Wednesday, November 05, 2014

What Is The Truth?: Francesc de Borja Moll

A publishing house closed last month. It was eighty years old and was one of Mallorca's most important and most famous publishing companies. Its name was, and remains for the time being, Editorial Moll. It had been battling against financial difficulties for some years, had been placed in administration and, despite fundraising efforts, finally lost the battle. As part of the process of liquidation, buyers are likely to be sought for the collection of hundreds of thousands of books at its headquarters. Included among this vast collection is the "Diccionari català-valencià-balear", a work of enormous significance in that it was the first dictionary to bring together different strands of Catalan. It was a work which had been started by Antoni Maria Alcover, who died in 1932, and which was finally completed in 1962 by the person after whom the company was named - Francesc de Borja Moll Casanovas.

The timing of the founding of Editorial Moll in 1934 was both good and bad; good because it was during the period of the Second Republic, bad because of what happened two years later. Under the Republic, Catalan could flourish, and Editorial Moll was a publishing house for Catalan. So, given the bad timing, what happened to the company and to its founder once the Franco regime and the Falange set about their prohibition and persecution of Catalan?

My own knowledge of Borja Moll goes back some years. I came to know about him because he, like Antoni Maria Alcover, is afforded high levels of reverence in Mallorca, especially Alcover. I confess, however, that until now and with an interest sparked off by the closure of Editorial Moll, I had never paid over much attention to his background. And so, it was with more than a little surprise that I found a lengthy article by an historian, Mariano Bendito Saura, that was posted on his blog in 2011 and which was entitled "The historical-linguistic misrepresentations of Francesc de Borja Moll" **.

The company, it would appear, didn't encounter any great difficulties and nor did Borja Moll. And that was because, and Bendito is not the only one to have asserted this, he was a member of the Falange. Bendito says that during the Civil War Borja Moll was in the propaganda department of the Falange and goes on to say that in 1940 he collaborated on a project which was sponsored, among others, by Pilar Primo de Rivera, sister of the founder of the Falange and therefore daughter of the 1920s' dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera. This project was a propaganda exercise to promote the notion of Catalan fascism and a unitary Catalan and language.

Bendito's article, apart from being lengthy, is complex and far from straightforward. It devotes attention to detail of linguistic development and cites innumerable references to this development and to political interference and orders. But at the start of the article, he makes his sentiments clear. "Borja Moll (director of Editorial Moll, ex-Falangist from Palma de Mallorca ...) is an unethical and dishonest person who sold Catalan imperialism and who betrayed and disowned all Balearic historical and linguistic truth." He implies, therefore, that "Catalanisation" of the islands' languages was an invention but was one which re-emerged from 1970 in a very different political and cultural form.

Bendito, who describes himself as being "passionate for historical truth", paints a picture of Borja Moll which is hard to reconcile with what he achieved, e.g. founding the Obra Cultural Balear in 1962 or the grand honour for Catalan "letters" in 1971, and with what Editorial Moll became, a publishing house of great significance which promoted Catalan and which over its eighty years published works by names of cultural and historical importance such as Alcover and the poet Miquel Costa i Llobera. Perhaps Borja Moll had been put under pressure by the Falange. He wouldn't have been the only one. Whatever his involvement, it didn't last, and nor did the strict anti-Catalan dogma that the Franco regime initially pursued with such rigour.

The article does, however, point to complex linguistic arguments which, while somewhat obscure and arcane, inform so much of current-day arguments in Mallorca, those to do with language, culture and education. Bendito is not unique in presenting a version of history which seeks to debunk a Mallorcan link to Catalan (and thus Catalonia) and to the notion of the Catalan Lands. The problem is, and with the greatest of respect to him and to his research, getting at the "truth" is made difficult because of how current-day politics create fertile ground for competing versions of history. His version is firmly in the anti-Catalanist camp.

Editorial Moll folded because of financial difficulties, and one source of these difficulties was the elimination of regional government support for books in Catalan. Borja Moll's son says that this stemmed from "the government's extreme belligerence towards Catalan". Politics, always politics.


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