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The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.
While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.
Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.
In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.
Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).
DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE
There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.
Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.
Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.
The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.
One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”. Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.
Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.
Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?
The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.
This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.
Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.
The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.
Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.
WHAT WAS THE POINT?
Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.
One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1 (and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).
There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.
1 El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!
REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Article by El Nacional, independent and pro-independence Catalan newspaper: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/news/global-spain-advertising-campaign-democracy_426827_102.html
The Instituto Cervantes, Dublin: https://dublin.cervantes.es/en/about_us_spanish.htm
CDR Dublin: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/
ANC Irlanda: https://www.facebook.com/IrlandaPerLaIndependenciaDeCatalunya/
With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/