Nationalism and Catalonia (Part I)

Nationalism plays a major part in Spanish politics. In the press, both here and abroad, nationalism in Spain nearly always refers to Basque or Catalan separatist movements. Doubtless this focus is due partly to the violent campaign waged by armed Basque group ETA; and partly because perceived nationalism amongst minorities makes a shriller sound than the deep underlying drone of majority nationalism.

This majority nationalism – Spanish nationalism – is probably the single strongest political force in Spain today. Nearly half of all voters here can be accurately described as at least sympathetic to the Spanish nationalist agenda – that is: cetralised power in Madrid, no further autonomy for the regions, Spain is one nation: indivisible.

Opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy recently travelled around Spain collecting signatures of people who wanted a Spain-wide referendum on whether Catalonia should be allowed to claim more rights of self-governance. He managed to collect 4.5 million names. Putting aside for the moment more general criticisms of Rajoy’s politics, this is clearly a large number of people. Considering that there must have been many who would have signed had they had the opportunity to, or if they’d been pressed to, we can see that Rajoy’s petition – while not ‘the single largest political movement in democratic Spain’ as some right-wingers claimed – had the support of wide swathes of the Spanish population.

While the focus here in Catalonia is always on the two major Catalanista parties (ERC and CiU) and one increasingly Catalanista bloc (PSC), little time seems to be spent considering the reasons behind the growth of the separatist movement. As Giles Tremlett ably points out in Ghosts of Spain, almost anyone you ask about the issue has trenchant views on the debate. Whether in favour of independence, against independence, or sick of the entire question (this counts for a lot of people), Catalonia and Catalan independentism are seriously hot potatoes.

I reckon that the key arguments behind Catalan independentism are actually not nationalist, per se. Of course, political parties who are ostensibly in favour of greater autonomy often use nationalist rhetoric to win votes. To a greater degree though, the ‘nationalist’ tag is usually applied by opponents of the movement, often by the same people who can be accurately described as Spanish nationalists. The main arguments I hear over and over again are historical (some Catalans still feel that their land is occupied by the Spanish), left-wing (Catalonia has developed a rare breed of business-savvy socialism which doesn’t marry at all well with the aims of certain Spanish political parties), and a sense of difference, so difficult to describe that I’m going to have to come back to it at a later date.

All nationalism is stupid, more or less.
More next week…


On a related note, just a couple of thoughts about politicians. Of course they’re all there to gain power for themselves, to some degree. But this doesn’t mean that none of them  have any values. It seems that if we dismiss all politicans as liars, all parties as morally bankrupt and all political philosophy as bunkum then not only do we damn the population as stupid (which I find an abhorrent attitude), but also we end up with politicians and parties who fulfill our worst expectations.

11 thoughts on “Nationalism and Catalonia (Part I)

  1. “All nationalism is stupid” – well yes. Totally stupid and selfish. But I hope you’re not implying that somehow there are grades of nationalism, some somehow better than others. I don’t think there is such a thing as nationalism “light” where one type of nationalism is better because its approach is more agreeable to your aesthetic sensibility etc … it’s all nonsense. Catalan nationalism, spanish nationalism.

  2. Not at all. I don’t like nationalism in any shape or form. But I believe that Ireland was right to rebel against the Brits.

    I’m kind of proposing that Independentism doesn’t have to be about nationalism. In a way, it’s sort of a response to nationalism. It’s almost always tagged as nationalism, and often picks up nationalist fleas along the way, but it needn’t be about nationalism.

    I’m still working on this 😉

  3. This is a hard one, especially because I have sometimes had very extreme feelings about it, but I applaud the instinct to try to make sense of something that causes a lot of division among people who don’t need it.

    I feel somewhat nationalistic, in that I feel that I am Irish. I belong to other groups too, but Irish is the strongest and most resonant. Unfortunately we in Ireland have our own particular story, and it is a story that isn’t over. The weird thing is that I never feel more Irish than when I feel this identity is under attack. A particular politician in Ulster has a peculiar ability to make we want to wave a tricolour.

    I think that the biggest problem with nationalism of all forms is that in order to define itself it needs (a) a border and (b) foreignness. Borders are sometimes geographical, but mostly a matter of chance. It is ridiculous to believe that everybody inside in a particular border is largely alike, and completely different from everybody outside that border.

    But is the answer to eliminate nationalities altogether? Apart from making nonsense of the Eurovision, the World Cup and the Olymipcs, there are other advantages. But I prefer to loosen the definition.

  4. Ian Paisley makes preety much everyone want to take up arms. He’s an awful man.

    And he’s no doctor. Or reverend gentleman. He is a fat pig.

  5. Are you sure that independence for Catalonia is a hot potato? I’m not convinced that it is for most ordinary people living here. Very few people living in the province of Barcelona at least – Catalans or otherwise – would actually support it. When Catalans describe themselves as nationalist, as far as I can tell many of them mean they have a sentimental attachment to their land and its traditions, not that they wish to become a separate nation.

    It’s only a hot potato in the eyes of the media and other pundits such as yourself, and of politicians such as Rajoy who think they can whip up some kind of fear that Catalonia will be getting a bigger dollop of the mash (to continue the potato metaphor) than they think it is entitled to. If the new statute of autonomy is successful in the referendum, it will be the dollop of mash that wins it, not the issue of whether Catalonia is a nation or a nationality, or the status of its languages.

    Among my friends, I count some from a Spanish background who will vote for the new statute because of the new arrangements on finance and investment in infrastructure, and others from a Catalan background who will vote against it on the grounds that they regard the language aspect of the statute, as it has been portrayed, as wrong. Dividing people on the basis of nationality is not that easy, it would seem.

    If my friends are anything to go by, many people living in Catalonia believe that what counts is the euros in their pockets, the time they spend waiting for the doctor and the quality of the roads and schools, among other such issues. That being the case, many Catalans will continue to describe themselves as nationalist but not pro-independence, just as CiU has done all these years.

  6. It’s an interesting point, Snoop… but I would argue that on when it comes to political issues like this, the majority of the populus don’t have much of an opinion. What counts is the size and activity of those on either side – the people who are trying to drive politics in one direction or another.

    That’s not intended as an insult to anyone. All I’m saying is that most people don’t hold what could reasonably be termed as powerful political conviction. They are, as you say, more interested in the Euros in their pockets. In this respect, there is no genuine hot potato in Spanich society, unless it’s football. I was really referring to the political scene which I suppose is fairly disconnected from society as a whole.

  7. I don’t think nationalism ‘is stupid’, that’s a very broad statement. My feelings, as someone who has lived in Spain, in Galicia, and in Catalonia – and referring most to living in Catalonia – is that “Spain” is very autocratic, that Catalans feel frustrated at very (many?) turn by “Spain”. Sorcha refers to nationalism being defined, and I feel that Ctalanism nationalism is probably more defined by the “Spanish” anti-nationalism towards Catalans, just as “Spain” exercises strongly nationalistic sentiments of its own, the kind of nationalism in fact, that is provoking to people that only partially identify with that. Spain is an amalgam, the people in Galicia are as different from those who live in Catalonia, as Irish people are from English people….

  8. Yes, it’s a broad statement… but I stand by it. As a socialist, I find it difficult to se any goodness in nationalism. At the same time, I believe in a republican Catalonia. I back that concept more on the basis of a socialist republic than that of a Catalan nation.

  9. First I want you to excuse my basic english. I’m a catalan girl and after reading your answers I would like to explain my point of view.

    I think that the catalans that define themselves as nationalists are nowadays not refering at the same meaning. People who give support to Ciu often define themselves as nationalists, and all I can say is that they’ve governed Catalunya for 24 years and untill last month we still had the statute of 1979 (4 years after Franco died, so you can imagine what kind of “nationalist” statute we had till now).

    However, I also think, as many of you, that nationalisms are not a good; (here it goes)

    but when you realise that Catalonia and catalans are hated by the rest of the state, and when you can’t do anything about the fiscal deficit, and when you see that your idiom is being attached day by day, and when Madrid says “No, we will never support a Catalan Selection”, and when you find it impossible to watch a film in catalan in the cinema (oh yes! I didn’t remember: we could see 101 dalmatians in catalan.), THEN, you become independentist. And it’s not that terrible, I promise.

    I give all my support to the nations that, just as mine, are pressed and opressed, and have no state. For the right of self-determination, Llibertat per Catalunya! Visca els Països Catalans! One day my nation will be respected.

    Freedom for Catalunya now. Català, siguis on siguis, fes-te respectar!

  10. Gemma, your English is fine. Better than my Catalan, anyway.

    I’m sorry that I haven’t yet completed my essay on this topic. There is meant to be further argument which would clarify my position somewhat. My proposition is that it’s very possible to be a Catalan-independentist withouth necessarily being an ethnic nationalist. I don’t like nationalism but I do have sympathy for independentism… especially in Catalonia, where I live.

    Thanks for your comment.

  11. I’m improving thanks!

    0K That’s just what I meant. I agree with you.
    It’s not necessary to be an ethnic nationalist to realise that we have to say bye bye spain. Actually I think there ain’t ethnic nationalists here! You can find someone or some people who believe in a “ethnic superiority” of catalans but that’s ok, the world is full of idiots and a few of them live in Catalunya. Don’t think the general opinion of catalans agrees with their ideas.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.