Somewhere, Stephen Maturin is smiling…
‘What is Catalan?’
‘Why, the language of Catalonia – of the islands, of the whole of the Mediterranean coast down to Alicante and beyond. Of Barcelona. Of Lerida. All the richest part of the peninsula.’
‘You astonish me. I had no notion of it. Another language, sir? But I dare say it is much the same thing – a putain, as they say in French.’
‘Oh no, nothing of the kind – not like at all. A far finer language. More learned, more literary. Much nearer the Latin. And by the by, I believe the word is patois, sir, if you will allow me.’
‘Patois – just so. Yet I swear the other is a word: I learnt it somewhere,’ said Jack.
—Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian
Something is brewing in Catalonia.
With austerity forcing economic centralization to Madrid, the people of Catalonia have begun to question whether or not they wish to remain part of the Spanish state.
It’s no secret that distinct nationalisms in Spain have always been a problem. The Spanish Civil War and Franco’s nationalist repression of other Iberian languages was just one more in a long line of conflicts dating back to the centralization policy of the Habsburgs. The Constitution of 1978 had allowed some settlement to that conflict by recognizing cultural identities in autonomous communities.
Or so it had appeared.
Economic stresses that have hit Spain unequally throughout its regions have inflamed the cleavages between the nations. Catalonia gives substantially more money to Madrid in tax receipts than it receives in return. (Estimates put the figure at about 20% of government revenues and 14% of expenditures) Why should Catalonia suffer for the follies of the Castilians?
This question is exacerbated by the existence of the European Union. While the question of the monetary union’s survival remains unanswered, it’s the existence of the EU that makes Catalonian independence more feasible. A Catalonia that was an EU member state would retain the trade benefits of the EU and prevent Spain from enacting retaliatory trade barriers. Perhaps as importantly the existence of a centralized currency union would allow Catalonia to maintain its present currency in the Euro and prevent large-scale displacements either in foreign capital investments or the value of domestic savings.
The characteristics that make the EU a quasi-“Super State” allow smaller national actors to break away from multi-national states with fewer consequences. In the presence of this federal super-state the question is perhaps not whether Catalonia will be independent, but whether or not multi-national states within the Eurozone should disband and create a new organizing principle based around nationalist sentiment.
Afterall, what makes Slovenia, Portugal, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein so much more deserving of national self-determination than Catalonia, Flanders, or Scotland?
And in that question, the ghosts of European nationalists who fought for self-determination (and their fictional counterparts like Dr. Maturin y Domanova) appear to be smiling….