This article explains why some of those who claim that an independent Catalonia from a vintage Spain would be better off than a Catalonia belonging to (a new) Spain might simply be disoriented and biased by non-factual evidence fed by nationalistic sentiment. Nationalistic sentiment must be respected and ought to be encouraged if it respects diversity anytime anywhere. Irrationally supporting a shift towards independence based on nationalistic sentiment and biased evidence may be a nonsense which will foster an atmosphere of division and inefficiency going forward.
First of all Catalonia’s two most successful and international institutions (as well as many other), FC Barcelona and “la Caixa”, would not be such in the absence of their presence and expansion in Spain. The first is one of the World’s best football (soccer) clubs if not the best under coach Josep Guardiola (who has moved to Bayern Munich this season 2013-2014 after a sabbatical year with his family in New York City). The second is Spain’s third largest bank and one of the World’s most innovative.
Imagine an FC Barcelona playing the Catalan League, where only one more team (Espanyol) currently plays in Spain’s first division (Primera División). A club becomes big because it has big competitors against which to play. Big rivals force any team to improve and enhance its ability and capabilities. If FC Barcelona chose to play the French League were Catalonia to become independent, the Catalans would fall under the influence of Paris and French centralism, the World’s strongest. Madrid’s centralism does exist but is today a fraction of what it once was. Castilian elites are still to be criticized for maintaining a centralist rhetoric which seeks to benefit the center at the expense of the periphery. Catalonia is not the only victim of Madrid’s centralism. Every other peripheric region is, whether Comunitat Valenciana, Región de Murcia or Andalusia.
Imagine “la Caixa” without operating throughout Spain. A large chunk of the bank branches of “la Caixa” are based outside of Catalonia, so is a majority of its customer base and therefore the bank’s savings and assets. In July 2013 Euromoney selected “la Caixa” Spain’s best bank for the second consecutive year. The Chairman of “la Caixa” (now called CaixaBank) is also the President of CECA, the Confederation of Spanish Savings Institutions. In 2011 “la Caixa” was designated the World’s most innovative bank of the year “in recognition of its culture of innovation and its ongoing commitment to the advancement of retail banking” (BAI-FINANCE Global Banking Innovation Awards 2011). The remarkable achievements of the Catalan financial institution would have barely being attained in the absence of its presence in a larger market.
Barcelona is Spain’s top tourist destination city, ahead of Madrid, Lisbon or Porto, and one of the World’s top ten. It is also Europe’s second congress and conference destination (behind Vienna) and one of the World’s preferred cities to live in. Barcelona benefits from the fact that Spain is the World’s tourism superpower, only behind France. Economists are well aware of these spillover effects.
Catalan leaders have been complaining for decades now that Madrid (and consequently Castille) imposes its centralism (or imperialism) over Catalonia. But the same criticism applies over Catalonia’s (at least cultural) centralism (or imperialism) over Comunitat Valenciana or the Balearic Islands, where a variant of Catalan (mallorquí in the Balearic Islands and valenciano in Comunitat Valenciana) has been spoken for centuries. The weather forecast in the Barcelona underground surprisingly shows an enlarged Catalan state composed of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Comunitat Valenciana. Very few, I must say having been born in Valencia, outside Catalonia like this so-called Catalan contemporaneous centralism (or imperialism). Very few outside Madrid like Castilian centralism (or imperialism), not even the Portuguese. Yet the same criticism applies to Portugal where Lisbon’s centralism is not welcome in Porto.
Catalan leaders may complain that the Basque Country and Navarre hold centenary rights (fueros) which imply a tax and fiscal autonomy whereby both the Basque Country and Navarre do not contribute to redistribution towards the poorer southern regions like Andalusia, Extremadura or Murcia, contrary to what happens in the European Union through the Structural Funds. Catalan leaders demand that Catalonia acquires the same centenary rights. The right move is however to end with the privileges of certain citizens in a part of the territory based on historical rights. For decades in the twentieth century when Catalonia’s economy was booming thousands of low-paid workers from Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia moved to Catalonia. We must continue to help the poorer regions through redistribution schemes that however need to be spent efficiently and monitored/audited.
The teaching and learning of Catalan ought to be encouraged and even enforced. But so should the teaching and learning of Spanish. Spanish is one of the World’s most widespread spoken languages. Spain’s is Europe’s top Erasmus destination, which is equivalent to Europe’s preferred destination for University foreign students, who come to Spain searching for the sun, the fun (la marcha), the wine and the fiesta, but also to learn Spanish, not necessarily Catalan. Catalan is a useful language for locals and inhabitants on Catalan soil, romantics and poliglots. The best Universities in Spain are based in Catalonia. Yet Catalan Universities will lose a competitive advantage if they withdraw the teaching and learning in Spanish and narrow their offering to Catalan and English. It is a question of pragmatism, not a question of historical myopia based on true repression of the Francoist regime against the Catalan language and culture. Catalans must choose to either look forward or to continue to bias their preferences incorporating the pitfalls of the past, which affect everyone on the planet’s surface, not only a miniscule proportion thereof. With a booming Latin America, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans college graduates could spend one or two academic years in Spain towards completing their master’s and doctorate degrees. These potential students would rarely move to Catalonia if Catalan Universities only provided their lectures in Catalan and English.
There is widespread corruption and nepotism in Spain at all political levels, whether the municipal, the regional or the national. This plague also affects Catalans and Catalonia, whether CiU or Esquerra (Catalonia’s preferred nationalist political forces). An independent Catalonia would continue to be a land of oligarchy and caciquism (as it is the rest of Spain and Portugal) if it did not radically turn around and regenerate its political parties. The Catalans must fire all of their political leaders in the same manner as Portugal and Spain must do. Oligarchy and caciquism will continue to limit a territory’s ability to prosper to the extreme of reaching a full stop.
It is easy to love and adore Barcelona and Catalonia, as it is to love and adore the Basque Country or Andalusia. Diversity should be welcome and fostered. Spaniards have been extremely awkward at embracing diversity. For decades diversity has been used by the political elites as a weapon to divide and conquer. By creating false perceptions, a discourse of legitimate defence of a neighbour’s attack justifies the existence of an unnecessary intermediary.
There is a sentiment of hatred promoted and enforced in Catalonia against non-Catalans as there is an opposite sentiment promoted outside Catalonia against Catalans fundamentally driven by the political-elites and embraced by the masses. We have grown up breathing a culture of hatred against one another. We should cut the trend and start loving one another, for there is wonder on the other side to discover, to enjoy.
Let the peoples decide their destiny in a borderless World. But let the decision be based upon factual evidence and not irrational exuberance contaminated by political elites whose very self existence depends upon the maintenance of a wrong perception. The political elites contaminate the water, then come up with the best purification system which they can sell at a premium in order to maintain a dominance position. Yet we should get rid of the elites who continue to contaminate the water, a water of diversity of which we ought to be thirsty as lovers are in need of each other’s love.
I am in love with Barcelona, with Catalonia, with Catalans. A new Spain with Catalonia should be better off than a vintage Spain without Catalonia. Catalonia will become Fatalonia in the absence of a larger Lebensraum. But only time will provide an answer for the better or worse, in the absence or presence of independence.