Photo by Richard McCrann
Ronald Fraser is a renowned oral historian who has written four books about Spain’s recent past. He made his name with the publication in 1974 of his epic tome Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike traditional history texts, the book is fused with interviews and first-hand accounts from ordinary people caught up in the conflict. He lived in Barcelona whilst carrying out research for the book, and has since revisited the city on many occasions.
Fraser’s links with Spain stretch back to the Fifties when he first arrived in the country to write a novel after quitting his job as a reporter with Reuters. He has lived in Valencia since the mid-Eighties with his wife, Aurora Bosch, who is a professor of contemporary history. In 2006, his fourth—and most likely his last, he says—book about Spain, Napoleon’s Cursed War: Spanish Popular Resistance in the Peninsular War 1808-1814, was published to critical acclaim.
What’s your overall impression of Barcelona and its residents?
I have very fond memories of Barcelona; I lived in the city for five months in the Seventies whilst carrying out interviews for my book on the Civil War. I believe Barcelona has become much more cosmopolitan since hosting the Olympic Games in 1992. This might have been a process the Catalans were able to originate as they are more cosmopolitan in outlook than other people in the rest of Spain.
But they [Catalans] are also more parochial, more shut in on themselves. From my experience, living in Barcelona was like looking down the wrong end of a telescope: the people have a view of the centre (Madrid) that is conditioned by Catalan history. Saying that, I’ve always found Barcelona the place where I would best like to live, for two reasons: it’s cosmopolitan and has access to the sea. What more could you want from a Mediterranean city?
Are the current anarchists in Barcelona part of the anarchist tradition that was so prevalent during Spanish Civil War?
Modern day anarchists in Barcelona are a different phenomenon to the anarchists of the Thirties. This latter movement was based on working-class ideology, which was concerned with taking over the means of production. The current anarchists have their roots in the Sixties' social revolution; consequently, they have a different sort of anarchist outlook, and are a reaction against many things in a modern capitalist society.
There is one great contradiction in present day Spain: while cement is being poured over great portions of the country, many young people don’t own property because of the economic conditions. Consequently, this has led to high levels of squatting in places like Barcelona and other parts of Spain.
Do you support a ban on bullfighting in Barcelona?
Yes, it’s a great move. We don’t need this brutal and archaic thing. It’s not a sport because sport requires a level playing field between two sides; clearly, bullfighting is not evenly balanced as it always results in the bull being killed. I would like to see a ban on bullfighting extended to the rest of Spain. As a matter of fact, football has become the most dominant spectator activity in Spain, more so than bullfighting.
Which Catalan politician has been the most successful since the transition?
Jordi Pujol was one of the smartest politicians operating in contemporary Spain. I don’t believe there are other politicians in Catalunya, today, who can equal Jordi Pujol for his ability to have achieved what he wanted for Catalunya as well as being able to operate right in the centre of national politics.