Sunday, October 14, 2007

La Vanguardia devotes four pages and the lead editorial today to the presence of "Catalan culture" as the guest of honor at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. One article mentions that the whole thing cost the Institute Ramon Llull €12 million, of which €4 million came from the Ministry of Industry in Madrid. The Ministry of Industry spent a total of €12 million in 2006 and 2007 subsidizing Catalan publishing houses for the occasion.

Absolutely disgraceful. The government should not be subsidizing private companies, period. And next time I hear any whining about how the central government in Madrid cares about nothing but putting everything Catalan in its place, I'll point out that this is by far the most money spent on the behalf of any "guest of honor" culture at the Frankfurt fair. For example, when Russian culture was guest of honor last year, they spent about €5 million.

La Vangua is falling all over itself praising this great success, but they let slip that only 2500 people, total, attended any of the speeches or readings or whatever. El Periodico reported last week that the majority of those in attendance were Catalans, and that one of the events attracted zero non-Catalans.

I think this whole expensive wingding was a huge failure. Basically, nobody gives a crap about the whole thing except for the Catalan cultural establishment--and the Catalan cultural establishment got a huge black eye.

Probably the nastiest comment was from the Frankfurter Allegemeine, which said, "Catalan cultural patriotism is becoming impossible to put up with." (Frequent comment I hear around here: "Americans are too patriotic." My standard response: "Am I in Catalonia or am I not?")

From the Times: Appointing Catalonia as Guest of Honour for the Frankfurt Book Fair has caused no end of controversy: the regional government in Barcelona – fiercely protective of its autonomy – decided to invite only authors writing in Catalan, thereby excluding a whole group of popular Spanish-language writers from the region, such as Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind). After a lot of pressure, the government relented, only to have the angry Spanish authors turn their invitations down. The director of the fair, Juergen Boos, said, “We made some calls last week, but nothing happened. It’s very disappointing that the Spanish authors didn’t come, and it’s a pity that this political dispute is overshadowing the Catalan Culture part of the fair.”

From the International Herald Tribune: One of the Spanish-language writers boycotting the fair is Barcelona-born Carlos Ruiz-Zafon, author of the international best-seller "The Shadow of the Wind." He blamed "political commissars who eagerly took over and handled this affair and who decided what kind of image of Catalonia they wanted to project, mostly to their own Catalan constituents, who are the real audience of this whole sideshow, not those attending the fair or the international media."... Ruiz-Zafon told The Associated Press that Catalonia's handling of the fair was "an unfortunate mixture of ignorance about the very nature of the fair and its purpose. Misguided political ambition and bigotry coming from all sides has provoked this discussion."

Another writer who will not be attending is Javier Cercas, author of "Soldiers of Salamis," a hugely successful novel which has been made into a film. Cercas told the Spanish daily La Vanguardia he saw no point in going unless "the politicians responsible make it clear that in the Catalan culture includes two languages" — Spanish and Catalan. Ildefonso Falcones, author of "The Cathedral of the Sea," last year's No. 1 best-seller in Spain, said authorities had decided what the 'official' Catalan culture consisted of without consulting others. The Spanish government and regional authorities have spent €12 million ($16.5 million) promoting the Catalan section — the biggest budget ever spent by any country at the book fair.

From Der Spiegel: The Catalan regional government has hired the Ramon Llull Institute, a cultural organization similar to Germany's Goethe Institute, to stage the exhibit ... But the institute has retained little of its namesake's cosmopolitan approach ... Rivalries within Spain led to heated discussions in the run-up to the book fair. Sergi Pámies, one of the best authors writing in Catalan, declined an invitation to attend the Frankfurt fair, saying that he preferred not to be exploited for nationalist purposes ... It was Volker Neumann, the former head of the Frankfurt Book Fair (from 2002 to 2005), who invited Catalonia, apparently without considering the problematic nature of inviting a linguistic region in which regional nationalism is thriving, more so than in most other parts of Europe.

From Agence France-Presse: Nationalist tensions, never trailing far behind questions of identity in Spain, emerged after the regional capital Barcelona decided that only those who write in the Catalan language may come. Under fire for playing politics, Barcelona -- which is a stronghold of Spain's publishing industry -- changed its mind in June and said all writers who hail from the region were welcome to represent it at the fair.

The U-turn rang hollow for Catalan authors like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who writes in Spanish and scored an international hit with "The Shadow of the Wind", a whimsical mystery set in his native Barcelona. He is boycotting the Frankfurt fair, along with Javier Cercas of "Soldiers of Salamis" fame and Eduardo Mendoza -- known to English audiences mainly for "The Year of the Flood", a heart-rending story of a nun who falls obsessively in love with a landowner ... But Ruiz Zafon has said the writers' polite stance masked their anger at politicians for trying to hijack the event and show the literary world a selective picture of the region that fits their separatist agenda. Albert Sanchez Pinol, the author of the hit thriller "Cold Skin", was initially in the protest camp though he writes in Catalan, but now plans to attend. "It is true that I considered not going but thinking about it I had the feeling that many people would be disappointed and perhaps it would harm Catalan culture," he said recently.

Looks to me like all they gained out of this is criticism from the British, American, German, and French media. Note that the only American story I could find was from the IHT, the European version of the New York Times, and not from any American papers themselves.

You'll also note, if you look at the stories I linked to, that all of them claimed that Catalan was banned under Franco's regime. This is the standard nationalist lie which we have already been through. Use of Catalan was restricted, but not banned. Publication of books in Catalan resumed in 1940, Catalan-language literary prizes were introduced in the 1950s, and by 1962 censorship had been reduced a great deal, and publishing houses that used only Catalan had been established. So maybe the nationalists won something after all, since they managed to spread their version of history in the world press.

However, I don't think anyone who's not in the book business ever read any of these articles anyway.

Bonus: Which blogger and occasional commenter here said the following on Barcelona Reporter's comments page?

As to whether it's right that Spanish language writers are excluded from the invite, I don't have much of an opinion on that. I find it difficult to think of one Spanish or Catalan writer who I've enjoyed reading so as far as I'm concerned, they can invite whoever they like: it'll still be full of fatuous bumpkins.

What utter contempt. And they accuse me of being unfair to Spain and Catalonia! I have said more than once that there are several writers in Spanish and Catalan who I don't like at all, starting with Balto Porcel and going all the way down to Maria de la Pau Janer. But Mendoza, Monzó, Ruiz Zafón, Sergi Pàmies, and Cercas are all worth reading, as are many others. Do any of these folks match the best writing in English? I would say that Mendoza does, and there are at least twenty-five more authors from Spain / Catalonia who are very good.

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