Monday, December 31, 2012

Dr. Moisès Broggi, The International Brigade surgeon

In honor of the long and brilliant life of Dr. Moisès Broggi, who passed away today, I'm posting the interview that Toni Strubell did with him in his excellent book, What Catalans Want.

Update: newspaper is reporting that Dr. Moisès Broggi was Ernest Hemingway's inspiration for one of the young, brave Republican doctors at the front in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway was impressed by Broggi, a surgeon, who saved the lives of many of the International Brigades who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Broggi also pioneered the use of mobile surgery units as well as 24-hour emergency hospital care.

Dr. Moisès Broggi’s home is a small haven of peace in a hectic district uphill from the centre of Barcelona. A small gate on a side-alley off a major avenue leads to narrow steps that transport one into a quiet garden home, where the 102-year-old doctor lives with his charming wife, Angelina. Small in stature, but universally admired in Catalonia, he is one of the last living vestiges of Catalan Republican dignity. Indeed, in 2009, he was shortlisted for the prestigious ‘Catalan of the Year’ prize granted yearly, on the basis of a popular vote, by the newspaper El Periódico—though FC Barcelona’s triumphant coach, Pep Guardiola, eventually carried off the award. For the press and institutions, Dr. Broggi is a key figure to turn to when debates and tributes are being planned. In that same year, 2009, he was also awarded the Catalan Government’s highest distinction.

Dr. Broggi was born in Barcelona in 1908. He studied medicine at Barcelona University, where he graduated in 1931, the same year that the ill-fated Spanish Republic was proclaimed. He specialized in a field that was going to prove vital in the tragic years ahead: surgery. When the Civil War broke out he had no doubts about taking sides for the Republic, which had enabled Catalonia to recover part of her political autonomy in 1932. Dr. Broggi joined up with the International Brigade’s medical team. He was very active in the creation of mobile operating theatres placed near the trenches. At the end of the war he initially took up posts at the Vallcarca and Hospital Clínic hospitals in Barcelona, but his political record soon caught up with him and he was suspended. He was submitted to the usual reprisals to which most Republican medical staff were exposed. He was nevertheless able to continue practicing in different clinics, at a time when doctors were very much in demand.

After Franco had died, in 1980, Dr. Broggi was elected president of both the Royal Academy of Medicine in Barcelona and the Commission on Medical Ethics of the College of Medicine. He was also a founding member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a prestigious association that won the Nobel Prize in 1985. Similarly, several universities have conferred upon him Honoris Causa degrees. In 2010, the new public hospital at Sant Joan Despí—just outside Barcelona—was named Hospital Moisès Broggi, an honour that greatly satisfied this venerable veteran of Catalan surgery.

Do you think the sacrifice of the International Brigades in the Civil War has been sufficiently acknowledged by present-day society?

I’m convinced that their contribution has not been commemorated enough. Their sacrifice was truly remarkable. All those people who came here to put their lives in peril for an ideal! At the Battle of the Ebre, in late 1938, there were still International Brigade volunteers present. It was extraordinarily memorable and praiseworthy. Not enough has been done to honour them. This could be put down to the way in which the political transition after Franco was handled. After Franco’s death, things didn’t change as they should have done. In many senses Francoism continued to exist, and in many ways it still does today! There are elements that subsist in the legislation that prove that the Franco regime is still alive and kicking. I think this has a great influence on things even today, despite the democratic gloss.

What kind of influence does it have?

I think there are admirers of Franco who still pull the strings. This effectively prevents Spain enjoying a fuller degree of democracy. There were a lot of people who, as we say in Catalan, ‘swam between two waters’, and who still hold office and wield power today. Look at Rodolfo Martín Villa presiding over Sogecable. Or the late Juan Antonio Samaranch’s post as Honorary President of the International Olympic Committee.1 Deep down, it’s a disgrace to all democrats, and won’t look at all good in history books. I reckon a large part of Spain’s right wing is still Francoist. Their favourite motto is: ‘We were better off under Franco’.

But lots of members of the Partido Popular say they have nothing to do with Francoism…

Of course they do. They deny it because they’re ashamed to admit it. But, deep down, I’m convinced they do. They don’t want to own up because, as is well known, the crimes committed during the Franco regime have begun to be publicized worldwide. As time goes on, more and more is known about the terrible crimes Franco committed. Although their perpetrators remain unpunished, the regime was morally reprimanded at the European Parliament and by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in 2008. All this makes things increasingly embarrassing for diehards. This is why every attempt has been made to sweep all these crimes under the carpet.

What is your opinion of Allied non-interventionism during the Civil War?

That was a disaster for us. The rebellion of the generals in 1936 brought havoc on our country, and left us without law and order. At the outbreak of the war, extremists won the day on both sides. And it was then, thanks to Franco’s coup, that the more radical factions—the FAI2 in Republican areas and the Falangists in Franco-controlled zones—took over completely. That was disastrous for us because Franco continued to enjoy the support of Hitler and Mussolini, whereas the negative image created by the FAI led the democratic nations to abandon us, hoodwinked as they were by the propaganda put around by the conservative and Catholic press in Europe.

Do you think the Republican and Catalan governments could have done more to stop the crimes in the Republican rearguard?

No, I really do not. Our government just didn’t have the resources to face up to the situation. It had very few military assets, and it was at the mercy of the anarchists who had hoarded large quantities of arms during an uprising prior to the Civil War, in October 1934. The economic situation was also desperate. Unemployment was enormous because work on building the underground railway in Barcelona had come to an end. Lots of people had been made redundant. There were a lot of people on the streets, some of whom were armed and more than willing to kick up trouble. There was no stopping them when the coup unleashed violence in its worst form.

In 2008, the Consuls-General of France and Germany publicly apologized for their countries’ part in handing over President Companys3 to Franco…

Yes. But for some strange reason, the ceremony conducted at the Generalitat Palace did not get the coverage it deserved. I know, for example, that the Consuls-General were unwilling to let their speeches be published. It was as if they had subsequently been put under pressure to hold back. And that would surely be because the diplomatic corps, despite accepting the invitation to participate in such a noble act, knew that influential members of the local establishment are associated—either by family or ideological connections—with the Fascists who had Companys shot. They weren’t happy at all about that ceremony. I’d say they had strings pulled to have the tribute muffled.

What about the position of Madrid with respect to Companys?

They have never apologized for what the State did. They have not even annulled the sentence with which Franco sentenced him to death! Now I believe they have issued the family some kind of ‘good conduct diploma’, that they were made to apply for at the Ministry of Justice. It’s humiliating, and quite unlike anything that has happened in other countries that have overcome dictatorships and civil wars.

Did you ever meet President Companys yourself?

Yes, I did. And I pride myself on being able to say that I enjoyed a personal friendship with him. I remember we had a meal together with him in the company of other doctors. He was a most inspiring and dignified leader. It’s curious, because my mother had a small shop with an assistant who was an orphan. Her name was Carme Ballester. My mother had taken her on and treated her like a daughter. And it was that girl who, when she grew up, became Lluís Companys’ second wife! So I’ve got plenty of memories of him, all of them positive. Such was the relationship president Companys had with our family that he entrusted a very delicate matter to my father during the war.

Do you think that the Catalan issue was one of the reasons Franco declared war?

Yes, I think it was very important. The Republic had accepted an incipient form of devolution for Catalonia with the 1932 Statute of Autonomy. Subsequently there were achievements as significant as the creation of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. These greatly upset the Spanish right and the military. But the spark that really set the Civil War alight, in my opinion, was the fact that in 1936 the Republic was considering the economic question and the need to finance Catalan self-government. That is very often overlooked. But I do think anti-Catalan feeling was a key issue in the outbreak of the war. It’s very similar, in that sense, to the current situation, in which the financial issue is what most seems to infuriate Madrid.

Senator Francesc Ferrer coined the term ‘Catalanophobia’ to refer to the dislike many Spaniards have for things Catalan. Do you consider the term appropriate?

As I see it, there is outright antagonism between Catalonia and Spain. That’s nothing new. It has age-old roots. It’s a gut feeling both for them and for us. The reason is that we are completely different. We belong to two different nations. They are Spanish and we are Catalan. The problem is we are completely and utterly subjugated to them. They take advantage of the power they exert over us. Little by little they are throttling our economy, and taking advantage of us without showing us the slightest respect or indeed gratitude for the economic solidarity we show. They need us for the tax levies they get out of us. But at the same time they mistreat us. The big change occurring now is that Catalonia no longer needs Spain.

In most democratic countries the administration goes to great lengths to curtail inter-ethnic strife and prevent tension between communities. Is this so between Spain and Catalonia?

For reasons that escape me, the Madrid government seems to have no interest whatever in improving the relationship between Catalans and Spaniards. They could do so by encouraging mutual understanding, and the right of each community to choose the political future that best suits it. They could strive to get these choices respected. Even the king could do something about this. But his incapacity or reluctance to do so is more than our patience can put up with any more. I think the king is anything but impartial. He has no interest in Catalonia and how Catalans feel. He has just been to Santiago de Compostela to pray for national unity before the tomb of Saint James. And that’s no joke! The truth is that we have reached a point at which the only option left is separation.

At present there is political unrest in Catalonia. Why is that so, in your opinion?

I believe it is because people have been able to overcome the fear that memories of the Civil War inspired in them. People do not remember it so much now. Fear has largely been overcome, even though there are lots of people who are still unwilling to talk about the past. War is a very serious matter. Many people cannot forget that the others, the right wing, have always had the army behind them. And the army is constitutionally primed to act against us if necessary. In that sense, the situation is not so very different from that of Yugoslavia in the nineties.

Can the situation in Catalonia be compared with those in other countries?

The situation we are going through cannot be seen as something entirely remote for a lot of people in Europe. Before the 1914-18 war, situations like ours today were widespread. There were the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires, whose disappearance after the war enabled the emergence of a whole range of nations, some of which had lacked freedom for centuries. Greece and the Balkan countries had been dominated and exploited by the Turks. Sweden and Norway separated peacefully in 1905. Likewise, the British granted independence to many nations after World War II, largely without bloodshed. Now Catalonia needs that same kind of treatment. Like Scotland, Catalonia is awaiting an opportunity to be free. I really cannot think why it is seen as so impossible for Catalonia to separate from Spain! Now is the moment to lay our cards on the table and make our demands as clear as possible. We want to be free. It’s that simple.

Do you think the international community will understand that?

The main problem is that no-one seems to know about us. Nobody knows about our problems. People think we’re just Spaniards with a stupid tendency to complain about things all the time. I think it would be a very good idea if we tried to carry on with the excellent work done by people like Pau Casals, Josep Maria Batista i Roca and Josep Trueta.4 They were able to put across our case most effectively. I also think tourism should be exploited more in this sense. People ought to be told who Gaudí really was. Aren’t his buildings the most visited monuments in Barcelona? When you visit Italy, they tell you all about Michelangelo and his ideological position. Here it seems to be a taboo to let anyone know that Gaudí was in favour of Catalan independence or that he was arrested for speaking in Catalan. Maybe if these things were explained, people would have more of an insight into what is going on here.


  1. Rodolfo Martín Villa, who held various posts under the Franco regime and was Interior Minister in the transition government of Adolfo Suárez from 1976 to 1979, has been chairman of Sogecable, one of Spain’s largest pay-TV providers, since 2006; Juan Antonio Samaranch (1920–2010), famous as the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, had previously been one of the leading figures of the Franco regime in Catalonia from the 1950s to the 1970s.
  2. The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation), a radical and violent anarchist group linked to the anarchosyndicalist union the CNT before and during the Civil War.
  3. Lluís Companys (1882–1940), President of the Catalan Generalitat from 1933 and throughout the Civil War, went into exile in France at the end of the war. In August 1940 he was arrested by the German Gestapo with the assistance of the French Pétain government, and handed over to the Franco regime. He was tried by court-martial and executed in October 1940.
  4. A reference to three of the most distinguished Catalan exiles who played prominent roles in international cultural life after the Civil War: the celebrated cellist Pau Casals (1876–1973; often known internationally as Pablo, the Spanish form) worked tirelessly to publicize the cause of Catalonia and democracy from his exile in France and Puerto Rico; the historian and anthropologist Josep Maria Batista i Roca (1895–1978) also went into exile and taught for many years at Cambridge University, founding various institutions to promote awareness of Catalan culture; and Doctor Josep Trueta (1897–1977), Professor of Orthopaedics at Oxford from 1949 to 1965 and one of the creators of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, also published a short book in 1940 on The Spirit of Catalonia.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Catalonia Press books on sale

In honor of the news that Catalonia will hold early elections in order to have a referendum on independence, Catalonia Press is putting all of the electronic versions of its books on sale for just $3.99 (2.49£/2.99€). We think that our books can help to get a thorough understanding of just what is going on in Catalonia.

What Catalans Want by Toni Strubell and with gorgeous photographs by Lluís Brunet, is a collection of interviews of Catalan politicians, professionals, academics, artists, and journalists who explain just what is happening in Catalonia and why a million people came out to protest the whittling away of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2010, and why another million and a half demonstrated this past September 11, 2012.

Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside is a collection of witty and sometimes cutting essays by long-time resident of Catalonia, Matthew Tree. Matthew explains life in Barcelona like only an astute insider can.

Barcelona INK is a collection of short stories, poetry, artwork, and interviews by some 30 Barcelona based writers and artists, edited by Ryan Chandler. Learn about Barcelona through its fiction and art!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Presenting “The Best of Barcelona INK”

I am thrilled to announce Catalonia Press’ new book, The Best of Barcelona INK, available in both print and electronic editions. Barcelona INK is a Barcelona-based literary magazine, edited by Ryan Chandler. It features short stories, essays, poems, artwork, and interviews of English-speaking writers based in Barcelona.

The launch for The Best of Barcelona INK will be held April 20, at 7pm, at the Universitat de Barcelona, Josep Carner Building (Aribau, 2) in Barcelona. Matthew Tree, Michael Eaude, David C. Hall, Stephen Burgen, Lynn Baiori, Lesley Galeote, and Gloria Montero will all speak. Please come!

You can download a sample of the book in EPUB format (for most ereaders, including Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod touch, Sony Reader, Kobo, and others) and Kindle/mobi (for all Amazon readers).

This first volume of The Best of Barcelona INK includes short stories and essays by:

Michael Eaude (on Amazon, Goodreads)
Stephen Burgen (on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing
Simon Newman (on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barcelona Metropolitan, PO Life)
Richard Manchester (on Amazon, Facebook)
Gloria Montero (on Barcelona Metropolitan, Interview)
Matthew Tree (Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter)
Jeff King
Lynn Baiori (email, Trilengua)
Sameer Rawal
David C. Hall (website, on Amazon, Facebook, Barcelona Skyline, Google)
John Short
Haarlson Phillipps (website, Facebook, Amazon, Smashwords)
Màrius Serra (website, Wikipedia, Twitter)
James Beddington
P.J. Kavanagh (Wikipedia)
Leah Ganse (email, LinkedIn)
Anna Chieppa (email)
Tony Tysoe
Lesley Galeote (email)

“The Best of Barcelona INK” features poetry by:

Philip Levine (Wikipedia, Amazon)
Pauline Stainer (Wikipedia, Bloodaxe Books)
Jamie McKendrick (Wikipedia)
D. Sam Abrams (Wikipedia, Facebook)
Joan Margarit (website, Wikipedia)
Alan Jenkins (Wikipedia)
Richard Gwyn (website, blog, Amazon)
Tom Chandler
Robert W. Service (Wikipedia)
Tom Edge
Mark Reading (website)

Finally, there are short interviews of
Colm Tóibín (website, Amazon, Wikipedia)
Ian Rankin (website, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter, Goodreads)
D. Sam Abrams (see above, under poets)
Richard Gwyn (see above, under poets)
Najat El Hachmi (Wikipedia, Goodreads, Amazon)
Matthew Tree (see above, under writers)
Steve Toltz (website, Wikipedia, Amazon)
Elena Moya (website, Amazon, Goodreads)
Rupert Thomson (Wikipedia, Amazon)
Lydia Lunch (website, Wikipedia)

And we mustn’t forget the artwork and poetry of the editor, Ryan Chandler.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

“a fine introduction to life in Barcelona and Catalonia”

Colm de Búrca, an Irish writer, wrote this review of Matthew Tree’s “Barcelona, Catalonia”, but couldn’t post it to Amazon because he hasn’t ever shopped there.

I got “Barcelona, Catalonia – A View from the Inside” some time back, and have been meaning to write some thoughts on it ever since. This book is a collection of essays and articles published by Matthew Tree over a period of several years, from 2006 to 2010. As such, it is the sort of book that you dip into from time to time, and usually skip over bits as you would if you were reading a newspaper. However on this occasion, I read the whole book, and more surprisingly, I read it over a period of a few days.

The book mainly deals with Catalonia, and as the bulk of the book was originally in the form of a weekly column in an English-language newspaper in Barcelona, it relies heavily on his life including his visits to England and elsewhere.

The author has lived most of the last 30 years in Barcelona, and from day one started to learn Catalan, rather than Spanish. As a result, he identifies with Catalonia rather than with Spain, and these parts of the book are what I found most interesting. Tree tells us, for instance, about the difficulties various Catalans have had with (the rest of) Spain. There was a case of a taxi-driver in Madrid who threatened to throw a woman out of his taxi for speaking Catalan on her phone; a man who was threatened in Saragossa because his car had Catalan number plates; areas where Catalan, the native language, is not allowed to be taught in the schools; right-wing violence, particularly in Valencia where it takes the form of a crusade against the Catalan language and its speakers. One article tells of torture by the Guardia Civil in 2007 and 1988. On the earlier occasion, this charming “civil” body threatened university Carles Castellano that they would “gang fuck your Catalan whore of a wife”.(p. 80)

As a writer, literature is obviously an important part of Tree’s life. He deals with various authors, including: Quim Monzó, who is probably the best living writer in Catalan, and definitely the best known of them; Jordi Cussà, an ex-heroin dealer and addict who has written a whole range of books since the year 2000 on themes that vary from a novelised version of his own experiences with drugs, to sci-fi, a historical novel, and the Bosnian war. And of course there is the poetess Dolors Miquel, and her irreverent poems in prayer form. Tree gives us part of her version (in translation) of the Hail Mary – “Our mother who is in rut/ hallowed be thy cunt” (p. 69)

Other themes deal with the integration of immigrants into Catalan society, along with incidents of racism. On integration, Tree has a good article on Yacine Belahcene, a musician with Algerian roots, and his band Nour; and where racism is concerned, there is Tree’s own eye-witness account of a black man being accused in a bar of robbing a woman’s phone – which was then found by the barman in the toilets.

His critical eye also deals with his own country, England, and doesn’t hide how much he despises the English establishment. This is dealt with particularly well in an article that mentions a toilet in Oxford University that was (literally) covered in shit, a subject too delicate to be spoken about on the University intranet, and apparently too delicate to clean either (p. 132).

In brief, this is a great book. I won’t use the word “enjoyed” as many of the matters dealt with there are anything but pleasant, but it is as a fine introduction to life in Barcelona and Catalonia that you are likely to find – with plenty of extraneous gems thrown in for good measure.

Monday, January 9, 2012

“When I lived in Barcelona, it never felt like Spain to me”

(I recently was interviewed in one of Barcelona’s principal newspapers, Ara, by Adam Martín. Here’s my translation of the article into English.)

Prize-winner Liz Castro is an American woman in love with Catalonia. So much so that she publishes books about Catalonia in the United States with herpublishing house, Catalonia Press. Òmnium recently awarded her the Joan B. Cendrós prize.

Adam Martín | Posted on 9 January 2012

She made a quick trip to Barcelona to collect her prize and we met briefly on the night of Santa Llúcia [the awards ceremony]. A few days later, via Skype, she explains how she came to know Catalonia. I can’t think of a more appropriate format for an interview of the author of a bestseller on HTML programming which has sold more than a million copies.

Your last name, Castro, doesn’t seem very American.

I’ll tell you the story, but it’s kind of long. My great-grandparents were from Andalusia and immigrated to Hawaii in 1907 to work in the sugar plantations. The two families met on the boat, worked in the same places and then later moved to the same town in California [where I was born].

So you have roots on the Peninsula.

Yes. And all my life I wanted to learn how to speak Spanish, because I wanted to conserve something of my father’s family. And when I went to college, I studied Spanish. And then found myself in a Catalan class.

In a university in California?

Yes, with a professor from Brazil, funny, huh? And he was very Catalanist: he made us read the Avui newspaper [the first Catalan language newspaper begun after Franco died], and sing “Baixant de la font del gat” [a Catalan nursery rhyme song] and even Els Segadors [the Catalan National Anthem]. And he told us a lot about linguistic policy. At the university I also studied a fair bit of sociolinguistics, and I was very interested in bilingualism, figuring out why, when there is more than one language, one is used more often than the other.

And you had never been to Catalonia?

I had been in Spain a few times, in Madrid, and I had spent a week in Barcelona, but I didn’t know much about it. I did come in contact with Catalan, but in a very superficial way: at the house of some friends of a friend and they were watching Dallas in Catalan.

Why did you fall in love with Catalan?

I attended the Summer Catalan University in Prada [set up during the Franco era so that Catalans could keep studying about Catalonia and in Catalan], sort of by accident, and I was really blown away by the sense of identity, of nation that people had: they knew who they were. Maybe I was looking for that. I wanted to know more. I was 21 years old. And I remember that people treated me like a movie star: “An American who speaks Catalan, that’s awesome!” they said. That was in 1986, when they’re weren’t that many of us [Catalan speaking foreigners].

And then you moved to Barcelona.

I had $800 saved up, and I packed my things and decided to move to Barcelona. I estimated my savings would last for about two months. I didn’t want to be a tourist there, I wanted to be part of the city and live like a Catalan. I found an apartment in Vallcarca and then found work right away in a Macintosh software start-up, also by accident. And all of a sudden, I had enough money to stay for longer than two months.

What surprised you most about the city?

I didn’t understand when people slept, because we went out every night. And the schedule, in general. I sang in the Orfeó Català [a choral group] and our rehearsals started at 9:30 pm! In the US, that would be absolutely unheard of, no-one goes out for a rehearsal at that time of night! And I also realized how social everyone was: they spent hours and hours chatting, at lunch and at dinner, and after lunch and after dinner, the sobretaula. [Sobretaula is the Catalan word for the time you stay at the table and talk after you finish a meal.] In English we don’t even have a word for that.

How long were you here?

Six years. During the last three, I ran a small publishing house for which I found interesting Mac related books, secured the rights, had them translated into Spanish, and then sold them all over Spain. And then a publishing house in the US offered me a job in the US and I decided to go home.

Your ties with Catalonia continued?

Well, I brought a husband home with me, and he’s from Barcelona! [laughs]. We have three kids and we return each year and make an effort so that they speak Catalan. Last year we spent the whole year in Catalonia so the kids could go to school there and really learn the language well.

And how did you start publishing digital books about Catalonia in a market that seems a priori not very interested?

It is and it isn’t. Everyone I know probably knows more about Catalonia than they might have chosen to if they didn’t know me… But now there are lots of tools for spreading information! Facebook, Twitter. It just seems so unfair what happens in Catalonia. People from the US go there and they don’t have a clue what Catalonia is about. One of the things that I felt when I lived there was that it wasn’t Spain, Spain was someplace else. Madrid was Spain, but not Catalonia.

How can digital books and the internet help?

They make tools available that help every person be able to tell his or her own story, and explain whatever they want. The gatekeepers are disappearing; you don’t have to convince anyone to publish what you’re thinking about, you can do it yourself.

What have you published with Catalonia Press?

Two books: one by Matthew Tree, Barcelona, Catalonia and one by Toni Strubell and Lluís Brunet, What Catalans Want. Now the access to publishing is so much simpler and I can help people know Catalonia much better. It’s a small thing that I can do. And I need to. A few days agao, there was a terrible article about [the budget and] the autonomous communities in the New York Times. Whoever wrote it had no idea what they were talking about!