The Spanish writer Jorge Semprun is an exceptional witness to events in the 20th century. He was born in Madrid but has spent a large part of his life in Paris, where he still lives. A member of the French resistance, he was arrested and sent to a concetration camp. Having survived he joined the Communist Party to continue his fight against Franco. At 85 Semprun is still writing. He spoke to euronews about Europe and the controversial re-examination of the Franco era in Spain.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: “Before we begin, thank you for welcoming euronews into your home.” Jorge Semprún: “Don’t mention it.” euronews: “It’s almost a month since the European elections. The outcome was very bad for the left, the socialists, how do you explain this phenomenon?” Jorge Semprún: “It’s hard to explain. I’ll try to answer in a global sense. We can say it’s not just a problem for France or Spain, not just a national problem. We’re at the end of an era of predominance by the left and the socialists, leaving aside the hard-left who never had much influence on the destiiny of Europe. So, why is there crisis? It’s paradoxical because at a time of global crisis in capitalism, a social-democrat solution would seem obvious, an equitable, balanced reformist solution, but no! We can’t find one. It’s a phenomenon of huge historical importance and ultimately the outcome is difficult to predict.” euronews: “Could the record low turnout be linked to the collapse of the left? Because, historically, the lower the turnout, the worse the Socialist results.” Jorge Semprún: “In Europe, and in the rest of the world there’s been a crisis in the parliamentary system for years. And this crisis is manifest in several way. Low regard for the political class in general is one cause. Above all, fundamentally there’s the turnout problem which has been falling across Europe. Abstentionism’s been rife in all the European elections. There’s a mistaken belief in public opinion that these elections are less important than regional or legislative elections in each country. This abstentionism is reaching shocking, dangerous, alarming levels.” euronews: “One of the phrases that stands out from your book “European man”, which you wrote with the former French premier, Dominique de Villepin, is: ‘the greatest danger Europe faces is apathy’. Are we in an era of apathy” Jorge Semprún: “Unfortunately we’re reverting to an era of apathy. This phrase comes from a German philosopher of the 1930s and is equally valid today. The greatest danger is apathy, disenchantment, indifference, and it comes from everything we’re not offering our young people. We offer them things than interest them a lot, like university exchanges, worldwide travel, but we don’t offer them a common, global project…why Europe? What is our role? What does it signify? We have to offer them more than an Erasmus programme.” euronews: “You were a victim of the Second World War. You survived a Nazi concentration camp. Your memories, and those of a great many of your generation…do you think they count for little with following generations?” Jorge Semprún: “These memories are losing their main source of sustenance, the victims. In a little time there will be no one left to say: “I saw it”, just as the Spanish painter Goya signed some of his paintings and engravings. Memory becomes history and it’s ok that memory survives as history. But we must deal with this problem now. I don’t think we can base any European project on memories of the past and mistakes to avoid. We must present something more positive to the young. Not simply memories, but the future… and that’s the dilemma.” euronews: “You could also be considered a victim of the Franco regime because your were obliged to live in exile from your adolescence. Two years ago the Spanish government approved a law to compensate the victims of Franco, what’s your view on that?” Jorge Semprún: “I don’t consider myself to be a victim of Franco. The victims are those who quietly endured the repression. It’s a somewhat exaggerated distinction to say that… but I consider that because I fought against it, I wasn’t a victim but an actor in this period of history. The reconstruction of democracy in Spain brought victory to the democratic values there were defeated in the Civil War. We have to restore a balance so that everyone has the right to be remembered and exist historically; the victims, the families of the victims of reprisals, the families of the assassinated et cetera. It’s a complicated process, but essential. We could do with a long moment of amnesia and an amnesty to reconstruct democracy. Today democracy is strong enough and consolidated enough, perhaps, to even pay for the luxury of a full account of the past. We have to remember everything, the good and the bad, one and all.” euronews: “Judge Baltasar Garzon is trying to launch a legal process against the Franco dictatorship. It’s creating a huge controversy in Spain. Critics say these proceedings will re-open rather than heal old wounds.” Jorge Semprún: “I think it’s a problem that has to be dealt with very carefully because to reconstruct the past, if we do it in a heavy-handed or incorrect way, we’ll re-open wounds, even though I believe those injuries have been soothed by the passage of time and the arrival of new generations. I think Spanish society needs to keep remembering, just as it once needed amnesia. That is essential.”