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18 / 06 / 2004
Carme Riera: The Quixote is the great national emblem and is considered by some as the spanish Bible

The Mallorcan writer Carme Riera has taken charge of closing the Dialogue “The Quixote and Modern Thinking”, in a conference that has dealt with Catalan nationalism as opposed to the Castilian nationalism of the novel

The professor from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Carme Riera, has revised the history of Catalan nationalism and the Quixote in reference to the controversy that arose in Spain at the time of the celebrations for the third centenary of The Quixote in 1905.

Riera explained that at the end of the 1880’s The Quixote was raised to the rank of the “indisputable national icon of Spanish society”. In that sense “the essence and existence of the Spanish was more alike the knightly figure and increasingly less like that of Sancho Panza”. It is in this era that “The Quixote is the great national emblem and is considered by some as being the Spanish Bible”, added Riera. In this sense, there was a great feeling of Castilian nationalism which helped recover from the defeat of the Cuban War.

This is set against the apparition of Catalan nationalism in the 1890’s when Catalonia began to be considered as a nation on a par with Spain. The first Assembly of the Catalanist Union, held in Balaguer, changed the concept from Spanish Nation to Spanish State, which is still used by Catalan nationalists. From this period on The Quixote is seen less as a national classic in Catalonia given that this is considered to be another nation. Other aspects have an influence on this concept given that Cervantes’ novel was not written in the Catalan language. Nationalism was founded on aspects such as a shared territory, history, race, a community of rights and language. Nationalists advocated using Spanish less and less and as a result increase the use of Catalan and called for a return to the days of the medieval figure of Guifré el Pilós. Riera indicated some of the writers who rekindled this feeling. She mentioned Valentí Almirall who “emphasized the Castilian character of The Quixote and the values that that are seen in the novel such as pride, a prototype of the Castilian race”. In this sense, Almirall defines Don Quixote as “mad, selfish and deluded by vanity”. These concepts were also supported by Prat de la Riba, another founding father of nationalism. In addition, Pompeu Janer’s concepts on the “quixotic race” are also reflected in the sense of nationhood. Janer proclaims that “Catalans have the pride to set us apart from the majority, the motherland is superior race and culture”.

The defeat of Spain in the Cuban War was also taken on by the Catalan nationalists who considered The Quixote “an obstacle to their quest to see Catalonia becoming less influenced by Spain”. In addition to the national radical press appeared other intellectuals, the likes of Joaquim Rubió i Ors, who believed that “Catalonia cannot aspire to political independence but it can aspire to literary independence”. In the view of Bonaventura Carles Aribau sees Cervantes as a regionalist and not as a nationalist, who talks of his language, but who is also open to other languages.

Mariano de Cavia proposes celebrating the third centenary of the appearance of The Quixote “in all its glory” and intends that Spain “should pull out all the stops, given that it should be a question of state in which the official Spanish state and the people should intervene”. In spite of the lack of identification of many Catalans with the work by Cervantes, Riera quoted the words of the former president of the Generalitat, Jordi Pujol, who admitted to “feeling as close to Don Quixote as to Goethe”, the celebration was held and “the majority of Catalans laid aside their nationalist beliefs and joined in the commemorative ceremonies”.

Carme Riera went on to explain that the Dialogue shows that all this has changed and that when all is said and done “Barcelona is, as a city, already similar to The Quixote, a fact which helped it publicize itself around the world a long time before the Olympic Games or the Forum of Cultures 2004”. “May Cervantes’ shadow protect us through his irony and his humor; but especially through his goodness, for ever and ever”, concluded Riera.