Since 2008, I’ve lived in Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. My wife is from Barcelona. She’s both Catalan and Spanish, and so are our three children, who are also Danish. Still, to be honest, all of these national markers say nothing. Rather, they serve as a means of control. After all, we’re all human beings who far too often forget how we’re interconnected with and accountable to one another, because we focus too much on the colour of our passports.Yet, I mention these familial bonds to underline that I have some knowledge of what’s happening in Catalonia, especially of the current conflict over the referendum for self-determination, which was called by the Catalan government for October 1, 2017.
Although I don’t agree with the way in which the referendum has been forced on the Catalan people, I do believe that a legitimate referendum would be a solution to clarify how many Catalans actually want independence.
According to surveys taken in recent years, approximately half of the voters want Catalonia to become an independent nation, while the rest see themselves as both Catalan and Spanish. Unfortunately, the politicians in Catalonia tend to ignore the voters who see commonalities with Spain rather than differences, just as the independence project has for many years neglected other agendas in the region.
Of course, many things have been and will continue to be said about this sad conflict. Political agendas always affect the level of openness among politicians and citizens and, as such, the level of honesty.
A Buddhist perspective
Here, I’ll try to add some perspective to the situation through the Buddhist concept of karma.
Karma has become a common word for most people. In Barcelona, on the public buses, a campaign is running using the slogan, “Travel with karma.”
The following is a typical metaphor used to illustrate karma: If you plant a banana seed, you get a banana tree.
Karma means that nothing arises by itself. Everything that happens—every experience we have—is conditioned by what precedes it. So, if you have a bad experience while taking public transportation, you yourself may have played a part in it. Another crucial element is the Buddhist idea of cultivation. The following is a typical metaphor used to illustrate karma: If you plant a banana seed, you get a banana tree.
What’s happening in Catalonia is a result of both past and current global financial crises. Catalonia is the richest region in Spain. Unfortunately, they have to share some of their riches with the rest of Spain.
The negotiations that the Catalan government has made with Madrid over the last 30 years haven’t been very good for Catalonia. This is due to pressure from Madrid, as well as the poor negotiating skills of Catalan politicians. It has even been suggested that some Catalan politicians who want separation from Spain have deliberately never negotiated a fair deal in order to have so-called proof of Madrid’s rigidity.
Whether this is a rumour or not, it illustrates another problem in Spain—its history.
History repeating itself
The ghost of General Franco, who ruled Spain as a military dictator from 1939 until his death in 1975, still lingers in this country. The Spanish Civil War (of 1936 to 1939) was, of course, not just a war between Spain and Catalonia; the entire country suffered.
The last city to surrender to Franco’s regime was Madrid. Nevertheless, Franco was hard on the Catalans, suppressing their customs, their culture and especially their language, the use of which he forbade. This victimization continues to play a major role in the Catalan mentality.
Another element goes back to the negotiation surrounding the distribution of money. The Catalan independence movement grew tremendously in 2008, when the financial crisis hit Spain. Similar to what occurred in many other places, people tended to become protectionist and nationalistic as a way of controlling their welfare, language and culture, to the extent that some have said that this resembled the methods used by Franco.
Still, national control is an argument among the separatist Catalan politicians that serves the dual purpose of getting rid of the Spanish ghost and securing their own economic welfare.
Two historical issues return
First, the wounds from the Spanish Civil War have never healed. The politicians in both Catalonia and Spain have simply lacked the humanistic perspective to establish a process through which grief and sadness could be shared and that could lead to empathy, forgiveness and compassion.
Instead, hate and mistrust have flourished. Furthermore, when money becomes such a crucial player on both sides, we move into the sphere of greed and egoism. No Catalan or Spanish politicians have planted the seeds of harmony, respect and mutual trust.Second, we live in a neo-liberal society. We’re unable to free ourselves from our own desires—for example, the naive desire to be in control.
The Independents want to be free from everything related to Spain. This began most clearly with the former Catalan president Jordi Pujol, who was in office from 1980 to 2003. Pujol changed the school system from teaching in both Spanish and Catalan to teaching in Catalan only. He also ensured that Catalonia received more immigrants from non-Spanish speaking countries than from Latin America.
The reason for this was that non-Spanish speaking immigrants had to learn Catalan to get by, whereas the Latin Americans would continue to speak Spanish, which he wanted to eliminate.
Today, schools teach in Catalan, all public information is disseminated in Catalan and radio stations can only receive government support if they broadcast in Catalan. The stories of suffering and repression seemed ridiculous until recently, when the current Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, sent in the Spanish Civil Guard police to raid a political office in Barcelona. In doing so, he acted according to the letter of the law, but he also gave the independence movement something to support their paranoia.
All of this is history repeating itself, which emphasizes karma. Why didn’t someone plant another seed after the civil war, and cultivate another more caring and forgiving mentality everywhere in Catalonia and Spain? Such a question may be irrelevant today. But today isn’t irrelevant to tomorrow.
Another example of the karma problem
Those Catalans who wish for a new nation wish for a better one. This is obvious. It should be one with a more feminist and ecological face, but many people in Madrid want that, too. So do many people in Denmark, just to mention another country.
Still, it’s problematic when proclamations aren’t lived out. The same Catalan politicians who sell fancy ideas haven’t done much to integrate their beautiful ideas into their day-to-day politics. Domestic violence, drunk driving, pollution, political corruption and general societal patriarchy are as common in Catalonia as in Spain.
Personally, I hope that a legitimate referendum will be possible so that people can decide. But I also hope that a separate nation won’t be the solution. I believe that it’s healthier to move in the other direction—that is, giving less credit, power and importance to the nation-state, making it less important whether you’re Danish, Spanish, Catalan or whatever.
I find it beautiful when people see themselves as equally Catalan and Spanish, as many do in Barcelona. A little schizophrenia is good for you, as you can take your illusionary self less seriously.
Most of the problems of arrogance, egoism and greed that we all suffer from today come from narcissistic thinking, and nations are, by definition, selfish. Furthermore, the problems that we all face today, such as immigration, financial crises, ecological disasters and possible nuclear war, must be solved by all of us together. The nation-state has always been the foundation of capitalism because it emphasizes private property rights.
Yes, I hope that people will always be free to express their opinions, beliefs and ideas. But I also hope for a world in which everyone can live and be everywhere without having a nationality, and the ideas and beliefs that people wish to express have no restrictions. Nationality should be reduced to the arena of sport.