In these chaotic times, maybe Catalonia should sit this one out
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 Olympics-hosting 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.