My nation is strong, your nation is shit

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’.

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*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.

12 thoughts on “My nation is strong, your nation is shit

  1. I wonder if John’s not suffering philosophical torments now the PP has officially traded in Spanish nationalism for support for whichever bunch of regional wackos will deliver them power at the next elections.

  2. Interesting post. This stance on nationalism by inward migrants is probably a defence mechanism. This happens in Welsh-speaking Wales also. People move in not realising that the lingusitic landscape is predominantly Welsh, then have to adjust to this new and probably scary scenario. The easiest way out is to take a negative stance, rather than make the effort (and it is an effort) to learn the language and embrace the culture as it is.

    The nationalism of say France (read Paris) and Britain (read South East England) is very different to the nationalism of Wales and Catalonia though. The first two are based on imperialism (lost imperialism at that), whilst the other two are based on an attempt to safeguard a culture from overpowering exisisting hegemony.

  3. I would say Wales is tribal..within the country as well as struggling with the nationalism and welsh language argument. I tricky place for politics

  4. As far as the language goes – you should write this blog in Catalán – or Welsh if it makes you feel better.
    ‘Course, no one would read it.
    See – it’s about *communication* – that’s what pisses off those citizens who speak a major language.

  5. You’re a wise guy, Tom. Your no-nationalism is pretty similar to my nationalism. We just gotta base our ideas on common sense and we also should do our best to avoid stupid prejudices.

  6. Hi Tom,
    I agree with you. In my life I have met some people who really weren’t nationalists, but they can be counted with the fingers of a mutilated hand. Most of the time, I find that people who regard themselves as not being nationalists do support some nationalism of one kind or another. This seems to be the case of every single alleged anti-nationalist in Spain, except very few exceptions, as I said. I liked it when you said that about Israel, because this is a particularly blatant display of double standards that many alleged Spanish anti-nationalists make. It’s not that Israel is nationalist society, but the fact that the state of Israel itself was created on the premise that every nation has the right to her own state. It’s all clearly and beautifully explained in their declaration of independence. How can anybody support the state of Israel and reject Catalan or Basque nationalism at the same time is beyond me, sincerely.

  7. All is not lost, for every resentful, bitter expat there seem to be quite a few who have adapted to life in Catalonia very well.

    http://paper.avui.cat/article/opinio/134492/bustia.html

    A similar thing occurs in Scotland amongst Spanish immigrants (it tends to be Spanish, not Catalan or Basque), who are resentful of their country of adoption and use every opportunity to talk it down.

    I agree 100% with your post, those who define themselves as non-nationalist tend to be nationalists of the worst sort: expansionist of their own, and unable to respect other cultures or the right of other nations to decide their constitutional future freely.

    In my experience, it is not only political ideology but also personal experience what shapes someone’s view of their new country of residence. I have met some anti-Catalan expats whose prejudice started after a failed relationship, or an unsucessful job application, car accident, etc. This explains the irrationality of some expats and their profound disliking of anything pro-Catalan. In a way it is quite sad as they live in a parallel society, unable to relate to the country they are living in.

  8. I don’t think its the case that we are all nationalists at heart or that nationalism is somehow a natural state. Obviously in Spain a lot of people describe themselves as anti-nationalist because they are talking only about regional nationalism, forgetting that the rejection of such nationalism is often motivated by Spanish nationalism. Whatever, in the end we have to recognise that all nationalist discourse, whether imperialist or anti has its limitations. I’m half English, half Scottish, living in Spain and no nationalism has anything at all to offer me. A look at the history of anti-imperialist nationalism in Latin America, to take one notable example, shows all the limitations of it.

  9. Anti-imperialist nationalism in America has nothing to do with European nationalisms… It was never based on culture, not even in nations… So I really doubht you can even call it nationalism when they weren’t a nation at all. In most cases, it was after the independence that they built their national identities, generally mixing natives, Africans and Europeans and rarely before it.

  10. Rab, here we are again. As a Castilian (or Spanish, as you are) expat in Wales, I got a job here and embrace Wales life. So what is Wales life like around here? basically 80% (or more, I try to be considerate) English-speaking. I have learnt to drink good beer, and admire the landscape. I don’t especially like the food, and have learned to recognise that the game of the so-called nationalists is to mention that everybody is a nationalist, as a way to justify their own nationalism. I will not enter into the game of bad vs good nationalism..it is too childish to go into that. The message that nationalists don’t like to hear is that you can love your land or your language, but you can’t use YOUR love to impose some measures onto individuals. That is being a non-nationalist. Non-nationalists are not disarrayed people or victims of anything. They may be, as everybody else, but they don’t use those emotions to overcome individual basic rights.

    Now the trick is that non-nationalism is factually an utopia. Why? because economic constraints make impossible to present policies that are good for everyone. Example: there are suomi speakers in Catalunya, or Spain, but neither the Generalitat not the Spanish government can afford to teach suomi speakers in their language, it is just a matter of numbers. A non-nationalist would love to have the resources to do that. A nationalist would deny that right becuase the right of the territory overpasses that of the persons living in it. That’s why they are nationalists in the end, right?

    I consider myself a non-nationalist. And thanks to that, I can allow myself not to sign that Manifesto for the Common Language, or sign for the COPE to fire Losantos, or help the teaching of Catalan in some American University, despite the fact that I consider that Castilian speakers are being abused in Catalonia, that Losantos should have some right of freedom of expresion, and that Catalan deserves to be known outside the borders of Catalonia. I wonder how many nationalists would do that.

    I hope my loose definition has helped all of you in this interesting debate.

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