Two years ago, democracy was raped in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona by the nationalist and populist parties, who declared independence. The coup attempt failed, but it has been the nationalists’ ultimate goal since 1990.
Marco Hulsewé is a Dutch entrepreneur who lives in Barcelona.
In the coming days, the Spanish Supreme Court is expected to rule on twelve leaders of the Catalan uprising, who were on trial from 12 February. In the Netherlands there may be the image of good citizens who wanted to vote in a referendum on 1 October 2017, and who were beaten up by the bad, mean Spanish police.
Although I have been living in Barcelona for twenty years, I am still amazed by the simplistic and romantic ideas about Catalonia. “Calimero behavior” of Catalan nationalists can count on self-evident sympathy in the Netherlands, which separated itself from Spain after a heroic war of eighty years. The reality is more nuanced.
Take language education. Catalonia is a region of 7.5 million people with the majority speaking Spanish. Nevertheless, Spanish as an official language is in practice prohibited as a teaching language. Toddlers, preschoolers and students in Catalonia do not have the opportunity to be taught in Spanish . A textbook publisher in Spain must rewrite history to get permission from the regional government to have his books used in Catalonia as well. The word “Spain” is taboo and the kingdom of Aragon is suddenly transformed into the fantasy kingdom of Catalonia.
Such sophisticated propaganda must create a Catalan identity and trample everything that has to do with Spanish language and culture.
Then the so-called “will of the Catalan people”. In Catalonia’s regional parliament, the non-nationalist parties have joint support of 53 percent of the votes, but in reality they only have 48 percent of the seats. Jordi Pujol, regional president until 2003, never wanted to change the electoral law that favored outlying areas with more nationalist voters: four votes in Barcelona weigh as much as one vote in the province of Lérida. There is a direct correlation between mother tongue and voting behavior: 80 percent of Catalan speakers and only 20 percent of Spanish speakers vote for nationalist parties.
In the public sector in Catalonia, Spanish is forbidden as a working language. Only Catalan-speaking nationalists can really make a career. This affects the subsidized semi-public government, trade unions and the heavily subsidized press and media.
The leaders of most non-nationalist parties, such as judges, representatives of anti-independence organizations, and non-nationalist journalists, have been structurally threatened in recent years. Many non-nationalist politicians and judges walk down the street with bodyguards, windows are smashed, houses are stained with paint and branded.
However, the regional police force, the so-called mossos d’esquadra, governed by the nationalist government, cannot trace the perpetrators of the threats. This police acted much more effectively when some young people stuck the center of Barcelona with Spanish flags some time ago. They were arrested within 24 hours. In practice, this ensures that many non-nationalists do not dare to express themselves publicly.
Selfishness and racism
It is therefore all the more remarkable how the free Netherlands is looking so endeared at a so-called playful separatist movement that in reality is based on egoism and racism and is clumped together by populist lies.
Quim Torra, the current regional president, writes shamelessly that Spaniards are genetically inferior to the Catalan race. Nothing new under the sun; Pujol, pupil of the German school in Barcelona in the 40s of the last century, also wrote about the second-class Andalusian race.
And then there is always Franco who is taken from his grave from time to time, the dictator who, according to the nationalist parties, has so greatly suppressed Catalonia. What is striking is that former Franco-mayors en masse enrolled in 1978 at Convergència, the nationalist party of regional presidents such as Pujol, Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont. Many nationalist politicians are descendants of Franco supporters, but that is not a topic for discussion.
Another classic taboo is the radical disruption of Catalan society. That would not be the case, a reviewer recently argued in NRC. Anyone who lives and works in Catalonia knows that the reality is different, comparable to Belgium after the language struggle in the 1960s. The Spanish-speaking majority in Catalonia watches Spanish-language television and follows the Spanish-speaking press; the Catalan minority mainly watches Catalan television and the Catalan-language press. Friends no longer talk about politics among themselves, or are no longer friends. Some families have even been broken by the ongoing discussions about separation from Spain. The number of tourists going to the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada from the rest of Spain is falling again this year.
This sad observation is hopefully a lesson for the rest of Europe. Nationalism and populism are destroying society. Many often do not realize how much good the European Union has brought: more than sixty years of peace, freedom of trade, freedom to study and work in other countries.
Never been so rich
The EU has been of great importance to Spain. Since 1978 the country has experienced enormous growth. Spain has never been so rich with, thanks to the EU, a fantastic infrastructure. The economic differences between the regions were not as small as now. But the regional governments, which have great political power within the federal form of government, have no interest in working together on a strong and strong Spain.
You can see a parallel with national governments in Europe, who owe a lot to Europe, but have no electoral interest in promoting the benefits of the European Union at home.
George Orwell, who was at the front as an idealistic fighter in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), wrote his Animal Farm inspired by his experiences with the communists in Catalonia. That book is a parody of the manipulation of the masses by a small elite who are only concerned with their own interests and not with the common good.
Above all, let us not let the pigs fool us and continue to work on all the good that binds us in Europe, which naturally also has room for versatile Spain.