It is a good idea to listen to what the more enlightened international press are saying about Spain and Catalonia. But it is equally advisable to look out for what they are not saying and any claims they are making against all existing evidence.
So it is interesting to see how The Economist falls into the trap of mentioning Catalan nationalism while it fails to name the homogenising belligerence of Spanish/Castilian nationalism as the root cause of every Catalan grievance. The Economist admits that Spain ought to look more in the German mirror than in the French. Indeed, Spain should make a note of the consequences of hoping to become a centralised country like France when a majority in several of your regions opposes the idea.
Furthermore, The Economist points fingers at an alleged identity-based separatist far right, embodied by Catalan president Quim Torra, a man who happens to be the firmest opponent of precisely those politics. This indicates that the propaganda machine of Spanish nationalism is winning the battle to explain to the world the actual meaning of the quotes from some of the president’s writings which have been taken out of context.
The Economist refers to today’s Podemos as a “populist” party, as they do with the parties that support them, and with the “separatists”. However, 'The Economist' fails to see that the Spanish party that was in office in the last few years —one that was born out of unabashed Francoism— calls itself “Popular” and their policies are typically populist. They also forget that Ciudadanos resorts to populism to lure new voters by waving the flag of Spanish/Castilian identity in response to the danger posed by “Catalan nationalism”.
The Economist falls into the trap of mentioning Catalan nationalism while it fails to name the homogenising belligerence of Spanish/Castilian nationalism
The Economist forgets that when Ciudadanos had the chance to come to an understanding with the PSOE back in 2016, they quickly dropped all their reform policies that aimed to bring some degree of transformation and contented themselves with a low-profile agenda. They gave up on the idea of a single work contract, and their call to get rid of provincial governments came to nothing. The London-based weekly keeps mentioning Madrid’s “hung” parliament —arising from the December 2015 elections—, but it never points out that the left at large chose suicide over accepting the parliamentary support of Catalonia’s nationalist parties. That is precisely what changed in the vote of no-confidence lost by former PM Mariano Rajoy, which brought us the current socialist administration led by Pedro Sánchez.
In particular, The Economist conveniently forgets that the conflict with Catalonia began with PM José María Aznar, Mr Rajoy’s predecessor at the helm of the PP, who thought it would be a superb idea to intoxicate Spain’s public opinion and rally them to oppose Catalonia’s demands expressed in the new Statute. It was no other than Rajoy who asked for the whole of Spain to vote on the Catalan statute. Once in office, PM Rajoy used Catalonia’s demand for a Basque-style funding agreement to engage in blatant electioneering, even though this demand was backed by a wide parliamentary majority in Barcelona. It was also PM Rajoy who denied that there was a problem with Catalonia and who did not allow what he had once himself requested: a vote in Catalonia or all of Spain.
The Economist also chooses to ignore the fact that there is a great deal of Francoism left in Spain. The very definition of Spain’s unity, as enshrined in the 1978 Spanish Constitution, was drafted —as everyone knows or will remember— under pressure from the pro-Franco military, who held the upper hand. Once again, The Economist seems to be mesmerised by Ciudadanos and their myths, as well as by old accounts about the birth of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement. They still claim that Catalan nationalism was invented by the Catalan bourgeoisie in the 19th century to persuade Madrid to grant them the protection of import tariffs. Not only is this idea untrue, but it reveals a complete lack of understanding of the source of the massive political support behind Catalonia’s demands for greater self-rule.
The Economist falls into the trap of shouting “identity indoctrination” as it fails to notice that, from a communicative standpoint, Spanish is the dominant language in Catalan society at large. Many people who follow the news in Spanish have contributed to the independence drive and they have no trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction.
Likewise, it is surprising that the London weekly should argue against the right to self-determination in an advanced western society when it is precisely in the UK where they decided that a referendum was the best way to resolve the conflict about the self-determination of one of its territories (Scotland), which had repeatedly expressed its wish to decide on its future as a community. In advanced democratic societies there is no room for curtailing democracy. Rather, democratic requests are paid the utmost attention. In fact, Spain does so in most cases, except when it comes to Catalonia’s demands.
The new, bright team that has been tasked with handling the Catalan government’s foreign action will have to get down to work in order to clarify all these misunderstandings.