Friday, 05 September 2014

Spanish Embassy in The Netherlands censors presentation of novel on 1714 Barcelona's siege


Barcelona (ACN).- The Instituto Cervantes in Utrecht was obliged to cancel the presentation of 'Victus', a novel by Catalan author Albert Sánchez Piñol on the Spanish Succession War and Barcelona's military siege of 1714, after which Catalonia lost its self-government institutions and political, social and cultural repression started. According to the author, his Dutch editorial house Signatuur and the Communication Director of the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish Embassy in The Netherlands obliged the institute to cancel the event the day before it was supposed to happen for political reasons. However, the Spanish Government is denying any political veto and states the cancellation was due to "diary problems". The scandal has been covered by Dutch media and Juliette Van Wersh, Publisher at Signatuur, stated they are "shocked" for a decision against "freedom of expression". The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, stated that this veto is "in line with the international boycott" which Spanish authorities are carrying out against self-determination. 'Victus' was the best-seller book in Catalonia in 2013.

On Thursday evening, Albert Sánchez Pîñol was supposed to present his book 'Victus' to a Dutch audience in the Institute Cervantes, located in the same city were the Treaty which put an end to the international presence in the Spanish Succession War was signed in 1713. His book, a historical novel, is specifically about that war and the one-year-long military siege that Barcelona suffered from the 25th of July 1713 to the 11th of September, 1714, when the city fell. In fact, after the Utrecht Treaty, signed in April 1713, Catalan troops were left alone in fighting the Bourbon army, and a few days after Barcelona fell, the war was over and Catalonia lost its Constitution and self-government institutions. In that moment, Spain was formed as a Unitarian State, as before it was a union of different kingdoms under the same crown. Furthermore, a harsh political, economic, social and cultural repression against Catalans started, as well as a plan to homogenise Spain under Castilian rule, culture and language. Among many other measures, Catalan language was totally banned for decades, all existing universities were abolished, citizens were only allowed to have a single knife attached with a chain to the kitchen table, new taxes were created only for Catalan subjects, and citizens from an entire Barcelonan neighbourhood were obliged to tear down their own homes and go away wihtout any economic compensation.

The Spanish Embassy in The Hague obliged the publicly-owned Instituto Cervantes, in charge of promoting Spanish language and culture abroad, to cancel the event programmed in its Utrecht facilities. The official reasons for the last-minute suspension of the event were not officially announced. The event was rescheduled "to a later stage", although no date was disclosed.

The Spanish Embassy vetoed the book's presentation

However, Dutch sources confirm that it was a political veto since the book's theme was "a sensitive issue" considering Catalonia's current political situation and the self-determination process going on. The newspaper NRC and the Dutch broadcaster NOS talked about the controversy in quite strong terms. The publisher at Signatuur, Juliette Van Wersh, said she was "shocked" and so were the rest of people working at the Dutch editorial house which printed Sánchez Piñol's book. She also confirmed that "the orders" to suspend the event "came from Madrid". However, she was surprised that it was for such "political reasons", since the book "is not a pamphlet promoting political ideas", but a historical fiction.

This version of events has been also confirmed by the Communication Director of the Cervantes institute, Hernando Fernández Calleja, in a radio interview on Friday morning. Van Wersh said that the people at the Cervantes institute in Utrech "were sad" and prosed that she " reschedule the event in some 6 months". Even though she thanked their "generosity", Signatuur ruled out this idea since the book is being released now in The Netherlands and in some months it will be "too late". She also regretted that nobody from the Spanish Diplomatic Corps contacted them "to provide an explanation".

The Spanish Embassy also tried to boycott the book's presentation in Amsterdam

Furthermore, the day before the Utrecht event, the book was presented at the University of Amsterdam, where a representative from the Spanish Embassy started to talk at the event. She stated that the book was a fiction and that Catalonia did not suffer any repression after the war and was not independent before this military conflict, according to sources from the Diplocat, a private-public council to promote Catalonia abroad, which was co-organising the presentation in Amsterdam, but not in Utrecht.

The author of 'Victus', Albert Sánchez Piñol, is outraged about what happened. "This causes me to tremble", he told to the CNA, and he said he was very upset about the Spanish Diplomatic Service carrying out such actions.

The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister denies any political veto

However, despite all the sources confirming the political veto version of events, the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saénz de Santamaría, stated on Friday afternoon that there was no censorship. "The same Instituto Cervantes has said that the rescheduling" is due to diary problems, considering the high number of presentations of the book in a short period of time, she said. She also added that she "imagines that the event will be rescheduled when the circumstances for the presentation are the right ones in terms of time and form".

The Catalan President links this event to Spain's "international boycott"

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, stated that he is not surprised by the Spanish Embassy's veto, since it is "in line with the international boycott" that the Spanish Government is carrying out in order to prevent Catalans presenting their own version of things. "I know perfectly well how this works", he said, since the Spanish Government "is trying to boycott everything, if they can". He confirmed that the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry is "trying to boycott institutional actions that we carry out abroad" as Catalan Government, for instance pushing foreign governments and international institutions not to meet with Catalan authorities.

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  • Albert Sánchez Piñol posing in front of a few copies of 'Victus' in 2013 (by ACN)