One of the most remarkable collateral effects of the political process that Catalonia has been living through during the past decade is the demonstration of up to what point the Spanish intellectual and university elite, with few exceptions, are identified with a base of intolerance and dogma. This intolerance and dogma characterizes the Castilian identity whenever it feels that its hegemonic, almost monopolistic position regarding the idea of Spain and all that comes with it, is threatened.
This phenomenon manifested itself during the processing stage of what would be the Catalan Statute of 2006. In November 2005, when the bill that had been approved with massive support in the Catalan Parliament got to the Spanish parliament, it was met by Madrid writers, artists and other “cultural forces” with an icy coldness. During that winter various attempts to find intellectual complicity beyond the borders of Aragon-- I remember one whole Saturday of seminars in the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona-- ended up as a dialog of the deaf.
While the Popular Party (PP) collected signatures against the Statute by appealing to the lowest forms of Catalano-phobia, not one manifesto was issued criticizing that indecent manipulation. When Catalan newspapers, while waiting for the ruling of the Constitutional Court, jointly published an editorial entitled The Dignity of Catalonia (November 2009), that openly conciliatory initiative did not encounter, among the opinion-makers and columnists of Spain, anything more than insults and scorn. Catalonia could not-- did not have the right to-- improve its political status and degree of recognition within the Spanish legal framework. This was declared not only by Rajoy, Arenas, and those judges who view the bullfights from the boxes of the Maestranza bullring-- almost all of the Spanish intelligentsia thought so, too.
From the emergence of the sovereignty movement in September 2012, the passive hostility of silence and disdain turned into active belligerence, armed with insults, improprieties, and criminalizing analogies. The comparisons between Catalonia and the Third Reich, between the pro-independence camp and Nazism, became commonplace, along with accusations of sedition, coups, totalitarianism, and the desire to bloody Spain like the old Yugoslavia, all addressed towards those who were only trying to hold a self-determination vote.
It is important to stress that this furious reaction by Spain’s published opinion against the aspirations of a large part of Catalan society occurred, and still does, across the ideological board; it not found merely in the clichéd thuggish newspapers, or within the equally clichéd far-right media. Faced with what they call, significantly, the Catalan defiance --because, in effect, it questions their ancestral dominant position-- this media intolerance encompasses, with only slight nuances, the totality of Madrid-based press. It is a convergence of former communists like Antonio Elorza and José María Fidalgo, liberal writers (Andrés Trapiello, Javier Marías, Antonio Muñoz Molina...), and socialists like Nicolás Redondo Terreros, along with moth-eaten aristocrats and genuinely reactionary columnists.
The universality of this furious and hysterical pro-Spanish viewpoint can be seen, for example, in an article that appeared in the El País newspaper this past November 27, under the title of Against the Poison, and signed by Ignacio Gomez de Liaño Alamillo, who identifies himself as a “philosopher”.
In any case, his is a quite expeditious philosophy. After having compared the Catalan case with “Leninist-Stalinist or Maoist communism, national socialism” and “Islamic fundamentalism”, the author presents the widespread use of Catalan place names such as Lleida and Girona, instead of the Spanish forms “Lérida” and “Gerona”, as an example of a long weakness confronting “anti-Spanish nationalism”. Once he has diagnosed the seriousness of the danger, the solutions that Gómez de Liaño proposes are forceful: illegalize “parties like the PNV, Bildu, CiU, ERC” or any other that “promotes secession of a part of our territory”.
It would be useless to remind a character such as this that any such illegalization would be the equivalent of outlawing two to three million citizens. Or to point out that, even in the worst years of IRA terrorism, Sinn Féin was perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. To say nothing of the Scottish National Party, the Parti Québecois in Canada, or the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie in Belgium. There is no reasoning possible when faced with the fanatic intolerance of those who feel themselves the masters of Spain and see their property at risk of breaking apart.
But I insist that a thesis of this nature was not published by ABC or La Razón, but by the progressive newspaper El País. The same paper that, last Friday, published an collective article (Declaration of Independence: the Day After), in which Javier García Fernández, professor of Constitutional Law in Madrid’s Complutense University, counseled the Rajoy government to prepare for a State takeover of the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalonia’s own police force), the suspension of Catalan autonomy, and other similar measures, but firmly excluding --thank you very much!-- “military action”. My, the same thing Vidal-Quadras1 says, but with a more academic tone.
Is it with partners like these that we are supposed to hold talks?
(1) N.T. Alejo Vidal-Quadras is a Spanish far-right politician, now retired, who has always vehemently opposed Catalan self-rule.