Mario Vargas Llosa Is the Perfect Poster Boy for Spanish Unionism

Last Sunday in Barcelona, the forces opposed to allowing any change in Catalonia’s political status within Spain staged a rally in Barcelona. Given the clear minority position of such hard-core unionists (defined here as people who neither want a vote on, nor a negotiation about, the matter of greater Catalan self-determination) within in the Catalan Autonomous Community, it was necessary to bus people in from all over Spain to bring the rally’s numbers – 350,000 according to the Catalan police – up to anything remotely approaching those achieved in recent weeks and months by the pro-independence forces.

Among the many unionists to arrive in Barcelona from the other parts of the state on Sunday was the Nobel-Prize winning Peruvian-Spanish novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, who stood before the crowd and issued yet another iteration of the critique of Basque and Catalan nationalism that he has been monotonously issuing over the past 25 years.

The stock script goes something like this.

Nationalism is a malign disease that appeals to our most primitive and basic instincts and that is akin, in many ways, to the worst and most oppressive forms of religion. It divides people and leads inexorably to violence. It therefore has no place in modern and developed society like Spain.

He almost always ends his perorations on the subject with a nostalgic look back to the happy years he spent living in Barcelona in the 1960s, writing and frolicking there with his fellow protagonists in the "Boom" of Latin American Literature (e.g. Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso and Gabriel García Márquez) as well as the city’s native-born Gauche Divine.

Back then, he suggests, there was none of the divisive nationalistic thinking we see today. People from all over the Spanish-speaking world lived and worked together in Catalonia within the same cultural coordinates, using the same world-striding Castilian tongue as their prime tool of communication and solidarity.

At first glance, the initial assertions of his well-rehearsed spiel make a lot of sense. Who can deny that nationalism often has a religious subtext? Or that it can often impel people to engage in terrible, divisive and violent actions? Having spent a half a lifetime studying precisely these things, certainly not me.

It is only when we remember that Vargas Llosa delivered his shopworn discourse to a flag-waving crowd that things begin to fall apart.

What flag were the overwhelming number of the assembled people waving on Sunday? It was the current Spanish national flag, which was re-imposed upon the nation in the wake of a brutal civil war (1936-39), a conflict provoked when the country’s oligarchy, working hand-in-glove with the church and key elements of the Spanish army’s officer core, staged a coup against the legally elected Republican government.

If there is any flag in the community of Western European "democracies" that is tied more closely to the irrationality and violence-unleashing capabilities of aggressive nationalism and religious superstition, I do not yet know of it.

With the brief exceptions of the First Republic (1873-74) and the Second Republic (1931-39), the church has, since the Middle Ages, been an integral element of the governance structure of Spain, stoutly supporting the country’s long line of inept kings and their corrupt and often extraordinarily belligerent ministers, not to mention the country’s class of large landholders, at every turn.

When after the civil war, and under this same flag, Franco quite purposefully and tenaciously liquidated at least 300,000 Spaniards whom he considered to be politically and/or socially objectionable (this on top of several hundred thousands more his coup and dictatorship forced to flee or condemned to living in internal exile), the Spanish Church stood completely mute before the spectacle, that is, when its more zealous members were not actively facilitating the carnage by slipping damning spy reports about "undesirable elements" in their localities to the dictatorship’s squads of executioners.

It was under this very same flag – this flag that if we are to listen to Vargas Llosa has nothing to do with "nationalism" and the violence it inevitably spawns, and everything to do with the rule of law – that the last elected Catalan President of the Second Republic was executed by a Francoist firing squad in 1940, a fact that a Spanish government spokesman, Pablo Casado, brought up recently as a helpful reminder about the type of consequences sitting Catalan president Carles Puigdemont might face should he proceed with his plans to declare independence on Tuesday, October 11th.

Normally, of course, a thinly disguised death threat by a government spokesperson against the president of one of the constituent polities of his state would elicit a bit of outrage in the media.

Had Puigdemont or one of his spokesman issued a threat one-eighth as suggestive as this one, there would have been no end to it. And it would have been held up from here to eternity as proof of the inherently violent nature of Catalan nationalism.

But when the spokesman of a government filled with corrupt authoritarians descended overwhelmingly from Francoist families does it, it’s no big deal. Rather, for the mainstream media it’s just another understandable utterance in the government’s ongoing crusade to preserve "democracy" and "the rule of law".

Though he has made a great deal of literary hay describing the tense oedipally-tinged relationship he had with his father and suggesting that his paternal alienation forced him to pull himself up by his bootstraps and make his own way in life, the fact is that Vargas Llosa was born into a very privileged stratum of the then (and in many ways still now) nearly feudal Peruvian power structure. Whether he admits it or not, he is a señorito – the rough equivalent of an upper class frat boy in the US – through and through

Perhaps it is the indifference to the plight of the less fortunate that all too often becomes second nature for those born into privileged castes such as his own that has allowed him to continue to maintain the illusion the Barcelona of the 60s was a wonderful, conflict-free society.

I believe him, in fact, when says that this was his personal reality. To hobnob during the day with people like Carlos Barral, the de facto inventor of the idea of the Latin American Literary Boom and the nexus of an extraordinary group of literary promoters and creators, must have been wonderful. I’ve often wished that I could have been a fly on the wall of his office during those years.

And to spend the night with the sexy and smart cadres of the Gauche Divine, the local jet-set made up, in large measure, from the comfortable children of the city’s Franco-inclined (or at least, Franco-acquiescent) upper and upper-middle classes, must have been a quite trip. From everything I’ve read, a good, taboo-busting, shock-Daddy-with-Daddy’s-money time was had by all.

Apparently, however, it has never occurred to Vargas Llosa that the reason that things were so copacetic for him and his high flying friends – and devoid of pesky and "divisive" things like Catalan nationalism, or the "primitive" drive to place cultural objects forged in the Catalan language at the core of the social system – was that the people holding these attitudes were either: a) in exile b) in jail c) rightfully afraid of expressing these ideas in public or d) flat out banned from doing so.

To ponder these things would have required the great novelist – something that no one I know denies that he is – to engage not just his literary imagination, but also his empathetic one.

For this terminally vain man (who in his late seventies unceremoniously dumped the woman whom he had said repeatedly over the years was one of the absolute keys to his literary success for a well-known high society gold digger) activating this essential human quality was, and is, it seems, a bridge too far.

When confronted some years ago with the need to decide how he wanted to spend his already enormous social capital during his last years on this earth he has never flinched or looked back.

His goal, as his nonfiction writings over the last quarter of a century make abundantly clear, would be to comfort the afflicters, to help those, like him, born near or at the top of the social and national heap maintain the privileges they inherited through sheer luck upon arriving into this world.

You might call it a case of noblesse non oblige.

An in this sense, he is indeed the perfect spokesman for Spanish unionism

Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014).

10 thoughts on “Mario Vargas Llosa Is the Perfect Poster Boy for Spanish Unionism”

  1. Excellent expose of the arrogant Vargas LLosa and how he and other useful idiots are trotted out to do their part for the Fascist regime in Spain.

  2. I agree with the right and the idea of independence for Catalonia. But the description of what was at issue in the Spanish Civil War is so incorrect that it is almost laughable. The Nationalists of General Franco did indeed have the support of the Church, but to say, as this author does, that the Church is the enemy of the Spanish people is beyond ludicrous. But the so called Republicans were supported by Stalin and international Marxism, which was a far, far greater murderer than Franco and his Fascists. People were killed on both sides, but if the Marxists had won the Spanish Civil War the numbers of people murdered would have far, far exceed those murdered by the fascists.
    General Franco, and the Church, saved Spain from communism, and the right thing to do about that is go to Church, and thank God for it. It is astonishing that the friends of Marxism sill have the audacity to defend it, but they obviously do. No thinking person however should be deceived by their utter and total nonsense.

    1. Yeah, those damned ol’ commies with their knowledge of certain issues like Franco having a heavy mailed-fist-without-the-velvet-glove hand in ordering the bombing of Guernica for the Fascistas’ pleasure and profit. Seems some of the commies have some history like the Anarcho-Syndicalist Autonomous Communes have actually not gone broke along with the government subsidized Capitalism, U.S. and British (even during WW2) so-called “free” market support and of course the blatantly capitalist Nazis, Italian and Portuguese and Greek fascists… It seems that Capitalism is the (terminally ill on life support) economic model which can’t succeed with the presence of other models. Has to be propped up with countless wars. The Communes thrive after a century of suppression and outright dictatorship of Franco and his contemporaries and descendants. How many times did Seville and Madrid go bust? I stopped counting. Capitalism has gone bust several times here in the States, mostly because it has to be propped up with continual war. Which costs more money than the conquered nations’ resources can support. Capital in it’s ideal form needs to have resources at it’s base and to the point of always making a profit. If you follow the math you would need infinite resources. And there aren’t any infinite resources. And in the Burst Bubbles or Depressions, Recessions and “market adjustments” are spread out to the population who didn’t get “ownership” of the benefits reaped by the 1%. EXCEPT in the Opt-Out economies of the Communes. The vast gap between the Communes and the Capitalist enclaves is filled with human suffering including death by poverty. It seems the Communes don’t need the endless Imperialist wars propping up petty dictators like Franco, Marcos of the filipinos, the Chiang dynasty in Taiwan, the puppet governments of all the Banana Republics in CentroAmerica and the rest of the world. But the Great and Mighty Capital is so forking weak it DOES need a lot of human blood propping it up. Just a thought, you know.

  3. “The stock script goes something like this. Nationalism is a malign disease that appeals to our most primitive and basic instincts and that is akin, in many ways, to the worst and most oppressive forms of religion. It divides people and leads inexorably to violence.”

    In other words, the stock script is correct as far as it goes.

    1. Good stock script. Now if he’d drop the racism and mind his own business. He’s another far right anti-communist relic that the entire libertarian movement has pushed on the grassroots. He’s not acceptable. Goes in the trash with Charles Murray, George Gilder, and Tyler Cowen as another fraud.

  4. This is a socialist propaganda piece full of disinformation. I see it more and more that failing socialist projects that were reversed by an internal coup get FLAK from red journalists. So Pinochet Chili , get criticism .. Claim is 50000 “murders” in Chili on opposition by socialist journalists. Nonsense, as researchers (Rummel) found out that a mere were 3000 killed , mostly city guerillas. Result of the coup was the richest country in south America under A.Pinochet. The communist coup Cuba the reverse (AT LEAST) 16000 killed and executed ,turning the richest south American country in one of the poorest , with life long dictatorship under the Castro’s.

    In Spain , the civil war the same :a disastrous red tyranny , with a broken economy, with enormous infighting and executions of clerics and the intelligentsia in Bolshevik manner , infighting especially in Catalonia ( George Orwells “salute to Catalonia”) . Indeed .. Spain was saved by Generalissimo Franko from a red tyranny. Catalonia now , has a very very socialist population and that population thinks to get more of the red drug in independence, to finance that.

    Americans “liberated” Germany while Eisenhower murdered 1 million German soldiers that had surrendered, in river death camps (“other losses”-James Bacque) to make its point in the conquest for the sake of one other mans land to rule. “Ike” bombed cities and acted against the Geneva convention where he could . The USA acted against Germany in coordination with the communist Russians who had murdered until that point 50 Million of its citizens by hunger campaigns,executions ,scourged earth tactics, poisoning, slavery and a bad production system . WW2 USA, driven by socialist president Rooseveld who had presided over the longest financial crisis until then. That is the terror initiated and continued by socialists.

    There is a project going on to hide the crimes of socialism.” Information Clearing house” has articles that are completely misleading to historic truth. It does that to hide socialist incompetence and murders. For example: It defends Venezuela where nowadays people die in the streets , beaten up by government thugs and a crime wave in a country with super inflation and nothing on the shelves of the shops: a socialist brother country that must be defended by fellow socialist. The USA did not execute the coup against in 2002 It as is claimed. The coup was successful and internal from anti socialist home grown opposition , but did not get international and trade support from the USA so Chavez was released and could run his country into the ground as is seen now. The USA was also more interested in the self inflicted economic wounds by Chavez in a weak socialist terror state in NE South America. Some articles in Information Clearing house are OK, but read them with skepticism. Even Paul Craig Roberts fell into the trap and echo’s some very faulty information about Venezuela and Chili.

    Keep it simple: Socialism leads to totalitarian systems that start murdering part of their population or will be involved in external wars, with secret methods and suppression of the truth. That was explained by the economist Friedrich Hayek in “the road to serfdom” .

    1. Pre-revolutionary Cuba was only “rich” for the handful of oligarchs who sold out to US interests and the mafia. The country was a stagnant economic backwater fit only for the degradation and exploitation of the majority of its people.

      But thanks for lancing the Spanish pimple. What’s happening there – being castigated as a different kind of ‘nationalism’ from the fascist kind now in power in Spain, is really – to those critics of it – the old ‘socialism’ and ‘anarchy’ that for a brief while ruled Spain – and led to a civil war, not just a coup, that killed far more than died in Cuba and is being reconciled to-day in Andalucia.

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