Nationalism needs to lose so that it can vindicate. That’s why today it blocks the alternative narrative, too.
It was Jon Juaristi, in El bucle melancólico (The melancholic loop), who synthesized in the most effective way the strategy of nationalism: lose to win. To recreate a fabled homeland that has been lost so that it can be recovered. As a result, to introduce itself to the world as an eternal defeated, to keep the flame of grievance alive, to look bad-tempered, and to prevent academic research to reveal that the defeat was only relative or even imaginary.
Catalan nationalism as well, which renews ulcers every year on September 11th. The fact that in the early stages of democracy one would want such a grieving day with an old romantic flavor to be the day of Catalonia –having at hand the joyful and affirmative Saint Jordi – always seemed to me like a sign powerful enough to doubt the civic nature of Catalan nationalism. A nationalism which in reality is as disgraceful as any other nationalism, with its foundational wound, its manipulated memory, its bloody hymn, and its periodical rituals of sorrow.
What happened in reality on this day more than 300 years ago? Vicens Vivens, serious mentor of historians, reluctant to the nationalistic fetishism that finds only what it wants to find, was the first to get a balanced idea of the facts back in 1774. Through the Nueva Planta Decrees, Catalonia lost its own medieval institutions in a traumatic way. –and where in Europe, we should ask, would not happen the same?-, but, at the same time, “the cleaning-up of law-codes and privileges” would catapult Catalonia to the future: finally, Catalonia was able to compete with Castile on an equal basis. Under the new Bourbon regime, traffic flow to America stopped being a Castilian issue to become a Spanish issue. And Barcelona became a great emporium. When the century was over, Catalonia had doubled its wealth and population. These data do not allow us to talk about decadence or subjugation.
But nationalism, we were saying, needs to lose so that it can vindicate. That’s the reason why it blocks the alternative narrative, more in accordance with reality: the narrative about a Catalonia that has not stopped winning in the last decades: self-government, income, Catalan speakers and an immense prestige for its capital, Barcelona. Accepting that this is true would be as much as admitting that a full Catalonia in Spain is possible, and this should not be allowed. But times are changing. There are more and more Catalans who understand that nationalism is a defeated experience of identity, just as fundamentalism is of faith. In the last decade, nationalists have exhausted all the moral capital that they had after the dictatorship. When last week these nationalists themselves, in their separatist ambition, proceeded to seize their own Parliament, these supplies finally emptied. To them, to those who always lose and who additionally want all of us to lose with them, is it the cock or the swan who’s singing?