A guest blog by Jordi Vilanova
Esquerra’s Foreign Affairs Commission
Born and brought up in London, England, of a Swedish mother and a Catalan father born in Paris, France, I think it might be fair to say that I am a citizen of Europe. I have imbibed of several different cultures, with an education at British, French and Spanish schools. I speak five languages, with a smattering of a further two or three. I am thus what might be termed multicultural, with influences from many different points of view, though admittedly “Western”. This world-view, with a clear liberal, democratic bent, means I give cultures that tend to restrict others’ freedoms, political or otherwise, very short shrift.
One such culture is Spain’s. It has a long history of nationalism whose prime characteristic is a constant obstinacy in imposing its unitary national identity, understood as cultural and political uniformity. Worst of all is that this unitary nationalism does not originally spring from modern nation building, but from an atavistic Castilian trait of a closed, self-sufficient, typically feudal society which survived well into the 19th Century. One has but to read the Spanish literary classics to realise this. Notice, by way of example, that in the Spanish Wikipedia’s entry for Literature of Spain —not Literature in Spanish, which is another entry— there is not one single Catalan language author. Catalan authors are set apart in Literature in Catalan, and are thus not essentially considered Spanish.
This Spain that has for centuries been unable to consolidate as a nation beyond the regions of Castilian culture (i.e. Spain not including Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia), even “by whichever means necessary”, be these outright war, attempted cultural and linguistic obliteration, or economic and fiscal seizure, is still today attempting to secure its uniform identity. Thus, the modern Spanish political mainstream, whether Socialist or PP, (never mind the old Francoists) has always been politically conservative and culturally unitary, opposing today’s politically liberal and culturally diverse, multifarious milieu.
Opposing this conservatism has been Catalan politics’ historical endeavour to change the political culture and structure of Spain. Catalonia, with its distinct singularity, has long been at the forefront of social, cultural and economic advancement, not only in Spain, but also in Europe. It is the most open society in Spain, with 13.5% of its population coming from abroad. Catalonia has long welcomed migrations: between the 16th and the 18th centuries, many French migrated there, escaping from religious strife and civil disturbances, and as of the late 1950s, while southern Europe, including Spain, was ‘exporting’ labour to the north, Catalonia was a net ‘importer’, like the UK or Germany.
But any proposals for a more liberal, federal Spain emerging from Catalonia have lasted but moments in the history of an absolutely illiberal, uniform state. Federalism has been the last stand of those who still hope for a more open Spain, one that should be ready to accept its cultural and political diversity. But there is little hope for federalism, which is, in my opinion and that of many Catalans, what should have been legislated after the Franco dictatorship, but which was not for fear of the centuries-old demands of unitary uniformity by Spanish reactionary conservatives and the military.
The latest Catalan initiative attempting to lay the foundations of a federalising state, the 2006 Statute for Catalonia, was approved by 90% of its parliament’s members and was approved in referendum by the citizens with a clear majority in favour. It is obvious that most Catalan citizens are unhappy with Spain as it stands. In a recent poll, a majority of Catalans would vote for independence.
But still today the Spanish government procrastinates with the application and, most importantly, the budget assignations the last Statute requires. It is clear that Spain is unwilling to make any changes, to recognise its own diversity, cultural or political. If the Spanish powers-that-be are not yet ready to accept change, after more than thirty years of democracy and three hundred years of imposition, there isn’t much point in carrying on any further with their ground rules.