Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash
29 April 2018
Javier Cercas interviewed by Manel Manchón. Part II
A torrent. But after hearing the question, he stops for a moment, a silence he gradually breaks to give way to his reflections. Javier Cercas (Ibahernando, Cáceres, 1962) has written one of the most suggestive books to understand the Spanish transition, The Anatomy of a Moment. The former Catalan president Jordi Pujol, when he gathered the reporters for his long monologues in the Palau of Generalitat, he ended up advising them to read the book. “The transition, you ask? Read Cercas”. Now, the author of The Impostor or El monarca de las sombras is suffering because of the political situation in Catalonia. He is clear about his principles and the diagnosis: “The process can not be understood without the Catalan right and the economic elite of this country”. He thinks that Artur Mas seeked to cover himself, after the assault to the Parliament, in June of 2011. And he had the support of the economic power to pursue a negotiation with the Spanish government that never arrived. Cercas welcomes Crónica Global in his apartment in Barcelona, full of notes, books, notebooks —his space for creation.
As an author, from a sociological point of view, and after your deep analysis on the Spanish transition and the civil war, with books as The Anatomy of a Moment, Soldier of Salamis and El monarca de las sombras, how is the Catalan society experiencing this secessionist process? Is there a will to recreate behaviors from the transition or the Francoism, since there are many elder people at demonstrations and gatherings?
There are many elder people, indeed. The secessionists themselves are aware of that. I think that there are many reasons for that. One is that they have the time, that they feel they did not do enough, not only during the transition, but during Francoism. The anti-Francoists were just a few —Manuel Vázquez Montalban used to say it, when he claimed that all of them could fit in a bus. There is something else, and it is that we underestimate the role of boredom in history. In april of 1968, a French journalist said that Francia was bored, and in May of 1968 the revolution erupts. George Steiner explained it too, with the concept of the “Great Ennui” as a germ for the Great War in the 20th century. There are old people that, at their 65 years, with 20 years of life ahead, they have found a utopia, they bet on a revolution that it is costless for them, because they have their life covered. In the National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, there is a lot of old people. Some secessionists have warned about that, excusing themselves before saying it so nobody is disturbed, but this is a major question: the elders have a leading role in the process.
Specifically, there are many older women at such gatherings wearing the yellow ribbons, with allegations about political prisoners. Why? The secessionist movement says that it is not a surprise, because during the Francoism they were who suffered the most and «moved the country forward».
Maybe there are more women, sure, but it happens to be a fabrication. I explained it in The Impostor. We are prone to sweeten our past. It is a universal phenomenon. They claim that there were no Francoist among the Catalan people. That is an utter falsification of history.
What has happened is a falsification, then?
Yes it is, all powers attempts to that. In order to control the present, the past must be falsified. But our duty, as citizens, is to fight against such falsification. We must show reality as it is, with all its chiaroscuros.
Can it be held that, before the secessionist process, the situation in Catalonia was comfortable, that it had achieved a great evolution, and a possible decline was not taken in consideration?
Actually, that situation of a certain comfort remains, in spite of all. When a leader like Anna Gabriel says that Santi Vila would make a good candidate for a “country of rich, but not a country of poor”, she makes clear that there is not even the slightest sense of reality. She does not know —the most of secessionist do not know— how the world operates, the situation in which each country is. If Europe is a privileged part of the world, all the more Catalonia within Europe. We are probably part of the 3% more privileged in the world. What it fails to be accepted is that the financial crisis of 2007-08 changed everything, in a way comparable to the crisis in 1929. And that this caused a reaction in many places, with Trump in United States or the Brexit in United Kingdom. Without the crisis, the secessionist process would had not arise.
But the view is that we are worse off, and that there were conditions that were going to lead to the current situation, with the unease due the Catalan Statute process, for example.
That is ignoring completely history. In the worst moment of the crisis, we were in the best moment of our history. If you compare it to the situation in 2005, and the subsequent crisis, that is not taken into consideration, of course, because there is indeed a significant decline. But there is a refusal to see the historical perspective. One of the things that worries me the most is the dictatorship of the present we are live in.
Do you mean that everything is read in terms of present?
I do, and it has to do with the media. Its relevance is massive. It has very positive effects, but also has side effects. One of them is the capacity they have to spread the lies, a capacity greater than ever. In fact, I think that the most important task for journalists now is to refute the lies. The problem is that what happened this morning is already the past. And the past is in the archives, which interest to few people, weird people. But without the past, the present can not be understood. I reflect that interest in my books. I do not do historical novels. The past interests me as long as it lives on in the present. It is a present that encompasses the past, as in Soldiers of Salamis. Therefore, when I hear Xavier Trias saying that “We could not be worse”, I say, where is he coming out from? What books has he read to justify that?
We can talk about GDP, and then there are the perceptions. Is that the problem?
The data, in 1975, from the UN, showed that Spain was a backward country, with many problems. Also it was it in 1980, but the evolution has been huge and Catalonia has greatly benefited from that. This, I think, is not a matter of opinion. In order to move forward you need to know where you are. What has happened is a loss of the sense of reality, and the link to truth and reality. Anything can be said and it is considered business as usual.
So do you think there are “truths” to be established in order to settle the political situation in Catalonia?
It is just that there are things that are true. You can not say that Spain is not a democracy, because that is not true.
You discussed in The Anatomy of a Moment how in the Spanish transition, despite all the challenges, things turned inside out like a sock, and Spain became a democracy comparable with that of Europe.
We should be the most critic with our country. Perfect democracy does not exist. A perfect democracy is a a dictatorship. All democracies are perfectible, though. So is the Spanish one, by definition. One of the successes of the separatism —which is the term we should use— in the light of the Spanish government’s passivity is related to the October 1st. It was said that Francoism was still alive. That is madness. The research on the quality of democracy, as the ones produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks Spain among the “full-fledged” democracies in the world. In the 19th position, precisely. And it is said, sure, that it has got down two steps because of the Catalan crisis management. But it is followed by Italy, France, Japan and United States. Are we really saying that those countries are dictatorial regimes disguised as democracies? Spain, in regard to the freedom of speech, is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and one of the most decentralized. This is not an opinion. Again, we should review all the research on the subject, including that of UN. Does it need to perform better? Of course, sure, but you can not lie and say that this is not a democracy.
Are we facing a problem where reason stands to lose? Is it a losing battle?
In the short-term it is. This is a major issue, what about reason? We should be aware that we will not have immediate results. Proust put it perfectly: something that enters the mind irrationally, can not come out of it rationally. And there is an irrational aspect, provoked in recent years, in a superlatively emotional environment. Nothing more dangerous that emotions in politics. And the worst has happened —that we have a country split in half. However, we must keep telling the truth, aware that there is an irrational element. There is a gregarious factor, of following a leader, as it is the case with Puigdemont. And that is the worst thing can happen to a country.
Do you think that the process proves that Catalan society was not so cohesive as it was advertised, that a welded society did not exist, and now it is revealed by distinct identities?
What has happened in Catalonia has been supported by the main centres of power. To say that it was originated in people’s hearts is untrue. The starting date of the process is not the Statute, this is historically false. This is evidenced by the fact that subsequent demonstrations were not so different to the usual. In those years, CiU reaches an agreement with People’s Party. The change comes with the assault to the Parliament in June of 2011. It happened something that Jordi Pujol really wanted, which is the people demonstrating outside the Palau of Generalitat or the Catalan Parliament, because that showed where the power is. But when they did so, they did with massive discontent and anger, as in the rest of Europe. But the Catalan government, that is, the Catalan right, projected an obvious operation, supported by the financial powers, by the economic elite of this country, that joins in, with their man at the head —Artur Mas. This is launched by the process, to avoid any accountability for the economic crisis. The blame is on Madrid, the external enemy, a classic in these cases. And everything just to hide, too, the oceanic corruption, and I insist, an oceanic corruption, with the battered image of the patriarch, Jordi Pujol. The process can not be understood without the support of the Catalan right and the economic elite. The problem is that they did not realize that it is just too easy to take people out to the streets, with feelings and emotions, but it is too difficult to tell them to go back home. Putting back the genius into the bottle is now too complicated, as much as they are trying to.
Which were their actual goals?
The fiscal pact, or an improvement, the negotiations as usual. History always repeats itself. But this did not happen only in Catalonia. It has happened everywhere else. After the crisis, autocratic leaderships arose, like in the aftermath of the 1929 crisis fascism and communism arose as forms of populism. We should recover the words of Bernard Shaw, where he points out that the only thing you learn from experience is that you learn nothing from experience.
But we the Catalans were the most modern, were not we?
We were. And maybe we still are. But it does not keep you from falling into the same mistakes. We should use history to learn, but we do not.