Another, last Tuesday, in Barcelona, was for Catalan independence. I was in favour of the march in Madrid. But not the march in Barcelona.
I didn't go to either: strictly speaking I am retired from active political involvment and try to avoid actually doing anything. So yesterday I was in la pardina de Ayés, in the Pyrenees, enjoying myself. Nevertheless, despite my absence there were tens of thousands in Madrid, albeit many fewer than in Barcelona.
How many there were on that march depends on which police force you choose to ask. Six hundred thousand according to the Guardia Civil. Els Mossos d'Esquadra, by contrast, reckon a million and a half. Which, in itself, says much of what needs to be said.
In principle I don't care whether Catalonia is independent or not. In practice I'm against it. I don't want to weigh up the pros and cons, to discuss the meaning of the term "nation" when applied to Catalonia, or to go through the history of Catalonia's inclusion in Spain. None of these are at the root of my opinion. What I am against is the process of polarisation between Catalans and Spaniards which, it seems to me, any move to independence would necessarily entail.
If I thought we were highly likely to have a peaceful, relatively amicable separation, as - for example - we will presumably have if Scotland separates from the United Kingdom, that would be a different matter. But I don't believe it. The prospect - the prospect, that is, of what is likely to happen - scares me. I see no good coming from all this.
Catalonia, like other parts of Spain, is not allowed to vote for independence. Nor is it allowed to organise any such vote. (This is why if you visit, say, the Basque Country on 8 December, El Día de la Constitución, you find the shops are open, which in most of Spain, they are not.) Presumably, in the near future, it will defy this prohibition, and presumably it should be allowed to, because if the army were called in to prevent such a referendum - which the loudmouths on the Spanish side will certainly demand - then we would be in a civil war, or close to one.
Nobody wants this, of course. But nobody wanted the Yugoslav war either.
I'll confess to a particular dislike of Convergència i Unió, who ran in the last elections on an apparent platform of making the Partido Popular seem like reasonable human beings - Duran i Lleida in particular going out of his way to be obnoxious, claiming that Andalusians sit around in the village bar all day, living off subsidies. This is not to say that the leading Catalan nationalists are any worse than their counterparts on the other side. Far from it, since Esperanza Aguirre is on the other side, and there are worse still than her.
But the immediate casus belli - to use an unfortunate term - is the financial relationship between Catalonia and Madrid, which Catalonia considers unfair and unreasonable, and compares unfavourably to that enjoyed by País Vasco. With some justice, I think. But when that complaint is made accompanied by language like Duran's, it is the Lega Nord, and the way it talks about the Mezzogiorno, that comes to mind. The situation of Catalonia is specifically framed in terms of a productive part of the world held back by lazier, poorer parts living off them. The Lega Nord are nasty people. As are the CiU.
Rajoy - no admirer of Andalusia himself, particularly as that region, against expectations, failed to hand itself over to the PP in the spring election - may even be inclined to give Catalonia some of what they want, although unlike his Andalusian party he did win an overall majority and (unlike Zapatero before him) has no need to rely on Catalan nationalist votes in the Cortes. But it is hard to believe he can give the Catalans enough to satisfy them without falling victim to the loudmouths on the Spanish nationalist right.
Which Artur Mas knows. Which is why, having imposed gigantic cuts on the Catalonian health and education system, he wants these to be blamed on Andalusia as well as Madrid. And so huge demonstrations in Barcelona against Mas and the cuts are superseded by an even more huge demonstration in Barcelona, essentially in support of Mas. Not so simply, since Mas did not call the demonstration, nor has he been previously identified as a supporter of outright independence. But he has supported it, and he has done so because he thinks they will work in his support.
It is not always remembered that the collapse of Yugoslavia was preceded by a deep economic crisis. But I remember, and I have kept on remembering ever since the present crisis started. Wikipedia currently puts it well:
Real earnings were in a [sic] free fall and social programmes had collapsed; creating within the population an atmosphere of social despair and hopelessness.Does that sound familiar? It goes on:
This was a critical turning point in the events to follow.Quite so. And just as Yugoslavia was not neatly comprised of Croatians in Croatia, Slovenes in Slovenia, Serbs in Serbia and so on, there are many, many people who don't fit neatly into the scheme of Catalan-speaking Catalans in Catalonia, and Castillian-speaking Spaniards outside it. What will happen to them, if and when things kick off?
What will happen when Spanish-speaking parts of Catalonia demand to remain in Spain, and want the army to protect them? What will happen if some Spanish Milošević emerges, to tell Spaniards in Catalonia that nobody will ever beat them again?
What happens in La Franja, when Catalonia moves towards independence, and Spanish nationalists start picking on Catalan-speakers there? What happens if we have a mini-war of destroying street signs in one another's language? What happens when that escalates into attacks on people, their houses, their villages? What happens whjen terrified people on both sides of a language divide start calling on their co-linguists to support them?
This - a low-level but violent degree of ethnic cnflict - is the sort of thing that was happening in Yugoslavia before any tanks crossed any borders. Duran i Lleida knows all about La Franja: he is from there, from Alcampbell, which is not in Catalonia but, like the village where I live, in Huesca province. What will be the ultimate effect of his rhetoric on the people who still live where he used to?
What happens when people are in marriages where one partner is Catalan and the other Spanish, as is the case with our best friends in our village, and our best friends in the nearest village to the south? What side are they on? What side will they be expected to be on? If Spain disintegrates as Yugoslavia did, where will they be safe? Where will they go?
Or it might be that the wave of pro-independence feeling falls away. Or that I am wrong, and though Catalonia separates from Spain, it does so as Slovenia did. Or as the Czech Republic separated from Slovakia. At the moment everybody is being very civilised, talking about whether an independent Catalonia would have to leave the Euro, whether Barcelona could carry on playing in La Liga, and so on. But But as yet it is all talk. Nothing is really happeneing. And it is when things really start happening gthat, I fear, things will deteriorate. Politics deteriorates in a recession. Politics deteriorates when flags are waved. What happens when we have both?
If you are Colm Tóibín you can treat Catalonia v Spain as an exercise in fantasy, your personal fantasy of modernity confronting the past. But it is not, nor likely to be. It is likely to be one bunch of loudmouths confronting another. And the noise becoming louder, until it comes not from the mouths of people but from guns.
I have never touched a loaded gun. They frighten me. As this bout - more than a bout - of flag-waving also frightens me.