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Hilari Raguer: ‘University has to be in cultural osmosis with people’

Hilari Raguer.

Hilari Raguer.



Hilari Raguer i Suñer (Madrid, 1928) was awarded the Gold Medal of the University of Barcelona on September 23. After having studied Law at the University of Barcelona, he entered the Montserrat Monastery in 1954 and in 1960 he was appointed priest. During all these years, he combined the monastic life with historical research, and he is an expert of reference in the study of the role of the Church in Spain during the Civil War. As shown in this interview, Raguer follows the politic and social current affairs and strongly defends the independence of Catalonia.

As a historian, you presented the doctoral thesis at the University of Barcelona about the Democratic Union of Catalonia.

I went to Paris to study Political Sciences. I wanted to study my doctorate at the Sorbonne and wanted the topic of my thesis to be a doctrine and practice that was very current at that time in France, the politics of regional development (politique d’aménagement régionale), going a bit backwards from Jacobin centralism. But I found that they didn’t go very far from decentralization, like a commentator from the Catholic newspaper La Croix said at that time, in France “we are so centralist that even in the decentralization policy we start building the central office of decentralization in Paris”. I also found that this was an encyclopedic, multidisciplinary subject, which was too much for me. On the other hand, I contacted some people and documentary sources about the Civil War and the role of the Church that made me see that both “white” and “red” historians modified –for opposed reasons- the image the Church represented in the Civil War. And this was a very important and urgent thing. Therefore, since I was in the juridical field, I started working as a historian. This was in the sixties. And I haven’t stopped working on this subject ever since. 

What future would you like the Democratic Union to have?

In the prologue of the book of my thesis, I said I felt historical affection for Democratic Union. I don’t belong to any party but I admire what the Democratic Union was during the Republic and the War: a small group, but I would say it was prophetic and with a new vision. For example, an important point: in the thirties Europe was about fascism and communism, and there were coincidences in cult and personalities: the führer, duce, caudillo, Stalin… The small group of Democratic Union reacted against all this: a scholar structure. First, they didn’t even have a president, and couldn’t be part of the governing committee the ones who had election positions: mayors, deputies, councilors… And they couldn’t be re-elected. Then, this changed and the president of the party took more partnership-like and central attitudes. I have a historical affection for what Democratic Union did from nineteen thirty-one to nineteen thirty-nine. Regarding how they continued after nineteen thirty-nine, I’d say I don’t belong to any party (I have been asked to give conferences for Democratic Union events and I have only talked about history subjects) and I am not getting into current politics. The only thing I would like is for this party not to disappear –it has a historical importance- and I’d like them to be loyal to their origins.

You recently published the book Ser independentista no és cap pecat. How did you see the last September 11 demonstration?

They say there were not many people. But I think there are understandable reasons for that. I talk to a lot of people, people who have been in all demonstrations and in this one too; and others who may not have been in this last one. I haven’t met anyone who was pro-independence in the previous demonstrations and are not anymore. There is no going back. Sometimes they say it’s about half and half of the population. No, no, because these are two very different halves. There is a half which is very pro-independence and another half that is not totally pro-centralist or unionist but instead there is a mix among those people. Therefore the proportion is not comparable between them. And this has no coming back because in Madrid they keep on making decisions and acts that are only maintaining this feeling alive.

In the book Gaudeamus igitur. Notes per a una història del Grup Torras i Bages, you put this sentence by the abbot Escarré: “First go to Plaça de Catalunya and proclaim the independence, and if they don’t listen to you, the Church will recognize you”. What validity does this sentence have now?

Lots of people ask, what does the Church do? The Vatican, the Catalan Church, the Conference of Spanish Bishops? The Vatican policy is realistic. Consummate facts. We don’t have to ask or expect the Vatican to proclaim our independence. But one we get the independence the Vatican will certainly recognize us. A characteristic example: when the Republic was proclaimed, on April 14, 1931, some days after Pope Pius XI held a reunion with the cardinals of the commission of the Congregation for Extraordinary Affairs, which means relationships with countries. What to do in front of this Republic? All cardinals, among them the Secretary of State, Pacelli, future Pius XII, thought that proclamation was illegitimate because there couldn’t be a change of regime out of municipal elections (I’m not getting deep into considerations but this is not exactly true because everyone new those municipal elections were about republic versus monarchy). All cardinals said that the new regime was illegitimate but it had to be recognized de facto to keep some relationships, and for the legitimate sources, to defend the rights of the Church. It is not legitimate but we will understand each other.

You see similarities between the university institution and the Church, two centenary institutions?

I see a similarity in the sense that both institutions have to be loyal to their country. I mean, the Church has to acculturate in each country, it is not a traditional doctrine but it is established by the second Vatican. They don’t have to colonialize, the Church regrets having imposed the roman European mentality in some third-world countries… There is a quote attributed to Torras i Bages, which is not in his works but reflects his thoughts: “Catalonia will be Christian or it will not be”. This could be arguable but in Catalonia the Church will be Catalan or it will not be. It cannot be a colonizing or de-nationalizing tool. And same goes for the universities. The university has to be in cultural osmosis with people. To elevate popular culture to an academic level and teach studies that serve the identification of these people. In 1950 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the University and, Pere Figuera, who was a great activist –he was always starting actions-, he told me to write something related to this. That university didn’t want to “de-Catalanize” Catalan studies.

How do you remember your university times?

It was a politicized and militarized university, with the SEU (Spanish university union), the Falangist union. I remember my friends, my classmates. And also the teachers, who were different, but I have many good memories from some studies they taught. I specially remember Professor García de Valdeavellano, from History of Law; and Lluc Beltran, from Economy and Public Estate, who felt a special affection and wanted me to be his assistant in practical lessons. The studies were mostly about memorizing. I started university without knowing about the science of law or juridical careers. I learnt a side of law that I always tried to keep, although at that time, like now, justice and law were not respected. There was not justice for the imposition of the dictatorship.

How do you see the university now?

I see the current university as open to the country. It is a satisfaction for me to see that the University of Barcelona, apart from a group of Catalan universities, has international prestige, it appears in the best world rankings and is the first one in Spain. This is a satisfaction for the ones who left the university although it was a sui generis university. There are changes in architecture, staff… A big difference I already noticed in the seventies compared to the fifties is that teachers are not distant from the students. There is a more cordial and human relationship. It was unthinkable for us to be on first-name terms with a teacher. I remember an anecdote from professor Fenech: one day a student showed up without a blazer (only a jacket and tie) and he made him go and come back in September. That boy said he would change his clothes and the teacher said “if you show up like this, I would have to come in my pajamas”.


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