The French historian and Hispanist Benoît Pellistrandi has just published ‘Le labyrinthe catalan’, an exhaustive analysis of the origin of the current conflict. Pellistrandi, former director of studies at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, a regular commentator in the French media, is very strict about how the ‘procés‘ has been conducted and does not spare criticism of Rajoy’s management. The author believes that a reform of the Constitution, ratified in a referendum -also in Catalonia-, is the only possible way out.
At the end of the book, you express the desire that Catalonia “comes again to find the full meaning of its history, through the serene acceptance of what is and not so much through the dangerous dream of what is not”. Is there a gap between reality and the dream?
The search for independence has been made in a fictional world, an unreal world. In the geopolitical sphere, there was that idea that we were not going to have a defense because NATO would give us security. That was said in 2016, when Trump had already been elected president of the United States! It is a lack of knowledge of reality. Then there is what I call the blind spot, the practical consequences of independence, for example what to do to divide the Social Security box. There has also been a fantastic idealization of Catalonia, which has nothing to do with real Catalonia, with 7 million inhabitants, with its economic, social and cultural problems. It is not an overvalued Catalonia but another Catalonia, totally invented.
To what extent is the distortion of history responsible for what is happening?
Yes, it is very serious because there is an absolute, total deformation, up to a caricature-like point, with the Intitut Nova Història, paid by the Generalitat. They are invented fantasies that have an appearance of historical methodology. And it is seen in the Catalan university, where there are clashes between historians. Many professors say they are militants. As a history teacher, I think it’s terrible. A teacher should not be a militant. She can be in her free time, but not while in class. What he should do is just explain the complexity of things, the historical reality, and not invent it. For example, there is an absolute contradiction about 1714, a date that is presented as the conquest of Barcelona by Spain. But they forget to say that the War of Succession was a civil war within Catalonia. If it is said that 1714 was a dramatic date, how can it be explained that the 18th century was so favorable to the material interests of Catalonia? There is a historical dream on the part of the independence movement. They have to wake up from that dream. That is why I say that Catalonia has to come again to be what it is, because it is enough. It has a density of its own. I understand perfectly that the Catalans are proud of what Catalonia is, but of the real Catalonia, not of the imagined Catalonia.
The search for independence has been made in a fictional world
You state that there has been “an operation to confiscate the word, to standardize Catalan society”.
Politics is to do with reconciling conflicting interests. It seems to me that in the last three or four years, politics has not been done in Catalonia, but rather independence has been invented to just not dealing with the real problems of Catalan society, which are very numerous. Do not forget the intensity of the 2008 crisis in Spain and Catalonia. The independence movement had to do with the economic situation. If there had been much more money and prosperity, the thing would not have taken the course it has taken. It is true that in Catalan society those who were dissatisfied with the independence project were silenced. There has been an awakening after 2017. The present Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said it well. Before there was a silence.
You mention the danger of “racist drift”. Do you think there is a feeling of superiority? Is it common to all nationalisms?
It is common to all nationalisms. It is true that nationalism tends to be racist with the nearest neighbor. One sees it for example with the Spanish nationalism towards the Portuguese. It is seen in French nationalism towards the Spaniards. There has always been a French contempt for what is Spanish. And you can see in some speeches a contempt of some Catalans towards the Spaniards. I have quoted in the book the famous text by Jordi Pujol (an article from 1958) against the Andalusians. I believe that it has been seen in the Andalusian elections of 2018, in which a part of the electorate has answered to these lamentable speeches by some Catalan leaders. Just a year ago I wrote an article against President Quim Torra because, indeed, he has a rather painful history behind his writings. To think that he is president of the Generalitat, of all the Catalans, seems dangerous to me. And what struck me very much, after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, was that the Catalan Minister of Interior offered the balance saying: four Catalans and four Spaniards. And within the Spanish group of victims, that 60-year-old man who died on the Ramblas in Barcelona and who had arrived at 13 years old, but was born in Málaga. It seems to me a tremendous mistake.
You think that not only has there been a disloyalty towards Spain but, even more serious, towards Catalonia itself.
Yes, indeed, because what I admire in the political operation of the Spanish transition is that it made it possible to reconcile. There was a power, that of the victors (of the Civil War), who held it until 1975 and who had never wanted to reach out to opponents. It was a very complex situation. The victors could have remained the victors, with this policy of repression, which was brutal. And the defeated could have a desire for revenge, perfectly understandable. But the spectacle that Spain gives us is that politics gave the best of itself, that policy that now is seen only as corruption, scams. Politics gave very generous ideas, projects, negotiations and concessions. And what was very clever, on the part of Adolfo Suárez, in the famous Tarradellas operation, was to insert a legitimacy that came from the Second Republic within the democratizing process. Thanks to that, Catalonia becomes a proof that this democratization is serious. The transition is a pact of both democratization and decentralization. And here Catalunya plays an absolutely key and fundamental role. This made it possible to reach 91% of the votes in Catalonia in the 1978 referendum. It becomes a powerful tool for reconciliation among Spaniards. For Catalonia, these were the best years.
Barcelona should not be bombed every 50 years, but have an Olympic Games every 50 years s
The 1992 Olympic Games were, in your opinion, the moment when Catalonia felt more Spanish and Spain more Catalan, the showcase of democratic Spain.
Effectively. To those who now say, in private, that Barcelona must be bombarded every 50 years – an unbearable phrase, because those who say it do not identify with those who have really suffered these bombings – I would say almost the opposite, Barcelona should have every 50 years Olympic Games, this type of events that allows Barcelona to be the other capital of Spain, without rivalry, in balance, in a symmetry that would allow a serene, large, peaceful and admired Spain. I say it from abroad. I admired that Spain.
Hopefully, an articulating element will emerge again between Catalonia and Spain as it was with the PSC
At that time the Socialists ruled in Madrid and the City of Barcelona. In your book you affirm that the PSC is “an articulating element of the relations between Catalonia and Spain, a transmission belt between two political cultures”. Do you think it can be like that again?
We see the case of Bavaria, where the CSU is a party there but participates in the Government of Germany. In Catalonia there is no Catalan right of its own that can be both Catalan and then Spanish in the Government. But there was the PSC, a socialist party, Catalan, but also governed in Madrid, with Catalan ministers, such as Ernest Lluch, Narcís Serra and others. When in 2011, in the general elections, Zapatero’s PSOE falls from 45% of the 2008 votes to 28%, then the nationalists realize that they can go against this articulating arm and create the situation they have created. Hopefully this articulating element will reappear because Spain cannot be governed by parties that obtain the majority in Spain but in Catalonia achieve less than 20% of the votes. I am very supportive of coalitions. It is a pity that, in 1993, Felipe González would not have managed to get a minister of Convergència i Unió into the Government. The same in 1996.
Pujol vetoed it.
Yes, yes (laughs), we know it perfectly. It was a shame. Someone like Duran i Lleida could have played a much more important role in general politics and not end up marginalized as it has ended.
What do you expect from the procés trial? Can it help solve something or vice versa?
If the trial allows all Spaniards, and Catalans, realize that the procés has been a fudge, welcome it. Just remembering what the law is, it seems normal to me. Then political solutions will be needed. You cannot think that with the trial ends politics, no. After the trial, politics begins again. I hope that thanks to the trial, those who have believed their leaders, who have believed that independence was easy, realize that they have been victims of complete sloppiness and that they reflect, without abandoning their pro-independence ideals, but building them from politics, with confrontation of arguments. Above all, I am absolutely against what President Torra has said, that democracy is above the law. Democracy goes with the law. Fortunately I see that the trial is quite well taken and the fact that it is televised seems to me a success.
What can be the exit path to the Catalan labyrinth?
A reform of the Constitution, with referendum. If in Catalonia this referendum obtains 60 or 65% of yes, then we will know that there is a renewal of the pact between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. I do not know what kind of reform. It is evident that it cannot be a recentralization. A federal state? Why not? The Spaniards have to decide it. That is why I am very sorry about the tone of the electoral campaign, because I believe that politicians will have the responsibility to reform the Constitution and that the three major parties, the PP, the PSOE and Citizens, will have to work together to create this consensus. For me, that is the solution. And of course a contribution from the Catalan independence forces, because if they say that this reform does not concern them, it would be a failure. You also have to attract that part.
The solution is a reform of the Constitution, with a referendum
What did you think of Rajoy’s management?
If a president does not understand the problem from the political point of view, he has to leave. I understand perfectly that it seemed a nonsense to him, that in front of Puigdemont he thought: with what kind of character do I speak? He is very rational. But if he did not understand, he had to leave. He made a mistake on November 9, 2014. He made a mistake on October 1, 2017, because he had to find the poll boxes. I do not think that Rajoy has been entirely to blame, as some say, but evidently he channeled the problem very badly. I understand that between 2011 and 2014, with a Spain that was on the verge of bankruptcy, he might have said I set aside this issue and I try to save what can be saved.
Eusebio Val i Paris, Correspondent