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Home » Content » The journalist and former PP deputy warns of Catalonia’s economic decline and laments the loss of “bourgeois patriotism”.
There is no political stability to guarantee legal certainty in Catalonia. The dialectics of the problem are very clear to me, but the blindness of a large part of the radical Catalans... who are not the majority. Pro-independence radicalism will be 20%, if I dare say 25%. It won't go beyond that. The proof is that the vote is dropping when the negative effects of this process begin to be perceived. Look at the drop in pro-independence support in the last elections.

19 February 2024

Manuel Milián Mestre, journalist and former PP deputy. Luis Miguel Añón Barcelona


Manuel Milián Mestre: “I will never understand the sidereal change Artur Mas made. He was not pro-independence”.

The journalist and former PP deputy warns of Catalonia’s economic decline and laments the loss of “bourgeois patriotism”.

Manuel Milián Mestre (Forcall, Castellón, 1943) knows the history and intricacies of Spanish politics of the last half century like few others. A journalist and former PP deputy, he is concerned about the current situation both in Catalonia and in Spain as a whole. So much so that, for example, he expresses his conviction that the current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, “is leading us to a dictatorship”. But he also warns of Catalonia’s loss of economic strength and the general fall in standards among the political class.

–Q: To begin with Vargas Llosa: when did Spain go to hell?

–A: Spain was screwed by two nefarious characters. One is a friend of mine and the other, too. One is Mariano Rajoy, a man of astonishing superficiality. I think he is very intelligent, he was perfectly aware of what was going on but he didn’t want to get involved. Therefore, by not wanting to get wet, he followed currant aquae, let the waters flow and whatever it is, it will sound. Rajoy made big mistakes. One of the biggest was the now uncovered issue of the patriotic police. And another major one was when, in taking a serious decision, the application of article 155 of the Constitution, he did not foresee the future of what this action could lead to. It was not prudent to call elections the next day, but rather to wait for the situation to mature and when the stage was adequately set, then take the leap and hold the elections. He made the historic mistake of calling the elections immediately, which was a big mistake. The second character, who in this case is historically earlier, is Zapatero. I had lunch with him almost every week and I advised him on some things. For example, he asked me to draw up a strategy to win the general secretariat of his party. The key I gave him was: marry the Catalans. He married the PSC and won by the nine votes of the PSC. I almost have a bad conscience about this case because I didn’t like what he did afterwards. There is no effect without a cause. Now we see the effects of both causes: Rajoy and Zapatero. And that’s when all this gets fucked up. This lack of foresight was inherited from the unintelligent stance of Aznar, who after having achieved the Majestic pact, on which I worked for years with great discretion and with the connivance of Jordi Pujol, when the polls gave him an absolute majority, broke that pact. These mistakes are so transcendental that in the end you pay for them.

–Q: We are talking about one side, but what is your view of the collapse of Convergència, which has now become Junts?

–A: I lived through the birth of Convergència from the beginning, because I had regular meetings with Jordi Pujol when he had the Banca Catalana office in Passeig de Gràcia. I always had an open door with Pujol, even today. The perspective I had was a perspective of origin, which Fraga and I supported. Pujol financed the creation of the Partido Popular, which was born in the Club Ágora in Villarroel Street, with a million pesetas at the time.

–Q: That is, from Banca Catalana.

–A: He has an autographed letter from me in which, when they made a mess of Banca Catalana, I told him that I was prepared to testify to justify that amount. I always stand up for these things. With Pujol there was one very important thing, which Fraga liked very much: the sense of State. And then, above all, the root of one’s own identity, I don’t say nationalist. As Fraga had it, who promoted Galician in Galicia, imposed it in schools, and so on. There was a communion between the two thoughts. Jordi Pujol’s philosophy is firstly to recognise identity and secondly, to create a country. The third leap is the one he did not take, because he was building a country,  that is indisputable. He created wealth and today we have many things that were done thanks to the initiative of Banca Catalana and Banc Industrial de Catalunya, which was important and nobody mentions it. Until 2000, which is when I broke with Aznar and with the party, I have to say that Pujol was noble. He did not deceive and he did not talk about independence. Never. He spoke of personality, of self-government, of strengthening Catalonia’s role…. But never in 40 years did he speak to me of independence.

–Q: His successors were another matter.

–A: That’s where it changes. A year ago, eating at my house, Pujol told us flatly: “Jo no sóc independentista” (I am not pro-independence).

–Q: Pujol may always have had these reservations, but the process he set in motion was very easy to mutate.

–A: I agree that he got out of control afterwards. But he got out of control because of the personalistic and selfish eagerness of certain people around him. I will never understand the sidereal change that Artur Mas made. Because Artur Mas was not pro-independence.

–Q: He was harassed by the cuts, the social protest…

–A: This is another of Rajoy’s clumsiness. If you have a meeting with Mas in La Moncloa and you say no, you can’t let him go. Let him hold the press conference at your side. Rajoy’s behaviour is aurora borealis. Fraga had absolute contempt for Rajoy. I quote him verbatim in my other book, Els ponts trencats: “Rajoy will not be my successor, because being Galician, he does not speak Galician and does not even win elections in his village”. It is published. I have kept many confidences that I will gradually let out. Both about Fraga and Tarradellas. Tarradellas would never admit to what is happening now.”Mai més els fets d’octubre”: he repeated it to me like a constant nagging.

–Q: Tarradellas came out of the Civil War with a bitter taste in his mouth.Because he was with Companys, but then in exile he really reflected.

–A: And so disappointed. But that’s what he was doing, refusing to do that. Tarradellas told me that he did not agree with Companys at all.”We were ERC, we had the power and he left it in the hands of the FAI”, he kept telling me. I am now working on a book about the real Tarradellas operation. I’m going to give you a scoop: the key to his return was CESID. And I’m going to tell you about it with names and surnames, because I was deeply involved there. Tarradellas is the most intelligent pragmatic politician I have ever met. Fraga was a genius, but like all geniuses his head was the Encyclopaedia Britannica and he applied the formulas of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, not what he saw. That is why he made mistakes in the short term.

–Q: On his return, Tarradellas knew how to read what Catalan society was like.

–A: Always.And he told me that he didn’t accept Companys’ barbarities at all. When you have all this in your tank and you see the things that are happening….If there is no smoke, there is no fire. Therefore, what has happened is, for me, a great error of analysis and foresight. Artur Mas has been the consummation of all this. And it should be noted that he is a friend of mine.

–Q: And Puigdemont?

–A: With Puigdemont there is a similar community of origin. I come from a Carlist family from Maestrazgo, no less, and my family was Catholic, apostolic, Roman and monarchist. I was born in 43 in the post-war period and at primary school in Forcall they taught me to sing not the ‘Cara al Sol’, but ‘Por Dios, por la patria y el rey lucharon nuestros padres’, the Oriamendi. Puigdemont is a Carlist. His grandfather was the Carlist leader of the north of Catalonia and therefore there is a communion in the perspective of origin. But I will never accept the rupture of legality or the democratic system or independence. I have never been and never will be pro-independence. I am a patriot, something else that people do not know how to distinguish. Nationalism is one thing and patriotism is another. I give my life for whatever, but not for independence or for nationalism, which is always exclusive, conflictive and anti-Christian.

–Q: In the last decade, Rajoy’s quietism has coincided with the disorder of independence. Now how do we get out of this?

–A: The only way out of this is with a pact. It’s the only way, we won’t get out of it by force. But I disagree with the amnesty pact and the Sánchez pact, which is pure political mercantilism. I believe that the pact that should be made is between the constitutional forces in Congress and we must exclude the extremes. Because here there is a lot of talk about Vox, but nobody talks about the communists who have killed 100 million people. There is the Black Book of Communism. If they are radical at one extreme, they are radical at the other. I want the central forces to agree on a status for Catalonia, because that is the only way to solve the problem of pluri-nationality. Another quote from Tarradellas: “It is impossible to have 17 autonomous regions, 17 parliaments and 17 administrations. This is ruinous”. He was a prophet. He was very clear that there were problems in three parts: the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia. He did not postulate a universal solution, but a solution to these three problems, but he would never have proposed independence.

–Q: Now there will be again talks about funding of the autonomous regions. How can this issue be resolved so that all the regions feel satisfied?

–A: Per capita redistribution. I don’t believe at all that territories have rights, but people do. The more people you have, the more you get.

–Q: But some people will talk about depopulation, the Canarians will talk about insularity…

–A: The problem of the Canaries is peculiar, because they are down in the middle of Africa. It is the exception, because the Balearic Islands are not. For me, for example, the Bavarian solution doesn’t scare me: to have a free associated country if it is really loyal. Because in Germany you wouldn’t be able to put a comma in favour of the independence of any Land. Now, I don’t see any Basque-style privileges. That there should be a pact that respects history, I agree; but that they should have so many privileges, I do not.

–Q: At least they should be calculated fairly and not the way it is done now.

–A: I’m going to tell you an anecdote that Pujol told me. Pujol met Suárez for lunch and when he arrived for the meeting he found Gutiérrez Mellado dressed in military uniform. “There were three of us, not two. And I was very surprised because I understood the language of the facts”, he told me. Suárez told him that he was unclear about the concepts of nationality and nation. He gave him this argument: “Look, Jordi, we don’t have the same problem with you as with the Basques. The Basques account for 9% of Spain’s GDP, while you account for 20%. 20% destabilises the Spanish budget if we give you the same treatment”. But he told him that he would give him compensation: full sovereignty over the Catalan language and culture. And Pujol told me he had no choice but to accept it.

–Q: It has sometimes been said that Pujol didn’t accept it because he didn’t want fiscal co-responsibility.

–A: That’s a lie. That’s not the explanation Pujol gave me.

–Q: In any case, I’ll stick with his idea of per capita distribution to review regional funding.

–A: The rights belong to the people, not to the territories. Bearing in mind that the territories have been integrated for 500 years. This is the same reason why I don’t agree with Catalan nationalism. Do they want independence for Catalonia? If they want it, it will be for the whole Crown of Aragon. Therefore from Valencia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands…The historical concepts are very clear, and here there is a transfer of rights that does not correspond to reality.

–Q: I will list some current issues in Catalonia: poor educational results, problems of integration with immigration and problems related to security, loss of economic weight in Spain as a whole, lack of infrastructures to combat drought? What is going on?

–A: Catalonia was the engine of the Spanish economy. The human resources migrating from Andalusia used to come to Catalonia, and now it is the other way round. Andalusia has already overtaken Catalonia in terms of trade surplus. The problem lies in the dynamics that have arisen. I would like an industrial balance sheet to be drawn up and you would see the disaster.

–Q: When did it start?

–A: I studied the Catalan bourgeoisie in the 19th century in a book. In that book I studied the spectacular leap made by the bourgeois elite. Whether the left likes it or not. From this development the dynamic is projected into the twentieth century. And in the 20th century, until the shootings in Barcelona, the barbarity of the Republic… until that disorder arrived, Catalonia prospered. After the Civil War, Catalonia enjoyed a privileged situation, because it had a virtual industrial monopoly. Spain was destroyed, but Catalonia was able to protect many factories. Silk, for example. The Dutch made an agreement with Franco to keep the Barcelona factory untouchable, and in exchange they set up a rayon factory in Burgos, despite the fact that they wanted to set it up here. Catalonia benefited from this dynamic. But now this dynamic has been disrupted. There is a real economic recession in Catalonia, practically all the textile industry has closed down and the technology has been transferred to China. Nissan is leaving, which was brought in by Juan Echevarría. What I see at the moment is decline, and it amazes me that people don’t realise what is happening in Catalonia.

–Q: The Catalan economy is doomed to live off tourism and services

–A: We had some important banks. Take Feliciano Baratech’s book on Banca Catalana and there you will see the history of Catalan banking failures. We had a powerful Banca Catalana, a Caixa that was the leading bank in Spain at the time, the Banco Industrial de Catalunya, the Banco de Huesca, which belonged to my friend Santacreu….All this has been diluted, and now the two remaining major banks, Sabadell and la Caixa, have left for Valencia. They can’t come back because there is no political stability to guarantee legal certainty in Catalonia. The dialectics of the problem are very clear to me, but the blindness of a large part of the radical Catalans… who are not the majority. Pro-independence radicalism will be 20%, if I dare say 25%. It won’t go beyond that. The proof is that the vote is dropping when the negative effects of this process begin to be perceived. Look at the drop in pro-independence support in the last elections.

–Q: But the vote is going to abstention…

–A: Or to the PSC. There is a very serious issue here: the PSC is not fulfilling the value attributed to it by its voters. Illa has made a fool of himself lately, changing his mind in 48 hours at the behest of the Moncloa. And I admire him, but this is intolerable in a politician. Just maintaining it and not amending it.

–Q: The PSC is a prisoner of a dynamic imposed by Sánchez, who, in order to stay in the Moncloa, has to make a pact with Bildu, ERC...

–A: Sánchez is taking us to a dictatorship. He is taking us to Venezuela.

–Q: I don’t know. We are in the European Union.

–A: If they don’t stop him, they will take us to Venezuela .I have a lot of information on Venezuela: admirals, generals, ambassadors, Leopoldo Lopez….They’ve told me what’s going on there, and even Zapatero’s links. Spain’s situation is a very dangerous drift.

–Q: Back to the amnesty. The issue of terrorism: if it is included in the perimeter of what can be amnestied, you know that the Court of Justice of the European Union cannot accept it.

–A: I want to live in this faith, I want to believe that Europe is capable of this. But it is not clear to me. Because the fact that someone like Ursula von der Leyen, a Christian Democrat, is so enamoured of Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish marvel shocks me.

–Q: Are there too many interests in politics these days? Too much marketing?

–A: At the moment it’s all marketing and commercialism. Marketing is about winning clients, commercialism is about making money. In general, the political class is not fit to hold office. They are very undocumented people. I am not interested in any minister, except for one: Jordi Hereu. Hereu is serious and responsible. But the fact that Sánchez’s great negotiator with the pro-independence movement is Santos Cerdán? I have a lot of respect for waiters . In my village there was a waiter who was very wise and they made him head of public services. But the fact of being a waiter does not give anyone a title of sufficiency to negotiate the unity of Spain.

–Q: What about civil society? Because businessmen are not raising their voices either.

–A: I don’t believe much in Garamendi, I have no special faith in him. At the moment, the business community has a leadership problem. The person who now leads the business community in Catalonia is not a pure and simple businessman, but a politician with business involvement. This is neither a toilet nor a criticism, but a sociological reality. Businessmen are fleeing, they are hiding. I am talking to you after 40 years in Foment. I’m finishing a book about the last 70 years of Foment where a lot of things are going to come out. The fact that at the moment the potential of the Catalan bourgeoisie has diminished is a dramatic fact. Take the count: Celsa, Grifols, Freixenet, Codorniu, Titanlux… all in foreign hands. I have seen how businessmen have been disappearing from Catalonia and I can’t believe what I am seeing. China has become rich through the transfer of European and American technologies. I have denounced this in the Congress of Deputies. And there are Catalan companies that have been transferred to Morocco and are not expanding in Catalonia. Where is bourgeois patriotism?



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