The observer

Against ghosts

Everyone is afraid and every people has its own ghosts. What sets some apart is their ability to rein in their fears and bury their ghosts, and that is the long battle that Catalonia and Spain are still locked in. They keep trying to get a grip on their fear of freedom and bury the ghosts that continue to haunt an imperfect political system, one that still fails to accept that managing diversity is part and parcel of any democracy.

With a short office term that should, nevertheless, yield more than just a few gestures, PM Pedro Sánchez has decided to bury the great ghost, the body of the dictator whose regime lives on in the nooks and crannies of Spain’s political culture. The decision to move General Franco’s remains from the altar of a notorious monument to the family’s vault over forty years after the dictator’s death is a necessary first step, a symbol that ought to be followed by many other decisions that allow good names to be restored and the bodies of so many victims of the war and the regime to be recovered.

Burying the most symbolic body of the Franco regime means much more than removing Franco from under the protection of the State and the Catholic church because Spain’s democratic culture still has matters to resolve and ghosts to bury.

All the unfinished business boils down to this: understanding that ideas cannot be imposed, not even the holy unity of Spain, set in stone in the Spanish Constitution. Obviously, independence cannot be imposed either, but it is perfectly legitimate to argue for a vote to choose from the existing proposals the best way to govern ourselves, assuming there are any alternatives besides independence and Spain’s obsolete system of autonomous regions. So Spain and Catalonia are immersed in a far-reaching political battle which is more like a long-distance track event than a sprinting race. It requires a strategy based more on the rationality of building the best possible project to entice the broadest segment of the population than on measuring the intensity of feelings or seizing an opportunity at a particular time, if there are no majority changes.

Dinner at Portabella’s

The abuse of power, the way in which the case against Catalonia’s independence leaders has been put together and handled, has aroused strong feelings that will set the tone for this autumn, ahead of an appalling trial. A few days ago [Catalan filmmaker] Pere Portabella invited a few dozen people to dinner at his summer place, as he has been doing for forty years. The event is about bringing together people who hold very different political views and be able to listen to one another, build trust and share the universal language of Bach’s music. Nowadays this is as necessary as it is generous and difficult. With a hint of sadness, the man who once produced Viridiana and directed about twenty movies recounted how the gatherings at his place were clandestine in the early years, and that most political leaders he invited last year are now either in prison or exiled. The silence of some of the politicians in attendance was louder than words. Once Franco’s remains have been reinterred in Spain, other ghosts will need burying. Chiefly among them is what you might call Spain’s avenging justice. In other words, the elements of the Spanish judiciary that took it upon themselves to do the job which they felt the lukewarm political right lacked the courage for. Led by Justice Llarena and his lack of impartiality, they have brought international discredit to Spain’s justice system at large and have handed the Catalan pro-independence movement its main political victory since October 1 last year [when the independence referendum was held].

“I’ll be my own self”

On September 4 Justice Llarena is expected to appear in a Belgian court of law, the same day when Catalan president Quim Torra will shed light on Catalonia’s political future in a public address. “I’ll be my own self”, the president has said, meaning that his words will be consistent with his own political views and his own interpretation of Catalanism. Torra will speak about the work that everyone must do: the role of the exiles, who have managed to expose the weaknesses of the case against the independence leaders; the role of the government and of civil society and the grassroots groups that represent it (Òmnium Cultural, the Catalan National Assembly and even the Committees for the Defence of the Republic). Catalonia has ghosts of her own, one of which is the divisive nature of our political actors and a tendency to keep checking the rear-view mirror.

President Torra defines himself as a noucentista and, as such, he endorses the principles of civility, serenity and nation-building, which may prove useful provided he remembers that noucentisme and the Catalonia of that period [1900-1930] are nearly a century old now and, while they might be a symbol, they are also far removed from the sociological, cultural, political and economic reality of 21st century Catalonia.