Sunday, September 4, 2011

In Defense of an Open-Hearted Nationalism

About the author of this article for Help Catalonia

Marina Geli i Fàbrega
Minister of Health in the Catalan Government (2003-2010)

When I’m far from home and someone asks me "where are you from?" my answer always is "from Catalonia, of course." Then, to explain what and who we are, I never hesitate to say that we are a nation. A country that became a European nation thanks to its history and culture, a melting pot of many civilizations. A nation that borders the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, with rugged mountains and happy valleys. A nation with its own Romance language, the language of the troubadours and minstrels in the beginning, and now used by everyone.

Its history and culture made of it a nation with its own identity long before the concept of the modern state existed. A nation is never created by decree, it is beyond semantics and legal interpretation. Being a nation is a collective feeling forged over years. It survives and is resilient despite the vicissitudes of time. Thus, Catalonia continues to exist as a country regardless of its official recognition as such, or whether there is reconciliation between past, present and a collective and shared ambition for our future.

Historically, Catalonia has always wanted to be governed by itself, to define its own politics. That’s why it is one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world, with 129 presidents since 1359, despite various dictatorships and attacks over the years that abolished all its institutions. This fact alone shows this to be true: Catalonia is a nation. But it is also a diverse country open to the outside world, specially to Europe and the Mediterranean.

The mixture of agriculture, industry and tourism-oriented commerce has created a plural and open society, with an also much open economy and society than other countries of the Iberian Peninsula and other European regions. The different waves of immigrants are part of Catalonia’s DNA and shouldn’t spell any trouble for its national or social stability.

I feel therefore, as many other Catalans, almost genetically patriotic, with a strong and rational sense of belonging to my country, Catalonia. Emotionally, I feel myself disconnected from the idea of an excluding nationalism. For me, nationalism is a tricky concept because I worry about the fine line that separates it from excluding others in order to reassure oneself. Nationalists would like to own the feeling of belonging to a nation exclusively, be it Catalan or Spanish.

I defend patriotism with a radically civil, social, integrating form of Catalanism, which seeks unity above all, cultivates the differences and the internal pluralism, and does not promote hate towards others just to reinforce its identity. Many social movements happen because young people belonging to the first or second generation of immigrants do not feel they are part of a nation, due to their poverty and lack of culture, and because the "natives" reject them. The recent riots in France or England, or the ideological background of the killer in Norway, contain these ingredients.

Catalonia has two major challenges: the inclusion of a diverse society, with big differences in language, culture, religion, and income; and to fit within Spain and Europe. Since the
beginning of the Spanish political transition, the constitutional pact of 1978 and the Catalan Constitution of 1979 have paved the road for a period of approximately two decades of positive economic and social development. Catalonia needs to review its own finances, as well as its European projection and the excessive focus of the Spanish state on the Spain/Madrid axis and centralism, have brought back the national debate in Catalonia. The Statute of 2006, put forth by President Pasqual Maragall, tried to redefine Catalonia's relationship with Spain.

The difficulty of understanding each other, combined with the most fervent Spanish nationalism Spain has seen since Franco, combined with the Spanish Constitutional Court ruling against the Catalan Constitution in response to the appeal of the Spanish Popular Party, have raised again the distrust towards Spain, giving strength to the idea of independence. On the other end of the spectrum, this has stoked the idea of assimilation, proposed the Spanish nationalism or through the creation of new parties, with support in certain neighborhoods, that have an clear message against immigration.

The economic crisis and thus the need for more funding has led the country back to a debate calling for a fiscal pact between Catalonia and Spain. In fact, the model emanating from the current state is the best fiscal pact in history but executed at a time of falling revenues.

Now, we need true federalism evolving from the regional model, which will require a reform of the Constitution, the creation of a Federal Congress and the to fully recover the original Catalan Constitution and the development of the fiscal pact, giving Catalonia its own tax agency.

But the debate about a Catalan State must be a European debate. A new Europe needs solid governments emerging from from the european regions. For Catalonia, this debate is as important as our relation with Spain, equally important to the role of Barcelona and Catalonia in the Mediterranean area. So, in order to have a complete nation, we need to promote patriotism rather than a self-centered Catalan nationalism. We need to reinforce our culture continually while encouraging social cohesion, coexistence, diversity, and move towards true federalism, freedom and voluntary union to explore the future of Catalonia and Euskadi in the context of a Federal Europe.


Marina Geli Fàbrega.
Member of the Parliament of Catalonia.

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