Guiris and the nationalist cause

Over on Barcelona Reporter there is a long-running debate in the comments section about whether the site has an anti-nationalist bias (it has, but in the name of balance and editorial freedom that’s perfectly justifiable) and there have been accusations that it thus draws in ‘right-wing anti-Catalan nutters’, both Spanish and foreign.

So why is it that guiris don’t generally buy into the whole nationalist deal? Yes, you get the odd Matthew Tree figure who makes the perpetuation of Catalan culture a one-man crusade, but a straw poll of the guiris I know reveals that most are at best indifferent, or in most cases quite strongly opposed to Catalan nationalism.

The obvious answer is that we simply can’t be arsed with the language, which is an integral part of nationalism here. Having struggled to get to an acceptable level in Spanish, we then see that we’re missing out on a whole range of things without Catalan, so we turn against it wholesale. That’s true in some cases, but plenty of long-term residents get by in Catalan or are actually fluent in it, and continue to resent Catalan nationalism. So what’s happening?

Most of my guiri mates, brought up in political climates with either a socialist or libertarian/free-market set of values, find Catalan nationalism to be completely incompatible with social equality or personal freedom, business efficiency and wealth creation, and herein lies the problem.

For anyone coming from the left, nationalism is about as attractive as being locked in a cupboard with a tape of sardana classics screeching away at full blast. Lefties can’t see why Catalonia should get special privileges within Spain because it contributes more to the national coffers (the basic argument of the ‘deficit fiscal’ nationalist crowd). Part of the fundamental reasoning behind taxes is to redistribute income according to need, not simply to repay it in terms of who paid most in the first place. And a Marxist analysis of the state of affairs within Catalonia reveals that government spending is carried out in a way that does nothing to help the most disadvantaged classes (which happen to be Spanish speakers in the vast majority of cases). Vast amounts of cash are spent on Catalanista initiatives which give nothing to the generally uninterested working class in order to forge/impose an identity that can then be used to the political advantage of the regional powermeisters and cover up incompetence and misuse of public funds. The 1.2 million euros given to the pro-Catalan national sports team platform this year, for example, are of dubious benefit to anyone apart from the nationalist middle-classes who use the idea to ratchet up their status as an ‘oppressed people’ and exert pressure in favour of their self-serving cause. Ignore and rule rather than divide and rule, but the outcome is broadly similar.

Guiris of a right-wing persuasion are often more libertarian, interested in personal freedom and free market solutions. Again, Catalan nationalism, with its market-distorting practices (the argument that Catalan language and culture is somehow a public good with positive externalities does not wash, I’m afraid), offers them very little. A regional government that uses the Institut Català de Finances to dole out cash to loss-making regime-friendly firms without applying efficiency criteria and which tries to bend the rules to help out small companies (thus encouraging them to stay small rather than grow) does not tie in with this line of right-wing thinking.

Socially, Catalan nationalism is constantly trying to impose a set of values on society instead of letting people come to their own conclusions; rather than adapt to the social reality of the country, nationalism tries to adapt society to an idealised vision of a glorious Catalonia from times gone by. This is as much of an anathema to guiris from the right as the left; that nationalist precepts should be taken as unquestionable truths to such an extent that any dissident voices are shouted down as fascists is offensive to anyone who values open debate.

So we’re just a bunch of malintegrats at the end of the day. But we can take comfort from the fact that we’re not the only ones, as plenty of Catalonia-born Catalans are also fed up with having nationalism (and its inability to answer their problems) rammed down their throats, as has been borne out by the results of Wednesday’s regional elections.


~ by Daniel on November 3, 2006.

14 Responses to “Guiris and the nationalist cause”

  1. I would like to repeat this article – in its entirety – in the ‘Reporters’ section of Barcelona Reporter.

    Our readers would get to know a little more about political life here and, of course, a little more about ‘Planet Churro’.

    Would that be possible?

    Thank you.

    John Pawlenko
    Barcelona Reporter

  2. No problem, John. Feel free to take whatever you want from the site, as long as Planet Churro gets a mention 😉

  3. While I’m no nationalist – I despise the racial references made by Catalan and Spanish nationalists on the lunatic fringe – I must disagree with a couple of points. I don’t accept that all ‘guiris’ (I’d not call myself that, personally) find it impossible to link nationalism (or rather ‘independentism’) and social progress. Many people who’ve grown up in countries which have suffered colonialism quite accurately connect a sense of national liberation with the civil rights which accompany it. This is not to say that liberation confers said rights, more that some non-Catalans could feel a deep resonance in what they hear from Catalan nationalists, however distorted their version of events might be.

    I also find it difficult to believe that you see the recent election as evidence that Catalans themselves are tired with nationalism. The largest net loser in the election was the PSC and many commentators have linked their poorer showing at the polls this year with Artur Mas’s relentless references to his origins and alleged status as a puppet of Madrid.

  4. Tom,

    I don’t think nationalism and social progress are impossible to link together, just Catalan nationalism and social progress. On an national level Catalan nationalism is not interested in income redistribution (I once went to a talk by Josep Huguet (ERC) who said any money spent in Spain was simply ‘tapant forats’ and that money could be far more productive if spent in Catalonia rather than Asturias, regardless of the social need in the 2 regions – is this social progress?); within Catalonia, the concerns of nationalists are helping botiguers, not paying peatges, promoting the language and culture etc, none of which contribute anything to social justice.

    The difference between ex-colonies and Catalonia is the issue of oppression and to compare the two cases is not particularly constructive, and you yourself mention civil rights, which aren’t under threat in Catalonia.

    Re the elections, I was referring to the PSC’s loss of votes (PSC itself is blaming this on turning off its electorate with nationalist messages whilst in power) and the rise of the anti-nationalist Ciutadans and the relatively non-nationalist ICV. If you throw in abstention caused, to a certain extent, by people being unable to connect to a nationalist-dominated political system, then you’ve got a hell of a lot of people who don’t associate themselves with nationalism.

    A political elite that is so detached from the people it supposedly represents is getting something wrong. Look at the media/political reaction to lay-offs at Seat (working-class Spanish speakers) and potential job losses at RTVE in Sant Cugat and the closure of Radio4 (which had abysmal audience figures but was staffed by defenders of Catalan culture) and you’ll see what I mean.

  5. I think the reason why this was the second lowest turnout ever at the Catalan elections is because Catalans feel that politicians increasingly don’t talk for them. The last tripartite was dominated by squabbling over issues of nationalism in the same way that Blair and Bush focus on Iraq to avoid dealing with basic social and economic issues in their own countries. If they paid more attention to more pressing public issues such as the spiralling cost of property and creaking health service, then maybe people would turn out to vote in greater numbers.

    As regards Catalan nationalism in general, I can see the arguments in favour of it but I really don’t see it as the most important issue facing Catalunya. The region already has a huge degree of independence from the Spanish state and is increasingly independent in all but name virtually.

  6. i get the idea…the catalans are nationalists,huh?
    and the spaniards?Franco,primo de rivera ,aznar?
    trying to impose?since 1714,there is nothing we can impose,mate!
    fiscal privileges?
    stop having too many pints,son!
    remember CERVANTES..(wherever you go ,do what it is done there)?
    catalan nationalism is a defensive one, not aggressive like the spanish one…
    and by the way,before lightly judging the history of an oppressed nation ..get the facts right, mate
    Another catalan “nationalist” moron!

  7. Then why the Catalan patriot [not nationalist, please, learn to translate before translating] government has received lots and lots of rekons from European Comission or from UNESCO or from many other international instances for our school methods or EU founds management?

    By the way, if we Catalan patriots are as bad and ugly as you paint us, then why we have a President born in Andalusia or the recent Ramon Llull award is a girl born in Nador, Morocco? Are you sure 7,500,000 Catalans are wrong and blind and you are the only one who has the shinning Truth? Oh! And I myself am a descent of immigrants, too.

    The only true point in all your long loathing article is the final point. Make a favour to the world and set a final point to your life.

  8. > I don’t think nationalism and social progress are impossible to link together, just Catalan nationalism and social progress.

    Aaaaaaaaaah! Ja et conec, herbeta, que et dius marduix.

    Mira, idiota, això ho porteu dient els comunistes espanyols mal reciclats des de fot 70 anys. Esteu més passats que un disc de l’Antonio Machin.

    Apa, ves a cagar a la via i espera fins que sentis un xiulet.

  9. Yet another example of political debate in España… Anyway, the fact is that we don’t all believe the fabrications of the Generalitat, either because we are well-read and know about History ( the real one not the fabricated one) or because we look outside in order to understand the inside. What I find increasingly sinister is that the foreign residents are (unknowingly) assimilating the same fabricated tripe and, without wishing to be offensive, have had little, if any at all, previous knowledge of the History of Spain before moving here. I shudder when I read words like “colonialism”, Tom , I would be very happy to enlighten you about this newly coined term in the Catalan nationalist dictionary; a dictionary that was first “published” in the late XIX Century when the seeds of European nationalism were being planted, an irrational and selfish zeitgeist that gave us pearls like Hitler, Mussolini,Franco, Sabino Arana, Prat de la Riba and new wannabe nations like the Basque Country and Catalonia. By the way, the much mentioned 1714 refers to the Spanish War of Succesion (Borbons against Austrias) but the Generalitat has been shiftily promoting a slight change in the spelling of the word which sounds now more like Secession and topped its brand new story with the insertion of a fairy tale interpretation of said war in all History books in Catalonia and even on their website and if they do this it’s because they can, the laisser-fair attitude ( if not sheer ignorance) of everyone in this sorry place will go down in History as the biggest brainwashing ever. Now, don’t you think that investing our money in giving us “real” education, great health care, a decent home to live, etc. should be what is all about? Not in Catalonia, I’m afraid, here it’s about what it’s always been, about the descendants of the Catalan bourgeoisie stealing even more money from the mass; if now they are taking in excess of 15% on commissions for granting contracts to willing contractors, imagine what they will pocket when they have to give no explanations to central government. Did you now that Pujol’s wife had ( not sure if still does) a business that sold palm-trees? Do you know where all the thousands of palm-trees that were planted in Barcelona as part of the Olympic Games regeneration project with the money from all Spanish tax-payers came from? Bingo! From Mrs Ferrusola company.Would this be allowed say, in the UK? Once again, I’d be very happy to share my impartial bag of knowledge with anyone. I do suggest though if anyone out there is interested in learning about Spain, get some books by foreign authors and reputed Historians, much of the stuff on sale in catlonia nowadays is pure tripe.

  10. wow, just stumbled by…. and must say this is the best and most consice summary i have ever read on this topic….and i agree 100% with you… well done…

  11. A most excellent post, seems to sum up my opinions to the letter.

  12. Hi Daniel!

    I have taken the liberty to link to this page. Pity you are not continuing your blog!


  13. I must say, as an expat now 7 years on in Barcelona I agree with you. Nice job!

  14. The voice of the expats is being ignored, except for those who stick to saying the usual niceties, and in turn are avidly being quoted.

    Catalan nationalists have Emma (

    Time to organise?

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