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OPINION

Barça is not Catalonia

What is going on between Catalonia and the rest of Spain? John Carlin presents a guide for perplexed Britons and other foreigners

A Barça fan waves an ‘estelada’ Catalan nationalist flag at Camp Nou.
A Barça fan waves an ‘estelada’ Catalan nationalist flag at Camp Nou. AFP

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca.

There is a certain kind of Brit who loves Spain and is captivated by Spanish soccer. But having more than enough entertainment with the porcine predicaments of their prime minister and such like, they don’t normally demonstrate the least bit of interest in Spanish or Catalan politics. Suddenly, though, learning through the media that Catalonia is flirting with independence, and that the famous clásico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid could disappear, has left them disconcerted. They want to know more. So in an attempt to clear up doubts and encourage understanding between nations we here today offer a guide, in Q&A format, for those Britons and other foreigners perplexed about the current Spanish political scene.

Nationalism obstructs the mental channels that reason flows along

Question. Sometimes before a match in Barcelona’s stadium an enormous banner appears proclaiming that “Catalonia is not Spain.” The funny thing is that after that you see the team line-up and it’s clear that “Barça is not Catalonia.” How do you explain that?

Answer. Simple. On the one hand, Barça is the closest thing Catalans have to a national army. On the other, its coach is from Asturias, its captain is from Castilla-La Mancha, its best player is Argentinean, other players in the starting XI were born in Brazil, Uruguay, Croatia, Germany and Chile, it has just signed a Turkish midfielder, and the person who has most influenced its style of play is Dutch.

Q. Sorry, but that doesn’t make sense. Or is it that everyone who dresses in Barça’s colors automatically feels Catalan?

A. Not everyone, but it is true that some have made their own the custom prevalent among certain nationalist politicians of fiddling their taxes. Though, of course, people do that everywhere Spain, which you might interpret as a unifying rather than a dividing factor.

There was never more hatred in the Madrid-Barça relationship than when José Mourinho was there fanning the flames

Q. In reality, we tourists who have traveled round Spain don’t see any differences between Catalans and the rest. Are we wrong?

A. Not much. All of them worship jamón ibérico, Rioja wine, lingering lunches, nocturnal knees-ups, the agreeable sense of self-satisfaction that provokes outrage. Another thing they share is that when it comes to adopting political positions their mental processes are guided more by faith that the facts.

Q. So, just like in soccer then. But if they’re crazy about jamón from Extremadura and Huelva, why don’t the Catalans want cities as beautiful as Trujillo, Córdoba, Seville, Granada and Segovia to remain part of their cultural heritage?

A. Because they don’t travel to these places. They don’t value them and they hate giving them money from their taxes. Nationalism obstructs the mental channels that reason flows along. That goes for Spanish nationalism, too.

Q. Is there Spanish nationalism?

A. Yes. Nationalism is competitive, paranoid and classifies the human beings of the rival identity as if they were insects. Which is why you hear people in Madrid or Cádiz say that “the Catalans” are all one way, and people in Barcelona or Girona say “the Madrileños” are all another. Nationalism is defined more by antagonism towards the other than the love that one feels for one’s homeland. One example: a fervent Barça fan is happier when Real Madrid loses than when their own team wins.

Q. Why do so many Catalans want independence now?

A. The rejection by a few Madrid judges of an agreement between Catalonia and the rest of Spain; the uncertainty and anxiety over solutions that the economic crisis has generated; the incompetence of the ruling Spanish party; José Mourinho.

Q. Mourinho?

A. There was never more hatred in the Madrid-Barça relationship — the most visible measure of the rivalry between Catalonia and the Spanish state — than when the Portuguese coach was there fanning the flames.

Q. If Catalonia breaks away, will catastrophe happen? Will we say adiós to the clásicos between Real and Barça?

A. According to the mood in the rest of Spain today, yes. They will say, “OK, if Catalonia is not Spain, Barça is not in the Spanish league.”

Q. But as we have already confirmed, Barça is not Catalonia. Leo Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez and company will not want to play in a Catalan mini-league. They will go to Manchester United, Chelsea or… Real Madrid, no?

A. The risk is real. Let’s see how it influences the Catalan electorate.

English version by Nick Funnell.