Us and them

Catalonia Blanes Senyera
This short piece was published in SUR in English 

Catalonia has been plunged into uncertainty after last Sunday’s regional elections which gave the pro-independence groups a majority of seats but not votes. Plans to go ahead with the process of creating a new state have been complicated by the left-wing nationalist party CUP’s refusal to support Artur Mas as president. Meanwhile, the central government maintains that any independence bid or referendum is illegal. Under this reasoning, support for independence could be at 80%, 90% or even 100% and it would make no difference.

Nationalism is inherently divisive: it focuses on differences between ‘our’ people and other people; ‘our’ way of life and theirs. In Catalonia this is no different. When you are determined to protect your cultural identity, external influences become a threat. Just one example is the way in which Catalan authorities have made Spanish a marginal language in the curriculum, to the detriment of children who can no longer learn in their mother tongue and parents who want their offspring to be literate in a vital language. They also discriminate against Spanish-language culture to the extent that Santiago Roncagliolo, a Peruvian writer, describes Barcelona as having changed from the New York of the Spanish-speaking world to the Latvia of it: “nowadays, if you write in Spanish, your life is elsewhere”. In an ever-more globalised world where social, cultural and economic boundaries between countries are tumbling down, separating from the rest of Spain is nonsensical.

Yet the pettiness of nationalism should be defeated at the polls, not in the courts. In thrall to an outdated constitution which was drawn up when there was real fear of another military coup, there is more than a whiff of authoritarianism in the establishment’s scaremongering and rejection of any discussion of independence: witness Rajoy’s blundering radio interview where he claimed independence would mean Catalans would lose their Spanish and European identity, yet could not answer the interviewer’s rebuttal that under the constitution they would keep it, as they had been born in Spain. A sensible, forward-looking Spanish Prime Minister would offer Catalonia a referendum, and sharpish. Unfortunately, Rajoy seems neither of those things.

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