Revisited Debate about Catalan Nationalism

A long and interesting discussion which in the end, as all good discussions do, touched all aspects of life, the universe and everything (42), made me reconsider a few things. It’s a process similar to having a drink with your fellow colleagues, band members or family: little iritations are not so important as they seemed, life is not so much about what’s going on in your head and after all the most important things in life are basic and obvious.

The whole debate about Catalan nationalism and Catalan independence, which keeps on being a basic ingredient for politicians to avoid talking about real issues: economy, housing, security, general well-being, is just another “brick in the wall“, a political wank.

The beauty is that I live in a city where two languages (probably in the future three) live side by side. Since I came to live here, I have marvelled at the spontaneous capacity of people here to switch from one language to the other, not only during a conversation but even in mid-sentence. I think that is something to be celebrated, a rare example of “mestizaje” (“linguistic mix”) that shows flexibility and social coherence. One thing that always struck me of Spain as a whole, be it Andalucia, Madrid, the Basque countries or Catalunia, is that at the core of its culture (or cultures, if you wish) is “pasárselo bien”, a desire to have a good time for all, having a drink or a meal (food being an important part of its culture) together and making sure everyone is feeling comfortable.

The fact that some people want to turn this into a problem (Catalanists or anti-Catalanists, both), a source of anger, antigonism and obnoxious stupidity, should not be taken as a proof that having different languages and cultures in one country is a problem (because it isn’t a problem) but rather as a proof that wherever you go, there are always people (luckily, only a few) that have the need to fuck things up and create imaginary problems.

Differences between people or groups of people are real, but instead of a clash, it should be a celebration. I am beginning to sound like a hippie, and I admit to still enjoying a slight afterglow after a night of drinks, so I stop now.


3 thoughts on “Revisited Debate about Catalan Nationalism

  1. I’ve lived and worked in Barcelona for 12 years.

    The main tactic Catalan nationalists (CNs) use to justify their position is victimismo. In the Catalan media a day does not go by when Catalans and Cataluña are not portrayed as victims of Madrid. That is also why Franco is still mentioned so often: he is the great bogeyman the CNs need and they need to keep him “alive” somehow.

    This tactic was used with great success by both Hitler and Stalin to justify their hatred and persecution of Jews and Kulaks. Hitler pounded away at the idea that the German people were the victims of the Jews and finally got the German people to go along with genocide. The same with Stalin: he convinced many Russians that the Kulaks were “the enemy of the people” and that their genocide by starvation was justified. Obviously, the reverse was true: the Jews and the Kulaks were the victims. (There are still Stalinists today who justify the murder by starvation of millions as that which was necessary at the time to industrialize the Soviet Union.)

    This brings me to the second tactic of CNs: They know where their weaknesses lie so they try to pre-empt an attack by accusing the other side of exactly that of which they themselves are guilty: e.g. nationalism. CNs accuse the “españolitos” of being nationalists. Everyone knows that the defining characteristic of nationalism is the desire by citizens of a region of an existing state for independence from said state. But CNs are rarely challenged (as on this Blog, for example,) when they call Spanish patriots “nationalists” (along with various pejorative adjectives). Obviously, Spaniards can’t be justifiably described as “nationalists” because Spain isn’t a region in another country.

    Which brings me to the second part of the pre-emptive tactic: Hammering away at the idea that Spaniards hate Catalans and the Catalan language. CNs need to first accuse Spaniards of hatred so their own is either justified or obscured. The truth is the overwhelming majority of Spaniards don’t hate Catalans or the Catalan language. I have spent significant time in a country (other than Spain) with a separatist region, but outside of that region. There is naturally resentment among the people of a country toward those who would want to break that country apart. This is normal human behaviour. If someone in your family wishes to disown you, you tend to take that personally. I have travelled to all parts of Spain during these 12 years and specifically asked people how they felt about Cataluña and there is certainly resentment toward Catalan separatistas in the rest of Spain, but there is absolutely no general animosity toward (non-independentista) Catalans or the Catalan language. To claim otherwise is nothing short of a dirty lie.

    Which brings me to the trivial manner with which secession is handled by the CNs: They seem to think that this is something without serious consequences and that the rest of Spain has no say in it. As an illustration, let’s take the Quebec issue: In 1980, Quebecers were given the opportunity to vote on sovereignty. The vote was very close: 49.8% for and 50.2% against. People obviously had voted in favor not believing that it would ever really happen and got the shock of their lives when it ended up that close. (The federal gov’t had decreed that 50% + 1 vote would be sufficient to break up a country!)
    In the aftermath of the referendum, the separatist Parti Québécois lost power in Quebec and has never regained it. Separatist sentiment has receded to about 30% from it’s height at the referendum. This illustrates how people tend to think lightly about breaking up a country and fail to realize the consequences until, perhaps, it’s too late. Everyone knows that people tend to vote in referendums, not so much about the issue at hand, but to vent their frustrations about other things. Canada is considered to be one of the best countries in the world in which to live. Breaking it up is not only an issue for Quebecers but certainly also an issue for other Canadians. The Canadian federal government has also realized that such an important decision can’t be made based on a simple majority of 50% + one vote on any one given day. After all, the next day the vote might be different, especially if it’s that close. A solid majority of 66% should be the threshold for any such change to the constitutional make-up of a country. And people outside of the separatist area should be consulted also. It affects them also. It’s their country also. CNs arrogantly say that it’s their business only. Not so!

    CN’s should keep in mind that sovereignty brings with it many financial obligations: the costs of the armed forces, diplomatic corps, contributions to the UN, NATO, the EU, the administration of social services, taxation, etc., costs which could easily negate any financial advantage Catalonia might enjoy independent from Spain. Remember, CNs don’t say they wish to exit the EU; Catalonia would not be considered a poor country receiving benefits. It would become a net-payer into the EU. Costs that are now borne by 47 million Spaniards would have to be duplicated and borne by only 7.5 million, raising the cost per capita in Catalonia significantly. One could compare Catalonia to Denmark: Average tax burden in Denmark: 49% – Average tax burden in Spain: 35%.
    But I don’t hear CNs ever talking about this…

    Spaniards outside Catalonia would be deprived of the obvious advantages of having a major port and the main road access to markets in Europe. Catalonia is more prosperous than many other regions simply because of its great geographic location. (NOT because Catalans are more industrious, as they would have you believe. In fact, Catalans should be ashamed that they haven’t achieved more with their fortuitous location. Instead of being obsessed with their identity and language, they could have come up with some great new ideas. Let me think: in view of their glorious tradition in textiles, maybe they could have come up with Inditex’s revolutionary brand, ZARA, which is the envy of the industry world-wide. Why was it the pescaderos in Galicia that came up with this and not the “superior” Catalans?)

    Another of the underlying sentiments is that of pure greed. The CNs are not the only ones, of course. In Alberta, Canada, and Alaska, USA, there are minorities who would have their province/state secede from the union simply because, due to their richness of natural resources such as oil, their citizens would be largely exempt from taxation. Similarly, Catalonia would be able to keep more of its wealth and not have to share with less fortunate, landlocked agricultural areas. This is just plain old ugly greed.

    Spain, being Catalonia’s biggest trading partner, would be weakened by Catalan secession and therefore be less able to buy Catalan goods (any boycott notwithstanding). Spain is also one of the biggest brand names in tourism. “Catalonia” has no brand equity whatsoever. The single biggest industry in Catalonia would suffer because it would no longer be “Spain.”

    So, CNs, be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

    To summarize: Catalan nationalists are greedy, deliberately disingenuous, hypocritical and are playing a dangerous game. They are also very stubborn and impervious to logic. Catalan Nationalists believe they are more “European” and that they are superior to the “Africans” of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula (as the French have said, “Africa starts at the Pyrenees.”) We have all seen what these kinds of misguided feelings of superiority and the related tactics of victimismo can lead to. Let’s hope that these people live out their lives in the misery of their hatred but well in the minority, where they belong.

    P.S. Forget about accusing me of saying Spaniards are the victims of the Catalans. I didn’t say that and didn’t mean to imply that. Also, there is such a thing as excessive patriotism. I just didn’t see the need to get into that here. N.

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