On the 75th anniversary of the execution of Catalan president Lluís Companys

Alone and defeated, he did not succumb to weakness or self-pity, which would have been understandable. That is why we remember him. He died for all of us, have no doubt of that

Today in ARA we discuss Lluís Companys the idealist, whose tragic humanity never fails to move us. He, who had witnessed his teachers and friends Francesc Layret and Salvador Seguí --el Noi del Sucre (the Sugar Boy)-- vilely gunned down in the street, knew how to give his death by firing squad significance and grandeur. "My smallness could not hope for a more dignified death", he wrote on the eve of his farcical trial. Alone and defeated, he did not succumb to weakness or self-pity, which would have been understandable. That is why we remember him. He died for all of us, have no doubt of that. He died at peace, in love to the very end with his ideals: freedom, justice, Catalonia.

On the surface, that heroic martyr has little to do with pragmatic, tactical Mas. Ideologically, there is not doubt that they defend and represent different things. On a personal level, I would say that they do not resemble each other, either: Companys was unstable, impetuous, sentimental; Mas is solid, thoughtful, serious. According to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, Companys would be pure air --impulsive creativity-- whereas Mas would be cold earth -- cold, hard rationality. One lived during a time of social and political extremism; the other grew up in an ideologically fluid world that is, despite the current crisis, more placid from a socioeconomic viewpoint. If Mas had to be compared to any historical Catalan figure, it would be to Prat de la Riba (1). And yet...

Does anything unite Companys and Mas? Well, yes. From positions that could even be called antagonistic, and from such opposite psychologies, they have had to carry the nation on their back in decisive moments, and this even brought them to oppose their own kind: their social surroundings and natural ideology. In the middle of the Spanish civil war, Companys had to slow, as best he could or knew how --which wasn’t much--, the revolutionary anarchist and communist left. Today, in the middle of the process towards independence, Mas has had to distance himself from the economic elites, to the point of being considered a traitor. Companys had to help out many conservative people, saving thousands of priests and right-wing families; eventually, he put his pro-Catalan stance before his working-class ideals. Mas, besieged by his own kind, became travelling companions with leftists --ERC, many former socialists, and now even the CUP. Those who have followed the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) campaign closely claim that he has undergone a deep transformation, to the point of resembling an impetuous leftist orator ... Somewhat in the style of the mythical Companys when he said "we will suffer again, fight again, and win again"?

They are also twinned by a kind of fatalistic, sacrificial feeling. On December 31, 1933, after the death of president Macià, Companys prophetically proclaimed that, if necessary, he would be willing to give his life for Catalonia-- which unfortunately ended up being the case. Today’s Mas also has that aura of self-immolation, of a character in a tragedy, of risking everything, even to the utmost consequences. In both cases there is a dramatic acceptance of that which puts them in the service of a cause that, in some way, gets the best of them.

Finally, Companys and Mas share a huge capacity for endurance-- call it stubbornness or tenacity. This is why it has been said of both that they have gone mad. Behind their respective attitudes of not deviating from the path taken despite the evident risks (Companys did not flee to avoid being captured by the Germans and delivered to Franco; Mas will not quit to spare himself the problems of a non-negotiated break with Spain), there is the awareness, perhaps exaggerated and egocentric, if you will, but in the end very real, that their political fate is already decided and sealed. Their life is politics. They are political beasts. Companys chose to tie his fate to the defeat of Catalonia. Mas has decided to tie his to the nation’s victory.


1 N.T. Enric Prat de la Riba was the first president of Catalonia’s Mancomunitat (“Commonwealth”) in the early 20th century which, despite its very limited powers, was able to create an efficient infrastructure of roads and ports, hydraulic works, railways, telephones, charities and health provision.