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Why Catalan Nationalism Is A Far Right Movement

File:Països Catalans Mural Vilassar.JPG
"A Nation, Catalan Countries! A Language, Catalan!" - Mural in Vilassar de Mar, El Maresme, Catalonia (by 1997 / Wikimedia Commons)

"They have been beaten for trying to hold a referendum, their parliament has been dissolved and their leaders have either fled or been put in prison, but the Catalan independence supporters are not relenting," wrote The Independent on December 8 about Catalan separatists.

The Catalan independence movement has been portrayed by many international media outlets as a fight for freedom, while the intervention of the Spanish state to block the October 1st independence referendum is regarded as oppressive and undemocratic. 

International media often offer a platform for Catalan separatists to explain their cause from their own perspective. For instance on December 3 Politico Europe published an op-ed by Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) and former vice president of the Catalan government which proclaimed the independence of Catalonia on October 27. 

"The government chosen by Catalonia’s citizens are in jail, Catalonia’s institutions have been usurped, and the ultra-right carries out violence with impunity on Catalonia’s streets," wrote Junqueras in his op-ed.

However, while international media often sympathize with Catalan separatists, they have failed to analyze their political programme and their motives, thus taking for granted the concept that fighting for a nation-state is a noble cause. 

In this article we shall argue that the perception created by the international media is wrong and it is based solely on what Catalan separatists want international public opinion to believe. We shall argue that the Catalan separatist movement is a far-right nationalist movement that exists within the context of a rising nationalist-populist tide which includes Trumpism and the European far-right. 

Identity Politics

In 2008 Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of the Catalan government and leader of ERC, wrote an article entitled "Genetic Proximities" (Proximitats Genetiques).    

"Concretely, the Catalans have more genetic proximity to the French than to the Spanish; to the Italians than to the Portuguese; and a little to the Swiss. On the other hand, the Spanish have more proximity to the Portuguese than to the Catalans, and not much to the French," Junqueras argued. 

The genetic concept of a distinct Catalan identity is not new. In the 19th and 20th century Catalan nationalists had already theorized the existence of a Catalan race, and of a Catalan culture antithetical to that of Spain. 

In 1879 Valentí Almirall, one of the fathers of modern Catalan nationalism, wrote: 

"Spain is made up of two completely distinct groups. the Central and Southern groups, consisting of imaginative, adventurous, impressionable and voluble races ... The Northern group, on the contrary, which we may call the Pyrenean group, has never distinguished itself for its ardent imagination or its dramatic effect, but it has always been more thoughtful, solid and transcendental in its undertakings" (Almirall, "Los Ministres Catalans").

Pere Màrtir Rossell i Vilar (Olot, 1882-Barcelona, 1933), a Catalan nationalist, a member of ERC and proponent of "scientific racism", argued in the book "Differences between Catalans and Castilians" ("Diferències Entre Catalans i Castellans", 1917) that the Catalans were a distinct race.

Carles Pi i Sunyer (1888–1971), another member of ERC, wrote: "The demonstration of Catalan economic continuity proves ... that ability is not random, it is not the result of chance or favourable external circumstances, but that it is the natural manifestation of the invariable character of the Catalan people." 

In 1958 Jordi Pujol, Catalan President from 1980 to 2003, called the people from southern Spain "anarchic". He wrote: 

"The Andalusian man is not a coherent man, he is an anarchic man ... who has been hungry for hundreds of years and who lives in a state of ignorance and cultural, mental and spiritual misery."

In a 2007 article entitled "A Bit of Pietism" (Un Mica de Pietisme), Oriol Junqueras argued that after the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) Germany discarded religious identity in favour of national identity.

"[After the Thirty Years' War] the Germans never again fought a religious war," Junqueras wrote. "On the contrary, they created a new culture based on the effort and the will of self-overcoming which was born out of a new religious movement called pietism."

Junqueras believed that pietism had created a sense of "national community" that allowed the Germans to become a "nation" capable of building a state hat could "serve the people."

Junqueras argued that Catalonia had also been devastated by the Thirty Years' War, but that it had not achieved the same kind of "national" renewal that Germany had. Junqueras wrote:

"Our country was once again dragged into an international conflict of which it became victim. To the point that the Treaty of the Pyrenees [signed in 1659] resulted in the partition ['esquarterament', lit. 'butchering'] of our territory. We, however, did not learn the lesson of German pietism. Personal issues continue to dominate our public debate ... We are still incapable of letting our personal interests serve our national community. It may not be strange that we, unlike the Germans, still do not have a State. Neither a national State nor a welfare State."  

It is clear that Oriol Junqueras espouses a concept of ethno-nationalism that views the Catalan people as a national community. As we shall now show, his party, which is the largest pro-independence party in Catalonia, as well as other political groups, support this concept of nationalism. 

One interesting aspect of Catalan nationalist ideology is the policy of reunification of the Paisos Catalans, the "Catalan Countries", an area that includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands, parts of Aragon and Murcia, and parts of southern France. In a 2012 piece, Junqueras called the inhabitants of these regions "fellow countrymen". 

In February of 2017 ERC wrote on its website:

"Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya is a political party of the Catalan Countries; a party whose objective is the reunification of the Catalan lands, from Salses to Guardamar and from Fraga to Maó. In the lands annexed to France by the unjust Treaty of the Pyrenees, ERC has a territorial organization that acts under the conditions imposed by the French state. ERCN has mobilized and mobilizes for the defense of the identity, of the name Catalunya Nord, of the language and the right to live and work in the country. The current vice president of the autonomous government of Catalonia is Oriol Junqueras, president of our party. ERC participates in the Government of Catalonia with the immediate objective of the independence of our country from Albera to the Ebro, in full agreement with President Puigdemont and his Catalan Democratic European Party (PDeCAT). It is the indispensable milestone to reach reunification. An independent South Catalonia will be a decisive aid to build political, economic, social, cultural ties with the Occitan people and is more than necessary to promote the right of Catalans in the South and North, and the right of the Occitans to decide their future."

Esquerra Republicana of North Catalonia still commemorates the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the "subsequent constant intent to divide Catalonia in two." Esquerra vows to "erase the Treaty of the Pyrenees" ("Esborrem el Tractat dels Pirineus") and to fight for "national liberty". 

Another Catalan nationalist party, the Popular Unity Candidacy (Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, CUP), which was also a member of the dissolved Catalan government that declared independence in October, describes itself on its website as "an assembleary political organization of a national scope that extends throughout the Catalan Countries," whose objective is the "defense of the political rights of the Catalan people understood as the exercise of the right to self-determination and access to independence, participatory and direct democracy, the defense of unity and territoriality of the whole of the Catalan Countries."

The Catalan unilateral independence declaration states that "The Catalan nation, its language and culture have a 1,000 year-long history" (La nació catalana, la seva llengua i la seva cultura tenen mil anys d’història). 

Although Catalan nationalists claim that their ideology is inclusive, it is abundantly clear that it rests on a concept of identity-based statehood. The main purpose of such ideology is to define the "people" as a community sharing the same identity. Catalan separatism is therefore a form of nationalist populism. We have already explained the difference between democracy and populism. Here we shall just point out that in a democracy it is not the state that defines the identity of the citizens (religious, social or national identity); moreover, there is no need for state and individual or collective identity to coincide, as most states are multicultural either historically or due to immigration. 

Identity is and should remain a private matter of self-identification. In order to maintain the peaceful coexistence of all individuals, regardless of their religious, class or national identity, it is imperative that the distinction between identity and state be upheld. The politicization of national identity is a typical feature of far-right nationalist movements. 

Another indication that Catalan separatism must be regarded as a far-right movement is the fact that it is supported by Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange and Europe's far-right groups. 

As Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider reported in September, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange launched a campaign on Twitter to support Catalan independence, which continues to this day. On November 9 Oriol Soler, a pro-independence Catalan businessman, met with Assange in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Assange's ties to Vladimir Putin are notorious

Over the past few years Putin has sought ties with Europe's far-right movements in order to sow chaos and division and undermine European democracy. According to Forbes, "Putin sees in the Catalonian [sic] referendum an opportunity to convince the European Union, NATO, and the UN that it is time to recognize that Crimea belongs to Russia and to let bygones be bygones."

According to El Pais, between September 29 and October 19 a group of 4,883 Twitter bots disseminated pro-Catalan independence news, mostly from Russian state-run media RT and Sputnik. The tweets were shared over 84,000 times by around 38,000 accounts. This operation is reminiscent of the Kremlin's cyber attacks against the US in 2016. 

Among the supporters of Catalan independence are the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, which held vigils to express its solidarity with Catalan separatists; Belgium's nationalist New Flemish Alliance; and Britain's Nigel Farage.

It is therefore clear that the Catalan independence movement, because of its ideology and its political alignment, must be categorized as a nationalist far-right movement.

However, it must be remarked that Catalan separatism is not a coherent ideology. The viewpoint of Junqueras, of ERC and CUP does not necessarily represent the beliefs of every Catalan who favours independence. 

Nevertheless, whatever their personal opinions, a majority of Catalan pro-independence voters have chosen those politicians as their representatives, bestowing on them the authority and the political power to advance their nationalist cause. 


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