Jordi Alberich 4/4/2021
Unionists and independentists: the people of Barcelona defend extreme positions / PHOTOMONTAGE OF CG
Glimpsing the exit of Covid-19, the debate about Barcelona has returned with great intensity. If, before the pandemic, its loss of momentum was very worrying, today the disorientation is even greater, as the city has especially suffered from the coronavirus. Thus, its direct and dramatic effects on the mobility of people have erased the tourist or congress activity.
An accentuated pessimism to which the coming of a climate of extraordinary complacency also contributes. Nothing illustrates better the situation back then than the consideration in 2013, of the mayor, Xavier Trias, after Madrid lost the candidacy to host the Olympic Games: “In Spain, only Barcelona could compete with Istanbul and Tokyo.” Curiously, in 2014 Barcelona lost the option of organizing the World Athletics World Cup, losing in front of Doha and even remaining behind Eugene.
This activism to relocate the city is part of the “giving up” of Catalonia, which, it is considered, will take decades to regain its tone, while its capital can do so quickly. Barcelona is perceived as an entity with a life of its own, with the ability to shine on its own, regardless of what happens in its immediate surroundings.
And there I think lies an error of perception. Barcelona is part of the global political dynamics of Catalonia and, as long as it is not redirected, both will remain misplaced. If traditionally the fortunes and misadventures of the country and its capital have gone hand in hand, even more so in a time when Barcelona’s own personality has been diluted into the dominant one in Catalonia.
In the times of Jordi Pujol at the head of the Generalitat and Pasqual Maragall at the city council, the differences between the city and the country were more pronounced than today. For example, there were many citizens who, faced with the dilemma of considering themselves Spanish or Catalan, identified themselves as Barcelonians. Thus, with the leap to regional politics, the mayor wanted to “barcelonize” Catalonia, leaving behind the traditional nationalism typical of Convergència. However, his difficulties in reaching the Generalitat, and his dependence on a strong Esquerra, led him to “catalanize” Barcelona.
A process that exemplifies, once again, Xavier Trias, who, not reaching his re-election, addresses his first words to Artur Mas with a “I’m sorry for you, President”. After the expression, regret for losing the city as an outpost of the procés.
The independence aspiration, typical of inland Catalonia, acquired consistency with the incorporation of part of the well-to-do Barcelona. There were many who, identified with “Spain robs us”, embraced the disruptive proposal. And, also, numerous politicians who changed parties or who, from non-independence formations, were key to the procés, such as the mayor herself, Ada Colau, with her emotional reception of the 1-O referendum. Today, the differences between Barcelona and the whole of Catalonia are, for better or for worse, little more than nuance.
Barcelona will regain its space to the extent that Catalonia as a whole does and, given what happened in Parliament these days, it could go a long way. Hope, as Manel Manchón recently pointed out, can come from an “organized business community that is clear that it cannot remain, once again, silent and cornered”. So be it.