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Catalonia in China

Enric Vila

Last winter I attended an international conference on security and self-determination sponsored by Princeton University which comes to mind lately when I read Catalan and European newspapers. The symposium lasted a couple of days and took place in the monastery of Sankt Florian, an austere and robust Augustinian fortress, aired by large patios and several noble halls that give it a romantic edge, reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian cavalry headquarters.

The headline of the conference was given by a Chinese diplomat who talked very little yet with royal aplomb and macaronic English like mine, said: "We’ve been centralizing for more than two thousand years, and we’re doing pretty well because we fear inequality more than poverty". The sobriety of that man put most of the delegates on the spot. Under the wing of the United States, the Europeans looked like those eggs the Austrians color to grace the Easter festivities.

In private many representatives admitted that Europe is in the doldrums while it perpetuates pointless debates. In almost every speech you could see how the same European Union that criticizes xenophobia and declares itself liberal and cosmopolitan, then grumbles because China is investing heavily in the continent. Someone regretted that the Chinese would have bought a stake in Toulouse airport and would plan to convert it into an aeronautical laboratory. When I reminded them that Paris has preferred to let the south of France become impoverished rather than connect it with Barcelona, everybody turned a deaf ear.

The European speeches manifested a white hypocrisy of business in liquidation with which we are quite familiar in Catalonia. The disquisitions about identity and the importance of the law seemed aimed at maintaining self-determination in a strictly theoretical plane. In a hallway, a former minister from Eastern Europe wished us luck with independence, while the representative of an organization that works to promote referendums asked us why we did not seek to agree on a more ambitious statute.

During one of the cocktail breaks, a US military officer who had conducted operations in Afghanistan took us aside and asked us three concrete questions: how many Catalans are in the Spanish army, how many Catalans are in the national police and the Civil Guard, and how many Spanish are in the mossos d’Esquadra. "We have a big problem," he said with a worried face after finishing the glass of champagne once we had explained him the situation which we, in Catalonia, can outline with a few broad brushstrokes. He didn’t ask any questions regarding the October referendum.

As it had happened in Japan, China was dragged into a long decline when the obsession to maintain inner peace became the basis of their thinking and their politics. During the time that Europe found itself in war and during the revolutions a creative way to manage its diversity, the continent led humanity and dominated the world. The two world wars put European countries at the utmost of self-destruction, and the scare helped open the way to democracy.

The democratization of Europe, protected by the United States, should have helped manage the diversity of the continent and therefore promote its progress without violence. In the end, the Americans restored the European project that had collapsed in 1714, but now let’s not get into historiographical debates. The paradox is that the same fear of past carnages that initially helped consolidate the prestige of the polls has gradually drowned its role in double standards and lies.

As the Chinese diplomat put it ―with his broken English―, centralization works when the natural differences between people are more feared than poverty. The decline of the Spanish empire would be more evidence that centralizing is more of a primary solution than an enriching one. If Europe wants to extend the last eighty years of peace, so exceptional in its history without retreating on the international stage, the right to self-determination cannot be taken lightly.

Europe must take a leap in democracy as significant as the technology leap we've experienced in recent years to avoid losing steam. When it comes to centralizing, Beijing will always have the upper hand because it is centuries ahead of us and because China, like Spain or Russia, is used to being poor and being brutish. Europe's contribution to the world must be the humanist dream, the idea that intelligence has more power than the police batons. That is, that the will of an individual can be treated as though it were that of all individuals, rather than the inverse.

In the world to come, freedom devoid of the right to self-determination will increasingly resemble China’s capitalism without democracy. It is terrible that to conform to the Spanish centralist impulses, the Catalan pro-independence parties would scorn the voters in the media and in the representative chambers. At stake for Europe is whether or not democracy becomes a vintage system that chooses the color of the politicians' ties. And realism is to understand that in this war for the future, Catalonia cannot afford to set such a pernicious example to the continent.

Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato

 

A Lethal Trap

Enric Vila

No matter which newspaper I read, I can confirm there are still very few people who are completely clear about the nature of the conflict with Spain. Catalonia has lived for so many years erased from history, and we Catalans have lied to such extent to survive, that the same baroque layer that almost suffocates us is now confusing our adversaries.

I already said that independence could have been achieved calmly and catastrophe-free and that, now, it will become a great carnage. The Spanish will undoubtedly sink the prestige of their democracy, and the Catalans who lived off the occupation and believed their own demagoguery will remain so out of context that they will have to strive hard to overcome melancholy when all this ends.

If Rajoy had an opportunity to kill the idea of the referendum, he squandered it by sending the police. Deceived by the same known henchmen, who think Catalonia is theirs and that everybody is just as miserable, he has met an unexpected resistance. The attempts to push the country into a UDI or into plebiscitary elections will not succeed following the reaction from dock workers, peasants, and the academic world in favor of October 1.

As expected, the political unity that could have never achieved a sovereignty government has achieved the referendum. Although some toxic elements from PDeCAT, allied with Pablo Iglesias, continue to work to make the conflict a Spanish affair, the organization of the referendum continues. On Tuesday, while the Civil Guard was besieging CUP headquarters, inside, a group of politicians of all colors conjured up to carry it out, no matter the cost.

With a million mobilized Catalans, when the Catalan government places the ballot boxes, there will be no anti-riot contingent that will prevent it. If the Spanish were intelligent and understood Catalonia, they would thank us for helping them set foot in Europe and consolidate democracy, and accept the defeat that awaits them at the polls. As they see the country through the eyes of liars that they themselves have bought off, they have completely lost sight.

The problem for the Spanish is that they can no longer bomb Catalonia, or kill and detain people massively. Each police unit they send, each armored truck that enters Catalonia to try to avoid the referendum, not only consolidates the political nation but also gives her back historical depth. The problem is so crude and so simple that when the unionists finally admit it, they will no longer have time to save face.

Rajoy is helping a lot to destroy the distorted image that the country had of itself through the deformed mirrors of the propaganda. The fact that disruptive world figures, including Assange and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, support the referendum is already a sign that the going is getting tough for Spain. Even La Vanguardia, which has worked hard to prevent it, must inform that the great newspapers of the West support Catalonia’s self-determination.

The referendum is leaving Spain's intolerance out of play because it reveals the deceit of its pseudo-legalistic propaganda, which needs the aesthetics of the revolution and of the ethnicity to seem credible. The debate that produced Brexit or the Scottish referendum will be a joke next to the impact that October 1 will cause in a Europe that had forgotten us and just now is starting to get to know us. The Generalitat has already paid the civil servants without going through Spain’s Treasury, showing who rules in Catalonia.

The Spanish will not only have to decide their idea of democracy but also whether they want to be European or become a whale ran aground on the coasts of the old Continent, as Edmund Burke said. If this time they want to fall into obscurantism, they will have to do it alone. Here, we no longer offer free lunches, as evidenced by the eloquent fact that the dock workers have left without service the police officers from Madrid that lodge in the Spanish boats.

Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato

 

Excuses

Enric Vila

One of the significant sources of creativity and conflict is man’s capacity to believe it is possible to forget or to distort memories at will. It is true that memory is selective and that we tend to modulate it according to our interests. However, the propensity to believe we can choose what to remember, and to act as though things had not happened, eventually weakens us and it’s akin to the idea that money can buy happiness.

Freedom does not originate from the ability to bury the pain, but from living through it to transform it into fuel. Conquered countries, as well as conquered people, tend to invent self-righteous narratives until the snowball becomes so big that the speeches collapse. Reality is stubborn and, although sometimes we just buy time to survive, without the temptation of accumulating money and excuses to infinity the television news would not be so entertaining.

Spain is an ideal case for studying how self-righteous narratives take hold of us and end up producing increasingly absurd situations. Right now, as I write this, I see Pablo Iglesias on television. The leader of Podemos has proposed that the Catalan left, masters of selling hot air, should lead the talks to solve the Catalan problem in the event that Pedro Sanchez forms government. Iglesias is astute and, if I did not believe he seeks the destruction of the late 1970’s Spain transition regime, I would think he is a fool.

When the fall of the Western culture becomes subject of study, it will be apparent that the politically correct language has done as much damage to Europe as the American gold did to the Spanish empire. While the American gold created the figure of the starved nobleman that traveled around as though he were a billionaire, the politically correct discourse has buried the traumas of the European nations under a fabulous layer of whims and subsidized good feelings. Now, as excuses and money are getting exhausted, we are just running on drugs. And, of course, some unhealed wounds are reopened.

I once attended a conference given by a Canadian psychologist of Hungarian origin who specializes in addictions. The psychologist explained how the chemical balance of the brain varies depending on our experiences and on what we can do with them. To illustrate how the brain is sensitive to its environment, he explained that his Jewish mother would always say that the day the Nazis came to Budapest all the children in her neighborhood started to cry.

How could the creatures possibly know who the hell were the Nazis, he wondered. They did not know it, nor did they need to know to be marked forever. The children perceived their mothers’ terror and cried. Besides -he later discovered studying cases of abused children- terror altered their endorphins system and blocked the development of specific neural circuits. From the time we are very young, we begin to draw conclusions from the world around us, and the conclusions we draw affect our unconscious and our identity.

That’s how traumas travel from parents to children. That’s how the attitudes get socialized and spread beyond stories told by books. Sometimes, we say with resignation that history repeats itself. It is not that history repeats itself, it is just that the pain that at a given time we cannot transform into love and intelligence comes back calling after a while. Sometimes we have accumulated so many generations of excuses and lies that we do not understand how it relates to us. Then, it is even worse because we are outraged, as when a banker has to claim the debt of a distant relative.

When our identity leans on unsound foundations, when we do not have the strength or courage to carry our loads, the room for maneuver is small, and the disintegration is almost inevitable.


Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato

 

Manuel Valls, the Whitewasher

Enric Vila

Manuel Valls is a whitewasher, a soul beaten by the harshness of the past that returns to Catalonia to bury the dead and to offer a sweet and painless oblivion to the heirs from undigested defeats. Tired of seeing his predecessors fail, the former French prime minister has become a presumptuous facade that seeks solace in the shadows of power.

One of his great-grandparents was buried wrapped in the Catalan flag after insisting, pointlessly, on drafting his last will in Catalan. Another, Agustí Valls, wrote a poem about Rafael de Casanova, recited in a tribute to Rubió i Ors and said to be the origin of the Diada of September 11.

His paternal grandfather, the last owner of the Bank Valls, taught Catalan in secrecy after seeing his business go bankrupt during the Spanish Republic. His musician uncle, whose name was also Manuel, composed Barça’s anthem and the musical score from The Burned City, the best movie by Antoni Ribas, the filmmaker who chained himself at Plaça Sant Jaume to denounce the marginalization of Catalan productions.

His father immigrated to Paris in the late 40’s to succeed as a painter. When Valls became prime minister, the newspapers revealed that at school he was ashamed to mention his father’s trade. His mother was a Swiss architect who spoke Catalan to her children in a difficult time for the language, which struggled to survive the last Spanish dictatorship. It is not difficult to think she was imbued with the intense patriotism that ran in the family.

Despite the Bank Valls failure, his family was never short of resources. His father was a slow-producing artist who avoided easy success, but who could afford to spend hours correcting a line or a bad brushstroke. The former prime minister studied at the best schools in Paris and spent his summers in a modernist villa in Horta surrounded by books. His sister returned to live in Barcelona, where she spent twenty years fighting her addiction to heroin that she had acquired in Paris.

Like many people hurt in their pride, the former prime minister is a practical man, who has lost his sense of transcendence trying to escape from his family burdens. For years, the press would give him the “Sarkozy of the Left” label. Like Carla Bruni’s husband, Valls has cultivated an image of a daring and sexy politician, of Bonapartist resonances. Because he has an unrefined idea of pragmatism, he is a politician who promises more than gives.

At the age of 20, he became a French citizen. At 25, he was already an adviser to the Prime Minister Michel Rocard. Later, he managed the press office of Lionel Jospin, in whose entourage he was considered a Catalan nationalist. In 2001, he was awarded the mayorship of Evry, after buying a flat to present his candidature. Although the municipality was a Socialist fief, during the 12 years he ruled, he multiplied the security and propaganda budget. He also raised taxes to the point that the city still pays some of the highest rates in France.

Like Sarkozy, Valls ended up making a name for himself in French politics as the interior minister. During the presidency of François Hollande, his iron hand rounded off the image he had built of himself as a resolute politician, which is quite revered in disconnected societies, led by elites who are afraid of losing their status. In 2014, a government crisis raised him to prime minister at the height of France’s political collapse.

The arrival of Macron caught him off guard, and he did not have time to escape the collapse of the party system and, especially, the collapse of the statist Left. Eliminated from the race to the presidency by a little-known candidate, in the last elections he struggled to keep his deputy seat to the National Assembly. Without the prestige that power gave him, he began to reveal what he was up to and, lately, he has been looking like a bumblebee trying to get out of a glass jar.

After breaking with his party and being rejected by Macron, he has allowed being courted by Ciutadans, as Sarkozy allowed to be courted by the Partido Popular when the party had not been yet accused of corruption. The growth of the independence movement has given such status to Barcelona that the geopolitics of the War of Succession has once again emerged. Richard Florida had already written a decade ago, in his essay on creative cities, that Paris is wary of the Catalan capital, something that has always been known in the Principality.

Ciutadans has offered Valls to run with their party for the mayorship of Barcelona. Valls is an ideal figure to whitewash the past. He might be tempted to allow himself to be used by the bad guys who are trying to plunder Spain and prevent the world from knowing why the devil Catalonia has gone unnoticed for so many centuries.

Had Valls not been a loser disguised by the system, the implosion of French politics would not have caught him so unprepared. Nonetheless, regardless of what he decides to do, the Ciutadans’ proposal once again places the focus on the old European fracture between the countries that prioritize equality to rob more effectively and the countries that prioritize freedom to promote trade and culture.

Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato.