Some days ago I dined with Josep C. Verges, the son of the publisher of Josep Pla and the magazine Destino. We talked about the difficulty of thinking and writing honestly in this country so infected by propaganda. The conversation turned towards Spanish fascism. I tried to explain the thesis of the book I have published about Pla. Since he knew him personally, I wanted to know his opinion. I said that in my view the moralist Pla, the universal Pla, cannot be understood without the Spanish repression and then Verges added:
-Yes of course. My father who was a well informed person said: «Look how Spaniards have taken away everything from us and there nothing we can do yet we are still here. In the Hendaye meeting Franco did not quarrel with Hitler for territorial ambitions but because he refused to help solve the Catalan Question».
I won’t discuss the statement nor what would have happened to us if Hitler had won World War II nor why did they call us Poles in the period of the Katyn killings. But I do want to point out the importance of this testimonial of the terror and how difficult it fits into the predominant story about the country. When the son of the publisher of Destino, the son of the creator of the Nadal Prize and promoter of the best Spanish writers of the 20th Century (Cela, Delibes, Umbral), remembers this from his father, some more weight should be given than table talk with the coffee.
When I wrote the book about Lluís Companys and the Spanish Civil War, I was astonished with the irresponsible way the officialist version ignored vital elements that would make events understandable. The same when I have written about Pla. How can so many Pla experts read the writer literally at face value as if he had written in a free country? How can a country which has had to say almost everything in a whisper produce historians so obsessed with official statements? In a country so persecuted and oppressed by censorship, which has generated so little writing and what was written often burnt, perhaps more understanding and less bureaucratic and statist methods of knowledge should have been developed.
I did not live through Spanish fascism, but I have grown up hearing stories of fear and small heroisms. I have still experienced threats for speaking in Catalan. I have been told time and again that in Franco’s time newspapers had to be read between the lines. I have also grown up hearing how the dictatorship tried to annihilate the country. Natural would be that all this had coloured our interpretation of the past, and our political and cultural build. On the contrary, despite not reaching the lengths of denying there was repression, it is treated as something independent of any connection to whatever area is studied. Historians act like a doctor telling a patient with a broken leg: “Don’t worry, I will give you some pills for your anxiety and you will see how well you will feel”.
Why is there no course in any faculty about the Spanish repression? Why is it absent in History, Anthropology or Sociology, the main avenues of research on the subject? Why are the few existing studies, for example by Josep Benet and Francesc Ferrer i Girones, so unknown? Why is Spanish immigration so studied and the total loss of territory by farmers around Barcelona so little? Like this it is impossible to construct a balanced and solid knowledge to break the vicious circle we live in after so many centuries. Bernat Dedeu told me some time back that Narcis Garolera’s study about the changes undertaken in Pla’s El quadern gris has found no publisher. Why is he surprised?
(AVUI, 30 April 2009. Enric Vila, historian and journalist, author of El nostre heroi, Josep Pla (A Contra Vent))