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An interview with exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont

ON 10 January 2016, Carles Puigdemont, a journalist and the mayor since 2011 of the city of Girona, northeast of Barcelona, was sworn in as the President of Catalonia. In assuming office he made abundantly clear that his foremost priority would be arranging a poll on self-determination, characterising his approach a few months later as “Referendum or Referendum”. That is, while he hoped to be able to arrive at an agreement with the Spanish government on holding a binding vote, he would not allow its veto of the idea to stop the Catalan people from organizing such a poll on their own. In the course of 2016 and the first months of 2017, Puigdemont repeatedly approached the Spanish government about organising a mutually agreed referendum. And the Spanish government repeatedly told him that there was absolutely nothing to discuss.

So he readied his government and the Catalan people for a self-administered referendum. Aware that the central government would seek to levy the charge of misuse of public funds against his administration were it to organise the event, Puigdemont left all of the logistics for the vote in the hands of self-funded civil society volunteers.

When the scheduled referendum took place on October 1, 2017 it was met by massive police violence from forces under the control of the Spanish state. Despite the violence and the large-scale confiscation of ballots, the pro-independence forces won a convincing victory. While it is true that many stayed away from the polls either out of fear or principled opposition to the entire process, 43% voted, registering a resounding 92% support of independence. In looking at that turnout number it must also be remembered that a very large number of ballots (some estimates run as high as 700,000) were confiscated by police in the course of their armed raids on the polls that day.

On Friday October 10, 2017, the Catalan parliament declared its intent to separate from Spain. President Puigdemont, however, immediately suspended the declaration in order to open a period of negotiation with the Spanish state. Over the next two weeks the Spanish government publicly and privately reaffirmed its belief that there was absolutely nothing to talk about and made clear, moreover, that it intended to use Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend the Catalan statute of Autonomy and place the region under full central government control.

In the face of this reticence on negotiation and clear threats of further repression the Catalan Parliament met on 27 October, and reaffirmed its earlier Declaration of Independence. Within minutes of this historic event, the Spanish senate voted to impose article 155 upon the Catalan Autonomous region, illegally stretching its mandate to allow the central government to dissolve the Catalan Parliament and set a date (December 21) for new elections.

Over the weekend, Puigdemont returned to his home city of Girona and then subsequently slipped over the French border, eventually resurfacing in Brussels on the following Monday evening, accompanied by six members of his cabinet.

In early November, the Spanish government issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and the other exiled members of his government for the crimes of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Over the course of the next several weeks the Belgian authorities reviewed the order in the light of available facts. When, at the beginning of December, word began to leak out of Brussels that they saw no basis for the alleged crimes the Spanish government swiftly retracted the order to save face.

In the election, to the surprise of almost everyone, the pro-independence bloc slightly expanded the parliamentary majority that it had earned in the last poll in September 2015.

As the head of the independentist list with the largest number of seats, Carles Puigdemont, living in the Brussels suburb of Waterloo, was now the president-elect of Catalonia.

The Spanish government, confident its de facto control of the country’s judiciary, now sought to shackle the independentists with highly creative legal manoeuvres.

In the days leading to Puigdemont’s scheduled January 30, 2018 swearing-in by teleconference— a practice against which no law exists—the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal nonetheless said publicly that they would recommend against it, and that, moreover, they might very well hold Roger Torrent, the President of the Catalan Parliament, criminally liable if he were to go on with the plan. Frightened by the “advice” provided by the high court, Torrent cancelled the investiture.

Two days after the third failed attempt to swear-in the government that the Catalan people had voted for, Puigdemont was arrested while traveling in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein on the basis of a new Spanish extradition request. But just as occurred in Belgium four months earlier, German judges were unable to see any basis for extraditing Puigdemont on the charges of rebellion or sedition.

With time running out on the allotted period for forming a government, Quim Torra, a close Puigdemont ally with no formal role in the previous cabinet, was sworn in as president of Catalonia on May 17, 2018. In his initial remarks in office, he made clear that a) he continued to view Carles Puigdemont as the legitimate president of Catalonia and b) that his goal was to make effective the 2017 Declaration of Independence.

This interview, which has been edited for length took place in what Puigdemont has christened the “House of the Republic” in Waterloo, Belgium. It was conducted in Catalan and subsequently translated into English

TH: In a time of great difficulties and tragedies, why should people in other places, such as my home country of the United States, care about the independence movement in a relatively wealthy part of Spain?

CP: What is taking place in Catalonia is, in fact, the direct outgrowth of two important things that have come to us from the US. The first is the Declaration of Independence which has inspired the desire for, and the justification of, freedom in countless nations over the years. The second is the right of self-determination for all peoples. In this sense, our movement, and what we are asking for, are quite spiritually “American” things. And it is why, when I visited the US, various members of congress demonstrated their support for Catalonia’s pursuit of the right to self-determination.

TH: Is your movement divisive?

CP: We have demonstrated throughout history that the diversity which defines Europe is not necessarily an impediment to, but rather can be an ally of, development of what is now the greatest space of prosperity and also democracy in the world, the European Union, a space defined today by its guarantees for fundamental rights, the welfare state, its dedication to peace, and a balance between countries that once faced each other in wars. All this is derived from a recognition of “the other”.

Another thing worth mentioning, one that explains why we as small and medium-sized states need not tread with fear as we move forward, has to do with globalization, which gives these same small and medium-sized states many of the tools needed to compete successfully with larger states. For example, in the index of the worlds happiest nations which is compiled by the UN on the basis of five or six indicators, eight out of the top 10 countries on the list have the same or less population than Catalonia. “Small is better” (he says these words in English).

We believe that the case of Catalonia is everybody’s business. A retreat from democracy anywhere on the planet affects all of us democrats in the world. This is especially the case within the European Union. I am deeply troubled when democracy recedes in Poland and Hungary. I view it as very much my concern. And I am convinced many Europeans and Spanish nationals are concerned when they see that a member state of the EU like Spain is persecuting people and annulling fundamental rights. Why? Because they understand that, in the end, it will affect them.

TH:You have just mentioned Hungary. I have read many analyses that portray your movement as being similar to that of Fidesz in Hungary and the Lega Nord in the Veneto. What do you say about portrayals such as these?

CP: This is an element of the many narratives about us rooted in falsehoods. In fact, he Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, who is a member of the European Popular Party, which is the sister party of the conservative Spanish Popular Party which initiated the persecution of my government, was publicly thanked by the Spanish government for his strong position against the Catalan independence process. We have been attacked every which way by the European populist parties, starting with the National Front in France. Why? Because all of these populist movements are rooted in a very dangerous form of nationalism. While we are indeed a national revolution, we do not define ourselves in terms of the classic 19th and 20th century forms of nationalism. We represent a challenge to the obsolete concept of the nation-state that these populist nationalisms are trying to preserve, rooted in ideas of one language, one culture, one people, and one identity. It is precisely these ideas that we are calling into question and this, of course, is why we receive these types of attacks and mischaracterizations. Among people that don’t have access to good information, reductionist schemas like this and others like “These people are selfish economic elites that just want to put money in their own pockets” or “These people are against the use of the Spanish language” can perhaps work for a while. But they do not hold up over time. In fact, it tends to have the reverse effect. The people in the Catalan government who have studied the enormous effort that Spain has made to stigmatise the Catalan national movement as a classic populist movement, have come to the conclusion that the effort has failed, which, of course, has called the entire discourse of the state into question.

TH: The spokespeople for the Spanish government have gone to great lengths to repeatedly portray the Spanish state as, they frequently say “a consolidated democracy” with a very high level of legal protections for the citizenry. You have vigorously questioned this portrayal of the respect for basic rights in Spain. Why?

CP: First of all because there are facts that back up the reality of the degeneration of democracy in Spain. For example, the Council of Europe’s Greco Group, a working group that follows political and judicial corruption, has issued two reports that warn quite sternly of the deficiencies of the Spanish judicial system and that allege that it does not meet basic European standards. And of the 11 recommendations for reform made in their first report issued a few years back, not one has been implemented. They were thus forced to issue a second report to the Council of Europe reminding Spain of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights condemning Spain’s violation of fundamental liberties by its sentencing of people who were simply exercising their right to free expression.

TH: Could you give some specific examples?

CP: Sure. A group of young people, independentists, from my home city of Girona were sentenced to years of prison, as well as sizable fines, for having burned photos of the King. Their appeal of the sentence was denied by the Spanish Constitutional Court which affirmed that they were, in fact, criminals! And it was only challenged thanks to the European justice system, which said to Spain “Excuse me, but these people were exercising their freedom of expression. You have violated one of their fundamental rights, without which you cannot speak about democracy”.
Another example is “The Law of Political Parties” under which the Spanish government forced the Basque parliamentary leadership to deprive an independence party that had achieved sufficient parliamentary seats for a place at the leadership table, of its right to occupy those positions. As a result of their failure to accept this, the President and the Vice President of the Basque parliament were subsequently banned from serving in public office. Well, the European Court of Human Rights once again said that this is wrong and not in keeping with democratic practices.

Then there is the case of the torture of the Catalan independentists arrested in 1992 that were denounced by the victims but never investigated in Spain. In 2004, the Spanish state’s failure to look into the crimes was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

There is the imprisonment of Arnaldo Otegi, the Basque politician, for more than six years. Finally this past year, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights found that basic legal guarantees had been violated in his case and that he should have never been sent to prison.

There’s also the case of Valtonyc, a singer who is here with us in Brussels, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison without appeal—three and a half years!—for the lyrics of a song.

All these things are examples of a democratic failure. So clearly we have objective reasons to back the claim that Spain is not a complete democracy.

TH: I know many people in Spain and elsewhere who hold that the solution to the Catalan problem is to be found in a federalist reform of the Spanish Constitution. Why for you and your supporters is this not a viable solution in this moment?

CP: Because it is not true that there are many people in Spain that want this. When they vote, they vote against it. Today in Spain there are many people who don’t even want Catalonia to have the level of autonomy we presently have. What I have said is anchored in electoral data which is the way people express their opinions. What does that data say? That these are bad times for federalism and confederalism. We thus should look at when things were good, that is, when the Spanish federalists had a parliamentary majority. They did not decentralise a thing! The Spanish federalists have governed the country for more years than the conservatives during the last 40 years.

I’ve always said that independence is not the only solution to the Catalan problem. It happens to be my solution and frankly I don’t think we have a better one, but that does not mean that intellectually and politically I am incapable of entertaining other ones. In the end, it is about what the Catalan people decide.

TH: What would you say to the people that say yours is classist movement working in the service of the economic elites of Catalonia? Or even a racist and xenophobic one?

CP: I’d say that the dominant economic class of Catalonia is quite hostile to the idea of independence. Those businesses that decided under political pressure from the Spanish government to move their legal headquarters from Catalonia are precisely the largest and most important ones. Those people that actually come to Catalonia without any outside tutelage and observe the movement realise quite quickly that it is a completely transversal movement that stretches from anti-system ideologies to liberal conservative ones. It has both Christian Democrats and Anarchists. It is a very plural movement, and thus cannot be in any way described as classist.

Another reality, which can be proved by official statistics, is the fact that 70% of all Catalans have a father or a mother, or both, with family origins from outside of Catalonia. This shows that Catalonia is, quite fortunately, not even close to being an ethnic reality! We believe a Catalan anyone who wishes to be one. And there is no one who is excluded from this process.

TH: What about linguistic homogeneity?

CP: The Catalan language helps provide us with cohesion and help gives us a collective identity. But there are, within the culture, a wide variety of attachments to it. It is a vehicle, as I said, of social cohesion and of social integration which, of course has effects on our approach to immigration. In this sense our language policy it is anti-classist because it aims to insure precisely that the traditionally Catalan-speaking elites not be the only Catalan speakers. It has gone from being mostly a vehicle of cohesion for some to being a vehicle of cohesion and democratic participation for many. We have used linguistic immersion to insure that virtually everyone is in a position to express themselves comfortably in both of the official languages of Catalonia (Catalan and Spanish). Other countries have approached issues like this in very different ways. Many have assigned certain students to schools in one language and another group of students in another language in another school. This is precisely how ethnic separation begins. We have always fought vigorously against this risk.

TH: Should Catalonia become an independent Republic will it be a bilingual republic?

CP: It would be a multilingual republic. I believe the Catalan Republic must guarantee the linguistic rights of all its peoples, which are, as I have suggested, quite diverse. I believe that linguistic rights are an integral element of Human Rights.

CP: All of the international observers, and indeed virtually all of the members of the international press corps, have said without exception that the only violence that we saw on 1 October 2017 came from the Spanish police. And moreover, this is all documented. When the trial takes place, we are going to demonstrate that the Spanish police disobeyed a mandate issued by a judge (Carmen Lamela). In fact, in a meeting of my government’s Security Council in the days before the referendum I demanded respect for the decision of the judge who had said that the referendum must be stopped, that is, on the condition that civic peace be preserved in the process. In other words, there was also an internal order saying that violence should be avoided at all costs. But, of course, there was violence, and then some. An explicit and quite demonstrable violence carried out by the Spanish state that was met by peaceful resistance, a stoically peaceful resistance by the Catalan citizenry. They were attacked, but did not respond, showing great forbearance. That day, many European citizens felt shame before the images they were seeing and before the silence of the European states who, having been asked by Spain to look the other way, did so. In the same way that several Spanish political parties averted their eyes.

TH: Just to be clear, are you saying that in the days previous to the referendum, you gave explicit orders to the Mossos (the Catalan autonomous police force) to avoid any possible use violence and to, above all, preserve the civic peace?

CP: The Mossos had the following order: Respect and obey the orders of the judge.

TH: And again, that order was?

CP: To block the celebration of the referendum in order to insure civic peace. In fact, the Mossos seized more ballot boxes than the Civil Guards or the National Police (both under Spanish control) did. But they did not use violence in the process. It was clear that the state wanted to block the referendum. So what else could we have done in that context, being against violence? I can assure you that had someone, or some group, from the pro-referendum side, or any other side for that matter, recurred to violence, the Mossos had the right and the authorization to move against them. But they did not because there was simply no citizen violence.

TH: Can you comment upon the tactics employed by the Spanish State in general, and the current foreign minister Josep Borrell in particular—a member of the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE) and thus a nominal progressive—to block and/or impede the your efforts, and those of the entire independentist movement, to tell your version of events to the rest of the world?

CP: It is rather pathetic that a powerful country like Spain should feel the need place the countering the narrative of a movement with very few resources like our own at the top of it foreign policy agenda. But at the same time, I understand why they are doing it. Because even though we have few resources, we have truth on our side.

Before every single public presentation I make, or anyone involved with the movement makes, there are phone calls designed to pressure the organisers or the sponsors to cancel the appearance. And indeed some have been cancelled. And even when they are not cancelled, they assign someone to get up in the audience and speak against our position. In short, they are doing everything they can so that we do not have a voice. And then there is the pressure on the media to spread fake news (he says this in English) about the Catalan independence process. We could also speak about the deals to place Spanish troops in certain Baltic countries in exchange for silence on the Catalan issue.

TH: Why haven’t more European states backed your cause?

CP: It’s quite normal that this be the case. Spain is their partner in the EU and this they are partners with Spain. We knew from the beginning that the first instinct of any member state of the EU would be to back their fellow partner, or at the very least, not challenge them. We also understand that many of those member states that don’t have the traditions that Great Britain has for resolving such things, are fearful of national phenomena within their borders. France has a tremendous fear of this, as does Italy. Finally, don’t forget that Europe is more a commercial project than a political one and the economic sectors which value stability above all, will never sign on to such a thing. Thus, is not surprising that in Europe there is not a great deal of interest in upholding the fundamental right which is the right to self-determination.

TH: How do you differentiate “nations” and peoples”.

CP: I believe we have a very interesting debate in the offing about what exactly is a nation. We have the classic definition of a group of people conjoined by a linguistic or cultural unity and historical continuity living in a contiguous geographical territory. Catalonia obviously accedes to these basic criteria. But things today have now gotten much more sophisticated because today the creation of identities do not hinge so heavily on language. We are now seeing the development of non-territorial nations, for example, through social networks. Some intellectuals are asking if Google or Facebook can be considered types of nations? What will people say about this in fifty years? In the fourth industrial revolution extra-territorial states may become a reality.

That said, the people-nation or the culture-nation, continues to be a reality, but one in evolution. But this evolution can only take place when there is a solid base, something Catalonia has. Catalonia is one of the historic nations of Europe, with its roots in the Middle Ages. But it has evolved and this has been the key to its survival. As a small nation, threatened by two great nations, France and Spain, both of which have banned its language, Catalonia has adapted, refusing to close in upon itself and cling to fossilised realities from its foundational period. Rather, it has adapted its reality as a people-nation to circumstances in every generation, and often anticipatied the challenges to come. In the nineteenth century, for example, Catalan nationalism was a vehicle of modernization at a time when many nationalisms were organised around the goal of putting a brake on progress and celebrating their past essence. Catalan political nationalism aligned itself with modernity because it realised that this was the best guarantee of the survival of a small nation with built-in fragilities. .

TH: Are you suggesting that Catalonia might, in fact, be in a position to play a leading role in the search for new ways of being a nation in the 21st century?

CP: Without a doubt. This is the only way to understand today’s Catalan revolution. If you try to read it wearing 19th or 20th century “nationalist” glasses, you won’t understand it. The reasons for undertaking this revolution were present for forty years. But during those forty years, virtually no one pursued independence. The economic asphyxiation and the linguistic persecution were all there to see. So why now? It has a lot to do with these new ways of understanding the administration of liberal democracy, and with it, the administration of power in a time of real citizen power. Now every citizen can avail themselves of tools that given them the ability to truly participate in the co-administration or the co-governance of their societies. Today people have enormous access to information and this allows them to participate in their democracies in a much more sophisticated fashion, almost on a par with those in power. The world is much more complex today than fifty years ago. However, liberal democracy continues to treat its citizens as if they were under-aged children, employing a democratic paternalism with citizens who have since grown up and are grasping for power, have their own opinions, and who want to exercise that power. Catalonia has understood that this is the future, and has decided that now is the moment to try and create a truly modern state. Put another way, we don’t want to create a small version of Spain, simply changing the name and the flag and having the same parliamentary system and division of powers. No. If that were the case, we would not be independentists. We want to do something that in Spain is impossible to do: create a truly modern state.

The Council of the Republic is an attempt to get the discussion about institutions and citizenship moving. With it, we are trying to say that “You, as a Catalan are a partner in a cooperative of citizens, in which all are shareholders and all receive benefits of the progress of this community in an equitable non-profit-seeking way”. This is the best way to get people involved in democracy and this is the line of action of the Council of the Republic.

It will be transnational in the sense that we will address ourselves to, and welcome the participation of, all those people in the world that would like to be involved in this project. Who is a Catalan? Ultimately those who wish to be one. This is another disruptive element of our project. Here we align ourselves with the idea, which others, especially the Estonians, have worked on a great deal, which is e-residency. We believe other countries should work toward this. Obligatory concepts of nationality are among the last remaining acts of state violence. You can leave the Euro zone, you can dismiss your particular God, you can leave behind your original sex assignment, you can leave your partner. There’s just one thing you cannot escape from: your nationality. Isn’t it pretty outmoded to have to have a national identity that you don’t want? States should have to deserve the support of their citizens. Ideally, citizens should feel no desire to divorce themselves from their country. Why are there more than 2 million people who want to stop being Spaniards? They don’t feel like Spaniards. In contrast, I don’t know many Swiss who want to stop being Swiss because they have a system that recognises them and empowers them. So this is another task of the Council of the Republic, to spread this new, less closed vision for the future.

TH: Is martyrdom always a key element of national liberation movements? I cannot help thinking in the example of Ireland.

CP: This is a debate we had. And as we engaged in it we asked ourselves how could it be that the only path to have self-determination recognised should have to be through violence, and not the opposite way around. How is that countries that have killed each other’s people have merited international recognition and those that say we don’t want kill are ignored? It should be the reverse. We’re now in the 21st century and the right to self-determination should not have to be the consequence of a violent conflict. That is not the way to resolve things in a modern, peaceful and civilised Europe, full of educated people who travel throughout the world.

In fact, we see the right to self-determination as a tool for preventing conflicts, and our case is an opportunity to demonstrate this. Why do we have to be violent? We have to show that what was the normal path for movements of national emancipation in in the 20th century is not acceptable in the 21st.

TH: What of the role of the judiciary and the Spanish state?

CP: Spain is a monarchy thanks to the decision of the dictator Francisco Franco. And the Law of Succession is a Francoist law. And that fact that Felipe VI is now king is rooted in that Francoist law. And given that the highest representative of the Spanish state is a product of Francoism, it is not surprising that the judicial system draws its inspiration from the same sources and from the same culture.

Judge Llarena is an integral element of the strategy to put the interests of the state above the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of democracy. And he is carrying out his task.

TH: One of historic and more deeply-rooted problems of the Catalanist movement has been the sharp division between its so-called “left” and so-called “right” branches. According to the taxonomies frequent employed to describe Catalan politics, you are a person of the right.

CP: These views are rooted in obsolete a priori notions of politics. Today we have supposedly leftist politicians that practise rightist politics. In the end, one is, ideologically speaking, his or her policies. Some say that the governments of Felipe González were leftist governments. But in fact, his policies were not leftist. Does the fact that they show off the socialist stamp or brand guarantee that they have to be seen as politicians of the left? And in the same vein, can you really say that we are rightists when in fact, we are barred from carrying out allegedly leftist policies? These obsolete ideas are laughable.

TH: But they seem to still have a lot of influence. Is it because of the media’s tendency to repeat them?

CP: To a large degree, yes. Because in Spain the large communication conglomerates have become…

TH: But, doesn’t this also take place in Catalonia?

CP: Because many of the Catalan outlets are part of the same Spanish system. I know people from parties that call themselves leftist that are very conservative. And I know people from supposedly rightist parties that are very progressive in some ways. I like to talk about policies. A government like mine, that levied a tax on bank deposits of those possessing large fortunes, does that make us rightist or leftist? When a government like mine levies a tax upon sugared drinks that bothers the big companies in order to prevent obesity, is this a leftist or a rightist measure? When a government like mine makes a law to guarantee the effective equality of men and women, or when it issues a law to guarantee medical coverage for everyone who lives in Catalonia, including for those without legal status, are these things leftist or rightist? When you levy a tax on nuclear power plants in order to help in the fight against climate change, is that leftist or rightist?

In short, for me it’s always about “the facts” (he says this in English) over propaganda and then to let the people decide. That a person who knows me and knows how I have lived my 56 years, should say that I am a man of the right is merely revealing either their bad faith or a solemn ignorance about who I am.

TH: It seems that the press’s seeming inability to explain the gilets jaunes movement in France in terms of its full complexity might, in fact, be emblematic of what we are talking about. Is there any connection between what is happening there and what is happening in Catalonia? I’m not asking you to come out and say whether you are for or against the movement, but rather how you might explain it. Is it an important phenomenon?

CP: I believe it is an important phenomenon. I can’t say I have a deep knowledge of it, and this being the case, I have not wanted to fall into the trap of making a simplistic judgement. That said, I believe it is demonstrating the failure of both the traditional press and traditional politics. It is rooted in the sense of unease that is sweeping across Europe that in some cases, such as Italy, is expressed in Europhobic and xenophobic terms in groups such as and Cinque Stelle and the Lega Nord, and in the United Kingdom is expressed through Brexit, and I suppose in Catalonia in opposition to our situation of kidnapped democracy, and in France, in many ways, including the Gilets Jaunes. It is a terrain in which one can go fishing for many things, certainly populist movements, but also democratic ones. It is not always simple to know what is what.

TH: Might it be that in the case that France, for various reasons, has a subsoil that is richer in political options? I am thinking here of Naomi Klein’s invocation of Milton Friedman’s words: “In times of crisis, people latch on to the ideas that are lying around”. Could it be that in France there are more disputed political ideas still lying around? And in contrast, in the US that there are fewer disputed political ideas lying around because people with power have worked very hard to make fewer of them available to the average person? In this sense, Catalonia fascinates me in that it seems to have has a very wide range of political ideas lying around.

CP: We have always been very French in that sense. Catalonia has always had a great deal more political plurality in its parliament and political life than in Spain. There, for example, they have never had a coalition government during the last forty years of history. Catalonia, in contrast, has had a number of them. But again, I repeat, I am not a big enough expert on the social phenomenon of the Gilets Jaunes to come to a lot of hard conclusions. This is no longer May 1968. We need to make an effort to understand the multiple types of unrest sweeping across Europe.

Today I read some poll numbers that said that the National Front, now called the National Rally, is the preferred political choice of the French. Yikes! (a very loose translation of the very Catalan exclamation “hosti”). Let’s not be reductionist about it. What is occurring to make people who do not correspond to the typical profile for those political alignments, join them now? It is not enough to insult them.

TH: Might it just be that they have not been offered what they really need?

CP: Of course. This is also true in the case of Trump. Trump is what he is and as a person we might not like him. What how about respecting the people in the society that voted him in? His election has surprised us and profoundly dismayed many people, but we have the duty to try, in a sophisticated fashion, to understand what has taken place. The same applies in the case of Brexit. It is not as simple as saying “They are just anti-Europeans who want to……” What bad things has Europe done to offend the classes who are not from the City of London? The European political class is not understanding these things, and consequently, it is providing all the wrong answers, and are allowing, as we said, opportunists to come along, grab an idea and take advantage of people with it”.


Thomas Harrington is Professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he teaches courses on 20th and 21st Century Spanish Cultural History, Literature and Film.