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“TRIBUNA”: Article de Robert Cohen
I was born in the mid-1960’s in the United States in a comfortable East Coast suburb to a Reform Jewish family. Growing up, my experience of Judaism had included study of the Holocaust and other persecution encountered by Jews throughout our history, but it also was characterized by Jews living prosperously and participating in institutions dominated by Christians without any encounters with anti-Semitism. For my last year of high school, I decided to study abroad in an American school located in Barcelona, which provided an opportunity to live with a local family. That experience exposed me to Catalans who had never fully come to grips with a life marked by defeat in the Spanish Civil War and the humiliation of nearly 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship. It also reinforced a paradox whereby one could enjoy a high quality of life if willing to turn a blind eye to the injustice and persecution that exists in the world.
Several years later, while attending law school in the South of the U.S., I led a large legal aid program providing protection to Mexican migrant farmworkers, which provided me insight into how the powerful often exploit the weak with impunity. Then, as a newly inducted member of the New York Bar, I began my legal career in Barcelona, a city to which I have enjoyed an intimate, personal connection with an ever-expanding group of family and friends of all political persuasions as well as professional relationships among the city’s leading lawyers and politicians.
As I try to give form to the various thoughts I have regarding the Catalan people’s desire for their own state, I have to fight through a wall of indignation which is similar to feelings I experience when entering into debate about other controversial, contemporary issues such as the right for gays to wed, the right for woman to receive equal pay for equal work, the right for Israel to defend itself, and many other rights that seem late in coming or fiercely resisted by those in power, yet once they are established, one asks how it was not always that way. What these deferred rights have in common are the history of victimhood resulting from the unaddressed perpetuation of past discrimination and injustice by those in power. Put another way, if the “bad guys” win, justice arrives late, if at all.
The history of Spain is unfortunately that of the bad guys nearly always winning. This can be hard to understand for an American like me who was educated amidst Hollywood-scripted myths where the cavalry always arrives at the end of the movie to save the day, kill all the bad guys, and have the good people live happily ever after. On the other hand, so many of Spain’s national myths involve casting the “good guys” as the Catholic Castilians who banished the Jews and Muslims (or worse) during the formative period of the Kingdom of Spain and entrenched an ideology of strict dogmatism, and more recently in the 20th century, the Francoists who “saved” Spain from Communists, Anarchists, anti-clericalists, and the disintegration of the Nation into “regions”. Of course, there is also a strong counter-current of genial, anarchic forces, the likes of Cervantes, Goya, Picasso, Miró, Dalí, and Gaudí, who are central to our Modern Western tradition of individual primacy and reaction against dogma, but the swimmers in this current almost always find themselves drowning in the Spanish tide.