Most Catalans love to think of themselves as left of center, yet the Catalan bourgeoisie was a willing accomplice of Franco’s fascism, as any class analyst would have it.
One of the most infamous fascist Catalans was the recently deceased Juan Antonio Samaranch, made Marquis by King Juan Carlos, another of Franco’s protégés. When I was a kid in the grey Sixties streets of Barcelona’s s Eixample we laughed at his posters often displayed during “elections”. We obviously underestimated the enduring class privilege, power obsession, and sheer sycophancy that would lead Samaranch to international notoriety.
Samaranch was not unique by all means. Indeed, most bourgeois Catalans implicitly supported Franco and gravitated quickly towards Nationalist positions when the tide turned against fascism and for liberal democracy. But Samaranch’s unapologetic support of the fascist dictator and his regime, coupled with international projection at the helm of the International Olympic Committee (IPC) in the 1908s, make him particularly offensive.
He was born to a textile bourgeois family, showing early on anti-worker proclivities. Franco’s 1936 coup with the support of the military, the banks, the church and large landowners caught him in the Republican area. He duly defected to the fascist side and joined the Falange (the fascist party that harasses Spaniards to this day by prosecuting judge Baltasar Garzon, himself the prosecutor of crimes committed during Franco’s rule 1936-77).
Samaranch studied at the IESE Business School known for its ties to the Opus Dei, an ultraconservative Catholic sect; was a high ranking member of the government of the city and the province of Barcelona, of the Spanish Cortes, and held a post equivalent to a minister of sports, all during Franco’s regime. He also became ambassador to Russia, a post that he used to get elected as president of the IOC. In his later years he became president of the La Caixa, the largest of Spanish savings institutions.
The photo here shows that as late as 1974 Samaranch proudly showcased his alliance to a regime that sent more than a million in exile and murdered hundreds of thousands civilians during the war and after. The photo shows Samaranch in blue shirt, fascist right hand in the air, paying homage to the 38th anniversary of Franco’s Fascist coup. At the dictator’s death he went on record declaring Franco’s fascism “…one of the most brilliant periods in the history of Spain”.
As member of the COI, Samaranch’s misdeeds have been well documented (see Lord of the Rings by Andrew Jennings who ended up in jail for infuriating Samaranch and his cronies). Samaranch had a sick sense of entitlement demanding to be treated as Marquis, called “excellence” and had a totalitarian way of running the OIC (obsessing over the need for “sacred unity”, a culture of obedience that he learned from Fascism’s totalitarian view of military, church, government, industrial relations and monarchy). Brownnoser without equal since his days of friendship with Franco’s daughter, he persisted in eulogizing his predecessor at the OIC (Avery Brundage) with multiple unsolicited letters as means to promote his own appointment. He transformed the Olympic Games into a giant franchise pitting city against city resulting in huge debts (Greece 2004), anti labor and anti immigrant labor markets (Barcelona), mass displacement of residents (Beijing 2008), and environmental destruction (Vancouver, 2010). Gone were the days of the Olympic spirit as he welcomed the professionalization of sports and the sell-out of entire cities for the benefit of global corporations. This resulted in the postponement and neglect of cities’ most pressing needs (affordable housing, decent jobs, green space, health care, just to name a few). The crony culture he promoted at the COI (“amiguismo”) caught with him at Salt Lake City with allegations of corruption leading to internal investigations. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, yet he had elected the majority of the IOC members.
Unfortunately but predictably the official Spanish press, as well as most North American, and European media chose to ignore Samaranch’s past and deeds. From the incongruous praise by Carod-Rovira, the leader of the so called Republican left (a liberal nationalist party that held power in Catalonia before Franco’s coup) “The most important Catalan in the world of sports…” to the predictable misinformation of EL PAIS “that reproduces the eulogy of the archbishop of Barcelona “…we say goodbye today to a true Catalan …who worked for the betterment of the international community…”.
The funeral, attended by 4,000 in a greater urban area of more than 3 million was a who who’s of regime supporters (the King Juan Carlos, the prince of Asturias Don Felipe de Borbon, the Catholic Church), the cynical Catalan bourgeoisie that did as well with Franco as with democracy (Pasqual Maragall), and modern right-wing celebrities of the world of sports (Rafael Nadal, Emilio Sanchez Vicario, Joan Laporta the president of the Barcelona F.C.).
References to Samaranch’s fascist past during Franco’s murderous regime have been shamefully absent. Such silence is proof once again of the “pact of silence” under which the transition from fascism to democracy was carried out in Spain, and the price that Spain is still paying for it (economic, political and cultural, as Vicente Navarro has shown repeatedly here in CounterPunch and elsewhere). Once again a Spanish fascist dies in peace in a comfortable private hospital, treated with honor and praised by the local and international media.
Carles Muntaner is a social epidemiologist from Barcelona. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada.