Barcelona, 23rd April 2015. From the speaker’s stand --and in front of a wildly enthusiastic audience-- someone called José Rosiñol uttered the following words, in Spanish: “in a way” (nuances are ever so important) “you could say that some entered Barcelona along Diagonal and now others want to try that on Meridiana (1)”. One can only assume that the audience applauded such a historic statement and proceeded to go home contentedly. The event was organised by the neo-nationalist group (Spanish nationalist, that is) known as Societat Civil Catalana (“Catalan Civil Society”, or SCC in Catalan).
There are several elements that make Mr Rosiñol’s statement particularly hideous. First of all, it highlights the fact that Spanish nationalist groups in Catalonia (be it SCC, the PP, Ciudadanos or any other) have long abandoned what you might call the civil and historiographic anti-francoist consensus. In other words, a few years ago nobody with a certain sense of intellectual dignity would have uttered such a terrible sentence in public. And, secondly, the conference hall would have been empty. But this is no longer so. Some journalists, intellectuals, academics (as well as pseudoacademics) and media people decided to put an end to it quite a while ago.
In European countries such as France and Italy, the antifascist consensus on key aspects of their contemporary history has been respected, even though there have been debates and discussions about it. In Catalonia, though, the construction of a democratic, anti-francoist discourse has always proven more difficult and fragile. This bizarre blend of indigenous neo-fascism, revived Spanish nationalism, political opportunism and utter intellectual poverty has decided that now is the right time, for good, to put it all on the same level: independence supporters (rallying on Avinguda Meridiana) are the same as Franco’s supporters, falangists and Italian fascist volunteers marching along Avinguda Diagonal. The same kind of argument has been used --even today-- to try to whitewash the careers of front-row francoists who, alas!, came into this world swearing allegiance to Franco but became promoters of liberalism and democracy at the end of their lives.
In France Mr Rosiñol would have been sentenced to the penalty of national indignity and Ms Le Pen would have kissed him on the cheek and given him a rose (or a book by Robert Brassillach, for instance). In fact, his proclamation is akin to that of any collaborationist in 1940: the allies and the Maquis entered Paris through the Porte d'Orléans in August, 1944; just like the Germans paraded past the Arc de Triomphe in June, 1940. It is time to put them all on the same level.
The second element is in the photographs of the event. They show more than just a symbolic representation of the Catalan socialist leadership (PSC), laughing at the cracks and witticisms of the speakers, sitting nicely next to the PP leaders --the brains behind the group that organised the event-- and their cronies. I find it inexplicable. I cannot understand it. Behind the attendance of Catalan socialists there is an incredibly powerful element of symbolic irresponsibility: joining (willingly or otherwise) in the breakup of the PSC’s civil and political tradition. The representatives of an honourable political party born out of the historic tradition of Catalan socialism (inspired by pro-Catalan democratic federalism) applauding a profoundly sectarian, antidemocratic individual, devoid of any civil values, who had the nerve to compare the 1939 fascist alliance to the groups that today rally to achieve their goal (independence) democratically.
Anyone is entitled to support or criticise the pro-independence rallies; anyone should be free to remain skeptical about the process that is underway and to criticise it as harshly as they like. But it is only from the most extreme intellectual perversion that anyone would toy with such terrible images, historically speaking, as those of January 26, 1939. One would like to think that some of the socialist leaders who attended the event might find it in their heart to reappraise their stance. You will find their names in the newspapers. And I refer only to the PSC representatives because, naturally, nothing can be expected from the PP and their lot.
The third element --an easy one, actually-- is the realisation that what we might call the Spanish nationalist front in Catalonia has finally realigned itself with its own traditional views. The “Catalonia rescued for Spain (2)” that supposedly won the Civil War in 1939 is finally back in 2015 and without any qualms. It has come back to denounce the very same ills that afflicted the country and justified the 1936 surgical operation (let’s call it that): Catalonia has been hijacked by antidemocratic forces (the ones that wish to march on Meridiana), while the region’s public institutions nod approvingly, which is as dangerously irresponsible as it was in October 1934. Since calling upon the Army and the Catholic church to take action (after all, times have changed and we shouldn’t doubt the democratic convictions of those who support SCC, even if making certain playful comparisons is not without risks), today the banner they wave is the Spanish constitution, constitutional patriotism and --always and forever-- Spain.
Years of nationalist indoctrination in schools, of public funds squandered on crony policies stained by ideology, public media turned into mere propaganda outlets, Evil seeping into every nook and cranny of Catalan society: these are the ancient, tattered arguments of 1936 and 1939, brought up to date by the brains of SCC and other similar groups. I wrote about it in 2014: it’s Groundhog Day all over again. It is April 2015 and here they are, tossing around the same arguments as in 1939. And the most erudite among them recall the terrible statement by Luys Santa Marina (I, too, can compare Mr Rosiñol with a distinguished falangist): “It all began with sardana dancing and Catalan poetry competitions and, the next thing you know, young men are being slaughtered on the Ebro river. We cannot allow that to happen again.” In 1939 they took care of it “manu militari”. In 2015, they rally Spanish nationalists in Catalonia to ensure they go to the polls. The Evil they fight today, though, is the same as in 1939.
Francesc Vilanova is Professor of Contemporary History at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
(1) N.T. This is a not-so-veiled reference to the rally that will be held in Barcelona’s Avinguda Meridiana next September 11, organised by the Catalan pro-independence grassroots groups. In January 1939 General Franco’s troops marched on Barcelona and eventually entered the city via Avinguda Diagonal, a fact that many Catalans have not forgotten.
(2) N.T. The original sentence is in Spanish, as this was a motto used by General Franco’s supporters that is easily recognised in Catalonia, even today.