‘Every people has the god-given right to mismanage their own affairs’
Margolis Law #3
I’ve always been a rebel, revolutionary, iconoclast and all-around bad boy. Naturally, I have sympathy for most revolutionary movements.
The problem is, many revolutions don’t make political or economic sense, but they do make one feel good – at least for a while. Revolution is the natural habitat of the young.
So the growing revolutionary fervor in Spain’s Catalonia region finds much sympathy, even fascination, with this writer. I’ve been going to Barcelona, capital of Catalonia region, since I was a teenager in the Franco era. My late godfather, Count Ilyas Toptani, a soldier of fortune and noted horseman, married Spain’s eccentric Duchess of Valencia. I used to visit them at their medieval castle in Avila, and then go to Barcelona to recover.
Barcelona, Spain’s industrial powerhouse, has always remained one of my favorite cities along with New York, Paris, Rome, Istanbul and Tokyo. With its glorious Gothic quarter, beach fishing village of Barceloneta, gorgeous girls and wonderful food, Barcelona is unrivaled for fun and culture.
The 7.5 million Catalans have long been one of Spain’s feistiest peoples. With much of Spain’s industry and arts, many Catalans often look down on the rest of Spain, and regard the ultra-proud, snooty Castillians from the national capitol, Madrid, with unlove.
Spain seems from a distance a solid national entity but, in fact, it is a collection of provinces that often lack a sense of national unity and dislike their neighbors. Secessionist movements have flared for decades in the Basque region, other parts of Galicia, Catalonia, Valencia, Andalusia, and even the distant Canary Islands.
Most of these regions have distinct dialects. Catalonia uses both Castilian Spanish and the Catalan tongue which is part of the Provençal/Occitan/Gascon linguistic group. Until 1860, 39% of southern French spoke Occitan. The French rightwing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen told me his parents, simple fisher folk from Brittany, could only speak Breton, not French.
Interestingly, Catalan, which looked to be dying out, has made a lusty revival. I much like it because I can understand and read a lot of Catalan which is not too far from French. I’m ashamed to say I have an easier time with Catalan than formal Castilian Spanish.
I’ve watched for decades as the old languages of southern Europe – Gascon, Occitan, Provençal, Basque, Piedmontese, Romansche – have come again to life. As is often said, Spain, like Italy, is a group of languages in search of a national state.
Speaking of language, Britain’s great writer and guide to sane thought, George Orwell, wrote an entire book, ‘Homage to Catalonia’ about his experiences in the 1930’s with Barcelona’s ultra revolutionary Trotskyita/anarchist/anti-Stalinist/ Marxist party, the POUM.
Having slight anarchist tendencies myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the POUM which heroically battled Stalin’s grip over Spain’s so-called ‘Republicans’ during the bloody civil war. Stalin’s NKVD secret police eventually crushed the POUM but were, in turn, defeated by Gen. Francisco Franco’s rightwing nationalists. Spain was lucky to get Franco instead of Comrade Stalin.
The feisty Catalans are at it again. Last week, they staged a referendum on independence from Spain that the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy foolishly disrupted by sending busloads of national police from Madrid to beat Catalan protestors. This turned a political squabble over autonomy and sharing national payments into a major crisis that enflamed Catalan separatism. Even so, many Catalans are against independence.
Rajoy is an unloved right-winger who has often been accused of financial irregularities. Spain’s new king, Felipe VI, who is supposed to remain apolitical, joined the fray, denouncing the Catalan independence-seekers, thus bringing the wrath of the Catalans on his head. Felipe should have been mediating, not criticizing.
The national government in Madrid now threatens to block any further votes, dissolve the Catalan government, the Generalitat, and lock up many independence leaders. Doing so would be very dangerous. Spaniards are a courageous, hot-headed people who are not to be bullied. No one wants to even think again about the awful 1930’s civil war whose echoes still reverberate today.
I like the idea of an independent Catalonia. But what is it good for? Modern Catalonia is not an oppressed nation though its taxes are too high. Its biggest problem these days is being utterly swamped by armies of littering foreign tourists. It could stand on its own economically but to what benefit?
Catalan independence would surely enflame separatist movements in Canada, Scotland, Wales, France, eastern Europe, even Switzerland.
The French say, ‘the heart has reasons that reason does not understand.’ That’s the story with Catalan independence.
Catalans…cool down. Madrid, stop lording about and acting like an imperial capital. While you’re at it, ban primitive bull fighting (Barcelona did so). Why not move some important government ministries to Barcelona. Let the hot-headed Catalans blow off some steam.
Spain is a wonderful country. Por favor, don’t muck it up.