Interview with one of the great Hispanists and signee of the ‘Let Catalans vote’ manifesto
Paul Preston (1946) is one of the great British Hispanists. With a doctorate in history from Oxford University he has written canonical books on 20th century Spain: from a biography of Franco to a history of the war of 1936, passing through a study on the post-war repression (‘The Spanish Holocaust’). He has also written biographies of King Juan Carlos I and Santiago Carrillo, the historical leader of the communist party. Preston, who can speak Catalan and is an admirer of the work of the historian Hilari Raguer and the novels of Antoni Vives, was one of the foreign figures to sign the ‘Let Catalans Vote‘ manifesto, along with Noam Chomsky and Ken Loach. Last week he presented the English translation of ‘Incerta glòria’ (Uncertain Glory), the great novel on the war written by Joan Sales. The event was held in the British Library in London, but minutes before, Preston attended VilaWeb. He was wearing an insignia of the Spanish republican flag on his lapel and talked about the present political situation and the book.
—You signed the ‘Let Catalans vote’ manifesto. Why did you do this?
—I believe that people have the right to decide on their own future. I signed as a way of expressing my democratic solidarity with people who want to vote, everyone who wants to vote. A decision must be taken after civilised discussion. Until there is permission to vote, there cannot be civilised discussion.
—The English press is highly critical of Rajoy.
—The fact is that everyone sees Madrid’s behaviour as antidemocratic. Until Madrid recognises the need for a vote, public opinion in general … there is rejection of such antidemocratic, narrow-minded behaviour from Madrid.
—The Economist tells Rajoy: let the Catalans vote and we will help you to win.
—Apart from the part that comes afterwards —we will help Rajoy—, this is precisely my position. One of the things that stimulates independentism is the economic situation, but Madrid’s behaviour does too. As long as Rajoy continues to deny the vote, independentism will obviously grow therefore they should start with a legal vote. A legal vote would have what there has not been up to now, a civilised debate like in Great Britain, and with all of this a well-conceived vote could be made. The problem is that at the present time it will always be a vote against Madrid, for reasons I perfectly understand. In other words, in a certain way the PP is to blame for it all.
—How do you think Rajoy will react to the criticisms of the international press?
—I don’t know whether they pay more attention to media like the Cope, Libertad Digital and those extreme right-wing media than to the Times, or to the New York Times. Sincerely I don’t know.
—How do you see Spain?
—Badly off. Very badly off. Now I have enough trouble analysing the past than to want to analyse the future…
—What is the solution for Spain?
—I believe the only solution for Spain in the European context, thinking of the economic conditions, is asymmetric federalism giving a lot of power to Catalonia. But I believe (I don’t know, I am a historian not a futurologist!) that total independence will be very difficult. Maybe in the distant future, but I don’t know.