A certain flavor of 1980

Jordi Pujol won by surprise the first elections to the Parliament of Catalonia, on March 20, 1980, with the active support of the Catalan employers' association.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 May 2024 Saturday 22:47
4 Reads
A certain flavor of 1980

Jordi Pujol won by surprise the first elections to the Parliament of Catalonia, on March 20, 1980, with the active support of the Catalan employers' association. The left had just triumphed in the first democratic municipal elections (April 1979). The wave was left-wing in the big cities and the final phase of the Cold War was beginning in Europe. Many people were almost certain that the first socialist secretary, Joan Reventós, would be the new president of the Generalitat, once the Statute had been approved and the great prologue by Josep Tarradellas had concluded, whose return was the result of pressure from the street and audacity. Adolfo Suárez's tactics.

The employers' association Fomento del Trabajo Nacional (today Foment) believed that the new government of Catalonia would be a coalition of socialists and communists (Eurocommunists, to be more precise), at a time when there was a union section of Workers' Commissions in all the workshops and factories in the province of Barcelona. The vote of the province of Barcelona had prevented Suárez's UCD from reaching an absolute majority in the first democratic elections of June 15, 1977. Three years later, the same province of Barcelona dyed red could give the Generalitat to a front of leftists directly connected to the unions. Foment set to work to avoid this and succeeded, with the support of the dynamic employers' association Sefes del Baix Llobregat.

Advertisements in newspapers, radio spots and billboards in cinemas warned against the advent of a Marxist Catalonia. Under the direction of Manuel Milián Mestre, seventy public events were held throughout Catalonia and the Horizonte Empresarial newsletter became an agile polemicist. Carlos Ferrer Salat presided over the CEOE, confronted from the first moment with Suárez, whom he described as “populist.” Alfredo Molinas presided over Promotion of National Work. Catalonia could become a new Czechoslovakia, that was the message. Paradoxically, at that same time, the USSR ambassador to Spain, Yuri Dubinin, maneuvered against the Eurocommunist line of the PSUC, which Moscow considered a betrayal. His main concern was the Italian Communist Party, with 1.7 million members, but they opted for the breakup of the Catalan party (25,000 members) as a first warning. The PSUC obtained 19% of the votes in the March 1980 elections, with the Catholic Josep Benet heading its list as an independent. After a few months, the Party began to fragment from within.

Stories of yesteryear. Stories from grandparents that can shed some light on the current moment, so different and so distant. It would be wrong to attribute the rise of CiU in 1980 to the Promotion campaign, in a mechanical way or from a conspiratorial perspective. Political talent was needed to unite the nationalist vote and part of the Catalan vote of UCD in the first elections to the Parliament and Pujol knew how to deploy that talent. CiU was the most voted party, with 27.8%, five points ahead of the PSC, gaining in advance the complicity of the nationalist Heribert Barrera, then president of Esquerra Republicana (9%), with the sure support of Centristes de Catalunya, by Anton Cañellas, which dropped to 10%. The Andalusian Party of Alejandro Rojas Marcos also joined the party, earning 2.6%. Quite possibly on the night of March 20, 1980, Felipe González and Alfonso Guerra breathed a sigh of relief.

Almost forty-five years have passed and the elections being held today in Catalonia have little to do with those first elections. The past never returns, but history usually makes some circular movements. History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes, they say Mark Twain said. With his seat belt on and the amnesty almost ready, Carles Puigdemont dreams today of emulating Jordi Pujol of 1980: winning the elections or aspiring to the presidency of the Generalitat from second position, forcing the support of ERC.

History advances in spirals, maintained the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who attached great importance to religion and myths. Toynbee considered nationalism and communism to be minor religions that pay tribute to “collective human power.” The communist party no longer exists in Catalonia and the Commons, which could be a distant echo of it, have just lost the mayor of Barcelona. Nationalism may enter a restructuring phase tonight under the rhetorical layer of independence.

History draws circles and these weeks we have seen Foment in action, without an anti-Marxist campaign. Ten days before the start of the electoral campaign, the Foment board traveled to the south of France to meet with Puigdemont. An unequivocal gesture. That day, Salvador Illa, a less naive politician than Joan Reventós, discovered that his pragmatism was not the only bet of the Catalan employers. Foment's gesture drew a northern lights on the horizon of the middle classes concerned about wealth and inheritance taxes, who do not want a Generalitat governed by the social democratic left. All of Europe is moving to the right and Puigdemont, a major protagonist in recent months thanks to the fury of the Spanish right, is offering to channel that impulse, combining it with a perfectly modular independence rhetoric.

Forty-five years have passed, history draws circles and spirals, and Jordi Pujol, at the age of 93, closed the campaign on Friday by announcing in a video that Convergència is back.