Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Nation As Victim

Next Monday is Spain's National Day. It is a day that will be celebrated with some joy by travel agents and hoteliers. The Monday is pleasantly convenient for the sale of the "puente" weekend breaks, and in Mallorca there is no tourist tax to worry about. Yet.

It will be a day when there will be powerful affirmations of the Spanish nation: all of Spain, Catalonia included. One nation. But while the oratory will be fine and while it will plead for unity, where, amidst all this rhetoric, will be the sentiments of Spanish people? Pride in the nation quite possibly or even probably, but what sort of nation?

The Catalonia question and the ancillary local one of Mallorca's varying shades of regionalism and nationalism are but two examples of a nation not entirely whole. There are further ones, the Basque Country most obviously, and lesser notions of self-determination in, for instance, Galicia or the Canaries. What these all have in common is history, with the histories of Catalonia and Mallorca inextricably linked in ways that others are not. History, the past are invoked. But to what degree is history claimed by Spaniards, those of the nation for whom demands for secession by parts of the nation appear baffling?

We all of us carry our history with us. I am variously English or British. But in neither guise, despite all the history, do I pay attention to it. I don't think about being English or British, I just am. William the Conqueror, Wars of the Roses, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Cromwell, Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Churchill, the world wars. They all feature but I spend no time in considering any of this in contemplating Englishness or Britishness. And nor, I suspect, do most English people. Scots, Welsh, Irish, I concede, will be different.

Spain's National Day celebrates the moment when land was first discovered in the Americas. In one way it is odd, as the discoverer wasn't Spanish, albeit there are those who would argue that Columbus was - Gabriel Verd, for instance, who is convinced that Columbus came from Porto Colom. Regardless of where he was from, the discovery was what put Spain on the map. Literally. Spanishness invaded the Americas, its central and southerly parts. 1492 was a momentous year. The New World was found and the final Muslim enclave in Granada fell. It ushered in the rivers of gold and the period of imperial and national power that wasn't to endure.

Despite the obvious significance of 1492, for Spaniards, if they consider themselves in historical terms at all, the dates are much more contemporary. 1936 and 1975 define Spain more than do 1492 or 1715. For the Catalonians and for Mallorcans, however, this latter date is defining. 

Catalonia's National Day is quite different in its commemoration to that of Spain. It remembers defeat - in September 1714 - at the hands of Castile and the Bourbons. The consequences of this defeat - the removal of powers, the Nueva Planta decrees, the ending of the wider crown of Aragon, the repression of Catalan - go to the heart of independence. Money also plays a vital role as well, but in terms of sentiment, the events of three hundred years ago influence the secessionist narrative. Just as they also play a part in the sentiments of those in Mallorca who feel a common bond with Catalonia and so also the notion of a nationalism within a grouping of the Catalan Lands.

A prime advocate of this bond is Miquel Ensenyat, the president of the Council of Mallorca. He has been accused, however, of playing the victim card, of styling Mallorca in terms of the persecutory nature of the Nueva Planta. It is this, the notion of the victim, which explains much when it comes to how individuals define themselves. The English were never victims. The Spanish were victims up to a point, but for almost all the period after the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century until Franco sought to put an end to it, Spain was a nation at war with itself and so brought about its own downfall from power.
Though not all Mallorcans will define themselves in the way that Ensenyat does and though likewise not all Catalonians will dwell on matters three hundred years ago, those events do go a long way to explaining how things now are and, as importantly, to explaining how collective mindsets differ. Catalonia is the nation as victim. By extension, so is Mallorca. For the English (British) and the Spanish, there isn't the same collective impulse. Indeed, it is the reverse, because of their times of domination.

It may seem baffling that, in a contemporary society, there is a drive to independence or to expressions of greater nationalism, but if the collective psyche is not one of the victim, then it will be baffling, as there is not the same baggage of the past.

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