Image: Massimiliano Minocri
“Power is not instituted by peaceful means, it is born by an act of force”
It was one of the non-fiction publishing phenomena 2020. In November it arrived in bookstores, and in just a month it had already sold more than 30,000 copies, including editiions in Spanish and Catalan. This is “The Driver’s Son” El fill del xofer (Edicions 62), the research that Jordi Amat (Barcelona, 1978) has written about the life of journalist Alfons Quintà, a psychotic and violent man who in 2016 shot and killed his partner before committing suicide. Amat immerses himself in the personal circumstances of the protagonist, especially in the figure of his father, a salesperson from Figueres who ended up being a friend and fundamental support of Josep Pla. The author also dissects Quintà’s relationship with politics, especially as a result of his information during the eighties on the accounts of Banca Catalana, the financial institution of the Pujol family, and the subsequent purchase of his silence by the former president of the Generalitat Jordi Pujol by appointing him founding director of TV3.
The analysis of political power is a recurring thread in Amat’s work. And it is precisely about this political power the message he has printed in the office, a text of his friend and pedagogue Gregorio Luri.
Question. Why is this text by Luri important?
Answer. During the tense days of the procés, and talking about the failure of what we equidistants called it, he sent me a note about how politics works, about Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy dialectic. There was one thing he said to me, I don’t remember it literally: “You may not like what I’m going to say about how politics works, and I don’t like it either, but just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not true… Politics is knowing how to understand the friend-enemy logic, and if there is an enemy, it means in many cases making it disappear. And if you don’t want to be a rookie, you better know”. It was very instructive.
It is a book about a sick character and a sick society
Q. Why would Quintà be a symbol of an era and not just a sick man?
A. One of the important conversations while I was writing the book was with Fèlix Fanés, the son of journalist Manuel Ibáñez Escofet. “You are very sure you are making the book about a sick character, and it is; but it will not be a good book if you do not understand that it is also a book about a sick society”. It is because of Quintà’s exceptionality, because his case is so extreme, that it allows you to see more clearly the opaque part of his time.
Q. Is the demonstration in 1984 against the prosecutor’s investigation into Banca Catalana, coinciding with Pujol’s second investiture, the seed of Catalan national populism in recent years?
A. What happened between 1982 and 1986 is an exercise in symbolic force to impose a nationalist hegemony, with the consequences that this has, which is for the first time in decades the institutionalization of a Catalan power. Power is not instituted by peaceful means, it is born by an act of force through which someone gives it to you or you take it. A Catalan power was instituted at the confluence of two very important factors: one is the success of TV3 and the other is the resolution of the Banca Catalana case, and that is why Quintà is central to explaining it. A power was established, a hegemony, systematically reinforced by the majority of the country’s citizens, which allowed the creation of a space of impunity, tolerated by the regime.
Q. Which regime?
A. I don’t like the expression “regime of 78”, but there are several scenes in the book that justify the description of what we are living through as a regime. This is valid for the scene at the Zalacaín restaurant in Madrid between Juan Luis Cebrián [director at the time of EL PAÍS], Francisco Fernández Ordóñez and the men of Banca Catalana; it is valid as well, a little earlier, for King Juan Carlos facilitating the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia; it is valid as well for Jordi Pujol making an appearance, on the day when it was known that he would not be prosecuted, with a photo of the king on the back; and it is valid also for the relations that end up leading Javier de la Rosa to finance with a billion pesetas the newspaper imposed by Lluís Prenafeta and born from the presidency of the Generalitat. If this is not a regime, what the fuck is it? Every state has an establishment, but not every establishment rots the space of impunity of power, and in the Catalan case it rotted.
Q. Raimon Obiols, leader of the PSC at the 1984 investiture plenary, seemed to want to be conciliatory with Pujol despite the attacks he was receiving from CiU. Can the role of Obiols remember the behavior of not wanting to upset Catalan nationalism, so common today both with the Communs and with the equidistant people, as you called them previously?
A. This is not what Obiols did. Obiols told Parliament: “Respect for the figure of the president, but do not use Catalonia as a shield or raise it in plebiscite terms”, which is exactly what Pujol did. That is a fascinating moment of symbolic violence, in which there are several scapegoats facilitating the construction of the myth. One is Obiols, the traitor; another is, in part, the newspaper EL PAÍS. There are the scapegoats of prosecutors. As José María Mena told the parliamentary committee on the Pujol case, they were presented as enemies of Catalonia, when all they wanted was just to be loyal servants of the Catalans. Then there are the journalists who wrote the book [Banca Catalana, más que un banco, más que una crisis], who are expelled from the hegemony side. Enric González leaves it because he goes out; but Siscu Baiges and Jaume Reixach, I think not; they are stigmatized for that moment. The moment of fusion between leader and community, a typically populist moment, gets a price: that people who try to act with dignity are stigmatized by the community, and in many cases forever. And their honor has not been restored even though what they denounced was fair. I have said more than once that what we know now, whether it is about Pujol or King Juan Carlos, forces us to rewrite the myth of the Transition or the myth of the democratic development of Catalonia and Spain.
The drama lies in parties not having the capacity to draw in prepared elites
Q. Why hasn’t this review been done so far?
A. There is something Lídia Heredia said recently on TV3: the difficulty of opposing inertia. Since no one wants his national identity to be questioned, because when they question you, it seems that your mates are expelling you from the common, we just try, with more or less intensity, to join in inertia. Because if you don’t, you can pay a price. Nationalism, which is not an ideology that I consider bad in itself, has the ability to exclude basically because what defines it is the defense of a national identity not to be shared necessarily by someone in your community.
Q. The book shows the ascendancy of intellectuals and professionals of reference in Josep Tarradellas’ strategy for Catalonia. Josep Pla, the historian Jaume Vicens Vives, the economist Joan Sardà and the businessman Manel Ortínez were figures who understood the power of the state. Numerous intellectuals also played a key role in the recent unilateral independence process. Former parliamentary major lawyer Antoni Bayona says in his book No todo vale that the leaders of the procés showed that they do not know what a state is or how it works. Do you agree?
A. At the time, the guys you are thinking about are of unquestionable prestige. They are Catalans who have understood how power works. They are guys who want to play the game of power, understanding what that game is like. And they have no doubt that the power is Spanish, and that they have the position they have for the professional power of each of them. I believe that now the pro-independence intellectuals who have been drawn in by the electoral proposals of the procés at most are organic intellectuals in the very service of the cause. They occupy their position because they have been able to build themselves as influencers of the movement. The drama is that political parties do not have the capacity to draw in elites prepared to govern.