The worst thing that could happen to Catalonia is for an intellectual to be elected president. I do not mean to imply that Quim Torra’s predecessors did not possess a sharp, superior intellect. Rather, I am referring to the newly-appointed leader’s intellectual standing in recent years. The preceding presidents (Pasqual Maragall, José Montilla, Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont) had all been in politics for some time and their careers required them to tailor their words to suit their election goals. All four —enjoying varying degrees of freedom— used to voice their views whilst being fully aware that anything they might say could be used against them in the lowly arena of political combat. Not Quim Torra. The free hand with which president Torra has penned his writings until now —while his chances of being elected to office seemed remote— was not intended for today’s partisan dialectic and repression.
I have read comments coming from the secessionist camp itself which suggest that this is something we should have considered beforehand, that we should have see it coming and that a different candidate could have been picked. They claim that we have provided the unionist bloc with political ammunition that they are always willing to use in the lowest kind of rough and tumble. I find this surprising. If we adhere to such a perverse logic, we will end up with neutered political leaders who will be mute, expressionless managers of political correctness, a calculating breed of sorts. We should ask ourselves whether we want fighting intellectuals to enter into politics and fill that space with individuals who have thought and dared to speak or, rather, we prefer to elect prefab politicians who rise from the rank-and-file with an immaculately transparent but otherwise hollow personal trajectory.
As a matter of fact, a search will not turn up any articles by Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas that might allow you to criticise her: she has written none. It has all been carefully calculated. However, you will read about her party’s alliances with far-right groups, such as Libertas, and the sort of company they seek to march with in the streets of Barcelona more often than not. But you will not find any articles written by an intellectual who has her own ideas. Not one. Perhaps those who argue that the controversy [surrounding Torra’s election] could have been averted if a different candidate had been chosen would like us to be governed by conveniently deodorised “Clorox” leaders , the kind that would suit any political party at any particular time. Well, not me. And, honestly, I was surprised by some of the people who have made comments along those lines.
Here is my advice to those who have fallen for the campaign staged by Spanish nationalism: read some of the president’s articles that were quoted in parliament [during the election debate]. But read them in their entirety, of course. For instance, the one which Arrimadas used to speak utter nonsense. From the first paragraph, the author warns that he will be using a metaphor inspired by a book he used to read at home as a child, a book where the characters were talking animals. And from the outset he makes it clear that he is alluding to those who hate the Catalan language to the point that they seek its demise. Therefore, it is an article about language killers where Torra uses the animal metaphor to describe people who are filled with a sick hatred for the Catalan language.
When you ignore the fact that the author is using a metaphor —as explained at the start of the article— and he aims to describe those who hate the Catalan language and wish for its death and, instead, you present it as a description of Spanish speakers or people who consider themselves Spanish, obviously from that point onwards every sentence might seem to have been written by Joseph Goebbels. This is the same practice employed by PSC leader Miquel Iceta to slam Torra over an article about the earlier socialists, the socialist breed and its DNA. By taking it out of context and ignoring its metaphoric meaning, Iceta managed to give Torra’s article a whole new meaning. We are talking, my dear friends, about very rudimentary manipulation tactics and I was under the impression that we were past that sort of thing. If you are still in doubt, find Torra’s articles and read them from the top. Or, even better, buy some of his books (I would recommend Honorables, published by A Contravent in 2011) and try to find out what Torra’s actual views are on politics, society and our nation.
Some will still bring up the tweets that Torra deleted and has already apologised about. We would have to see how many Catalans —irked by one of the many attacks against them— have posted comments about “the Spanish people” when, in fact, they meant to say “Spain” or “the Spanish state”. It is not different from making a remark about Americans when you actually mean the US government o the federal administration, or the Japanese, the Germans, the Swedish or whomever, without meaning to slam each and every individual member of those communities. It does not require a great effort to see that Quim Torra was not tweeting about your next door neighbour, who happens to feel Spanish. As with his articles, Torra could not anticipate today’s demagogic squabbles and the start of a political career [when he tweeted those comments]. I know Quim Torra’s sense of justice and how irritating he finds injustice, and that is the context in which I understand his posts on Twitter.
I wrote earlier that there can be no worse news than choosing an intellectual for the office of president (sarcasm mode on) because our opponents prefer to drag parliamentary debate down to the lowest gutter rather than elevate it to excellence. Unionist populism —Rob Reiman suggests we drop the euphemism and call it “fascism”— seeks precisely that: to dispose of all complexities and depth of analysis, discourse and thought; to strip ideas down to their bare bones. There is a deliberate, thought-through attempt to oversimplify, to resort to muddled shouting matches, to take words out of context, to reject irony and any element that might add complexity to language and thought. In this sense, I am surprised that people who write and argue for an intelligent use of language have caved in when faced by this totalitarian, fascistic onslaught.
Furthermore, racism is often in the eye of the beholder. Firstly, because someone who calls an author a racist because he has supposedly written about “Spaniards and Catalans” as two contrasting racial categories is likely the true racist. Who keeps bringing up the place of birth and country of origin of Catalans? Who claims that Torra does not include all Catalans when he speaks about them? Why was [Catalan Podemos leader] Xavier Domènech so uncomfortable when broaching the subject? He was on the campaign trail with Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos’ Spanish leader, when he urged voters who had “parents born in Extremadura or Andalusia” to send Artur Mas home. Who aims to use the place of birth of Catalans for their own ends? When Domènech claims that Spanish immigrants moved to Catalonia in the 1960s to build this nation, not to integrate into it, isn’t he politicising people’s origins? Amid all this, there is the dialectic trap that a sizeable section of the secessionist camp has happily fallen into: a denunciation of the identity debate. Many good reflections have been written on the matter. Sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists and political scientists have done so at length, accurately and scientifically. I will only add that all politics is about identity. Politics is about constantly managing identities. Multiple and all sorts of identities that allow us to exist as social beings. With the exception of dead matter, there is virtually nothing that is excluded from the identification, differentiation and recognition (the three elements which make up the most elementary of identities). To speak of identities is to speak of a struggle for recognition and, therefore, for the occupation of a locus and a power that you can call your own. Identities are not stable, water-tight and permanent. Rather, they are the product of constant evolution, relationships and struggle.
I see our greatest weakness in the reaction by a sizeable section of the secessionist camp. I have been noticing that for some time. It is the ease with which we fall for and surrender to the crassest campaigns by Spanish nationalism. The ease with which we dance to the tune they play. I insist that I am surprised that this should be happening right now. Much nonsense has been uttered in the last few days by people whom I think haven’t read Torra’s articles and books, people who haven’t attended any of the hundreds of lectures he has given in recent years. We should do something about this weakness. The sooner, the better. This, too, is a republican priority.