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Nightmare in Barcelona

Does the new Catalan premier Quim Torra, with his savagely xenophobic views, truly represent today’s pro-independence movement?

Javier Cercas

It bears repeating once again, in the hope that by sheer repetition we will finally come to terms with it: Joaquim Torra, the brand new premier of Catalonia, is an admirer of Estat Català, a fascist or para-fascist and secessionist party that set up violent militias in the 1930s with a view to armed conflict; he is also an enthusiastic supporter of its leaders, particularly the notorious Badia brothers, two terrorists and torturers whom Torra has defined as “the best examples of separatism,” as Xavier Vidal-Folch recently noted in this newspaper.

The word “enthusiastic” is not an exaggeration. Barely four years ago, in an article titled “Pioneers of independence” published by the Catalan newspaper El punt/Avui, Mr. Torra wrote the following about Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols! (a current within Estat Catalá spawned from a clandestine paramilitary network): “Now that the country has embraced what they defended for so long, I think it’s only fair to remember them and thank them for so many years of solitary struggle. What a lesson, what a magnificent lesson!”.

All of the above is more or less common knowledge; fewer people know, however, that the party so revered by Torra survived the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime, and resurfaced again during the transition to democracy. The archives of Barcelona’s Autonomous University hold a booklet signed by Nosaltres Sols! that was published around 1980, according to historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal. It contains eight pages of typewritten text written in the Catalan language, and titled “The scientific basis of racism”. The authors reach the following conclusion: “For the above reasons, we consider that the Catalan racial makeup is more purely white than the Spanish one, and hence that Catalans are racially superior to Spaniards.”

I would feel much calmer if the Catalan premier were a fugitive from the Sant Boi mental asylum with a chainsaw in his hands

Any second-rate Nazi ideologue could have written these words if we replace “Catalan” with “German” and “Spaniard” with “Jew.” Is this the magnificent lesson that, according to Torra, all of us Catalans should learn from his beloved independence pioneers? The answer can only be yes, judging by the articles and tweets that Mr. Torra has published during the last few years, and which we have discovered in recent days, much to our astonishment. In them, Spaniards are always described as undesirable individuals deserving expulsion from Catalonia (“There isn’t room for everybody here”, he wrote in 2010 apropos of two Catalan socialists with Spanish surnames).

In his first interview as a candidate for the premiership, Torra made a statement about his xenophobic rants: “I apologize if someone took my words as a personal offense.” Really? Perish the thought! I mean, who in their right mind would find it offensive to be described as a filthy, fascist, violent plunderer as he did with millions of people?

The real question now is: Do Torra’s savagely xenophobic views represent the current pro-independence movement? Is this what lay concealed all along behind the broad, tolerant, open and embracing kind of nationalism that Catalanists preached for so long, and which so many of us believed for years (even if we were not nationalists ourselves)? One can very well understand that Mr. Puigdemont and three or four fools like himself may share Torra’s views. But are those views also endorsed by the PDeCAT, the party born out of the old Convergència once led by the likes of Jordi Pujol, Miquel Roca and Artur Mas? Are they endorsed by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and by the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), two parties that brand themselves as leftist? And if they don’t endorse them, how is it possible that they have just allowed him to become premier with their votes?

It’s not just that Torra does not deserve to be the Catalan premier; he doesn’t deserve to be anyone’s political representative at all, and the Catalan parties that retain a modicum or sanity and dignity should have demanded his prompt resignation as a member of parliament. How long would any Spanish representative have lasted if he or she had written about Catalans the same sort of brutal insults that Mr. Torra wrote about Spaniards? Or if they had expressed enthusiasm for the fascist party Falange, the Spanish equivalent of Estat Català?

How long would any Spanish representative have lasted if he or she had written about Catalans the same sort of brutal insults that Mr. Torra wrote about Spaniards?

That was the part about feelings of disgust and shame. Now comes the part about fear. Because, standing inside the Catalan parliament, and speaking in the name of (but with absolute contempt for) democracy, Mr. Torra has vowed to do exactly the same things that his predecessor did, the things that drove Catalonia to two months of upheaval following a coup unleashed by separatists on September 6 and 7, a time during which the country was split in two and teetered on the brink of civil conflict and economic ruin (a ruin that some economists whisper it will be difficult to avoid: a slow death).

And this xenophobic admirer of a fascist party finds himself in a position to fulfill his ominous promise, because as soon as he is sworn in he will have at his disposal a police force with 17,000 officers, powerful media outlets, a budget running into the billions of euros and the vast resources that Spanish democracy bestowed upon the Catalan autonomous government, in addition to things like the education of thousands of kids. I can only add that I would feel much calmer if the Catalan premier were a fugitive from the Sant Boi mental asylum with a chainsaw in his hands.

Sometimes history does not repeat itself as a farce, as Marx believed, but as a nightmare; this is what is happening in Catalonia now. Torra is right about one thing: for some time now, the whole Catalan nationalist bloc and two million people seem to have embraced the ideas defended in the 1930s by Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols! Most separatists are not aware of this, of course, but it explains why it was possible for Torra to become premier. To put it another way: yesterday we witnessed the ascent to power of those who, since the 1930s and until very recently, had been viewed by mainstream Catalan nationalists as dangerous extremists, if not outright demented.

In these circumstances, I don’t know if it’s even worth asking for help from the Spanish government, since it has not even been able to explain what’s going on in Catalonia to the European public opinion. So I ask for help from the democratic state, from Europeans, from Spaniards and from Catalans of good faith – including separatists of good faith. We need to stop this nightmare.

Javier Cercas is a writer and the author of Soldiers of Salamis.

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