since 2017 means that you do understand nothing at all. They would do it again, as they say. They are the same and have changed rather little. Unfortunately, not only can the Government and the State institutions not trust the Generalitat – except with a view strictly focused on parliamentary necessity – but neither should the citizens. They have lied to us, they have manipulated us, they have confronted us, they have scammed us. The procés has been a huge loss of prestige for our institutions, especially the Generalitat. I don’t think it represents or wants to represent more than half of the Catalans.