On Burgen’s Arrimadas puff-piece in The Guardian

6 December, 2017

Dear Editor,

I am writing with regard to the piece by your Catalonia-based contributor, Stephen Burgen, entitled Catalonia poll vow: if elected I’ll use first 100 days to unravel independence row (29 November) on the Ciudadanos candidate for the presidency of Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas. Like its author, I have lived in Catalonia for nearly three decades. Unlike him, I have no links to Ciudadanos.

His assertion that Arrimadas ‘may emerge as the leader of a Macron-style government in Catalonia’ justified by their ‘liberal, centrist and pro-European’ common ground is highly questionable if one knows anything about the background and trajectory of Arrimadas and her party. Besides, for this analogy to work, surely the Macron role would have to go to Albert Rivera in the unlikely event of his investiture and installation in La Moncloa in Madrid. The analogy would also equate the pro-independence bloc with Le Pen and suit the author’s main bugbear: Catalanism.

Worryingly, this moderate description was echoed in your editorial The challenge of compromise (3 December) when you refer to ‘the centrist Ciutadans (Citizens) movement’. That the costly repackaging of the Ciudadanos brand should be trumpeted so loudly by your man-on-the-spot, without even the slightest hint of analysis or contrast, and how it has convinced a once sceptical Guardian that prides itself on its independent, investigative journalism is difficult to fathom.

He goes on to say that Arrimadas ‘is the youngest and also the only female candidate to take power…’ [sic]. Her youth and sex are undeniable but irrelevant; declaration of her victory is, however, premature. The elections do not take place until 21 December. I can only assume there was a problem with verb tenses in the edit(s). There is also a problem with his unsourced quoting of poll data. There have been eight surveys since the end of October with results so disparate that drawing too many conclusions or making predictions would be ill-advised for any journalist considering the results of recent elections when contrasted with preceding opinion polls.

The rest of the piece is a translation of excerpts from Arrimadas’ campaign speeches and soundbites interspersed with his hyperbole – ‘for the past seven years [Catalonia] has had little government in any normal sense’), the personal gripes with the Catalan education system he made so clear at a Ciudadanos-sponsored book launch for Mercè Vilarrubias’ ‘Adding, not subtracting’ on 12 June, 2012 – ‘Another priority is… to make English, Spanish and Catalan vehicular languages in primary and secondary education’, a downplaying of the gravity of the situation of the other candidates, including the author’s erstwhile associate at the Catalonia Today newspaper, President Carles Puigdemont himself, whose ‘government found itself either in jail or in self-imposed exile’, and an implication that Catalans not of Spanish descent reject Arrimadas because they are not ‘inclusive’ – because of her Spanish origins – and do so out of racism. I would remind him that President Montilla (born 15 January 1955 in Iznájar, Córdoba, Spain) speaks much worse Catalan than he probably does.

In a piece entitled We are counted, but we don’t count (Somos contados, pero no contamos) published only in Spanish in El País on 24 September, 2015, just three days before the last Catalan elections when pro-independence parties won a parliamentary majority, he proposed a similar theory: ‘Is it really too far-fetched to suggest that there is a link between immigration and Catalan nationalism? After all, we are seeing the same phenomenon – albeit of a different political shade – in many other European countries. The Catalan nationalists are quick to say that the survival of their identity and their language hang in the balance. Do they fear that, after having successfully absorbed millions of Spanish immigrants over the past 40 years, their singular identity is now in danger as they are flooded by sudacas, guiris, moros and chinos?’

Having spent the past two decades working next door to Catalonia’s best known far right leader, Josep Anglada (Fuerza Nueva, Plataforma x Catalunya, etc – Catalan fascist, Spanish nationalist, unionist, racist and anti-independence) and experienced my town’s struggles with high levels of immigration and its own racism, I feel it is remiss of Mr Burgen to fail to mention the Spanish nationalist and unionist nature of Spain’s xenophobic far right groups in general. The recent resurgence of the far right in Spain is clearly related to Spanish nationalism and unionism, and brings with it a heavy dose of Catalanophobia, seemingly the only sentiment capable of uniting much of Spain. Most importantly, he ignores the origins of Ciudadanos, before the facelift that accompanied the backing of powerful players, its undisputed links to the far right and its role as right wing alternative to and, at the same time, supporter of the Partido Popular and the status quo.

The pro-independence movement has tried hard to be inclusive and transversal in terms of origin, class and political persuasion. You would never know this were you to get your picture of Catalonia from the author’s work alone. This piece betrayed Burgen’s well known, but undeclared, gravitation towards Ciudadanos. It also reveals a terrible lack of depth and balance on the part of the Guardian concerning the Catalan crisis.

Yours faithfully,

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