The other day I went to the opening of an art exhibition in a publicly funded cultural centre in Barcelona where pro-independence literature was on display in a manner reminiscent of the countries of eastern Europe in the Cold War. The art on display had little direct connection with Catalonia but the British artists who produced it had a Catalan friend who had persuaded them to show it here.
The exhibition was preceded by a half-hour political lecture about the Catalan Cause, the Process, and the Collective Memory, complete with a slide show informing me, among other things, that in the 14th century Occitaine (sic) was part of Catalonia.
I started to think. What is collective memory if it is not just history? But history is something that people argue about, and quite right too. There has been no shortage of free and frank argument about Catalan and Spanish history in the 36 years of democracy. And surely 7 million Catalans will have 7 million memories, so how can memory be collective?
So collective memory appears to mean the shared memory of a people (sic, people singular), in the sense of all members of a collective sharing the same memory, which is to say sharing the same view of history. That is something that certainly can exist, but bringing it into existence is a matter of ideology and imposing it involves a process called Leninism. And there’s rather too much of that around in Catalonia right now.
I had a word with one of the artists afterwards. He had started his presentation with an admission that he knew nothing about Catalan affairs and was grateful to his Catalan friend for explaining things to him. I explained to him that the small part of his work that involved taking red and yellow items and mixing blue ones with them had a very particular significance here – the blue would not just change the mix from being Spanish to Catalan as he thought. He came to see that he was somewhat out of his depth after all.