Gabriel Magalhaes, 16 October 2023
Image : Quique García / Efe
Sometimes we cure ourselves of the pains of our country through another nation. And, of course, we idealise a bit that new culture that saves us from our homeland. Something of this happened to me with Catalonia. The Catalan world, before the conflicts that have exasperated it, seemed porous, open, multiple, like the work of Pessoa. It spoke two languages, and its thing was constant dialogue and intellectual curiosity. Moreover, it was profoundly European. It was a gentle, intelligent nationality, open to all horizons of thought. This was, in my opinion, a beautiful way to have a homeland.
I was born in Africa, in Angola, because of the exacerbated Portuguese nationalism. My parents were there, defending the empire, because there was a law that imposed a five-year military service on men. In Portugal, the law of sacrifice for the fatherland was in force. In fact, pain is part of our flag, through the colour red, which represents the blood shed for the sake of the nation. We even have a Catholic religious feast that is uniquely ours, uniquely Portuguese: that of the five wounds of Christ, which appear on our coat of arms. Blood, wounds, wounds. To suffer, to suffer, to suffer, to be fully Portuguese. As our hymn says, “against the cannons, march, march, march”. And yet, what the ordinary Portuguese citizen wants is simply to be happy.
Later, my Spanish childhood and adolescence and my long experience of living with this country taught me that, in a nation, instead of the principle of suffering, the law of hatred can rule everything. At its worst moments, Spain is like García Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba. Everyone hates everyone. In every corner there is a grudge. And, until someone hangs himself or someone kills someone, we don’t stop: the machine of mutual resentment is always on the move. It’s as if the country were an enclosure of bitterness.
That is why the most aggressive parliamentary sessions, such as the failed investiture of Núñez Feijóo, have something of a bullfight about them. From the rostrum, the popular candidate seemed to be inciting a bull. In his head, there was an invisible ‘montera’. Sánchez was hiding in the ‘burlader’o, until the ‘banderillero’ Óscar Puente jumped into the ring, who made all kinds of jibes. The Basque nationalists used first the cape of their co-official language for the fight, and then the ‘muleta’ of Castilian. When Santiago Abascal spoke, one would have thought that the bull itself had climbed up to the rostrum. And despite all this, most Spaniards want peace, harmony and, like the Portuguese, happiness. In a sense, these sessions serve to sting them, to see if everyone gets properly angry.
The pro-independence discourse is actually federalist or, at best, confederalist.
In the face of the Portuguese mystique of suffering and the farandole of Hispanic rancour, Catalonia seemed to me, back in 2011, a veritable oasis of sharp people who, without ceasing to love their culture deeply, without ceasing to defend it, moved along other parameters. But, after the incidents of 2017, it became clear that, also in Catalan lands, there is a magnetic attraction for patriotic suffering. And resentment, a deep resentment, also spoke Catalan. However, just as in Portugal or in the rest of Spain, the majority of people in Catalonia deep down want peace, harmony and harmony.
One must fully respect the dream of so many Catalans: to see their language, their culture properly valued, at the Hispanic, European and world level, to improve their financing and, thus, their well-being. Above all, to be respected and truly appreciated: to be recognised. Independence is apparently the only way to achieve this. But this independence is always presented in its sweetened format, by calmly filling in the form of a referendum. This has nothing to do with reality. To be independent, the Catalans would have to live through decades of a fight to the death, situated outside Europe. They would be one more broken bone in the world’s battered skeleton. And, in the event of success, the resulting Catalonia, under the brutal pressure of circumstances, would be very different from the one they dream of now.
Of course, national sacrifice becomes an addiction and, precisely because that is the way things are, some would appreciate this journey, out of sheer love for the most rumbustious epic. The curious thing is to think that almost everything they dream of for the Catalan republic could be achieved without independence. The pro-independence discourse, if we analyse it properly, if we remove its most passionate foliage, is actually federalist or, at best, confederalist. The word independence functions above all as an affective, sentimental cry: the result of pain for the contempt suffered. Analysing his emotional labyrinths, Álvaro de Campos, a heteronym of Pessoa, the most spectacular of them all, asks himself: “If you don’t want to kill yourself, why do you want to kill yourself? I would ask the equivalent question to Catalan independence: “If you are federalists, why aren’t you federalists? The velvety self-determination that independentism really wants, a reality of dialogue, without bombs or armies, without massacres, the name it can have, in fact, is a federal state. What will triumph in the independence movement: the visceral, angry side, which likes to contemplate itself in the ballroom mirror of the great epic sacrifices, well grounded in its old resentments, or the more dialogic, deliciously subtle and universalist dimension of Catalanness, which now, for once, has someone to write to it from Madrid?