Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Celebrating Defeat: Independence And Nationalism

Might yesterday have been the last time that the Catalans celebrate their "national" day on 11 September? Could 1-O become the new 9/11? A victory, possibly Pyrrhic, to replace three hundred years and more of hurt. In Catalan legend, there was a tragedy in 1714 every bit as great as planes that were crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center.

It was Felipe V who was responsible. It took 300 hundred years for the next Felipe to ascend to the throne. The Bourbon dynasty in Spain was the creation of Felipe V. The Bourbons occupied Catalonia, took away its institutions. The Bourbons occupied Mallorca as well and cast the island adrift from the old Crown of Aragon. The Crown was dismantled by the Bourbons, an act of geopolitical regicide. Felipe VI stands to be the Bourbon monarch who witnesses the Catalan redemption: Catalonia lost and found.

If only there hadn't been the War of the Spanish Succession and the eventual consequences for Catalonia. But there was that war and there were those consequences. National days aren't typically celebrations of defeat. In Catalonia the national day remembers the fall of Barcelona. There are those who will argue that the Catalans have lived according to a culture of victimhood ever since. In Mallorca this sense of the victim is likewise said to characterise Catalan sentiment and its fellow political travellers - Republicanism and the odd claims of sovereignty.

In times past, the act of defiance, nay disobedience by Carles Puigdemont and his government would have meant only one thing. Times change. A Bourbon army will not march on Barcelona. Instead we have mayors being instructed to make polling stations available, some mayors saying they will do no such thing, the Madrid government issuing its warnings of dire consequences, and a sense that Catalan nationalism has descended into social division - contrary to the integration it has so long espoused - and even into racism directed towards the lazy Spaniard who seeks to oppress and steal a "nation's" riches.

It is said that, based on a 50% turnout, there will be a 72% majority in favour of independence. The Catalan government is not giving any indication as to what the turnout will need to be in order to validate the vote. Fifty per cent would do. What are the other fifty per cent thinking? Are they indifferent? Or do they assume that regardless of what happens on 1 October nothing will actually happen? Perhaps they are right to do so. What would be the outcome? A rogue state (nation) within a nation and within Europe. A nation defined by an act of unconstitutionality and with no recognition internationally. A vote for independence would be on the basis of a wing and a prayer. Yet it may not fly. Like experimental flight of more than a century ago it will lift off briefly and then crash to earth, caught by the branches of a tree, thrashing around in prayer of rescue. It is bizarre, even if it is understandable.

Meantime in Mallorca, the Republicans, the Pan-Catalanists and the advocates of sovereignty gather in a Palma square. Some two hundred of them lend support to Catalan independence. Members of Més, harbouring a desire of insular nationalism (Més envisage a Mallorca "republic" by 2030), join the small ranks. Numbers at a rally are not true indicators of sentiment, but they are indicators nonetheless. Mallorca harbours no desire for this nationalism, except in the view of Més and minority groups, and certainly not one that delivers itself into the clutching arms of the Catalan Lands.

Weirdly, the Crown of Aragon persists. It has a coordinator to tie together associations in Aragon, Valencia and the Balearics but not Catalonia. The coordinator accuses the Catalan government of seeking to impose Catalan language, culture and identity. Under the "lie of linguistic unity", that government wants to end what were the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and Mallorca, where they have their own languages. How truly odd, especially as the Kingdom of Mallorca was but a shortlived independent phenomenon that was emasculated more than 650 years ago.

But this oddness, both in defence of Catalan independence and Mallorca as a relic from the past Crown of Aragon, is the legacy of history that cannot be shed. Old battles and old wars are constantly being refought, though now the battlegrounds are schools turned polling stations, if mayors agree, they are print shops preparing the voting papers and they are the Constitution, the model for democratic Spain. Ah yes, Spain. It is not Catalonia, and Catalonia is not Spain.

A modern, a sophisticated prescription might be federalism, of the kind advanced by PSOE, which has no more wish for Catalan independence than the Madrid PP government. But federalism sounds too cosy when compared with the stridency of nationalism, with the three hundred years of hurt, with the occupation by the Bourbons and with the celebration of defeat.

No comments: