Visions of a Happier Alternative to Zero-Sum Ethnonationalism
Costs of Catalonia, Rafael Romero Giménez, 1894
Catalonia is an extremely wealthy community with many exceedingly wealthy individuals (many of them current and former Catalan government officials, and many of them suspected of or charged with corruption of fraud). Whatever problems Catalonia may have with social and economic inequities owe as much to the disproportionate distribution of that wealth (when not the outright pillaging of it) by the Catalan government as to its partial appropriation by the even more deeply corrupt central government in Madrid. This is not, in other words, a straightforward case of exploitation.
Claims of subjugation and domination, meanwhile, stand on still shakier ground. The current independence movement began to take shape in response to a 2010 ruling by Spain’s highest court, which nullified several articles in the Catalan Estatut of 2006 and emptied the word “nation,” as employed in the new Estatut’s preamble, of any legal significance. Yet that legal setback must be weighed against the ascent, in recent years, of the Catalan language and Catalan identity more broadly. Forced into the dark corners of domesticity during Francoism, Catalan has in the decades since the end of the dictatorship successfully been restored as the language of education, politics, business, and public life in Catalonia. And Catalan identity—ineffable but palpable—has only been consolidated and fortified over the same period of time. Neither trend was reversed by the Spanish high court’s 2010 revision of the Estatut, making it difficult to accuse it of imposing the conditions of subjugation, domination, or repression.
As usual, the telling position is the leftist one. For the left-wing factions of the Junts pel Sí alliance, the real agent of the Catalan people’s subjugation and exploitation isn’t even the Spanish state—it’s capital. Their deal with the conservative factions of the alliance is predicated not on a shared commitment to the kind of country that should exist after independence, but rather on the conviction that a small and newly independent Catalonia would make a better candidate for genuinely progressive reform than a clunky old country like Spain. Though the leftists support independence, their stance gives the lie to the notion that Catalonia’s recent struggles with unemployment and widening economic equality are the result of its exploitation by a repressive Spanish state. These problems are systemic, even if the Spanish government hasn’t helped.