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What is going on in Catalunya?


And the people spoke. And, as predicted, it is unclear what they said. Catalans voted on Sept. 27th their new regional government. Here, no suprises. The winners are who they were and probably (still unclear though) the President will be who he was, Artur Mas. Until here, everything normal as in any normal regional election in any of the 17 Comunidades Autónomas that form the Spanish state. However, this election was special because some parties had warned everyone that Catalans were voting a plebiscite for independence. As it happens often in politics, things are confusing. Let’s try to shed some light over the darkness.

Why Catalans want to go? Little background

History has different ways of treating nationalism, depending on the mood of the times. The 19th Century was time of nationalism, fueled by the industrial revolution, the gradual arrival of modernity and all its consequences, that were many. In Spain, the process of national construction (see Germany or Italy) coincided with the national decadence and backwardness that culminated in 1898 moral (and economic!) disaster of the lost of the empire’s remainings. It is in this context in which Catalan (also Basque and Galizian) nationalism is politically created. Spain was the problem; Europe the solution, as Ortega y Gasset beautifully put it. It was difficult to be proud of that Spain, dictatorial, anchored in Catholic traditions, inefficient, ignorant, rural and emotionally injured. Catalunya and the Basque Country (Galizia is different here) had developed their own versions of industrial success and had created an incipient bourgeoisie that would act as a base to claim difference. True.

Moreover, the excessive expectations of the Segunda República in the 1930s generated leaders for the not-so-old nationalist parties that could negotiate and reaffirm with Republican Madrid their difference. Unfortunately, it lasted only 5 years. Not enough time. But expectations had been high for nationalist as they had been for many Spaniards, who candidly thought their moment in history had arrived. Finally, they thought, after centuries of obscurity, the democratic new Spain had blown in to stay. But instead, for many different and sad reasons, they saw three years of fratricidal war and then 40 years of fascist dictatorship. Ironic how history can trick expectations.

To cut a long story short, during Francoism, Catalans and others were victims of national catholicism and obsessive centralism. In this context, one could understand how national feelings were going to be priority issue on the table once democracy returned. And it did.

Democracy, brave new world