New blogs

Leherensuge was replaced in October 2010 by two new blogs: For what they were... we are and For what we are... they will be. Check them out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sastre: past and present as Spaniard and as Basque

There is today a very interesting interview with acclaimed Spanish language dramatic author Alfonso Sastre
at Gara newspaper. I am translating here, to the best of my capability, some of the most interesting passages.

Biographic notes:

Alfonso Sastre was born in 1926 at Madrid, beginning his career as dramatist in 1945, always with a rebellious intent that was heavily censored under fascism.

In 1974, in events that provide a sense of deja vú for today political repression, his wife, Eva Forest, and later himself as well were arrested for "collaboration with ETA". After his release on bail in 1975, and under death threats, he exiled himself to Bordeaux. Expelled by France in 1977, he is then refuged in Italy but returns to Spain upon his mother's death. After a second arrest for insults against the Army and the release of Eva, the family moves to Hondarribia in the Basque Country.

In 1998, upon the sudden judiciary closure of Egin newspaper, where he collaborated, he becomes director of its provisional replacement: Euskadi Información, a newspaper that published as stapled photocopies filled the void for moths until a new proper media was created from scratch and popular subscriptions: Gara.

In 2007, Eva Forest dies. In 2009 he became the leading figure of the list for the European Parliament Iniciativa Internacionalista, which suffered of widespread vote rigging, what probably prevented him from becoming MEP.

Some of his most celebrated plays are: 'Squad to death', 'The gag', 'Red earth', 'God's blood, Ana Kleiber', 'William Tell has sad eyes,' 'The fantastic tavern', 'The infinite journey of Sancho Panza', 'Too late for Philoctetes', 'Jenofa Juncal, the red gypsy woman of Jaizkibel mountain' and 'Where are you Ulalume, where are you?' His theater has been described as a mixture of Bertolt Brecht and the esperpento gender of Valle Inclán.

More information on Alfonso Sastre and Eva Forest at (in Basque and Spanish).

Interview fragments follow:


We are at a moment of laughing for not crying.


In the Basque Country there was a resistance to the Reform, that the Spanish left also proposed. A moment came when the ideas of a need of democratic break up vanished from the lands of Spain and found refuge in the Basque Country; it is here where the idea of going nowhere worth it if the new situation was not generated in terms of break up crystallized. These ideas crystallized here and are the origin of what later became the Basque Nationalist Left.


And Spanish and French intellectuals are at the height of the circumstances on the Basque case?

No, they are at the height of their ignorance of this situation. I believe that they are ignorants. I see that with the Spaniards I know: they are more or less at the same level, so to say, in everything but this issue. When the Basque issue is debated they ignore everything and, besides, it seems as if they reject trying to understand it.

Why that attitude?

Because of patriotism[1], of great power chauvinism... Lenin already mentioned chauvinistic patriotism; he made a criticism of what what was called great power chauvinism. And Spain and France are great powers in relation to the Basque Country. Chauvinism is a common philosophy that absolutely prevents them from seeing what is happening here. It is very difficuly. Friends living in Madrid, for example, say how difficult is to make understand some things that are understood living here. And it is because of the Spanish patriotism, which is totally blinding.


There are some people who have approached the problem and have understood it from Madrid; people like Antonio Álvarez-Solis[2], who understands the problem perfectly and is still a man who has moved all his life in territories distant from Basque matters. But he came by, looked and saw what was going on. Nothing but that. That, which looks so simple, must not be so because there are not many cases like him.


Eva[3] and I, specially Eva, created the Committee of Solidarity with the Basque Country and researched the tortures that were happening here, which were even more serious, more severe than the ones happening elsewhere in the State of Spain. Then we created some friendly links and these were part of the reasons why we came here.

And politically it is something I have said before: we saw that here the idea of break up [with fascism] was settled in a way in which it could not be prescinded and which was not betrayed. And all that complex of reasons made us came here, and also because in Madrid, for that great power chauvinism, we were in a rather not too "livable" situation, let's call it that way, at some times. If we would have remained there our destiny would have been to live in certain solitude or something like that, but we did not wish such a thing. And we did not doubt. We said: "our place from now on is the Basque Country", and we came to live here.


I have got setbacks because, even if the situation of a dramatist is not good anywhere in the Spanish territory, mine has been worse maybe for my betrayal of Spain, that is how my decision of choosing to live here has been evaluated. My career has gone downhill but would not have gone much better would I have not made this step; my works have been represented less than would have happened would I have stayed in Madrid. At the personal level however all have been satisfactions, because I would not enjoy the popular support, the sympathy I enjoy, the love from this People I love too... And that is a value that cannot be exchanged for anything.


And what do you think of a judiciary threat for a cause such as peace?

Peace is a subversive idea. It is a very subversive idea. That's it.


In the name of peace, for instance, or of justice, or freedom, in the Basque Country we witness arrests, illegalizations, repression... Do we live a perversion of language?

Effectively so, it is a perversion of language characteristic of power.


It is a weapon of mass destruction against intelligence; that is: intelligence is destroyed because it is dangerous for the system. And as they have all the might of the big media of expression and communication, they can do it: they can pervert language up to such extremes. And they do it. After all, it is a reflection of the intrinsic perversion of capitalism.


I have changed a lot in my theater, which has two very different phases. Since some moment I began making what I call complex tragedies. They are tragedies in which people laughs a lot sometimes. They are not really tragicomedies: tragicomedy is a balance that sometimes tends to one side and sometimes to the other, some sort of tragic line with comical episodes or a comic line with some tragic episodes. My complex tragedy is not a tragicomedy, it is true tragedy, just that, as life itself is that way, in these tragedies there are comical effects, and that makes theater becomes a representation of that complex reality; that is why I call them complex tragedies.


I am writing now some essays on [new socialism], a book titled: "Testing the future" in which I ask this kind of questions: how will socialism be? And some things are already very clear: we cannot talk anymore of a socialism of abundance; socialism cannot promise abundance anymore, that would be something negative. It is not socialism or abundance but neither socialism of poverty. Neither rich nor poor. It would be a society in which the concepts of rich and poor would be the ones excluded.


In the last years of fascism there was some sort of hyper-politicization of theater groups...

When Franco dies and reform begins instead of breaking up, previous compulsory censorship disappears and political parties become legal, including the communist party. Then the people of the hyper-politicized theater said: "our responsibility is over, there are now political parties, there is no censorship, so now let's do what we want". And the liberty they took was very minimal, almost ridiculous at times, because it was when total nudity appeared in the sceneries and language was populated by swear words. And that was freedom... so theater did not reach beyond. And some of the authors that had sponsored ideas of a true political theater were marginalized then; so, censors had not to forbid them anymore because it was the very companies which were not interested in their work. Censorship was not necessary anymore. That situation remains today.

Can that be a pattern of self-censorship to prevent uncomfortable situations?

Indeed. It is the same that happened under fascism. Possibilism as was called by Buero Vallejo[4] was a proposal of self-censorship. We all censored ourselves in some way. I wrote a piece on torture but, if I wanted it to be performed in Madrid (as I wanted), I could not place the action in Madrid. So I placed it in a more or less imaginary Algeria. But what I meant to denounce was torture in Spain. When this piece was translated to Russian, the translator asked me if I minded to place the action in Madrid. "I do not just mind" - I replied - "but that is what I would have done if possible". And in Moscow it was titled "Madrid does not sleep by night".


Officially there is no censorship. What do you think?

It does exist, it does exist... Censorship has been reproduced in different ways. The schedulers of theaters are today's censors. And is not that they have a purely ideological censorship but also a more trivial censorship as well. For instance, a piece of mine was not scheduled because they said it was sad: so they were censors against sadness.


Three years without Eva Forest... What did Eva mean in your life?

I am not yet in conditions of speaking of Eva calmly, but if it can be said in few words I will, and that Eva is... Thanks to her the Basque drift of our family happened. Would not it have been for her probably I'd be now in Madrid, in some apartment I don't know where, bittered about life. I do not know if I would have got to know well about this country because maybe I would be myself ignoring it, would I? I don't think so because I knew already enough to keep researching the matter. And, well, we are Basques because Eva wanted us to be so and she made it.


I am against what some years ago was called in Europe "weak thought". It was a criticism to Stalinist communists: better to have a weak thought than a dogmatic thought. I agreed that thought must not be dogmatic, because if it is dogmatic then it is not thought, but I disagreed with resigning to a mere weak thought. We will have to try at least that our thought has some strength; we will have to search for the reasons on which something we say is solid and not something circumstantial that is going to become false tomorrow but which will remain as truth tomorrow, the day after and long time in the future. The great thinkers have produced thoughts that are still valid today.




[1] The use of the terms patriotism and nationalism seems to be one of those cases of "lost in translation" because while they are essentially synonyms in both Spanish and English, the emotional charge of each is quite different in either language. Patriotismo in Spanish has a fascist vibe and usage while nationalismo an anti-fascist and peripheral secessionist one. In English instead it is normally the term patriotism which has the favorable vibe and nationalism the opposite. I decided however to keep the literal translation of patriotismo into patriotism.

[2] Spanish-Catalan famous journalist and writer, founder of Interviú magazine and promoter of El Períodico (a Catalan diary). He took part in debates in the Basque TV until the new undemocratic government of López took over.

[3] Eva Forest, his late wife. Another famous author in Spanish language and a dedicated activist.

[4] Buero Vallejo Nájera, Spanish tragic novel author under fascism.

No comments: