While public discontent is rising due to the austerity policies applied by the Catalan regional government, and the electoral expectations of the center-right CiU nationalist coalition decline in favor of the leftist ERC (the other partner in the ruling coalition), regional premier Artur Mas has launched a campaign which, capitalizing on the 300th anniversary of the defeat of Barcelona by the Castilian troops of Philip V, seeks to turn the occasion into a series of events asserting Catalan secessionism, in which Spain is portrayed as the historic enemy of the Catalans.
The planned activities include a symposium on history, co-organized by a center attached to the Catalan premier's office, with the provocative title of Spain against Catalonia. The program features a variety of lectures focused on the political, administrative, institutional, economic, cultural and linguistic "repression" that Catalonia has suffered since 1714, culminating in The apotheosis of pillaging: the 21st century — this being the title of one of the scholarly addresses.
The program is a gross, barefaced attempt at political manipulation, aimed at putting the serious discipline of history at the service of propaganda for the CiU-ERC government's secessionist agenda. In the presentation of the program, Mas asserted that throughout the last 300 years Spain and Catalonia have been engaged in a "permanent conflict" owing to "the imposition of a Castilian, Spanish culture," against the Catalans' desire for "reasonable compromise."
With such an operation, Mas and his supporters are merely implementing the classic schema of the ideological construction of local nationalisms, which consists of attributing all evils to a supposed "foreign enemy," while endeavoring to impose a romantic vision of the nation — something more characteristic of the 19th century than of the 21st. It is surprising that certain recognized intellectuals are lending their names to this maneuver, which indicates that the ambient dynamic of secessionism is affecting a considerable number of Catalan academics, whose loss of objectivity can only tend to diminish their prestige.
Artur Mas is allowing himself to drift into a line of rhetoric that is dangerously Manichaean and simplistic, as well as unbecoming of a premier whose position obliges him to treat history with rigor and respect; a line based on the cliché of a dark, tyrannical Spain and a resistant, enlightened Catalonia. This tendentious tableau has all the ingredients of a chauvinistic populism that can only deepen the rift between Catalan society and the rest of Spain. In politics, to play with the prevalence of emotions over reason is always very dangerous.
As far as commemoration and remembrance are concerned, the Catalans would do well to turn their attention to another anniversary: next year's centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Because this terrible historical experience shows us how easy it is for confrontations of patriotic identity to catch fire, and how difficult it then is to put out the resulting conflagration. History has important lessons to offer, provided that we wish to learn from them.