Joan Ferran: “The most dangerous part of the ‘procés’ is hatred, Hispanophobia and victimism”
Ricard López, 6 Marzo.2023
Imagen: Joan Ferran, escritor y colaborador de Crónica Global / LENA PRIETO (CG)
Joan Ferran: “The most dangerous part of the ‘procés’ is hatred, Hispanophobia and victimism”.
Joan Ferran (Barcelona, 1951) was a member of the PSC in Parliament for almost two decades (1993 to 2010) and one of the most critical voices of nationalism in its ranks. Author of several books, he now portrays the most histrionic face of Catalan secessionism in his new work, El brazo friki del procés y del posprocés (Hildy). A compilation of dozens of “freaks, obtuse and subsidised ‘independentistas’”; without losing his irony, Ferran exposes their sectarianism and intolerance: from Quim Torra to Joan Canadell to Pilar Rahola and Josep Lluís Alay; as well as the role played by certain institutions and programmes on TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio. A series of events and antics that, as he points out, Catalan politics and society have ended up paying dearly for.
—Q: Could it be said that the ‘geek arm’ of the ‘procés’ is, rather, a good part of the body? The book alludes, for example, to the lack of solvency of its intellectuals
–A: The book is very respectful of the leaders of all branches of pro-independence who express their political thought, there is no criticism in that respect. What they may say is respectable. The book highlights those who have gone too far, because they have been strident or because they have said something outrageous, in inverted commas. That is what they are reproached for. It is a compendium of people who have been characterised by this over the last 10 years. And I also explain that, in certain historical situations, there are always people like that around power, people who pay for it.
–Q: In your pages you quote a phrase by Tarradellas, who said that “in politics you can do anything but make a fool of yourself”. When did Catalan politics begin to lose this sense of direction, and how did it come to this point?
–A: At times when the decibels go up, there are people who say crazy things and do stupid things. One of the problems with the procés is that there was a sudden and very immediate warming up, and that allowed many people to go too far. Some, promising things that were not possible. And here one of the demands that can be made of the pro-independence leaders is that they explain to the people that they were deceived, that what they said could happen, they themselves knew could not happen. Another is that the people who saw themselves in this climax went wild. For example, it would never have occurred to anyone to fill a beach with yellow crosses, as if it were a cemetery. Or no one would climb Montserrat in a cage painted yellow. Or no one would put, as Joan Canadell did, a Puigdemont mask on the passenger seat of the car. These things happen when the general atmosphere leads to that.
–Q: It’s all nonsense, but at the same time, all this has cost Catalan society dearly. You yourself comment in the book that in Catalonia we have had 10 years of institutional paralysis, leaving aside important issues because of the ‘procés’, which has been the absolute priority of the nationalist leaders.
–A: We have had 10 years with investment problems, with companies fleeing, and what is more serious, with a breakdown of friendships and coexistence between people within Catalonia itself. Another thing is the prestige that Catalonia had as an engine of political innovation and thought in Spain. The ‘procés’ has destroyed all this. And these freaks have contributed to it. And it has had disastrous consequences.
–Q: In fact, the characters you talk about tend to bring together a compendium of negative qualities, with fairly common elements such as Hispanophobia, authoritarianism… Of all these elements of the ‘procès’, in general, which do you think are most dangerous?
–A: The most dangerous are those of hatred. Hispanofobia is a constant in many of them, and intolerance of those who are different, of those who don’t think like them. This is the most serious. Hatred and Hispanophobia, and a constant victimhood behind it all: it is always the fault of others, not of oneself. This is very unpolitical. And a very great frivolity when it comes to dealing with people they consider adversaries, something that also happens among themselves. We have seen fights within the pro-independence world, accusing each other of being traitors. Now the stigma of Pere Aragonès is that of being an autonomist, as if that were an insult. Or ‘botifler’, traitor… the holy trinity. We are in a situation in which I wish we could recover autonomism, in the best sense of the word: with good investments, with cordial relations with all the peoples of Spain and their institutions…
–Q: And of the dozens of characters who appear in the book, which do you think are most illustrative of this phenomenon of ‘procés’ freakishness?
–A: There is a bit of everything. We have from someone Kafkaesque, like Sandro Rey, a somewhat grotesque character, to people with a very high cultural level, like Ramón Cotarelo: to see him now even picking on the relatives of Pere Aragonès… it’s tremendous. Then there are the spectacle mongers. The most paradigmatic case is that of Pilar Rahola. Intelligent, clever, cultured, and precisely because of this, doubly guilty[CM1] . And some with a mystical streak, as is the case of Quim Torra, the worst president the Generalitat of Catalonia has ever had. He is a person who incites freakishness. With statements like “tighten your grip” [directed at the CDR], or when he said that he might respond to the judge with suction cups… A president must have dignity. I strongly disagree with Artur Mas, but Mas would never have fallen for an expression like that. Jordi Pujol was more populist, but he would never have done something like inciting the CDR to end up blocking motorways or trains, where has that been seen?
Others have a kumbaya streak, like Rai López, who went on foot on a pilgrimage to Waterloo, or Albert Donaire, the warmongering and belligerent mosso d’esquadra: both have ended up on the lists of Junts. Or Joan Bonanit, who is now in the party. This makes you wonder whether their actions were spontaneous and disinterested or whether they were paid for services rendered. Or Sister Lucía Caram, the Peronist nun, who worries about the underprivileged and those who suffer at the same time as she pals around with Artur Mas’s wife, justifying the cuts of the Govern by making him good. Because the first to speak of the need for them in Spain was Artur Mas, let us not forget.
–Q: And you are not only talking about people. You also talk about entities…
–A: There is a chapter dedicated to the MIC, a dangerous movement, with a very racist and xenophobic discourse, with a lot of anti-Spanish and anti-French hatred. And then the more interpretative side of the past, such as the Institut de Nova Història (INH), which has gone so far that even the people who paid for it, from Junts and ERC, are now distancing themselves from it. Saying fallacies such as that Catalonia is the oldest democracy in the world, or that Columbus, Cervantes and Saint Teresa of Jesus were Catalan. But they are still there, they have been showered with subsidies…
–Q: And in the case of Pilar Rahola, in the last few days we have seen her at a ‘calçotada’ with leaders of Junts, smiling with Jordi Pujol. Do you think they are trying to rehabilitate the figure of this former president of the Generalitat and his Convergencia legacy, after several years of apparent ostracism due to his confession of tax fraud?
–A: Yes, it is obvious. Recently, Pujol has re-issued one of his first books and at its launching he also brought them together, including people who had been members of Unió. I think that if they get Laura Borràs out of the way, this process can be speeded up. And now Rahola is acting as a sorceress, trying to seat them around Pujol and Artur Mas. Xavier Trias could also enter this operation, or even bring back Joana Ortega, who was vice-president. I think there is an attempt to rebuild the old Convergencia spirit with a more pro-independence touch. Something very functional, as if to keep things going until the objective conditions are right for a nationalist revolution.
–Q: This is a bit surprising, because in the photo of Rahola’s ‘calçotada’ we see, alongside Pujol, people like Míriam Nogueras, a Junts MP who a few days earlier had made a spectacle of herself in Congress by pushing aside the Spanish flag at a press conference?
–A: Míriam Nogueras plays at provocation, look at her speeches in Congress. The people of Junts have it easy as MPs, because they can be against everything and there is always the common denominator of insult and victimhood. They always say “they attack us, they don’t give us anything, the PSOE is cheating us” and, on the rebound, “ERC is being cheated and taken for a ride, we are the real ones”. And then you see who goes to the ‘calçotada’, and there are people who justified the cuts, who agreed with the PP in the Hotel Majestic and who are more right-wing than Captain Thunder… The cement that binds all this together is this nationalism and the attempt to rebuild a space outside ERC, which has been occupied by the most pro-possibilist.
In a certain way, when Xavier Trias does not go to the door of the Palace of Justice to give his support to Laura Borràs, he is trying to mark a distance, so that he is not lumped in with her. And one of Trias’ problems with sectors that had previously been close to him is that these wealthy sectors think that he is not so trustworthy now, because he is linked to a collective like Junts, which plays at breaking up the game. Although at the same time they also make agreements in Barcelona Provincial Council, these are the contradictions of politics.
–Q: This is another of the surprising things: the myth that the ‘procés’ is a movement “from the bottom up”, when in reality it’s the other way round, something you also comment on in the book…
–A: Yes, it started from the top down, and it found a propitious moment in a situation with many errors in the PP’s treatment of the phenomenon, which did not know how to handle the issue well, and this provoked a spiral of action-reaction. But as soon as the party struggle began, the ANC exploded, and now we have seen it too: the moment the ANC said it was going to draw up a civic list, the pro-independence parties got upset.
Another of the central phenomena is that they managed to make people believe that independence was within reach, that Europe would recognise them, that the world would be delighted and that, as their slogan said, “there would be ice cream for dessert every day”. And then it turned out that Europe didn’t even want to hear about breaking up an EU state. And now even less so. But many people believed it. And that created great mobilisations, as well as great freakish nonsense like the ones we are talking about. And when it became clear that this was leading nowhere but to the courts, added to their internal quarrels, it has been diluted considerably. And the more possible-minded have come in to try to get out of the quagmire in which they found themselves.
–Q: Do you think that the ‘procés’ is basically a movement of the middle classes and the well-off, and could it be considered, in essence, right-wing?
–A: There are many people on the right. The characteristic of national-populist movements is that they say they are neither right-wing nor left-wing, and that the important thing is independence, in this case. But independence is an entelechy devoid of clothing. You can want it and be a Bolshevik, or an extreme right-winger. If that is all that unifies them, none of them will be able to dress up independence with their ideology. But deep down we know that this is the weakness of the ‘procés’: that it unites people with contradictory class interests in an ethereal, abstract objective. I doubt that a CUP member who reads Marx, Engels or Mao would agree with Joan Canadell, who is right-wing, or with Santiago Espot. What is the mortar that binds the thinking of these contradictory people who, if there were a moment, would come to blows to build a Catalan society? They would come to blows.
–Q: But it doesn’t seem that, in general, many of them are from the most disadvantaged sectors of society?
–A: What is the workforce, in inverted commas, of what has become independence? Above all many older people: many of them (I was going to say the majority) who kept quiet during Franco’s regime, and didn’t move a foot in the anti-Franco struggle, and who have now discovered a youth of the last minute and are sentimentally attached to Puigdemont and so on. Then there are people from the middle classes, or who haven’t quite found their work or social space, who thought it would be better to blow it all up and see what comes next. In a certain way they have taken up the desperation of a society that has no answer to many things. Nationalism has done it here and populism elsewhere. And deep down Vox is also an expression of an angry electorate. Nationalism, populism, right-wing and left-wing, feed above all on people who are angry or frustrated, for whatever reason. A terrible breeding ground from a democratic point of view.
–Q: It is curious that these same nationalist leaders are the ones who receive the best public salaries in Spain, as in the case of the leaders of the Generalitat. Or that they benefit from ICO credits from the state, as is the case with Junts MCP Joan Canadell and his company. And at the same time, some come out with “Spain robs us”. It’s contradictory, isn’t it?
–A: Yes, we have Canadell with the ICO loan, or Míriam Nogueras, who at the same time as she takes down the Spanish flag in a press room she keeps earning some 100.000 euros a year as a MP in the Spanish Congress. Or Quim Torra, who continues to receive his salary as former president of the Generalitat. Moreover, there are such paradoxical things as Núria de Gispert, a lady who was Minister of Justice of the Generalitat and president of the Parliament, saying that Laura Borràs did what everyone else was doing and that it is legal. As a former Minister of Justice, it is a sin for her to say things like that.
And around Puigdemont a kind of “court of miracles” or “court of mussels” has been built: there you have Clara Ponsatí, a person who has made warmongering statements, that it is necessary to die [for secession]. Toni Comín, who is the person who has had the most cards from different political parties (along with Ferran Mascarell) because he was in Ciutadans pel Canvi, Iniciativa, PSC, MES, ERC, now Junts…. Or Laura Borràs herself. In a way, the feeling is that they are maintaining the political chiringuito around a character. With the Consell de la República they have established a movement around a person, with Peronist tics. So we come back to the same thing: are they right-wing or left-wing, socially what do they propose, economically what do they say: the theses of Canadell in meetings with businessmen, or those of Comín, who in his time was left-wing? What unites them, only Puigdemont? A volatile independence? It’s all very Kafkaesque.
–Q: Josep Lluís Alay, ‘right-hand man’ and head of the office of Carles Puigdemont as former president of the Generalitat, who is linked to the alleged Russian plot of the ‘procés’, is also part of this court. Do you believe that there have been these links between Catalan independence with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?
–A: I think it is true that they went to touch the Russians. It is another matter whether it can be proved whether what they did was criminal or not. But they went knocking on every door there is, for sure. It is part of the discourse of internationalising the conflict.
–Q: Is the ‘procés’ a movement comparable to ‘trumpism’?
–A: There are parts of trumpism, of course. The moment they say that the Spanish state is authoritarian, not democratic… it is the discourse of Trumpism. Others have said “it is not legitimate, it is delegitimised…”. Here there is someone who does not stop saying it, the spokesperson of the Government, Patrícia Plaja, who does not stop talking about “repression” by the Spanish state. The application of the laws is associated with repression. But if someone is caught cutting the tracks of the AVE and is taken to court, this is not repression. Cut the AVE tracks in France and see what happens to you. Or do things like they have done here in France or Germany, for example, and maybe they would still be in prison.
–Q: The book also talks about the role of TV3 as a mouthpiece for all this nationalism. It even mentions a document from the Ministry of the Presidency of the Generalitat in 1993 that recognised this role. What can you tell us about it?
–A: I was a member of Parliament and at that time I was on the TV3 control committee. The director, Joan Granados, grabbed me by the shoulder one day and said to me: ‘Listen, Ferran, you and I know that we want independence’. Listen, you… In the first stage, the message was subliminal: Catalonia is the best land in the world, things like that. But in recent years it has become an eminently pro-independence TV station. And, above all, during the ‘procés’, they were the ones who said what was going on. I remember Mònica Terribas on Catalunya Ràdio saying that the Guardia Civil were coming, that they had seen them coming along the motorway [on the day of 1-O]. Let’s not bother. Or ‘and now we’re going to the airport, the ‘TV3 helicopter sees the people advancing along the motorway’. Oh, I was broadcasting the uprising live. And then, the contents of the programmes, the lexicon used: they avoid saying Spain, which is a tangible, physical, political reality. Even if you deny it and want to call it a “state”, in the rest of the world Spain is what it is: a composite state, if you like, plurinational, whatever you like. But don’t deny the concept. And the contents of the programmes and talk shows, with propotions of four pro-independence guests and one non-independence guest, as in Xavier Graset’s programme. Or in the comedy programmes, which exude a very pro-independence and anti-Spanish phobia. Not only with the “puta España”. What would happen in a TVE programme if someone came out saying “puta Cataluña”? And on top of that, that this is repeated. Apart from the bad taste, it is excessive. It’s rude and insulting.
–Q: The instrumentalisation of the Catalan language by the Generalitat is now a kind of substitute for the ‘procés’? Have they transformed the ‘procés’ into something very essentialist and centred on Catalan, which is used as a weapon?
–A: In the absence of other arguments, the issue of language is always a resource in the fridge. Just to keep saying that it is diminished, that it is mistreated. This, or that they want to impose Spanish on you. Historically, throughout democracy, language has always been used at specific moments, in one way or another. On the other side it also happens sometimes. Here immersion was also approved by the PP in its day. The language issue is one of the most difficult ones, because it is the one that divides society. And the flags: here there is a saturation of ‘esteladas’ on the balconies of town halls that is unacceptable, because they are everyone’s institutions, including those of non-independence supporters. There should be the flag of the State, the flag of Europe, the flag of the city and the flag of Catalonia.