Photo by Fernando Mateo on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. ´Nuestro Jörg Haider´. Rafa Latorre. El Mundo. 

13th May 2018

Quim Torra invites caricature. Newspapers describe him as a stooge, a puppet or a straw man. They say Carles Puigdemont has forbidden him from using his office and labelled his nomination provisional in a humiliating video. It would seem that Torra shares the calling of the corporate yes-man in the Pantomima Full humorous sketches: ‘Yes, yes, I’ve been promoted–conditions are the same, but they’ve given me more responsibility’.

So far, Torra is the person willing to take on the indignity that Elsa Artadi turned down, but history invites caution. There are far too many cases of puppets who eventually broke free of the puppetmaster. One nearby example is Puigdemont himself, a temporary president who ended up becoming a providential leader. More impressive cases include Vladimir Putin, who threw in jail all the oligarchs that had seen him as a fluffy straw man. Presidential office makes a signature powerful, and with power comes the temptation to use it.

Taking Torra seriously is taking his texts seriously, and this is more terrifying than grotesque. His prose is perfectly interchangeable with that of Umberto Bossi, founder of the Italian Lega Nord. He is part of the worst political tradition of Catalan nationalism, which in itself is already saying a lot. This tradition can be traced to the Fuetadas –hate-filled bites, a precedent of sort for tweets– which the designer of the secessionists’ estelada flag, Vicenç Albert Ballester, used to publish in La Tralla in the early twentieth century. He did so under the pseudonym Vic y Me, short for Viva la independencia de Cataluña y muera España (TN: Long live Catalan independence, and death to Spain). Quim Torra’s view of social harmony, politics and life is the same one that allows the ever-sensitive European press to use headlines such as Rise of the far-right when Jörg Haider wins elections in the Austrian state of Carinthia. Both, Torra and the late Haider, share an identical hatred of bilingualism.

In Spain, where the last ethnicist terrorist group has just dissolved, the threshold of tolerance for preachers of hate is quite high, as seen in the cultural and political respectability that nationalism has enjoyed. Jordi Pujol’s view of Andalusians as ‘destroyed beings’ was brushed aside as a mere extravagance, just like Joseba Egibar’s supremacist rants on Basque nationalist holiday Aberri Eguna were dismissed with the recurring line that the message was ‘meant for domestic consumption’. Quim Torra believes Spaniards are filthy, mad, lazy and pillagers. He also believes them to be infectious to the hard-working, responsible Catalan race. Two ideas stand out in his discourse: that nothing falls outside the realm of the nation and that living or being born in Catalonia are not enough to make you Catalan. Torra believes there are two nations coexisting in Catalonia, and that the Catalan one must prevail despite the fact that, using his own criteria, Catalans are a very small minority in Catalonia. These two key notions of his political thought are perfectly condensed in one line from an article he published in an online journal in 2012: ‘When you decide not to speak Catalan you decide to turn your back on Catalonia’. Language is a triumph of the will, just like foreignness is its defeat. Fascism looks a lot like this. Today would be a good day for the European press to dust off the headlines it used to greet Haider.

Torra’s speech during the inauguration vote on Saturday was a declaration of war on the state: ‘We will be loyal to the mandate of 1 October to build an independent state in Catalonia’. Just compare his words on the stand to the speech given by Jordi Turull during his failed inauguration attempt, to gauge the magnitude of the challenge. ‘We will have no excuse not to work tirelessly for the Republic’, Torra proclaimed before offering himself up as a martyr.

Jean-Claude Juncker likes to joke about the most radical figures he has to deal with inside the European institutions. A few days ago he offered the Roman salute to Hungarian leader Orban, introducing him with ‘here comes the dictator’; not much later, he starred in a funny scene with Farage on the steps of the European Parliament. Quim Torra addressed part of his speech to the president of the Commission. Here’s a new member for Juncker’s fun club of fanatics.