First and foremost, Catalan pro-independence is a movement which has gained momentum during the last few years. With a political situation that reflects growing uncertainty in the historical bipartisanship of Modern Spain there has been an upsurge in pro-Catalan support. However, one must question the underlying political motivations which to some can suggest a nationalist undercurrent that threatens to sweep away Catalonia´s historic leftwing foundations.
For instance, the region’s national day, the ‘Diada’, marks the conquest and sacking of Barcelona by Spain’s King Philip V in 1714. This was swiftly followed by the Nueva Planta Decrees which in the following year led to the complete degradation of the Catalan language as a vehicle of expression. This period, aptly, was known as the Decadencia. One might question why this day is celebrated. After all, it is a slightly odd notion to celebrate a day of defeat. Yet, similarly to the British preoccupation with Dunkirk as a source of national pride, so do the Catalans with the 11thSeptember. This year´s events saw some 800,000 people take to the streets, t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan Ready. This readiness they feel is expressed by the majority victory within the Catalan Generalitat (Government) of the secessionist faction. Indeed, this has been mutually complimented by the economic downturn in Spain during the last 8 years as central funding from Madrid does not reach the more impoverished outlying regions.
This all being considered suggests a movement of gathering pace. It is hard to argue with this sentiment as Catalan flags are omniscient within Barcelona, the region´s capital. Yet, the experience of attending said Diada was a profoundly distinct experience. The parades themselves, spoken and shouted entirely in the language of the region, Catalan, are potent reminders of the power of language in settings such as these. The Catalans take great pride in their language which is known to predate Castillian. Consequently, this historical rhetoric has been used as a tool for constructing a community with, conscious or not, nationalist connotations. However, to paint the entire independent Catalonia movement with the broad negative strokes of Nationalism is a foolhardy gesture. Whilst, in events such as the Diada, the anti-Spanish sentiments are not implicit, the general sense is that this is more of a celebration of the resilience of Catalonia as a region than a nationalist parade.
Many other flags, such as that of Galicia and Pais Vasco are also represented. To this end, it would be wise to consider that in a post-Brexit Europe, the sentiments of historically independent populations might seek greater autonomy, both culturally and economically from their respective nation states. In the case of Spain whose historical memory is tainted by the toxicity of Francoism, nationalism is an ideology that is treated with general repugnance. However, Catalans and pro-independence apparatchiks & lobbyists must take care that autonomy does fall into the stealthy trap of separatist nationalism.
Ultimately, the case of Brexit may serve as an example of potential ‘independent’ success, yet Britain’s example should not kickstart a trend. Spain, with a very turbulent past and still somewhat stagnant bureaucratical legislation must be aware, as must Catalans, that greater autonomy does not equate to liberation & freedom. Indeed, the 1978 statutes of autonomy still stand as constitutional reminders of the safety & security of unity in the geographically diverse yet socially collaborative Iberian peninsula. Catalan independence parties, when the proposed referendum takes place in 2017, must with great caution and tact, portray the ideals and policies of the movement as separate to the right-wing elements that have arisen since 2011. Essentially, to guarantee a ‘legal’ decision, the pro-independence parties of Catalonia need to operate within the bounds of the constitution of Spain as a whole. To not do so would be to raise the ugly spectre of nationalism, like a malignant cloud, over the entire peninsula.