OPINION
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Diaries, not memoirs

Politicians ought to make it clear in the prologue of their books whether what we are about to read are their opinions, or information

Politicians who write memoirs ought to make it clear in the prologue whether what we are about to read are their opinions, or information. Because the two are not the same and, served in a mixture, produce indigestion and fatigue. What would be interesting is not their memoirs, in most cases fictitious reconstructions of reality, but their diaries - the simple, naked transcription of what they did, wrote and said on each day when they were governing, and recorded faithfully at the end of the day. It is this nakedness that makes the diaries of the president of the Second Republic, Manuel Azaña, of such interest for our history. This unclothed nature and, of course, the intellectual stature of the author.

Nowadays politicians come heavily swaddled in verbal clothing to their meetings - with the publishers, but not with the public. Because what we have a right to expect are not explanations given to us in books, at 20 or 30 euros apiece, but explanations given in parliament, for free. Some memoirs reach the bookshops with the help of professional writers who make the prose more stylish. A former American president said of his memoirs: "They've told me it's a wonderful book. I must buy it some day." Others do without the style, and get right down to business: that of justifying their performance in government, casting themselves in a heroic role.

We know that heroic roles are not very democratic, or rather, that the heroic concept is a real danger to democracies, and we need to take a critical view of these stories. Heroism, as Victor Klemperer said, is normally something far more desolate, more silent, and more associated with lone resistance than with the defense of ideas that already enjoy general applause. Perhaps the only example of this sort in the several books by Spanish politicians published this month is that which relays the desperate resistance of George Papandreu at the last, terrible European Council he attended. "What more do you want; the Parthenon, the Greek Islands? Is that what you want as collateral?" he said, to the German banks who demanded payment of their credits before their government would accede to Athens' anxious call for aid.

We know that heroic roles are not very democratic, or rather, that the heroic concept is a real danger to democracies

Since the politicians fail to perform this desirable chore of recording things at the moment they occur - not leaving it to the next day when they may be perceived in a different, more benevolent manner - we should at least ask them to vary the monotony of these artificial memoirs by inserting conversations with some interlocutor well versed in their times, whose insistent questioning would make them compose scenarios more true to life. As if they were the unknowing witnesses to a crime and, with the aid of a specialist, might, with their eyes closed, be able to recall what it was the man was shouting as he fell down the elevator shaft.

However, what is most worrying about Spanish politicians is not what they write when they retire: in some cases colorless self-justification, and in others, malevolent self-justification. Far more worrying is what they say when they are active, the exasperating and dangerous statements they continually make, as if they did not care about the consequences of their words, as if they did not see the institutional danger involved. As if to transform all political speech into pure propaganda did not involve a threat to the democratic system, for which there is always a bill to pay. How to disregard it, when in a council of her party PP heavyweight Esperanza Aguirre calls for the prosecution of a judge on the Strasbourg Court? How not to perceive the danger in the answer of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón: "We don't do this, because we can't."

In the future it will be said of these times that it was the average citizen who behaved best. And it will be written that the citizen was repaid with new repression and threats, fewer explanations, and more propaganda.

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