Jordi Rosello

Interviewed May 3, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries

My name is Jori Rossellò. I was born in Barcelona the 1952. And I’ve always lived in Catalonia.

What do you identify as your nationality?

I feel, first of all, Catalan. Obviously I feel Catalan, with bonds and ties to Spain, but Catalan. My land is Catalonia and I feel first and foremost Catalan. Furthermore, I feel proud to be Catalan.

How was it when you were a kid and went to school? Where did you learn Catalan?

I started school when I was 4 and there was no Catalan. Not even at home did we speak Catalan. Despite my ancestors on my father’s side are Catalan. But it wasn’t allowed to speak Catalan. I started when I was seven or eight, when my father instilled in us to speak Catalan. That we started to speak Catalan, at least among the siblings.

But I hadn’t learned any Catalan, in school or anywhere else. Even though I could speak it, I learned to write and read it later, when I was 23 or 24. There was then a movement of teachers, named Rosa Sensat, that gave Catalan lessons. At night, the same way I always studied at night, I attended Catalan lessons to be able to write and read. Those were difficult years for Catalan, back then.

Even if you weren’t familiar with it, it was a language that you looked for and identified with. Well, it’s hard to identify with something you don’t know. We must notice that I lived my childhood during a time of silence. Catalan wasn’t spoken, we were all apolitical and at my home, talking about politics wasn’t convenient. My father, if we count, was born in the year 20. When the war starts he is 15, and he goes to fight when he is 16.

He lived the whole fighting. The war is over and he goes to a concentration camp. So, even though during his youth he might have ideals, when he goes back home and forms a family, he’s apolitical. Or, in a way, he’s very disappointed with politicians.

Also, we didn’t talk about politics because it was censored. At home, I mean at home. Because it was something that was better not to mention. It’s later when one starts to notice the prohibition that there existed, the fact that Catalan was then repressed. Then I choose, well, this is what I feel, this is my country and this is my language and culture. So I choose this, my country, to feel Catalan.

You mentioned during your father’s story a concentration camp. When was that?

When the war was over, my father was on the losing side. My father was from the republican army, he was a volunteer in the republican army when he was 16 or 17. When the war was over they go to France. The defeated army leaves to France. Then there they are given the choice of staying in France or going back to Spain. If they go back to Spain, since they were the losing army, they were in concentration camps. My father was taken from the French border in a ‘borreguero’ train to Galicia. In ‘La Guardia’ [lit. The Guard], it was a concentration camp.

He was there for a time until they were able to prove that he had committed no violent crimes. Then he was fred to go back with my grandmother, who back then was alone. But yeah, many ended up in concentration camps.

You’ve mentioned you learned Catalan when you were 23, so that must have been the 75.

Learn. Learn Catalan…That’s from the 75 onwards. Yes, from the 75 onwards, with Franco’s death, after Franco’s death I’m going to tell you. My children started school in Catalan and I noticed that I couldn’t help them with Catalan homework since I had not learnt it. So I became interested in learning it too. So I took night classes to learn to write Catalan. I could read some of it, but not write. This is, of course, after Franco’s death. Catalan was, before, something folkloric but it wasn’t admitted.

And that started as soon as Franco died? Were those the uncertainty years between the 75 and 78?

Those were the so called opening times, the times of change. The time that, for a while, some forces, somewhat clandestine, wanted the fall of the dictatorship. But until Franco’s death the 75, that didn’t happen. It was an explosion of freedom. Reaching levels of culture and freedom that didn’t happen before. Rosa Sensat is a collective of teachers that wanted a Catalan school. They fought for a Catalan school and it grows bigger after Franco’s death. So, I think, 23 or 24 years is when I went to take night lessons to learn to write Catalan. Up until then I hadn’t had it, but my children did. They already had school in Catalan.

We’ve talked about apathy or avoiding politics. When did you start getting involved in political issues?

It should be understood that, in Spain after the war, there was a time of fear. People were afraid to talk about politics. There were no social gatherings or critics. At home, like I said, my father, with the experience and disappointment on politicians he had, he didn’t talk much about his experiences during war in the front. The hardships he endured in war. Curiously, his political idols were dead. Francesc Macià, the first president of the ‘Generalitat’ who proclaimed it. And Durruti, who was an anarchist leader. Both were dead.

I think that many others, like my father, were disappointed during the war. Then there was no talk about politics. I got worried about politics and another way to live out of duty towards my children. Thinking, what society am I going to leave my children? I noticed that there were no freedoms, not enough freedoms here. That’s when I took a political stance. Before Franco’s death, there was a worrying that I didn’t fully understand why there were no freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of demonstration, freedom of opinion, freedom of language. Then, you see it and you take a stance.

Those heroes of your father, why them?

When my father was 16, he went to war affiliated with CNT. So you could suppose he had anarchist ideas or that in a way agreed with it. Durruti was an anarchist leader, but he died during the war. And Francesc Macià died before the war, but he was the one to proclaim the first Catalan Republic, that is, independence.

So, both died. And this is what I make of it: they didn’t have time for my father to get disappointed on their acts. There were other leaders, Negrin, Largo Caballero, other political leaders during the fight but I think my father got disappointed. The way they acted politically and how it ended. With the defeat of a democratically chosen government. I think there was big disappointment, in general.

Was the republic time talked about at your home?

Not often. It wasn’t talked about often, and not very positively. The message wasn’t positive. I suppose that before and during the war, the riots were… My father, for example, was very critical with the left-wing factions that fought against each other. Here, in Barcelona, the Communists and Anarchists fought each other. Them, that disappoints a lot. While some were on the front fighting the fascists, it turns out that, on the rearguard, the left-wing ones are fighting against each other. So, I think that disappoints a lot.

Do you remember your free time when you were a kid?

Well, my childhood… We lived in Montjuïc, right on the rim of ‘Poble Sec’. We had a lot of space. We lived with a huge yard and playing ball or with earth was the usual. Yeah, and we were in the mountain. Good memories.

Something I remember my school teacher telling me about was about the restrictions on group gatherings. Do you remember that affecting you?

Yes. During the dictatorship, gatherings were forbidden. Something that surprised me a lot is that we couldn’t talk publicly about politics. It surprised me that a relative came from France, we went by the street and he dared talk about politics. I was really scared, thinking, damn, how can we talk politics on the street? I was surprised because we lived with fear. We had perceived so much as kids that we knew our opinions or our professions were in danger. That in any given moment, the police could ask us for our papers and have trouble. Sometimes it is true that the police surrounds you and you’re like, but we’re only a group of friends doing nothing. The thing with that fear is that it was so deep into the everyday life that you didn’t realize. You just lived with it. Don’t opine what’s not convenient. Don’t gather or express what’s not convenient.

It did exist. I consider it a time of fear. I was born the 52, we were born with this fear and until the fall of the dictatorship we weren’t conscious we were dragging it.

What do you remember of your interaction with Catalan during the dictatorship?

Curiously, I’ve later realized about this. My father loved Catalonia. Francesc Macià, as I said, was his idol. I remember that he signed us, his sons, up for sardana classes on Sunday. I didn’t understand why. Maybe I would have preferred ball. But he signed us up for sardana classes, in the folkloric Barcelona cultural group, where they taught us. I think it was his part on trying to keep a tradition or bond with Catalonia. When I say folkloric, about Catalan during the dictatorship, I mean that during the holidays of the worker, the first of May, there was a performance of sardanes or songs as if it was an indian reserve in the United States for the Sioux, that you went to see. I think it must be about the same. We had the folkloric trait that was kept, but that’s all.

Tourism started to open in Spain around the 60s. Did it surprise you?

Yes, it was shocking because, in a way, people who came from outside represented for us that they were more free. People with a freedom of movement and some abilities that we didn’t have. The thing is that, since they were foreigners, you don’t assimilate. These are the foreigners, us here from the country are different. There was that tag line, “Spain is different”, and in a way we had accepted it. One thing were the French, English or North-American and the other were the Spaniards, we were a different kind.

Is it true about the outfit restrictions on the beach?

It is true.

Was it by law or tradition?

No, it was a law. Evidently, tourism meant, for us, a new point of view. That people had other traditions, more freedom. And among them, the freedom to dress. The miniskirt, the bikini, it was all an outrage. But we need to understand that one thing was the foreigners and the other the locals. If a French-woman, an English-woman, a Swedish-woman wears a miniskirt, it’s just a Swedish-woman. But the locals had to be different. Yes, it was by law. I remember going with some friends to the beach to do top less and the ‘Guardia Civil’ would come and make them cover themselves. It wasn’t just tradition. There was also the moral and popular censorship too. Against nudism, there was people. But there were also laws that restricted freedom in the dress they wore.

But did they look the other way?

With foreigners they look the other way, yes. They were another…

You, personally, do you speak more Catalan or Spanish?

I speak Catalan. It’s curious what I was telling you before. Until I was seven, I didn’t know Catalan, had only heard about it. Then I started talking it with my brothers at home in private. Nowadays I speak Catalan, think in Catalan, and feel Catalan. Yes, of course. Many years have gone by, but it’s that way.

What do you think is representative of the culture here?

I think there’s a Catalan nature. It’s difficult to define, but I think Pau Casals is an example of the Catalan nature. He’s an artist, a creator, and a pacifist at the same time. He’s someone who defends human rights and is also an artist. I think he’s an example of what could be the characteristics of the Catalan.

Somewhere between ‘el seny i la rauxa’?

Yes, but I think not so much ‘rauxa’. I think that the Catalan, compared to other cultures is, in a way, boring. Not so much ‘rauxa’. I suppose it can be… we’re talking prototypes. I suppose he’s funnier than the German, but less than the Andalusian or the Argentinian.

Changes you’ve noticed in Barcelona such as Franco’s death, the Olympic games…

Well, after Franco’s death there was a huge change. Specially, for the amount of expectations being made, of hope. There was talk of an opening. Then there was disappointment. Disappointment because Franco was only a person. Behind him there was, and still carries over, a conservative apparatus. There are economic forces and, in their moment, military too. Let’s remember that in the year 81 there’s an attempt at a military coup in Spain, after the dictator’s death. After Franco’s death there was still some military, political and economic forces that were interested in keeping the regime of the dictatorship.

Despite this, there have obviously been political changes. We’re in a pseudo-democracy, but it’s a democracy. And there’s been a very important change. Regarding Catalonia and Barcelona, it is true that the ’92 Olympic games mark the opening of Barcelona to a world level. With the investment that was made, there’s a rise in tourism. That’s obvious, I think Barcelona is the fifth city in Europe regarding tourism. And that’s good, it’s positive. They say it generates income and gives work to many people and has positive parts.

It’s obvious that tourism is a positive part for the citizen. But we also need to look at the negative part. The work it generates is very precarious for the citizen. The hotel trade, they’re very poorly paid. Then there’s a widespread growth of the city and something that’s very curious, the rise of the price of housing. Living in Barcelona, for young people, is very difficult. And there0s a lot of people who are expelled from the city because the rents here are so…

My mother, despite having lived for so long here… We said the sixties, so she’s been living here 57 years, and the rent is more than 60% her income. It’s savage. Even though she’s been there for so long. So young people, who want to become independent, they either leave Barcelona for the outskirts or have a hard time for the rents there are. And that’s one of the consequences of tourism.

How has political repression been expressed through sports?

With political repression and repression of citizen expression, mostly Catalan, the Barça was for some years an escape mechanism. The identification symbol of much of the Catalan class. The Barça was more than a club, that’s the slogan. It was being able to identify with something, a project, a community, that could express it. There was nothing else, no political parties, no political associations. So the Barça did have a role and there’s still an identification with the country, with Catalonia.

Do you support Barça?


Are you not into sports?

I root for Barça but there’s a difference between a sports club and a country. I’m happy when Barça wins, but if they don’t win it doesn’t mean that the country will…Sometimes there’s a sublimation of problems. We have a hard time accepting reality. So it seems that if Barça wins we all win, but that’s not true. A sports team wins. But if I can’t make ends meet, or my children can’t go to school, or there’s trouble, it doesn’t solve them. In a way, we fool ourselves, or it can be used to fool.

The same way your father identified with Macià and Durruti, were there ever discussions about monarchy?

My father died two months after Franco’s death. So he didn’t… Franco died November 75 and my father January 76. But I do remember that I wasn’t very political. I knew I didn’t like it, wasn’t very politicized. When Franco died, I remember telling my father, “well, that’s good, now this will change, right?”. And despite having fought Franco and having been imprisoned by Franco, I could tell that he was a bit scared by the possibility of a change. I think that’s important to understand. The generation before mine, grew up in fear. So it was better a dictator than a change that could mean going back to the chaos of a civil war.

It was a different point of view. I hadn’t lived the civil war, hadn’t suffered it directly. So the dictator dies and social perspectives are opened, you think things will change here. We will have more freedom. But no everyone saw it that way.

So monarchy never…?

No, of course, with my father there was never time to talk about monarchy. My father’s comments regarding Juan Carlos, the successor, weren’t postivies. Nor regarding his grandfather, Alfonso XIII. They were the ones who carried monarchy on. They weren’t positive at all. That’s how we lived it.

Now? Nowadays, I think monarchy is anachronic, I think it has no reason to be. Among other things, because it isn’t neutral. It’s not just a representative figure, it takes a stance for establishment. So think it has no place nowadays. I think no country should have a monarchy. That there’s a head of state that we haven’t chosen. And I admit that, in that time and situation of fear, the king, Juan Carlos, represented stability.

After Franco’s death, there was fear of going back to the civil war. And Juan Carlos was the figurehead that granted stability.

How have you seen the changes in the more touristic areas?

Well, from the year 92 onwards we have lived it. The democratic city halls. They are after the dictatorship. There was a change of a greater interest for the citizen. It’s not important anymore to have the tallest building in the peninsula or the state. It’s not important to have more license plates than other cities.

I think the wellbeing of people is more watched after. And in Barcelona, the preeminence of the car in the former mayoralties has been lost. And slowly, Barcelona has now become more fit to live. There are more spaces, squares, more places where people can sit and share the space with others. In former years, people fled the city. Who could, fled the city because the city was hostile. It wasn’t pleasant. The preeminence of the car was above the pedestrians.

What has tourism caused? It has caused widespread growth. Now there’s more people, more activity. But I think that precisely because Barcelona is more fit to live in and takes better care of the well-being of citizens, that’s why there’s more tourism here. I’m convinced that nowadays, the percentage of people not born in Spain that lives in Barcelona has increased regarding that of before the ’92. I think that’s a symptom of a higher well-being with this changes to the city.

How has the perception of Gaudí changed since you were a kid?

Well, I knew Gaudí since I was a child. My father admired Gaudí so in a way I knew the work of Gaudí. But the truth is that as a touristic claim it has been very strengthened. The truth is that it has made me appreciate it more. I had contributed as a child to collect money for the building of the Sagrada Familia. Which is his masterpiece. The Sagrada Familia is an expiatory center, which means that it is funded with money from the churchgoers. It was expiatory because you could make amends by giving money.

So, I contributed gathering money for the building of the Sagrada Familia. But there’s a difference between enjoying Gaudí’s work and thinking that maybe we shouldn’t pay for this. It’s true what I was saying that due to tourism, it has strengthened and that has made me appreciate it more.

What do you think of the work of other Catalan artists, architects like Domenech Montaner or painters like Casas, Tàpies or Miró?

It’s what I was saying before. Feeling proud of being Catalan, sometimes I worry I might not be fully objective. I really liked modernism and modernist architecture. I think it’s something great that we have in Catalonia. And as painters too. I like Casas, I like Fortuny, I like Dalí and the surrealism too. I mean that there are other Catalan artists, it’s not all Gaudí. It’s what, in a way, makes me feel proud of Catalonia and its people.

Could you summarize your opinion of the negative parts of tourism?

I think tourism is positive for Barcelona and Catalonia. It brings wealth, there’s contributions of different people and it can also bring jobs. It’s positive. The negative side, I think Barcelona is very focused on tourism. I see there’s a loss of the traditional commerce. It’s pitiful that stores that have been there for long years and represented the character and a certain nature of Barcelona and Catalonia. Nowadays they are all unified, the owners have changed and now belong to chains that are clones. They set up identical shops on central places and they are the same.

I think it’s an attack to Barcelona and Catalonia’s own character, because they are unified and in display for tourism. For the tourist that comes to purchase a shirt or a souvenir here in Barcelona. I think it’s sad that it’s that way. The truth is that I don’t know how that can be channeled or stopped. Because in a free trade economy, who can keep a souvenir chain from buying fourteen stores and in the Marina street, just by the Sagrada Familia, all the stores are the same. When there used to be a shop, a hardware store, a tailor’s… All that is disappearing.

And that’s here, the old town, ‘Porta Ferrissa’, all the shops are focused on tourism. I think that’s a loss which I don’t know if it will be recovered. It’s a loss of character and nature of Barcelona, I think.

How would you differentiate your local, everyday Barcelona from the Barcelona introduced to the tourist?

My Barcelona, where I grew up, where I’ve lived, is the neighborhood Barcelona. The Barcelona of the same old stores, the same as ever. The same as ever bar or coffee shop, and each has its personality. Or a shop, each has its own personality. That’s my Barcelona. My Barcelona is that from knowing your neighbor. My Barcelona is that where kids can play in the walkway. And the maintaining of the characteristics of the Catalan architecture and cultures, that’s my Barcelona.

The one that is presented to tourism, I think, is a bit artificial. A Barcelona of monuments, a Barcelona of folklore, a Barcelona of beach and sun. I identify, of course, with my Barcelona. I don’t know if both can be matched, I’ve no idea,

How do you think the Catalan culture and tradition has been preserved in front of this touristic invasion that makes everything so homogenized, so vaguely occidental?

We need to understand that Catalan culture has managed to persist despite the dictatorship, despite being forbidden and persecuted, because there’s a part of the Catalan bourgeoisie with money that helped make it. And that still happens now. Catalan language and culture belong to the people and working class, but it’s also been supported by a bourgeoisie on a patronage level and exhibit level, that has preserved this. There are recent cases too. I don’t know if you know a book called ‘el cavaller Floïd’ [lit. the Floïd knight/gentleman]. There’s a man that creates a masseuse company, named Floïd. This man makes a lot of money and subsidizes Catalan publishing during the time of the dictatorship.

‘Ediciones 92’, ‘L’enciclopedia catalana’, Catalan poetry. That has been preserved because people from the bourgeoise or aware business-people have been helping. We’re talking about the dictatorship, but nowadays that still happens. There’s also, then, a will of people willing to help economically Catalan culture.