It has been a while since I touched on anything connected to the political/cultural temperature around here. I do have one pet theory that I’ve been chewing over for a few months now. It’s not a particularly original idea so any of you who know the proper cultural studies term for it should let me know. I decided to write this after seeing the hilariously tragic TeleMadrid video over at South of Watford.
I’ll start off by reiterating that I’m not a Catalan nationalist. I oppose nationalism in general as it doesn’t really fit with any of my other beliefs and often seems to be a divisive concept. In this way, I also oppose Spanish, French and British nationalism. At the same time, I do not like the idea of a mono-cultured, mono-linguistic world where people’s cultural differences are erased in the name of ‘peace’. It wouldn’t work and we’d lose a lot of what makes humanity so interesting.
Anyway, my theory is pretty simple. People who come from dominant, mono-cultured, mono-linguistic nation states are generally less sympathetic to the culture and ‘nationality’ of smaller, less dominant regions and countries.
At the same time, the most strident opponents of nationalism are nearly always from countries with very strong and safe nationalisms*. Example: John at Iberian Notes. He’s an intelligent guy who sees absolutely no contradiction in slamming any and all movements which seek to promote Catalan culture, identity or autonomy… while at the same time being an extremely noisy cheerleader for American imperialism. His opposition to nationalism seems to go as far as La Franja (and takes in the Basque Country too). When looking at his own country, he seems completely oblivious of the fact that he strongly supports American nationalism. In the past, he has also expressed strong support for Israel (a highly nationalist society) but condemns Palestinian nationalism as dangerous (or ‘terrorist’). And he’s not alone: these are standard and accepted positions.**
Similarly, domestic opposition to Catalan nationalism is nearly always couched in the language of Spanish nationalism. There can be few arguments less logical than ‘down with Catalan nationalism: one language for all Spaniards’, a political movement which is being actively promoted by some Spanish politicians, El Mundo and various Spanish and ex-pat (i.e. British and American) bloggers.
Actually, it is often the ex-pats who are the most strident opponents of Catalan autonomy and culture. In my experience, people born in other areas of Spain who live and work here (often married to a Catalan), speak the language and generally support at least the status quo, and sometimes even the push for further autonomy. It has always been my German, French and British colleagues who find Catalans to be ‘stupid’, ‘silly’, ‘pathetic’ or ‘dangerous’ for insisting on speaking the language they feel most comfortable with. It is no coincidence that the British, French and German states are the world’s most important historical nation-states.
In the end, what it comes down to is the perceived relative strength of one nation against another. If Catalonia were still the great nation it was for about 40 years, they might be the dominant nation-state, mocking the English for not speaking French, or those regionalist losers in Andalucia. They’d probably be just as bad as the British, the French and the Germans are now. And the British, the French and the Germans would no doubt feel the same indignation at being told they should speak another language in the shops on their own street, just to ‘make things easier’.
*This is not to say that just because someone’s English, she cannot oppose nationalism.
**So, one man’s nation is another man’s region.