In English Voices From Spain

A missed opportunity

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. ‘Una ocasión perdida’ Javier Cercas. El País.

3rd June 2018

The most worrisome aspect of Joaquim Torra’s election as President of the Catalan regional government isn’t for the main representative of all Catalans to be a racist and a xenophobe, or even for him to have been voted in by half of the Catalan Parliament without any of his supporters bothering to condemn his ideas and force him to recant them. No. What is most worrisome (at least to me) is the reaction of a significant portion of the Catalan press and society, who have quickly chosen to ignore, reject or minimize the toxicity of our president’s ideas. In Catalonia, countless institutions, from professional associations to universities, protest daily because there are political prisoners in Spain, despite the fact that reliable international organizations (from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch) say that there is no such thing. Yet not one of these institutions has complained about having a xenophobic president, despite SOS Racisme Catalunya claiming that Torra’s opinions are “dangerous, irresponsible, unacceptable”. In Catalonia we have seen pundits both radical and moderate (those who are separatist among separatists and constitutionalist among constitutionalists) deny that Torra is a xenophobe and claim that it’s all just manipulation by Madrid and by Ciudadanos, and that electing Torra has admittedly been a mistake not because he’s a xenophobe but because his slips can be used against Catalonia by Madrid and Ciudadanos. I have never voted for Ciudadanos, nor do I intend to, and I live not in Madrid but in Barcelona and Verges, a town in the Ampurdan region plagued with separatist flags and graffiti and governed by the CUP, so let us analyse whether this is all mere manipulation.

Let’s take one example among many, a now famous text written by our man and titled Language and the beasts. It was published in El Món, a Catalan-language digital journal, on 19 December 2012, when Torra was 50 years old and his personal and ideological education were more than complete. The article starts with an anecdote: a passenger on a Swiss Air flight departing from Catalonia complains on arriving in Switzerland because the announcements made before landing were in Catalan rather than Spanish, a story Torra uses to attack those who live in Catalonia and turn their backs on the Catalan language. As Torra’s supporters claim, it’s true that in his article he doesn’t attack all Spaniards, nor even all Spanish-speakers–only those, like the Swiss Air passenger, for whom “anything that isn’t in Spanish goes right over their heads”. Now then, what does he have to say about these (numerous, by the way) people? That they are “beasts in human form (…) spewing hate. A perturbed, nauseating hate.”; that they are “vultures, scorpions, hyenas”; that they have “a rough patch in their DNA”; that they give off “the stench of a cesspit”. What is this called? A slip? A controversial statement? The Swiss Air passenger’s complaint may seem disrespectful or uneducated (or not), but does it make him –and those who live in Catalonia ignoring Catalan– beasts in human form, vultures, scorpions and hyenas, lower life forms? If this isn’t pure xenophobia and racism, what the hell is it?

Of course, I don’t want to believe that the institutions and pundits that have denied or minimized or ignored Torra’s xenophobia and racism are themselves xenophobes and racists, just like I refuse to accept that this is the case with every MP that supported his election and with the two million Catalans that voted for them; I won’t even accept that they all believe that we Catalans are so sublime that it’s impossible for any of us to be a racist and a xenophobe. But they have all missed the opportunity of a lifetime to prove once and for all and forever, clearly, unambiguously and adamantly, that they despise anti-Spanish racism and xenophobia and want nothing to do with it. They have failed to do so: they have neither kept Torra from becoming our president nor unreservedly condemned his writings. I wonder why.

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