1920 saw the births of the novelist Joan Perucho and the socialist leader Josep Pallach in Catalonia, of filmmaker Federico Fellini in Italy, the writer Charles Bukowski in America, along with the actors Yul Brynner, Walter Matthau and Shelley Winters, the singer Peggy Lee, the jazz musician Charlie Parker and the LSD proto-hippie Timothy Leary; also born in 1920 were the musician and writer Boris Vian in France (who died in a cinema, 39 years later while watching the film adaptation of one of his books), the musician Ravi Shankar in India, the writer Miguel Delibes in Spain, and the World War II heroine Yevegniya Rudneva in the USSR. In 1920, the prestigious Catalan labour lawyer Francesc Layret was shot dead by assassins linked to the Spanish military, whereas the Spanish novelist Pérez Galdós, the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, and the relentless defender of the Welsh language Owen Edwards, all passed away from natural causes. The Norwegian Knut Hamsun won the Nobel Prize (which he collected when he was blind drunk). Prohibition was imposed in the United States, eventually leading to the invention of cocktails and bathtub gin; and in the same country women’s suffrage was finally put into effect (but they couldn’t drink to celebrate it). F. Scott Fitzgerald published his first novel, ’This Side of Paradise’ (in which a 27 year old woman was described as ’old’). Estonia fought a war of independence against the Soviet Union, and won. The British army burnt down the centre of Cork, which didn’t stop most of Ireland becoming independent two years later. Arabs and Jews clashed in Jerusalem resulting in 9 deaths and 216 injured. Adolf Hitler presented his first political programme to the fledgling Nazi Party. Three African American circus workers were lynched by a mob of thousands in Minnesota. The guerrilla fighter Nestor Makhno established a stateless, anarchist society in eastern Ukraine, but was defeated by Trotsky’s Red Army the following year, went into exile in Paris and drank himself to death.
In short, a hundred years ago artists of all stripes saw the light of day for the first or last time; conflicts were resolved or flared up or dragged on (and the groundwork was laid for future ones); some laws were passed that improved people’s lives; whereas others – some of them objectively daft – made them considerably worse; a few countries lost their sovereignty and a few more gained theirs; some people committed sickening crimes and others never hurt a fly; and in general the 1,971,496,000 people who existed on the five continents in 1920 tried to muddle their way through their lives as best they could (the way one does).
A similar state of affairs will doubtless prevail all over the planet in 2020, homo sapiens having proved itself times beyond number to be a species as predictable as, oh, cats. Personally however, there is one particular event that is far from predictable but which I would very much like to see long before the year is out: the absolution and release of Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, jailed for having helped to bring about a referendum that a majority of the Catalan population wanted; and Ferran Jolis, Germinal Tomàs, Alexis Codina and Jordi Ros, imprisoned in Madrid on evidence-free terrorism charges. For what it’s worth, I – and, I’m sure, many, many others – wish them all a genuinely happy New Year.