In English Voices From Spain

Speech delivered by the Spanish Ambassador at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Photo by James Padolsey on Unsplash

By courtesy of the press office at the Spanish Embassy in Washington

Speech delivered by the Spanish Ambassador, Pedro de Morenés.


Your Excellency the President of Armenia,

Your Excellency the Minister of Culture of Armenia

Your Excellency the Ambassador of Armenia,

Honorable President of the Generalitat,

Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, organizers,

Officials, authors, creators, ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to express first of all my gratitude to Secretary Skorton for his kind invitation to participate in this event. Today, we are celebrating the grandeur of Catalan culture in this emblematic city of Washington, D.C. This event only represents a small sample of the wealth of traditions, artistic expression, and other creations of the prolific Catalan people over the centuries. This is because we are in the presence of a culture which goes back more than one thousand years, and which has fed from the traditions of the many peoples who have come together on the Iberian Peninsula; a culture which, due to Catalonia’s privileged geographic position and its openness to the sea, has always had a strong European and Mediterranean influence.

Catalonia prides itself, in particular, on its language, which emerged at the same time as the other Romance languages that spread across the Mediterranean; today, Catalan is a co-official language under the Spanish Constitution, which gives it a singular and privileged status. Today, Catalan is the medium of instruction throughout the educational system in Catalonia, for all compulsory courses, including history, geography, and every branch of science. Moreover, it is the priority language of use in the Catalan public administration.

Catalonia now enjoys the highest level of self-government, freedom, and prosperity of its entire history. The Spanish transition to democracy in the late nineteen seventies created a system called «the Spain of the autonomies», or self-governing regions, making it one of the most decentralized countries in the world—even more so than many countries that describe themselves as «federal». But I do not want to make theoretical digressions or unfounded propaganda. Therefore, I shall turn to the facts.

– The Spanish Constitution of 1978 established a parliamentary democracy of the highest caliber, which, to cite an example, Freedom House has classified as a full democracy, with the highest ratings in terms of political and civil liberties and rights. – The Democracy Index prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit also rates Spain among the top 20 democracies in the world. – Furthermore, we are one of the countries that have received the fewest judgments finding violations in the European Court of Human Rights.

Incidentally, the Constitution of 1978 was approved in a referendum, with 88.54% of the votes in favor, an enormous proportion; what is more, in Catalonia, 90% of votes were in favor.

So, please allow me, with facts and figures, to rectify the propaganda that is being disseminated by Mr. Torra, because our American friends like facts and figures on which to base their opinions.

There are no political prisoners in Spain. I am not merely declaring this myself. This has been stated in reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. There are politicians who, despite being warned repeatedly by their own legal services, decided to twist the parliamentary rules and to contravene Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy and Spain’s Constitution. If free reign were given to exercise politics outside the law—in violation of the law—it would mark the end of democracy itself. And this is why judges take action: to safeguard democracy and the rule of law. That is why there are politicians in prison: because they have broken the law.

In Spain, the previous administration found itself forced to apply Article 155 of the Constitution—known as the coercion mechanism—a provision contained in the constitutions of all of Europe’s federal States. With the support of 80% of the Senate, the administration found itself compelled to take extraordinary measures. Why? Quite simply to restore legality in Catalonia. As a result of the employment of Article 155, Catalan laws were applied by Catalan institutions, and elections were immediately called to vote in a new Catalan parliament. This made it possible to meet outstanding payments, announce job vacancies, rule on appeals, in short, to govern an Autonomous Community with normality, dealing with the real problems of its people.

Mr. Torra, your call for self-determination is not shared on this stage. You would do well to remember that the majority of the people of Catalonia did not vote for secessionist policies. Respect the will of the majority—doing so is a cornerstone of democracy—and govern for everyone, not just for your allies. Because there really are Catalans who do not want independence, who are free and who deserve your respect.

I also wear a ribbon in my heart for the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who live in fear, imprisoned in their own community, for identifying as Spaniards, as well as Catalans. These are the Catalans that the autonomous government ignores, excludes and insults. This, my friends, it’s not how elected leaders should behave in a democratic system.

But we came here to talk about culture. To talk about the cultural and artistic expression in Spain that is born from pluralism, diversity and freedom, and which has fostered an unrivaled strengthening of regional identity, including that of Catalonia. Only within a framework of respect for human rights and freedoms could there be such a blossoming of artistic creativity, respect for tradition, and modernism in the same place.

Because Catalan culture is a source of pride for Spain. Catalonia’s historic contributions, artistic and literary movements, and rich traditions embrace those of other Spanish regions in exchanges that are both age-old and vibrant, giving rise to such forms of expression as the Catalan rumba—which you will be hearing over the next few days—and to a leadership in the fields of art and design, with great names that revolutionized the Spanish art scene of their times: Dalí, Miró or Tàpies paved the way for new creators who have emerged time and again on the shores of the Mediterranean and carried this breath of sea air throughout the Iberian Peninsula. And to the Iberian Peninsula was dedicated the famous Iberia Suite of another Catalan creator, composer Isaac Albéniz.

In the shows, traditions, and events of these days we will observe a common heritage born from a privileged natural landscape – so beloved by generations of my family – where the mountains meet the sea, where Spain opens up to the rest of Europe, and where influences from abroad find a gateway to Spain, as they have done for centuries. Because this heritage of «Catalan-ness» is inherent to our common Spanish history; it strengthens us in the union of our culture and our identity; and it defines us, both as Catalans and as Spaniards.

Enjoy the show and thank you very much for your attention.


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