So, one of my brothers texted me Friday saying, “Catalonia declares independence. Wow!”
I wrote back almost instantaneously, “It’s about time. Took ’em long enough.”
I could sense his puzzlement. “Aren’t you shocked?”
“Actually, I’m relieved.”
Not that I was embracing the announcement as something good for Spain, or Catalonia for that matter, because it isn’t; it was just that it was like the tenth time in two weeks the president of the region, Carles Pudgemont, was supposed to make this proclamation and his political stuttering was beginning to get on my nerves. It stirred the New Yorker within me. “Get on with it, already. Don’t be a pussy.”
For weeks we have had to listen to “we are going to declare independence, we declared independence, we suspended our declaration of independence, maybe we declared or maybe we didn’t declare, if we did declare it we aren’t going to tell you, next time we are really going to declare it, we mean it, we really mean it, and on and on,” The climax came when Puigdemont announced Catalan independence on October 10th and 40% of the population was brought to the brink of a communal orgasm, only to backtrack 8 seconds later and say, “but let’s wait for another day.” It was a baffling and unprecedented show of political coitus interruptus. I honestly don’t think anything like it has ever happened in history…so at least they have that to say for themselves.
Anyway, on Friday he finally mustered up the courage to do it; through a silent vote, mind you, so that the Spanish authorities couldn’t point the finger at anyone. I guess it’s an astute move from their point of view, but it isn’t quite what you’d call the ballsiest gesture in the world. Not the kind of intrepid defiance you’d expect from these things. No valiant individual standing in front of an approaching tank and what not. Certainly not in the spirit of the American declaration 241 years before when each and every rebel present personally signed on the dotted line for King George III to view. John Hancock, the famous statesman and merchant, wrote his name so large you could read it from across the room. It was essentially an autographed version of him flipping the bird at the British monarch.
In fact, the only one to show their vote was a member who voted “no” in the parliament session, and possibly because he didn’t want to be mixed in with the secessionist crowd. Most of the opposition parties had already left the room anyway, so the decision was a foregone conclusion.
Oh well, different country, different century, different circumstances; best not to compare the two too much…but I will one day, trust me.
Anyway, the point is, though I had no plan to write about this subject, a number of people in my circles of friendship have suggested the idea, and so far I have eschewed the idea fearing I would be getting stuck in a quagmire on a very sensitive issue…and I would be. In other words, I was being a pussy. But the hispanologist within me, the historian inside, has gotten the better of me. That and my better half is tired of me standing in front of her with a coffee mug in my hand grousing to the backdrop of morning radio, “Can you believe what they said?! That’s outrageous!”
“Honey, it’s eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Go tell the rest of the world and let me sleep. Thank you.”
OK, so I will tell the rest of the world. I’ll be a John Hancock. That’s the queerest thing I think I’ve ever written, but I’ll leave it in. You don’t get to “be there” for a country on the verge of falling apart every day, so I might as well make the most of it. Plus, while there is a growing percentage of balanced reporting on the issue, still too much of what is published and posted out there is superficial and doesn’t even come close to understanding the complexity of the conflict; nor do many of the fly-in reporters have the knowledge of Spain as a whole to approach the subject with the know-how that one needs. I once saw a link to an article titled “The Catalan Crisis in 300 Words”. Sorry. Can’t do it. It’s almost insulting the writer should try. The first section went like this:
What is Catalonia?
Catalonia is an autonomous region in north-east Spain with a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years.
The wealthy region has its own language, parliament, flag and anthem. It also has its own police force and controls some of its public services.
Let’s ignore the fact they had to even pose the question (though that should give you an idea of how unfamiliar people are with the subject). Everything about that text is essentially true. There isn’t a single lie there. It’s also one of the most misleading statements in writing, because what the writer has basically done is describe half a dozen regions in Spain, and if you remove the “its own language” factor, he is depicting all of the regions of Spain. To suggest Catalonia is unique in this sense grossly misrepresents the truth about Spain overall (and much of Europe for that matter). Based on the information, I’d say some of the other regions have a much stronger case for independence (many were their own kingdoms for God’s sake), and they ain’t bitching day and night about how bad life is them. But maybe the author didn’t know this. Maybe they did. Or maybe the fact they had only 300 words to emit a fact fart out online hindered getting the full story out there. And this is where things get messy. Maybe they should stop trying to sum complex issues up in 300 words.
I hope this will be a fascinating sociological and historical anaylisis that goes beyond the Ramblas of Barcelona, or even the frontiers of Spain. Nationalism is a perplexing easily misunderstood topic. I don’t even know what it means half the time. So, I’ll do my best; but if anyone out there is familiar with the way I do things, you can expect some surprising but relevant angles.
So, just what the heck is going on? We’ll take a look. But first, I’ll have to tell you how I feel about it in general.