Interview with Sergio Fidalgo
Barcelona, 18 December 2022
Journalist. Director of “El Catalán.es”. Co-founder of Concordia Cívica, chaired by the jurist Teresa Freixes. He is the author of “50 hazañas de TV3, and the “Tamborilero del Bruc del Procés”. Now he is publishing, with Antonio Robles, “Los catalanes Sí tenemos Rey” (Ediciones Hildy).
Does Catalan nationalism instrumentalise the figure of the king as it does with the constitution, the flag, history, the Spanish people and, in short, with everything that has to do with Spain?
It is curious because nationalism’s relationship with the crown is rather ambiguous. In fact, at one time, Pujolism fantasised about history, proposing a kind of confederal relationship with the crown. As if to say we don’t want to be Spanish, but something like what we had with the kingdom of Aragon or Castile would be useful: a symbolic pact with the monarchy. The Catalan nationalists’ break with the crown came about more explicitly on 3 October, after the King’s speech in response to the Generalitat’s attempt at sedition. It is true that Esquerra, which had already been demonstrating for years its rejection of the monarchy by burning photographs, etc., found that the whole convergent spectrum, which had always hoped to reach a pact with the Spanish crown, was going to hell. So, they used the king as an element of differentiation and an attack on anything to do with Spain.
The PNV explicitly appealed to the pact with the crown, in a foralist sense, how was this expressed in Catalonia, and did it become part of any electoral programme?
It was never explicit, but it is true that convergent nationalism was never bothered by the issue of the crown. Their objective was to monopolise power and competences for Catalonia, and, deep down, I think they understood that the formula of the pact with the crown was unfeasible, because the Spanish monarchy is a constitutional monarchy and, therefore, not very prone to compromises. The crown is a symbolic figure that cannot make a pact with anyone. In the Basque Country, there was even talk of becoming an associated state, like Puerto Rico with the US. Nationalism is always looking for strange formulas to try to broaden its base by not scaring off part of its potential voters. In Catalonia, until the Procés, when everything breaks down, the nationalists have always been looking for “imaginative” recipes to try to continue with their process of “national construction” and, at the same time, not to frighten their more temperate sectors. Many people who voted for CIU were not nationalists. It was a useful, conservative, orderly vote… They voted for them because they were the ones who had always been there. The Procés, with its flight forward, breaks this. It distances itself from all Spanish institutions, including the monarchy. And with the King’s speech on 3 October, the fantasy of a bilateral pact with the monarchy, among those who still had it, is blown to bits. They are joining the thesis of the CUP and Esquerra, who have been burning photos of the king in all the squares of Catalonia for years.
One of the genes of Catalan nationalism has been Carlism, something that Pujol himself vindicates energetically in his “Caminant davant el congost”. Does this anchoring in royalty not clash with the neo-republicanism that the separatist discourse now claims?
Part of what is still considered Carlism or traditionalism in Catalonia is very constitutionalist, not pro-independence. They are a minority but very critical, because they have always had this rather foralist but Hispanic root of the monarchy. But what is curious is that in areas where Carlism had a lot of weight, such as Berguedà or Solsonès, there has been a spectacular shift towards positions such as the CUP. They take from Carlism not the most conservative tradition in terms of religion, the relationship with the monarchy…, but the most identity-based issues. They play at being independent, but they have a very rural base. You look at the CUP and they are as far from the left as you can get. It may sound trashy, but they mix ratafia with feminism. This mixture of the terroir with playing at being revolutionaries. This romantic-rural nationalism is the most conservative thing in the universe.
In his articles, Jaume Reixach often reminds Catalans that they have always had a king, and when there was a republic, it was because there was one in Spain, not because Catalonia had instituted one of its own. Perhaps Catalan nationalist neo-republicanism should be sought in the similarity between the barretina and the Phrygian cap?
In Catalan schools they still talk about the Catalan-Aragonese crown, which was not the case. The crown of Aragon existed, and the Catalan counties formed part of it and, when it joined Castile, the kingdom of Spain. It is perhaps from this idea of the Catalan counties’ vassalage that the romantic Pujolist dream comes from: we render vassalage to someone, but we manage ourselves. In other words, they for their business. Because Catalan nationalism has always been rich. What they do not accept is the constitutional path, where the rules of the game are different. The PNV maintains independence as an identity trait, as an electoral hook, but it is very comfortable in the current situation.
Could this Catalan neo-republicanism have something to do with Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña, because the name makes the thing?
In nationalism, the romantic, pacitist version coexisted with the crown and the rupturist one, which claims to be republican. But I don’t believe that ERC is authentically republican, beyond its surname. At its birth, in the 1930s, it was the Catalan version of Spanish left-wing republicanism. In their most radical version, they spoke of a confederal republic. In essence, they were playing almost the same game; to break away and not to do so. The Procés has not been a struggle for a Catalan republic, nor for independence. As has been clearly shown, it has been a struggle between Esquerra and Convergencia to establish themselves as the hegemonic party. When CIU weakens because corruption begins to surface, ERC smells blood, presses the accelerator with the pro-independence issue because they could be eaten. Convergencia sees the move… The issue is not to be more republican but to see who is in charge. They have always claimed that Catalonia is a different, European, better country… This, which has been quietly sold for decades, reaches a critical point with the Procés.
Has the current Catalan neo-republicanist construct caught non-nationalist republicanism on the wrong foot?
I have a Republican friend, who makes no secret of it, but who defends Felipe VI. He is, of course, in favour of a democratic state and even though he does not like the monarchy, he is in favour of a Republic, but not a Catalan one, not a Spanish one. I think that this is the way most republicans think, let’s say, all their lives. Something that has very little to do with the model of republic, presided over by Puigdemont, that the nationalists tried to impose, devoid of guarantees. Something that somehow counted on the complicity of the Comunes. When Colau and Aragonés agree not to greet the king, the former does not do so because of his republican disposition and the latter because of his nationalist ideology. Both are nationalists. Because the Catalan left has always bought into the pro-independence discourse. Not so much the socialists, but Rafael Ribó’s co-religionists and he himself have endorsed the greatest barbarities during the Procés. There were people like Saura and Mayol who were obviously not nationalists, as was Lluis Rabell, but as a whole the Podemos and Comunes conglomerate tends to sympathise with nationalism. This has also been the case with the trade unions themselves, which, under cover of the idea of not dividing their members, have maintained ambiguous, if not complicit, positions with nationalism.
Particularly noteworthy are the ugly words of Colau Aragonés and company to the king, not for institutional reasons, which should be obligatory, but for reasons of style, principles, fairplay…
The King has to put up with it because he is king of all, including those who are against him. When Aragonés and Colau make ugly remarks to the king, he responds by doing the right thing. In any case, it is one thing to be republican and another to be uneducated. Julio Anguita may have been very republican, but he did not hesitate to shake hands with the king. Fortunately, that only represents a part of Catalonia, a smaller and smaller part. Something that should be considered in the headlines of the news and the front pages of the newspapers so as not to fall into the trap of extending it to all Catalans. It is a problem of bad education. Like the “Puta España” on TV3. But Aragonés, Junqueras, Puigneró and company don’t care.