In these chaotic times, maybe Cat­alo­nia should sit this one out

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints - De­clan Lynch

THOUGH I am no Michael Palin when it comes to in­ter­na­tional travel and ad­ven­ture, I have been to Barcelona sev­eral times, and I have even ram­bled through other parts of Cat­alo­nia.

We have all been go­ing to Barcelona and greater Cat­alo­nia for a long time now. Vir­tu­ally any­one who has left Ire­land for recre­ational pur­poses has been there, at least once.

I went there for the first time in 1991, when they were dig­ging up the streets in Barcelona in prepa­ra­tion for the Olympics the fol­low­ing year. And now that I think of it, on that trip I saw Jimmy Magee strolling down Las Ram­blas, de­duc­ing straight away that the Mem­ory Man was on a top-level re­con­nais­sance mis­sion, mak­ing his own prepa­ra­tions for the Games, what­ever they might be.

I did not stop him to ask him what ex­actly he was do­ing there, as I did not know him and he did not know me. I just sighed in won­der at the thor­ough­ness of his re­searches.

But even he would have been as­ton­ished at the way those Olympics turned out, and what it says about the peo­ple of Cat­alo­nia. The host city ac­tu­ally didn’t go bankrupt within a few years, they didn’t con­struct a load of lu­di­crous venues which were never used af­ter 1992 and which are still be­ing paid for (due to the mas­sively stupid deals which en­abled them to be built in the first place). In fact, they did al­most none of the crazy things that so many other Olympic­shost­ing cities have done.

Barcelona did well out of the Olympics, and in­deed it is still do­ing well out of it — still en­joy­ing the in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ments which may have been some­thing of a nui­sance to me and Jimmy Magee, but which turned out to be quite use­ful even­tu­ally. And it is gen­er­ally felt that the emer­gence of Barcelona as a ma­jor city was greatly in­flu­enced by this mir­a­cle which it per­formed in front of the world, by the im­pres­sion it gave of an ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple seiz­ing their mo­ment.

Leav­ing aside the ob­vi­ous great­ness, the Gaudi ar­chi­tec­ture and the Camp Nou, the cul­ture of this place has al­ways seemed to be grounded in a kind of a deep in­tel­li­gence. You can see it in the foot­ball team — the way that they turn com­mon sense into a kind of an art form.

So it is in­dica­tive of the hor­ri­bly twisted pow­ers of na­tion­al­ism, that Cat­alo­nia is seek­ing a kind of in­de­pen­dence which re­ally doesn’t seem to make much sense at all. And cer­tainly not at the present time.

If we look first at the tim­ing, we might have imag­ined that these ex­cep­tion­ally bright and grown-up peo­ple would have had a look around the world, and formed a view which went some­thing like this:

“Cer­tainly we would like to de­clare in­de­pen­dence from Spain, at some time, for the usual rea­sons. But the way things are go­ing these days, you’ve got na­tion­al­ism on the rise in Ger­many and France and Hol­land and most other places, if truth be told. And as is usual when na­tion­al­ism is on the rise, very bad things tend to hap­pen, for quite a long time.

“Bri­tain is in the process of be­ing de­stroyed by the na­tion­al­ist Brex­i­teers. Amer­ica is go­ing down un­der the na­tion­al­ism of Trump. It is per­fectly clear that democ­ra­cies all over the place are be­ing desta­bilised by these de­mented en­er­gies.

“But you know what? We’re a bit bet­ter than that. We’re the folks who did well out of the Olympics. That’s how good we are. So we fig­ure that it’s prob­a­bly in no­body’s in­ter­est right now to desta­bilise this old con­ti­nent of ours any fur­ther, to bring up even darker mem­o­ries of the 1930s by kick­ing off some new ver­sion of the Span­ish Civil War.

“Yes, we may have our own form of na­tion­al­ism but, all things con­sid­ered, maybe there’s enough of that stuff go­ing around at the mo­ment. Maybe there’s far too much of it ac­tu­ally. So with­out los­ing any of our self-re­spect here, or our de­sire for this thing called self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, maybe… maybe we’ll just sit this one out. For now...”

But no, they’re not sit­ting this one out. And on a su­per­fi­cial level they are re­ceiv­ing a cer­tain level of in­ter­na­tional sup­port, not least be­cause of the asi­nine be­hav­iour of the Span­ish po­lice — a poll for RTE’s Claire Byrne Live last Mon­day sug­gested that 65pc of the Ir­ish are happy for Cat­alo­nia to pur­sue in­de­pen­dence from Spain.

But then we have a bit of a weak­ness for the old na­tion­al­ism, es­pe­cially when we don’t think it has any con­se­quences for us. And though Paddy has been go­ing to Cat­alo­nia for so long, it ap­pears we haven’t no­ticed that the re­gion is lack­ing some­thing that is usu­ally to be found in most strug­gles for free­dom — it does not ap­pear to be en­dur­ing any form of op­pres­sion, or dis­crim­i­na­tion, or in­deed any form of in­sti­tu­tion­alised bad­ness worth men­tion­ing.

On the con­trary, such prob­lems as they have, seem to be those not of the un­der­dog, but the over­dog.

They are do­ing fine, and would be do­ing even finer if these Spa­niards weren’t al­ways drag­ging out of them, but hell... there’s al­ways El Cla­sico.

As for the un­nec­es­sary prob­lems they would now be fac­ing — hav­ing to ap­ply for mem­ber­ship of the EU, for ex­am­ple, where Spain has a veto — they seem to be as un­trou­bled as a Brex­i­teer by any of these tech­ni­cal­i­ties, fired up as they are by the wav­ing of the flag.

So while it is grounded in an­cient ha­treds, there seems to be some­thing quite... dis­cre­tionary about this fi­nal push to­ward Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence. In one way it seems to rep­re­sent some­thing es­sen­tial in the Cata­lan spirit. But in a more mean­ing­ful way it is not like them at all.

And as is cus­tom­ary in such sit­u­a­tions, there are in­deed some of them who are not of the flag-wav­ing per­sua­sion, who want noth­ing to do with this “in­de­pen­dence” — which may in truth leave them far more de­pen­dent in var­i­ous ways than they are to­day.

I mean, it does lack a cer­tain ro­man­tic el­e­ment, this strug­gle of the pros­per­ous to be free. I hope they’re not watch­ing it too closely in South Dublin, where they also have their own lan­guage, their own cus­toms, their own cul­ture.

It just might oc­cur to them — if it hasn’t al­ready — that they’re get­ting very lit­tle out of this ar­range­ment they have with the rest of Ire­land. That like the Cata­lans they are not loved but re­sented by those who do not en­joy the rewards which their unique abil­i­ties have earned for them.

Re­ally — does a per­son from South Dublin even be­long to the same species as some­one from Co West­meath? Let alone the same nation?

And when will they de­cide that they are a peo­ple unto them­selves — one which could eas­ily thrive as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try? When will South Dublin se­cede?

I mean ev­ery­body’s do­ing it these days. Ev­ery­body’s go­ing against all the best ef­forts of the past 70 years in Europe, which were mainly con­cen­trated on di­rect­ing us away from na­tion­al­ism and “self-de­ter­mi­na­tion” and the catas­tro­phes which some­how en­sue from such sup­pos­edly up­lift­ing ide­olo­gies.

Even Cat­alo­nia couldn’t just walk away.

‘When will South Dublin se­cede? They also have their own lan­guage and cus­toms...’

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