The catastrophe of Prestige, of which 20 years have passed, promoted an unprecedented citizen mobilization in Galicia. Many cultural professionals played a prominent role in this civic movement, channeled through the Nunca Máis or Burla Negra platforms, in a few months in which poets, actresses and actors, musicians or filmmakers turned to protest actions. “There was a special brotherhood, moved by the idea that culture was to share and not to compete. Nobody argued for an acronym”, reflects two decades later the writer and journalist Manuel Rivas, iconic voice and image of the great demonstrations in a Galicia with a heavy heart.
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Each person put their creativity at the service of that anger that festered in society. There was a struggle to eradicate the distorted official story, through actions, words and an iconography on which several protagonists of that moment reflect with the perspective of two decades.
“There was a struggle for the meaning of the words that could explain the dimension of Nunca Máis, and it was still not given due attention. To reach a broad protest space, the different way of putting it on stage was fundamental”, affirms the journalist and today co-director of the monthly magazine lights. Rivas borrows a question that Martin Luther King raised in his day, to explain what was being experienced: “Community or chaos? Luther King asked himself. It was clear that the community was Never Again and what it represented and the chaos was that erratic government of Aznar”.
Among that community of visible faces of the culture of Nunca Máis, was the singer Uxía Senlle, who assumed the responsibility of being the platform’s spokesperson. “I accepted because I had never seen the people of culture in Galicia so united, wanting to organize and reflect, and for me that was something unprecedented. It was the symbol of the union of a people against contempt”, affirms the artist about that historical moment.
“It created its own way of doing things. They were actions of denunciation and vindication, but with a poetic or humorous charge. We named them as manifesta-actions and all the acts had a line”, he recalls about the gestation of the platform. In addition to these manifesta-actionsinitiatives of great repercussion were born from the cultural sector, such as the Expansive Concert of Nunca Máis, which was joined by a multitude of musicians in the 280 performances programmed throughout the world, the collective film You have to throw them away which added 25 short films by different filmmakers, or numerous albums and books.
“Getting close to Laxe was an unstoppable impulse. That smell of fuel from kilometers before, as if there were a gas station, struck me. Every time I see those images I get excited again,” says actress Patricia Vázquez, who participated in a several-day lock-in at the Laxe library that was the seed for Burla Negra, an initiative promoted by artists and members of the cultural sector. of which he was spokesman. She was at that time a popular face for her participation in the series Spring tides, which smashed audience records on TVG. “The series had just ended. We were left without work, we were friends and it became a great hotbed of activists, with well-known faces who took the front line of the protest at that time”, recalls Vázquez about numerous colleagues who stood up on the front line such as Luis Tosar, Miguel of Lira or Carlos Blanco.
The black flag for the tar, suitcases and umbrellas
“From many of these people, like the members of the Chévere theater company, the proposals of the symbology and the concepts that were reflected in the mobilizations came out,” explains the singer Uxía Senlle, who participated in dozens of meetings at that time. “An iconography was created that came very directly,” agrees Manuel Rivas. “Castelao was already talking about the Holy Trinity of the symbols of Galicia, embodied by the tree, the cow and the fish, which was now in danger, and we needed to introduce a new symbology, explains the writer, who these days is celebrating the publication in the United States United of his book Or Newfoundland’s last dayCritics Award in 2015. The demonstrations were filled with symbols such as the Galician flag covered in tar, suitcases or umbrellas, “long before the umbrella revolution in Hong-Kong in 2014”, he stresses about this iconography ”generator of a message that creates good harmony, cleanses the language of fear and connects with popular culture“.
This connection to popular culture emerges revealingly in many examples of those days. Among the many demonstrations that were convened, there was one in Cee attended by thousands of people and joined by numerous poets who recited verses at the final concentration. “For me it was exciting because people remained motionless, mute, listening to poetry with enormous attention. It was an awakening of the verb to listen. Months before, people would not have been in tune with these poets or understood their words”, Manuel Rivas reflects on that reading that had an impact on him “because of the return to the power of words and how each one acquired a new meaning in the context of the catastrophe. ”.
Touched by the gift of knowing how to express emotion from words, Rivas was appointed to read a historic manifesto at the impressive demonstration in Santiago de Compostela, under the rain that fell on December 1, 2002. “That manifesto was very important, because it reached the entrails and the hearts of the people”, recalls Uxía Senlle, who closed that massive protest in the Obradoiro singing a shocking Alala das Marinas.
Just a few days before, an interview with Iñaki Gabilondo on Cadena Ser had served Rivas to outline a few words with the sea as the protagonist. Without the writer imagining it, in those live words, which shook the announcer himself, was the origin of the already historic Never More manifesto. “The content continues to have an extraordinary validity and that wave of solidarity was part of the self-protection process. For me the word revolution is not out of place when referring to Prestige, understood in the form of rewriting a new contract with nature”, affirms the writer, who defends the legacy of Nunca Máis. “I am not a triumphalist, but things have been achieved. For example, that manipulation and lies as a denial strategy would be totally unfeasible today. The Prestige it caused a change of look”, he exposes.
“The way of transferring the messages, to which we spent many hours, I think generated an ecological and poetic discourse and a mark on the following generations,” says Uxía, who reflects on the role of artists in critical moments: “First as citizens and then as artists, we have the obligation to change the policies that threaten our dignity”.
Patricia Vázquez fits into this profile of a committed actress who, however, is skeptical about the durability over time of the collective struggle of culture during the catastrophe of the Prestige. A few days ago, Vázquez was one of the visible faces of the demonstration in defense of the Galician public media and against manipulation in the CRTVG, from which he drew his own conclusions. “How many actors and familiar faces were there at this rally? People are much more afraid of retaliation. We regressed into pervasive meekness and self-censorship. In the time of Prestige that was different, there was more sense of community”, he reflects on what he considers a regression.
“I think that since that time there has been a greater creative excitement in Galicia and that is not by chance, because the spirit of sharing was maintained more in the space of culture than in politics. I sense that this is not an epilogue but a prologue to what may come”, predicts Manuel Rivas. In his facet as a writer, every year he visits numerous schools in Galicia and thinks about the conversations with young people: “The memory remains, which is something fundamental. You ask them for Never Again and they know what it is. It is present in them and they know that it is part of the construction of the identity of Galicia”.
Rivas, who these days has an agenda full of interviews commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Prestigeincluding those of the collective book Chapapote, in which he participates, he summarizes the meaning for him of all that mobilization: “In the calendar of victories and the calendar of defeats, I have Never Again marked as a victory.”