Histories against Histories: The Inescapable but Unattainable Past.

Gerard Rosich (University of Helsinki)

The ‘Catalan’ commemorations of 3rd centenary of the end of the European wars of Spanish Succession (1714) ―which are associated in Catalonia to its conquest by the Spanish Kingdom and the consequent abolition of Catalan independent political institutions― was a turning point in a debate, shaped through huge amounts of scholarly books, academic congresses and media articles, aiming to reinterpret the past from the perspective of the present configuration, at the beginning of the 21st century, of the conflict between the Spanish Kingdom and Catalonia. Since the interpretation of the ‘present’ in the context of the Spanish Kingdom is a deeply controversial task, conflictive and polemic interpretations of the past are entangled with a divergent use for present socio-political projects. The different epistemic layers at work in the status of historical discourse are being blurred because historians have acquired a public role that goes far beyond their academic activity. This has created a sort of ‘Historikerstreit’ in public media, political institutions and academia which underline again the unsolvable methodological and philosophical problems of the work of historians, in a time when almost all possible scholar turns have occurred (linguistic, cultural, postcolonial, spatial, etc.). This fact illustrates, for the nth time, a tension in the status of historical knowledge that cannot be resolved neither discursively nor pragmatically, but can only be conceptualized taking into account its normative dimension.

However, these debates are to some extent superseded and nuanced by the membership of the Spanish Kingdom to the European Union, which offers new possibilities and constraints to the socio-political reconstitution of collectivities and different frameworks of interpretation and justification. As a result, a divergent interpretation of the political project of the European Union and the history of Europe is invoked by both parties to justify their own position. Consequently, not only an opposing use of the past of the Spanish Kingdom and Catalonia is performed by the differing work of collective self-reinterpretation, but also a divergent interpretation of the history of Europe is used by them to justify in continental terms the legitimacy of their claims. This divergent interpretation is going in hand with a contest over the meaning of the concepts of state sovereignty, solidarity, collective autonomy and institutional formation in analogy with the use of the European past in the current European crisis regarding the contested view on the notion of reciprocity and solidarity.

This subproject aims at radically subverting the approach to the ‘Catalan question’ by analysing the transformation of Catalan self-understanding and the Spanish reaction from the perspective of the European project and their diverging interpretations and how Europe has been geographically, historically and politically conceptualized in order to justify different approaches to solidarity, sovereignty and its own past. Seen from this perspective, the Catalans are in a particular situation from where to analyse the conflicting interpretations of the European past and their divergent use for different political projects. From this angle, the current conjuncture in Catalonia can be analysed as an example of the core tension that vertebrates the history of Europe between a federalist and an imperialist project which opposes different views on the European territorial configuration, the future of the EU, and the degrees of interdependence and reciprocity between its different collectivities; a tension which, in the view of some scholars, lays at the basis of the current EU crisis. In methodological terms, the project will be mainly based on the analysis of the different layers and levels of discourse and the shifting meaning of concepts related to the interpretation by ‘professional’ historians of the current political conflict, focusing overall on their public interventions, media exchange and academic or activist publications from 2010 on, when the first massive demonstration took place in Catalonia after the decision of the Constitutional Court on the Catalan Statute. This short term approach will be illuminated against the background of a long term perspective on the analysis of the European self-understanding and the formation of the European Union. The main objectives of this project are: 1) to disentangle the different layers in the debates about Catalonia’s independence against the background of divergent interpretations of Europe’s history; 2) to illustrate the possibilities and democratic limits to the transformation of collective subjectivities in liberal constitutional contexts due to the conflicting interpretation of the past and of the nature of social exchange based on relations of asymmetry, reciprocity or indebtedness; 3) to incorporate the use of the past as a normative dimension of any theory of justice.