2007 - 2021

Catalan, not Shrubbery

I’m a Catalan.

I’m not an armadillo, or a shrubbery, or for that matter a hair dryer or a 30-feet long Stegosaurus. I was born in a town in the outskirts of Barcelona, ​​and I am and I feel just Catalan. For the same reasons (as the writer Joan Sales said) why an apricot feels like an apricot and not a peach.

I grew up here, next to to the Mediterranean, in a large city that looks towards France and Italy, in the peninsula’s northeast corner, a place with its own language, traditions, a particular mood and a handful of rather irritating folkloric displays.

Yes, I’m Catalan because I’m from here, not from somewhere else. And that’s why it takes me a full decade to make new friends. I like order and punctuality. I do not give a damn if the beer is “well poured” or if they give you “free tapa”. And I believe that God created His green and pleasant land somewhere in the Costa Brava.

I am Catalan and, although fate played an unforgivable trick that prevented me from being British, I soon accepted the situation. Why be bitter about it? I do not feel anything resembling national pride but, of course, if I did it would be a different kind of pride from what a colonial-nation might feel, wanting to enslave natives or forbid languages ​​or institute arcane cults at the drop of a crucifix.

The Catalans feel Catalan in a placid and somewhat parochial and shrug-like manner, comfortable in the role of losers in a couple of wars; an oppressed nation for centuries, but equally stubborn in an ‘oh-well-what’s-for-tea?’ way. They can trample us in many ways, no doubt, they can lift Liberty Valance’s whip again and again, but they will never get a Catalan -or at least a few million of them- to feel Spanish or, for that matter, Venusian or Congolese. You can not feel something you’re not. They cannot force you.

I am a novelist, and I write in Spanish. If you need reasons, I will tell you that Catalan is the language of my parents and my blood and the people I buried, and Castilian the language I adopted through my childhood and teenage novels, my eighties pop music and the shockingly rude jargon of my friends, most of them children of immigrants from Extremadura, Aragón or Murcia (most of these children of immigrants now consider themselves Catalans; not armadillos, shrubberies, etc. You get the image).

I am, like everyone in my country, bilingual by birth, and doubly privileged for it. I speak both languages ​​and change from one to the other without realising it. This, now that we mention it, is the rule in Catalan streets; none of the vile statements that are usually seen in the Spanish media are true. We already know that, according to Spanish TV, Catalan President Puigdemont eats raw Palestinian babies –marinated in their own blood- for breakfast, the CUP have the neutron bomb and intend to use it, and the ANC has just opened a konzentrationslager for people with a Madrid accent.

Look: sorry to bring this up again, but the truth is that if there has been a language imposed violently in this peninsula then it’s Castilian. And that’s fine, I love writing and speaking it and besides we can’t carry on discussing eighteenth century grievances all day: ‘you shat in my well’, ‘that one dishonoured my great-great-grandmother’ and all that. But, alas, that’s how it is. The day that the last Bourbon king said that the Castilian “was never a language of imposition” the entire northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula exploded in laughter. Hey, come on, man. We are not that thick. And we don’t suffer from amnesia. We remember what you did last dictatorship.

I write these words on the independence “procés” for a couple of reasons. The first one is rather childish: everyone else seems to be doing it. People who only know Catalans from the racist jokes seen on Spanish telly circa 1981 (there always seemed to be a money-obsessed, cunning dislikable character with a funny accent back then); patients newly escaped from mental asylums; people recently awaken from a 40-year coma: everyone feels they have the right to write about “secessionism”. Even Donald Trump, for pete’s sake. Why not me then, who at least happens to live here, have been around and don’t have the brain the size of a sultana?

The second reason, as you can very well imagine, are the events of these last days, which have culminated in the anti-democratic repression of 1-O. You have already seen them in the newspapers, and besides I am not a political analyst, so I won’t examine them in depth. But let’s say that one would have to be addicted to medieval dungeon pain to want to be attached unconditionally to a State that acts in the way that the Spanish State has acted towards (against) the Catalan process. After the illegal searches, the coup de facto, the suppression of Autonomy, arrests without court order, intimidation, condescension, savage repression of the vote and, perhaps worse of all, a military police boat with the effigy of Tweety the Bird in our beautiful harbour, how could someone not understand that a few millions of Catalans believe that their long (and ominous) relationship with the Spanish State should come to an end? (and it would be a friendly end, like the best of divorces, with kisses on the platform and joint custody and all the rest).

Perhaps it is the right moment to ask what are the political views of the massive independent current. Nobody in Spain knows, because 1) Their media shows nothing but outrageous lies, 2) nobody has asked the Catalans directly, and, 3) as we have seen, they won’t even let them vote to find out themselves. But, let me tell you it’s not the monolithic thinking of a few weatherbeaten peasants parading with torches under the Arc de Triomf amidst cries of ‘Hang All Spaniards’, as the rightist media would have you believe.

Independence, as I have been able to attest, is an heterogeneous and interclassist (as well as mostly lefty and progressive) massive stream of hopeful (some will say naive) types who believe they can advance more successfully without the chains of a monarchy not only did they never vote for, but that put in place an infamous vulture-faced dictator in his last days, and a constitution more passé than snuff or steam trains, signed by a few scared centrists and wishy-washy socialists under the watchful glance of the new monarch and a few trigger-happy francoist generals.

It is a depressing legacy, to be honest; a most daunting state of affairs. Catalans’ life in this post-transitional Spain feels a bit too similar to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, where two of the last survivors of an apocalypse wake up, day after day, to frost, fatigue and dread. Without a single damn ray of hope on the horizon other than a brief bout of cannibalism. Catalunya rises every morning in a funereal mood, remembering that the bloke with the funny crown will never leave his armchair (apparently his behind is pretty comfy up there), and that the sacrosanct 1978 Spanish constitution was engraved with the Mjolmir hammer in an indestructible piece of Adamantium.

To clarify further: Catalunya does not intend to split like California in Superman III, when Lex Luthor tears if off the continent. There would not be a ditch, a river, or an Elven labyrinth: it will still be here, a couple of hours away by car, just behind Los Monegros, and open-armed as always. The hysterical obsession with the Spanish “union” is reminiscent of the thug who gives you a beastly push in the playground and then says “Don’t run away, man.”

The Spanish State has the “unity of territory” mantra on a loop these days, as if it was something extraordinary and delicious, a freshly baked cake or a summer copulation, perhaps forgetting that under the same motto and, what a coincidence, under an identical red and yellow flag  (at least they could have dyed it up a bit) Franco’s troops (and the Civil Guard) exterminated half of our grandparents. The Dothraki thinks that because he has combed his hair to one side and carries a bouquet of daisies in his hand, and smells a bit less of dung, we will forget the bloody axe behind his back. An axe that, and as it was verified during the referendum on Sunday, is liable to strike faster than you could say ‘Bye bye Spain’.

“Another mad argument that has been heard these last few days from the extreme Unionist side is that we are “being lied to”. By the “catalan nationalist bourgeois”, apparently. The Spanish State is trying to spread the image of a Wizard of CatalOZnia, a vile Dr. Strange-like mesmerist who keeps the population hypnotised with a couple of sim-a-la-bims and ta few Kabbalistic gestures. But the Catalans are not preschoolers; they no longer believe in an enigmatic Daddy Long Legs entity who brings gifts if they behave well.”

Is it so hard to believe that an adult population has come to the conclusion of divorce? The Catalans wanting to separate from Spain only because they have been “deceived” sounds like the argument of the abusive husband who is unable to understand (or accept) that his wife has left him for a young windsurfing teacher, so he goes around spreading the rumour that the former spouse was an anthropophagous halitosic lesbian.

But it’s not that complicated: many of us do not like governments whose head of state is a ruler hand-picked by a fictional deity (“you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you”, as the Pythons said), nor do we believe that a “legality” bound by a constitution as inefficient, biased, geriatric and half-assed (to use the parlance of our times) as that of 1978 should be blindly obeyed. A constitution which protects actions such as those undertaken by the Spanish government this week. Barbaric, totalitarian, blood-thirsty and boastful actions, driven by an irrational and dictatorial “because, erm, I say so” that, I am sorry to say, has not convinced anyone around these here parts.

Quite the opposite: they have pushed thousands and thousands, millions of people, quite agnostic or passive towards independence, to go out and vote. People like little old me, who felt not particularly militant nor inflamed for the Catalanist cause. Because, you know what? Seeing the Civil Guard kidnapping urns has clarified a couple of points in this old mind of mine. A fog has been lifted, as one says. Seeing an invading army crush an election reminds you quite quickly which side you should be on. Because, although I do not feel a great sympathy to the local bourgeoisie nor I am much one for catalan folkloric dances (I’m a child of punk rock) I have realised that, perhaps, anything (and I mean: anything, as long as it does not involve skulls on stakes) would be better than going arm in arm with a boastful, police-driven, antidemocratic, prehistoric and totalitarian State that prevents votes and arrests parliamentarians and attacks citizens and steals urns and enters schools, hammer in hand (sometimes even getting trapped in the gates for comical relief) and, in short, is governed by Cro-Magnon notions of brute force and mental bloody-mindedness that shouldn’t be those of a modern European country.

The Spanish State is not that far removed from its direct predecessor Franco; these last days prove it. The icing of the cake is their continuous, decidedly orwellian, use of the term “fascists” to define independentists, an action as obscene and topsy-turvy and insane as the recent statement by their president Mariano Rajoy that the 800 injured by the spanish Guardia Civil somehow faked their injuries. And the not-that-surprising statement that there were, magically and all of a sudden, after a whole day of peaceful resistance, next to 400 policemen injured. Four hundred? I wonder what the exact nature of said injuries is. Carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive baton smashing in the face of harmless nonagenarians?

And after all this I’ve written I still don’t agree with many, many independentist ideas. I still do not think that the Omnium, the ANC or President Puigdemont speak for me, particularly. I still don’t have, as I said before, any inflamed feelings about my Catalanity. Puigdemont would be “pissing outside the pot” (as Catalans define someone who is out of order) if he assumed that the massive demonstrations against Spanish police repression imply that we are all of a sudden for independence. We are not, at least not in the present scenario. One thing is opposing the rightist Spanish State and its outdated constitution of ‘78 and the other is wanting to go along blindly with an unilateral declaration of Independence. That thing won’t do, and would alienate thousands of people. The referendum must be voted by all, in normal conditions. Everyone should be free to feel as Catalan, Spanish or sea urchin as they wish, and that also implies that hardline independentists must stop thinking that voters for the union are direct descendants of Heinrich Himmler or founder members of the KKK. We do have to listen to all the voices, even the ones that oppose the procés. If all channels of dialogue with the Spanish State have been shut, lock, stock and barrel (by them), we must work so they reopen. We are Catalans: sensible, tolerant, madly organized, slightly domestic and hugely open-minded. Let’s prove it by doing this the right way and not falling for their cheap taunting and bullying. As the british band McCarthy sang a couple of decades ago: Keep an open mind or else.



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Comments (23)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Excellent article.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald. says:


  2. Marga says:

    Great article, Kiko, but just one question – you’re not an independentist, but do you expect the Spanish state as here described to grant a legal referendum sometime soon?

    Like all third-way idealists, I think it may take a few more unproductive years at the quarry face of Spanish unionism to force you to admit that what doesn’t exist doesn’t exist, and that you have to do something else. Hence independentism, a pragmatic if imperfect way to get off the hamster wheel that unionists have created.

  3. BSA says:

    Excellent. A voice of sanity. Many parallels to the Scottish situation.

  4. Alan Bissett says:

    **standing ovation**

    Two comments though:

    “fate played an unforgivable trick that prevented me from being British”

    Mehh, you’re not missing much…

    “an unilateral declaration of Independence. That thing won’t do, and would alienate thousands of people. The referendum must be voted by all, in normal conditions.”

    But surely this week has shown Catalans that Spain will never, ever let you do that? Spanish state repression will only increase until Catalonia gives up all its demands upon its own territorial autonomy. You have tried referendums (twice). The first time Spain ignored it, the second time Spain outlawed it. Without a unilateral declaration of independence you will very soon have no means of protecting yourselves.

  5. MBC says:

    It’s an interesting article but I’m none the wiser for it except that it seems to me that being Catalan in Spain must be very different from being Scottish in the U.K. Until this recent episode the writer seems to be very laid back and relaxed and secure about being Catalonian without having to shout about it. Perhaps it comes from having a strong Catalonian media in their own language and their own political parties which are not found in the rest of Spain. It must give the feeling of a certain relaxed confidence that Catalonia goes on, whatever. In Scotland our culture and identity are marginalised and under constant threat. Perhaps it’s because we are English speaking, Gaelic having shrivelled to nothing, and the Doric not taken seriously. Almost the entire media is against us, and our cultural institutions have been taken over by the English. No Scot has ever headed up the Edinburgh International Festival nor the National Theatre of Scotland. The entire arts and cultural establishment is taken over by the English. It makes us feel very insecure and very lacking in cultural confidence. Scottishness persists, but has been buried deep in our hearts so that we don’t really understand it but we feel it very powerfully being there all the same. There are however ‘Scots’ who don’t feel very Scottish, and don’t fool the rest of us either, but they are a minority. There are Scots who feel Scottish but have a peculiar lingering attachment to the U.K. which is unshakeable. It seems to be something from the imperial past when Scots were partners with the English in building the British Empire. Then shoulder to shoulder during the last war, and in the postwar reconstruction and the building of the British welfare state. These were noble endeavours and it’s natural to feel proud of them. But that was a long time ago, and since 1979 all those past British achievements have steadily unravelled so we are left in Scotland wondering what is there left of Great Britain to belong to or be proud of. Then there are Scots who just aren’t that political and just live from day to day. But I think most of us who do feel Scottish do feel highly insecure about it, and that insecurity breeds quite strong partisan reactions, and I think it must come from our cultural insecurity and cultural domination within the U.K. That, coupled with a strong rejection that the direction rUK has taken since 1979 is what prompts us to want to leave.

    Catalonia would appear to have a different trajectory. In 1979 Spain was emerging from under the yoke of Franco. Things were getting better, more democratic, when in Scotland our unease was just getting worse and worse. But now Spain’s mask is slipping, and it is starting to revert to type. The myth of the Spain is unravelling quicker than the myth of Britain.

    1. Alan Bissett says:

      Without wanting to take too much away from the rest of your argument, the new Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, Jackie Wylie, is a Scot.

      1. MBC says:


    2. R. Eric Swanepoel says:

      What!? Did I understand you correctly, that you think building the British Empire was a ‘noble endeavour’? I agree with most of the other things you say (although Doric is just one of the dialects of the Scots language), but surely, to quote John McEnroe, you cannot be serious? A few seconds of Ecosia-ing (I prefer Ecosia to Google) will reveal a shocking history of genocide, slavery and land-grabbing.

      1. MBC says:

        No, I didn’t mean that I thought building the British Empire was a noble endeavour, sorry if that was not clear. Though at the time, people did believe it was. However to be clear – I don’t think so!

        I meant the fight against fascism during WW2 and the building of the welfare state as part of post war reconstruction, were noble endeavours which helped bond the U.K. together at a time when it was falling apart.

        These later events set in reverse a process of unraveling that was already happening in the 1920s when the National Party of Scotland was formed in 1928. There was concern then in the 1920s that Scotland was getting a raw deal because the economy was failing to revive whilst England’s was. But in fact you can trace dissatisfaction with the union back to the 1850s and the Grant brothers’ Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, and after that the home rule movement of the 1880s until the outbreak of WW1 which Keir Hardie supported.

        In fact there is a long history of challenges to the union, beginning with the first minor Jacobite attempt at rebellion in 1708, quickly followed by the attempt in parliament to dissolve the union in 1712 which failed by two proxy votes! Then there is the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, the 1718 minor rebellion, the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, and various tax rebellions in between.

        I could go on. You catch the drift. There has never been a time when the union wasn’t questioned.

  6. Miguel Gil says:

    Kiko, I am really dissapointed with your point of wiew. I like your books, I have got several of them. You are a very talented writer and columnist. However the reasons you gave to support your ideas seem to me very puerile and hollow.
    Besides, breaking the Law only brings more troubles. Breaking the Law bring us back to the Middle Ages. Nacionalism and populism drive always to the confrontation because these idelogies come from the selfishness, insolidarity, pride and vanity.
    It is sad for me to realice that your thoughts are far from mine.
    Anyway, I´ll keep reading your articles and buying your books although your political ideas are in the opposite corner. All the best. Miguel from Valencia.

    1. MBC says:

      But Rajoy also broke the law, when in 2010 he revoked the statute of autonomy already granted by the Spanish parliament in 2006.

      Up until that point, as Kiko herself exemplifies, independence was a minority opinion in Catalonia, with most Catalonians not that bothered and quite happy to be part of Spain, secure in the fact that they already had a huge amount of cultural independence and sufficient political independence. It was when Rajoy started rowing back on autonomy that the Catalans started reacting against Spanish control.

      Blame Rajoy for the disaffection Catalans now feel.

  7. ED says:

    So that’s it , sit on your bahooky and star gaze!!!!!

  8. Fray Boina says:

    Hola Kiko, como no se te pueden dejar mensajes en tu blog, aprovecho el espacio que me brindan estos escoceses.
    Eres un subnormal como la copa de un pino. Y un mentirosillo en muchos de tus articulos, pero bueno, no pasa res.

    Una abraçada.

  9. Alf Baird says:

    Great stuff, until the end. It should be apparent from the many examples over the last hundred years or so that independence is seldom given by oppressive elites, which does not exactly leave many other options.

  10. Orlando Quarmby says:

    What a mealy-mouthed article posing as taking the moral high ground. People like the author of this piece are an impediment to meaningful change ever happening by their pandering to the idea of playing by the rules set by the entrenched status quo of the established order. Rules which they shift the goal posts of at will. Independence is something which has to be taken – even if that’s against the will of a sizable minority of the colonised who are useful idiots for the colonisers.

  11. Theo says:

    This is nonsense. If Spain trampled Catalunya for so long ( funny how you pretend not to unearth past grievances while spitting propaganda on behalf of the Catalan bourgeoisie. 1714 again? ) why has it become one of the richest autonomous regions in Spain? Catalunya lost two wars? Explain me then why so many people migrated there to get a job since the end of the civil war. Here is some data that might shade light on the repression afterwards, look at the fucking numbers:


    Unfortunately many poor people in Catalunya will overwhelmingly pay the price for leaving Spain.
    ( there is a harsh class divide, don’t you think so?


    Struck to read someone from the far left, as you like to tag yourself , neglecting this core issue.)

    I am sure that no one endorsing the CUP thinks that the famous and pretty ill-understood motto by Adam Smith, “the invisible hand”, bears any resemblance to reality. Well, as we have been seen as of late, it’s started to deal some heavy blows.

  12. Jim Alexander says:

    What we have in Catalunya is a Nationalist Coup – nothing more – nothing less – and Yes its Right Wing – Nationalist – Xenophobic and intolerant but its not in Eastern Europe ans we can shout the word “Franco” and cliam oppression when the state attempts to protect the Constitution.

    For the aviodance of doubt the similiar referendum in 2015 had the exact same result – circa 40% of the electorate voting for independance – now the Spanish Govt should have treated the current one with similiar disdain and not sent in the Gaurdia Civil – lets face it the Catalan Govt control ever lever of Power – State – Media – Police in Catalunya – No democratic Country would ever consider this supposed referendum as a democratic process – however the simple fact was that the stated intention if a Yes vote was achieved was UDI within two weeks

    Anyone who even remotley attempts to compare the Scottish Referendum with this complete and utter sham isnt a democrat

    Spains constitution clearly states No Region can secede – The United Nations Charter Supports this – The EU Supports this the only people backing it is the SNP

    Spain is a democratic – liberal – tolerant state – the Catalan Govt has more power than any other regional Govt in Europe and the Madrid Govt do not interfere on any level

    However the rule of Law must previal -if people think the Gaurdia were heavy handed – History shows that Governments will go a lot further as the Confederate States discovered to there cost

    The Catalan Nationalists have engineered a crisis by an attempted Coup – thats it – nothing more its a Right Wing Nationalist Coup by a Minority against the Majority in Catalunya – if it was South America we would be shaking our heads in disgust at the lack of open democracy

  13. Armadillo says:

    The fall and rise ok Kiko “Bono” Amat.
    The astounding story of an eight catalan grandparents kid, – punctual, open minded, sensible, tolerant- surrounded by spaniards chavs in an inmigrant working class neighborhood. A breathtaking tale about overcoming. A skinhead in Sant Boi de Llobregat, a hardmod in Barcelona, an indie in London, a groupie of a spanish tweepop band (Los Fresones Rebeldes), a successful writer and finally THE REDEMPTION.
    From rage, hate and fighting with punks, heavy rockers an football holligans to see the light, and find another punctual, open minded, sensible and tolerant people. The Nation of Catalonia.
    Don’t miss the last chapter. An overwhelming scene with Kiko teaching Billy Childish to dance Sardana (folky dance) and singin along “In the naaaaaame of Catalonia, what more in the name of Catalooonia.

  14. Fermin says:

    As I was reading your flyer, not an article when facts are wrong, my surprise went higher and higher. What a misleading bigotry. A pity. I cannot make up my mind about you :A loony or a liar?. You should ask to be nationalized British. And vote Bretxit, obviously. And vote Scotland independency and then Ulster and then Welsh and hooray for the tribe!

  15. Jose says:

    Tópicos pueriles y sentimentalismo barato. El fruto de la educación dominante en las aulas públicas españolas.

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