Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “La fiesta ha terminado: el fin del consenso nacionalista”. Jorge San Miguel. Letras Libres. 

18th May 2018

We must place in the right place the “invented tradition” of the 131 presidents of the Catalan Generalitat: with stories like those by Robert Howard or Tolkien.

There’s been some controversy about the speech by Guillermo Díaz, a member of the Spanish Parliament, who mentioned on a light-hearted tone the “invented tradition” of the 131 presidents of the Catalan Generalitat (the autonomous parliament), placing it where it belongs: with stories like those by Robert Howard or Tolkien’s ones. We’re not going to waste time here elaborating on the obvious: that the medieval Generalitat was a general deputation, an institution with no relation, neither with the current autonomous administration, nor with the one that existed during the republican period; an institution, the medieval one, devoted to collect taxes for the crown of Aragon; that the alleged “presidents” before 1931, actually ecclesiastical deputies, were not elected as such and had no executive powers; that the tradition, in this case, was invented to give some legitimacy and historic dreg to this newly created administration, with no precedent, inserted in and created by a modern state as it was the Spain of the early 20th Century. By the way, the name was suggested by a Socialist representative, Fernando de los Ríos, to content Macià with a dose of medievalism. All this has been explained ad nauseam, is obvious to anyone with basic notions of political history and can only be deemed controversial because of the strained atmosphere that surrounds any discussion about legitimacies.      

Therefore, the interest doesn’t lie here on that background, that can be hardly doubted, but in what this detail reveals. For three decades, the different agreements, both tacit and explicit, between the Catalan nationalist elites and the national political elites have allowed the construction of discursive frameworks, those created by the Catalan nationalists, that were assumed transversally. The current turbocharged phase of the Procés (Catalan for ‘process’, meaning the ‘road to independency’), since 2012, has only driven to a logical conclusion some of the potential outcomes of the dominant speech.

Reading the newspapers back on those days, we can find the ordinal figures assigned to Tarradellas and Pujol (114th and 115th) in their respective inaugurations in ’78 and ’80. The (non)historic list of presidents of the Generalitat is circulating at least since 2003, and no one will be surprised to learn that his author is Agustí Alcoberro, current president of the separatist ANC. As Quim Coll pointed out in an article in 2015, Artur Mas dared to boast about being the 129th president during a trip to the US, in front of a humble president Obama, that barely reached a 44th. And in the current populist – delirious phase, the fact that men like Puigdemont with his Carolingian obsessions, or that mix between Enoch Powell and George Costanza that is Torra embrace medievalism and atavistic traditions is anything but surprising.

But the long-time existing balances that supported the autonomic pact in Catalonia were blown up definitely during the last Fall. Once the coexistence is recovered, and sadly it looks like we are very far from that moment yet, it will rest upon different balances. Balances that we can’t have a glimpse of but that, undoubtedly, will include a completely new visibility for the positions out of the former Catalan nationalism and more in accordance with its actual demographic weight.

Now it can’t be hidden that the meanings and the symbols will be –actually they already are–, a battlefield. Every idea, every frame, every word, will be fought for, because now there’s someone on the other side that is willing to do it. The 131 fake presidents of the Generalitat are an episode, maybe a minor one, maybe not, of this dispute.