City of Lies: the fake news that ‘fooled’ the FT – Pt III
This article is a response to City of spies: how the battle for Catalonia divided Barcelona, by Michael Stothard, published by the Financial Times exactly a week ago on Friday 15 June, 2018 and in its translated form in Spanish in Expansión a day later as Barcelona: espionaje y policía secreta en la batalla por Cataluña.
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III – ANTI-INDEPENDENCE ACTIVISTS
The blurred black and white Barcelona nightscape with its diffused lamplight that heads Michael Stothard‘s spy novel prose are designed to be reminiscent of the “intelligence battlegrounds of cold-war Vienna” and present Barcelona as a new global hub of espionage. It is, of course, complete nonsense; nothing more than a writer’s conceit.
The version of events proffered by the five anonymous police officers to the Financial Times (dealt with in Part II – Secret Policemen) is supported by the testimonies of Josep Ramon Bosch and José María Fuster-Fabra, described by the author as an “anti-independence activist” and an “anti-independence campaigner” respectively. These are the gentlemen helping him to reheat the “Independence Plan” narrative and at the same time mysticise the pro-independence movement in Catalonia. Bosch also acts as the journalist’s history teacher judging by the version of Catalan history he passes on.
You need to have contacts at the highest level and be of a favourable disposition to get such interviews. Bosch and Fuster-Fabra are heavyweights of the Catalan unionist right and this is a serious business for them. They are not simple rank and file activists or campaigners. They don’t cut yellow from urban furniture, pull up crosses on beaches, destroy banners calling for the freedom of Catalonia’s “politician prisoners” (the Catalan public media is not allowed to call them “political prisoners”), spit at an “indepe” in the street, barge into an old woman wearing a yellow ribbon, fire air-rifles at balconies with Catalan flags, hurl abuse at any expression of Catalanism, attack Catalan media outlets, assault photographers or threaten violence, although you never know who’s under those hoods.
These men are very well-known and much-feared, represent the Spanish unionist elite, and are close to Spanish nationalist ideologues, politicians and financiers. In the FT piece,however, they are presented as underdogs, as members of a repressed minority. Either the author doesn’t actually know who they are, or he doesn’t believe any of the extensive research that has been done into their backgrounds and affiliations, or this is a strangely timed attempt at a whitewash.
Josep Ramon Bosch is cast as “one of the innocent civilian victims of this clandestine fight” for the surveillance he imagines he has been under. The author has just “proved” the existence of the parallel “Independence Plan” with an anonymous quote from a pro-independence member of parliament from Barcelona in Madrid: “Do you expect us not to fight back?” The unattributed quote also lacks context, but fits the narrative perfectly.
The author casts aspersions on the work of journalists identifying the far-right political pasts of the founders of Societat Civil Catalana (SCC). One such journalist is Jordi Borràs, who has dedicated his professional life to photographing and reporting on the far-right in Catalonia. It is so much more than the “negative press coverage” denounced by Bosch. To know just how superficial Stothard’s assessment of SCC’s far-right links is, read this translation of Borràs’s article Els vincles ocults de l’extrema dreta amb Societat Civil Catalana – The Hidden Links of Catalan Civil Society with the Extreme Right, translated and published by Robin Rooth.
Bosch’s outrage at the “Stalinist” scrutiny of the far-right “civil organisation” which he himself founded, Somatemps, rings very hollow indeed. Spain’s far-right requires constant scrutiny, especially when it comes dressed-up as innocent unionism. To call Somatemps a simple “pro-unity civil-society group” is an interesting obfuscation. More interesting still is that SCC grew out of Somatemps and in the early years struggled to hide this far-right element in public meetings and demonstrations, and on social media.
When the author talks of Bosch as being a simple history teacher and Partido Popular member from a “majority pro-independence family” in the town of Santpedor, he omits to mention his Francoist father’s militancy in Fuerza Nueva (FN). Bosch’s politics are not “a little controversial” because of his PP militancy but because of his far-right connections and ideology. The FT journalist is glossing over and sanitising the complex origins and make-up of these organisations and their support. What is a journalist who has only been in Madrid for ten months going to tell you? What he’s told to is what. Our researcher accepts Bosch’s version at face-value: “Bosch denies that he has any such links.”
Amongst many, many other things there isn’t time to go into now (see links above), the former president of SCC is accused of uploading a homage to Carlist and Fascist combatants to a YouTube account under the name of “Josep Codina” (Bosch’s full name is Josep Ramon Bosch i Codina). The account promoted Hispanic Catalanism, of which Bosch is a leading proponent. Bosch is even believed to have done the voice-overs himself: Josep Ramon Bosch published several videos under the name of Josep Codina as an homage to the Carlist and fascist combatants of the 30s and 40s. Among the other videos uploaded to the account is the shocking “Anticommunism“, a homage to members of the Waffen-SS and Nazism. Bosch was fired from SCC precisely because of these links and the negative image that this would give of the organisation. SCC, like Ciudadanos, has been trying to sanitise itself for years. Now we have the mighty FT giving them a hand.
And if you really want to write a spy story, surely the murky world of the Catalan far-right would be an irresitible ingredient. Why hide it? The highly intelligent ideologues of the Catalan far-right – the historians, jurists and philosophers – make much less of a secret of their nostalgia for the Franco era or their fascist ideologies and, thanks to this sincerity and intelligence, they make for much more interesting reading than City of Spies. To pretend that fascism neither exists nor matters in modern Spain is to know nothing of the country. Spain’s 20th century fascism never went away and its fascists have never been held to account for their crimes. Or perhaps the FT is participating in Spain’s obsessive historical revisionism. It was no surprise that the author’s next piece was a group interview with Josep Borrell, Spain’s Foreign Minister and SCC speaker and supporter, on his desire to silence the “black legend critics”. The “black legend” refers to a supposed “tendency in historical writing demonising Spain and the Spanish Empire, its people and its culture, as uniquely cruel and bigoted“. “Black legend” is now used as a blanket term to describe all criticism of Spain, whether true or not.
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The next “interviewee” is José María Fuster-Fabra, a highly successful Catalan lawyer, described as being ‘from the Catalan far-right‘ by far-right newspaper, Libertad Digital. He has always refused to answer the question of whether José María Fuster-Fabra and José María Torrellas Fuster Fabra are one and the same person, though his denials are mealy-mouthed. In this article by Andreu Barnils, Enrique de Diego, contributor to far-right publications Alerta Digital and Rambla Libre, refers to him as “Torrellas Fuster-Fabra, now known as Fuster-Fabra” and explains his candidature for Blas Piñar’s party, Unión Nacional, which grouped Fuerza Nueva, the Falange Española de las JONS – Spanish Falange of the JONS, and other groups who wanted a return to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. José María Torrellas Fuster Fabra was also the leader of Fuerza Joven, the youth branch of Fuerza Nueva in the 1970s.
A normally private man accustomed to working in the shadows, he is reluctant to talk to journalists about his past or his private life. He is an important and influential member of the Catalan bourgeoisie, as witnessed by his role in the decline and fall of former president of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol. He was the host of the wedding during which a deal was done with the two majority shareholders of the La Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), the Cierco brothers. As revealed by Público, “it was a simple plan: they delivered the data on president Jordi Pujol’s account, despite Andorran legislation that considers the violation of bank secrecy an offense – and in exchange it would paralyze the internal investigations into Banco Madrid (acquired by BPA) for alleged money laundering.” He is a friend, supporter and promoter of Albert Rivera and Ciudadanos, also present at the wedding where the former president’s fall from grace was sealed, by the way.
Fuster-Fabra is by all accounts a very able jurist, but in 2014 he came close to having his doctorate revoked for plagiarism by the University of Barcelona, where he had gained the title and also worked as a professor. During his career he has represented Enrique Rodríguez Galindo – the Civil Guard General, member of State terrorist organisation, Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, Antiterrorist Liberation Groups (GAL) and friend; secret service (Cesid) agents; Julen Elgorriaga; many cases related to the Spanish and Catalan security forces; Mossos union leader, David José; and even co-interviewee, Josep Ramon Bosch himself.
Fuster-Fabra was also one of the lawyers for the Pilar Manjón Association for the victims of the 11 March Al-Qaeda bombing in 2004 in Madrid. To his credit, Fuster-Fabra never bought Aznar and the main Spanish media’s “Eta Massacre” version of events. He is also an outspoken contributor to one of those titles, La Razón. Curiously, our journalist keeps his list of clients to “victims of the Basque terrorist group Eta as well as Catalan police officers and their families”. With such a fascinating figure for a spy story sitting across the table from you, why pretend he’s just a regular “anti-independence campaigner”?
Perhaps one of the most telling lines in this fantastical piece is the acceptance on the part of its author that there is nothing wrong with police surveillance when the target is considered “a threat to public safety”. The Spanish state’s conception of what warrants “a threat to public safety” is anything that threatens the unity of Spain. The pro-independence movement has posed no threat to the physical integrity of even the most rabid unionist, despite the journalist’s repeating of the standard Ciudadanos bleat about “funny looks” being aimed at them. I think those on the independentist side would take the “funny looks” over the extra violence that has been possible since 1 October from either the police or emboldened unionist activists.
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If Bosch and Fuster-Fabra’s tales of surveillance by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the regional police force, turn out to be true, perhaps people should not be surprised. Perhaps we should even be glad that the Mossos have a special group dedicated to the surveillance of extremists. The Civil Guard and National Police are much more interested in pro-independence activists. What Josep Ramon Bosch, José Maria Fuster-Fabra and Albert Rivera would all agree on would be the importance of controlling the police and perhaps, ultimately, the suppression of the Mossos altogether.
In recent times, Spanish unionism has been about responses to Catalanism and the pro-independence movement: Ciudadanos, Societat Civil Catalana, España Ciudadana and the ‘Independence Plan’ represent unionism’s repeated attacks of “anything you can do, I can do better”. Each incarnation is an anti-movement, an attempt to glutinise the Catalan right and attract the unionist left while, at the same time, whipping up anti-Catalan feeling and winning anti-Catalan votes. In fact, SCC have managed to get moderate Catalan unionism to stand shoulder to shoulder with the far-right in defence of the unity of Spain, though not always comfortably. This article represents quite a coup for them in that it echoes their positions with little contrast.
And I’m not saying that Ciudadanos and SCC are fascist organisations: their sparse manifestos are Spanish unionist, pro-business, split on migration (it depends what kind) with a Spanish nationalist bent. Somatemps, however, has a clearly fascist ideology. It is also true to say that many (ex-)members of these far-right groups have popped up as Ciudadanos candidates all over the place. Ciudadanos is the party most often voted for by the far-right, followed by the PP, although now that we have Santiago Abascal‘s openly ultra-nationalist, ultra-Catholic, post-Francoist, neoliberal, Eurosceptic, monarchist and anti-Islamic formation, VOX, on the scene, it will be interesting to see how many votes the mainstream right-wing parties lose to them.
In reality, there is no need for Michael Stothard’s secret policeman to “look left and right” when he leaves a building, unless he’s worried about coming across a group of masked anti-independence activists, these travelling self-proclaimed “brigades” armed with box-cutters and secateurs. And the journalist himself should have no worries either, working as he does for the power and the money in Madrid and London, for a powerful and influential publication, a mainstream media monolith, and now for the Catalan right.
On the other hand, the fear is great among independentists: fear of tweeting the wrong thing, of upsetting powerful people, judges or the police. The “lawfare” strategy has been in full flow since last summer and has been effective. Selected articles of the Constitution, the Criminal Code – rebellion, sedition, the ‘civil security’ or Gag Laws and the hate crime laws in particular – have decapitated the pro-independence movement sending its leadership to jail and targetting its supporters or defenders with trumped-up legal actions. The Spanish state has created a climate of fear in Catalonia with the help of Spanish nationalist volunteers in the media and on the streets.
This is why it is important for for the international media to avoid misleading people, especially those uninvolved, with half-truths, omission, fanciful speculation and propaganda. It’s as if the author were still writing for his Cambridge University paper, Varsity, rather than a major international publication about some of the most important events in modern European history. A year is nowhere near enough to have gained even the slightest notion of the secrets of the independence movement, the Spanish state, Spanish history or the previous Catalan government. Michael Stothard’s overwrought piece has contributed nothing to the debate, sticking as it does to standard Spanish unionist guidelines.