I have been trying to avoid the thorny subject of Catalan independence here but the recent hullaballoo caused by the (supposed) misreading of Agustí Colominas’ words on a television interview last 17 October might be useful to offer an alternative, gendered interpretation of the self-styled ‘procés’.
My personal political opinion is simple enough: Catalan independence should be won in a legal referendum with at least 75% to 80% support for–as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya has recently acknowledged and former Generalitat President Artur Mas also acknowledged–you cannot start a new state with only half the citizens’ support. You risk in this way a terrible split, at worst a civil war (though I doubt this would happen here). The Catalan conflict is not really a matter of Spain versus Catalonia but of how the independentists are trying to rush the political process without a convincing discourse that entices hostile, reluctant or even just indifferent people to their cause. Argue your case with solid ideas, explain how a Catalan Republic would be much better than any top-of-the-world Scandinavian country and then let’s vote. Legally, with UN and EU backing, if not with that of Spain, for who could stop a unified population absolutely convinced of what they want (which is not the case now)?
Colominas’ unfortunate words raised the issue of violence, which had been so far more or less suppressed. I mean mortal violence–much has been said, of course, about the brutal, intolerable use of police repression on October 1st 2017. Allow me to explain that Agustí Colominas is a historian and political theorist attached as major ideologist to Carles Puigdemont’s Crida Nacional, soon to become a formal political party. This is why his words carry so much weight. Speaking on La Xarxa, Colominas was trying to celebrate the fact that Catalan independentism has chosen a pacifist strategy. However, the way he defended this argument was most awkward (or a Freudian slip…): ‘There were a number of naïve steps. No doubt. Above all, if you try to carry out this very Catalan experiment of trying to get independence without a single death’. He was asked whether people should die for an idea and he replied that ‘so far, in all independences in the world people have died. In ours we have decided we don’t want that. If you make that decision, then it takes longer. The process is far longer’.
Unsurprisingly, his ambiguous wording was interpreted as evidence that Colominas was asking for human life to be sacrificed if necessary for the sake of Catalan independence. The reactions on Twitter and other media were furious, including that of Esquerra’s notorious member of Parliament, Gabriel Rufián. Not too elegantly, Colomina twitted back: ‘You can see that Gabriel Rufián possibly does not understand Catalan. I’ll translate [into Spanish Castilian] and simplify: “the Catalan process does not want any dead and this why it will take longer to accomplish our aim”’ (“el procés català no desitja morts i per això portarà més temps aconseguir l’objectiu”). Fair enough and happy to read so.
Now, here’s a nasty surprise–last 24 August, Stanford University professor Joan Ramon Resina (director of the Iberian Studies Programme) suggested in an interview published by VilaWeb that sacrificing Catalan lives could have helped defend the Republic, declared on 27 October but quickly suppressed for lack of internal and external support. Acknowledging that he is speaking from a position of complete safety (he lives in California), Resina describes a terrifying scenario, imagining that the Catalan Parliament could have been stormed and the Spanish State would have used then extreme violence, leading to fatalities. The cost of the “collateral victims” (his own quotation marks) ‘would have been too high for the European institutions’ and, presumably, independence would have followed. Next, he adds: ‘I have trouble understanding those who say that a people’s freedom is not worth a single victim. Great causes have never been won with anaesthesia. Why should freedom be cheaper in Catalonia than in other places?’ (https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/joan-ramon-resina-entrevista-tardor-republicana/).
Here’s the answer: because Catalonia–like all civilized nations–should aspire to being a dignified post-patriarchal nation that respects human rights and lives, and not another patriarchal national aberration, full of pointless violence and bloodshed. Resina’s suggestion that the death of some individuals hypothetically murdered by Spanish police, or troops, could be a desirable event in our history is disgusting, despicable, atrocious and, above all, deeply anti-Catalan. Even Colominas understands that.
I have always wanted to write a book about the gender issues connecting the quadrangle formed by the Basque Country and Catalonia, plus Ireland and Scotland. I won’t do that because I’m too busy dismantling patriarchy in other projects (I’m currently writing about villainy) and, so, I’ll use this post as a sort of summary of my project. I’ll insist here on the central point of my theorization: patriarchy is not masculinity–as we can see, many men reacted in horror after (mis)interpreting Colominas’ words as a call to take up arms and sacrifice life for a political ideal. Theirs is what I would call an anti-patriarchal position, one that defends argumentation and a pacific, legal struggle rather than revolution–for this is 2018, not 1789 or 1917, and we know how bloody revolutions end. So this is what my imaginary book would discuss. Please, bear with me.
If you notice, what characterizes the case of Ireland and the Basque Country is that both had terrorist movements presenting themselves as political organizations for the defence of the homeland (following the chivalric scenario of the knights saving the damsel in distress). Fernando Aramburu’s excellent novel Patria (2016)–now filmed as an HBO series–has done a very good job of dissecting the absurdity of E.T.A., which left in its gory wake 800 dead and hundreds of casualties, in a mad bid to attain the independence of the Basque Country. Today, the independentist option is peacefully represented by legal party Euskal Herria Bildu and growing, following the non-violent Catalan process.
Likewise, the I.R.A. (in its different incarnations and factions) killed hundreds and maimed hundreds more, before surrendering to plain reality and accepting that the Republic of Ireland and British Northern Ireland could not be unified by force. Brexit will perhaps manage the deed, probably with a good share of personal suffering but, hopefully, no loss of limb or life. A woman too often neglected, Mo Mowland, was behind the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998, which brought much needed common sense and placed Sinn Feinn firmly within Northern Irish legality. Of course, another woman, Margaret Thatcher, was responsible for responding to terrorist patriarchal violence with even more patriarchal violence, coming from the state. But, then, this reinforces my notion that patriarchy is not masculinity but a way of organizing society and personal life through fear and violence.
My thesis is that in Ireland and in the Basque Country the independentist, national political struggle was coloured by gender values attached to classic patriarchal masculinity: glory, honour, duty. This is both the basis of militarism and of terrorism, which is why it is sometimes so hard to distinguish heroes from villains (what was Napoleon?). You are probably thinking that women were also part of E.T.A. and I.R.A. and that some are today ISIS supporters. The matter of the poor sex slaves, represented by the new Nobel Prize winner for Peace, Nadia Murad, should make it obvious to you that ISIS is an extremely patriarchal terrorist organization–far beyond any patriarchal European ideology and criminal band. At the same time, you should begin to see that all violence is based on the typical sense of patriarchal entitlement: I kill (or try to kill) you because I personally decide that your life matters less than my struggle, even though by using violence I undermine the justification for my own fight and cause state violence to grow accordingly.
Now, Scotland and Catalonia also had their own patriarchal terrorist movements–but they were small. Scottish author Ian Rankin refers in his novels to the 1950s/1970s proto-terrorist Sword and Shield, but this appears to be his own invention (is it?). The Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA), a.k.a. the Tartan Terrorists, was formed in 1979–after the failed referendum for devolution–by one Adam Busby jr., a convicted terrorist since 2010. Mr. Busby preferred letter bombs and even parcel bombs–in the style of the infamous Unabomber–but does not seem to have caused major human harm. In Catalonia, Terra Lliure, formed in 1978, went much further than SNLA, injuring many in a series of similarly misguided attacks and even killing a poor woman before its dissolution in 1995.
I’m not making the idiotic point that Scottish and Catalan terrorism was less effective (if that is a word that should ever be used in this context) than Irish and Basque terrorism because it lacked committed enough ‘warriors’. The point I’m raising is that both Scotland and Catalonia were and are societies uninterested in political violence of any kind, including terrorism, because the classic patriarchal values are less appealing there and here. The counterargument I give myself is that the British Army (Scottish soldiers were always a mainstay of the Empire) and gang-related street violence, an endemic problem, have absorbed much patriarchal violence in Scotland. Yet, the fact is that the recent referendum and its aftermath have not generated any violent incidents. Catalan nationalists tend to claim that being subordinated to Spain has resulted in a constant need to negotiate and this is why violent confrontation is not part of our society–or the other way round: being mainly a trading nation, we understand the advantages of negotiation.
Let me recap: nations with a deeper patriarchal foundation may be tempted by terrorism and, generally, political violence leading to revolution, whereas nations with a shallower patriarchy (there is no nation with a wholly alternative social arrangement) abhor political violence and will not sacrifice human lives for ideas. The two World Wars, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq, the Balkans War and Syria today have done much to erode the appeal of the glory/duty/honour triad based on bloodshed. Neither in Scotland nor in Catalonia has the craving for independence resulted in personal clashes, or rioting of any kind–though the image of the Catalan police almost losing the national Parliament last 1 October to a horde of violent protesters is certainly worrying.
Now, here’s a problem. Few of the Catalan men and women that were scandalized and appalled by Colominas’ words in the basic, immediate interpretation–and I hope they were 99%, though there are always lost souls–were aware that their reaction was anti-patriarchal, for the simple reason that we are generally ignorant of how patriarchy operates. Patriarchy is not, as radical feminism assumed in the 1970s, a terrorist system established to intimidate women into submission. It is certainly that but also, more generally, a social system based on using violence, against both men and women, to impose its own views.
In Resina’s ugly vision, the Spanish Other is the violent patriarch and the dead would have been part of the gendered discourse of Catalonia as a victimized nation. Yet, this is not good at all: what Resina presents is the case of an abused wife who welcomes her husband’s murdering one of their children because its death will free her… You can see this leads nowhere. A truly anti-patriarchal nation does not put its hopes into the acts of bullies or into male messianic leaders but into the ability of its male and female citizens to renew the jaded, 19th century scenario of national liberation. What is needed is a new approach based on a collective capacity to re-imagine the community as a forward-looking project (not a vague, dreamy utopia). For that, it is important that the men, above all, continue eschewing all violence and embrace an alternative way of being a (Catalan) man.
They are not doing so badly… I only know of one book about Catalan masculinity, the collective volume edited by Josep-Anton Fernàndez and Adrià Chavarria Calçasses, gallines i maricons: Homes contra la masculinitat hegemònica (2004). That wimps, chickens and faggots appear in the title as terms of pride rather than opprobrium says a lot about how unafraid Catalan men are of resisting hegemonic masculinity. Perhaps the strong reaction against Colominas’ words, whatever he intended them to mean, shows that we are now ready to make anti-patriarchal policies absolutely central in our society. My suggestion is that this might be the way to build something truly new, even post-national, to replace the worn-out patriarchal stories we have been hearing for the last two centuries. Just an idea. Scotland, now headed by a woman First Minister, is continuing its non-violent path, as it educates its young men into abandoning street violence. And happily, in Ireland and the Basque Country peace continues.
Some days, I find there is hope for the world. Can we, please, set an example?
I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/