Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Saturday, 19 september 2009 | Haaretz


A Public Reply to the Haaretz

Dear Sirs,

After reading your article of September 17 (Torches in Barcelona), we feel that the following notes might help your baffled Israeli tourist better understand some of the reasons behind the Catalans’ drive towards independence.

Your correspondent gives a fair account of the historical roots of the conflict between Catalonia and Spain, especially when pointing out that Catalans have always tried to “fight for their freedom by democratic means” in a context of “occupation, assimilation and repression”.

Indeed, with General Franco’s death in the mid 1970’s and the end of a 40-year dictatorship, most Catalans tentatively supported the new Spanish institutions hoping that a democratic regime would finally face reality and embrace the idea of a multinational State. But, like the Palestinians in Abba Eban’s fortunate phrase, Spain has never missed a chance to miss a chance. All that the new order would offer was a form of administrative decentralization where no distinctions were made between historical nations like Catalonia or the Basque Country and fifteen other territories, many of them created ad hoc. By lowering the standard in such a way, the Spanish government managed to hold on to all real power and, most importantly, still kept the final say on all financial matters. A particularly vexing feature of the so-called autonomic system is that, after paying dearly for the services provided by the central government, a dynamic community like Catalonia is forced to lay out what amounts to an extra tribute that the State then employs to finance itself and to subsidize territories that wouldn’t stand a chance on their own. There is a case to be made for a well-designed system of assistance to less developed areas, but even an exaction representing every year a staggering 10% of the Catalan GDP doesn’t seem to have had much effect in terms of making the recipients more productive. That, together with the large sums dispensed by the European Union through the years, helps to explain how what had always been a backward and sluggish country can now present itself to the world as the “developed, prosperous Spain” that you refer to.

If you need proof that Spain is not all that it’s cracked up to be, just direct your attention to the latest figures published by the OECD, describing the country’s real situation: unemployment is about to hit 20%, the budget deficit will probably reach 10% of the GDP in 2009 and the prospects for recovery from the present crisis are the worst in Western Europe. Definitely not such a desirable club to be a member of. So after all the Catalans’ dissatisfaction may well be the result of a sober assessment of Spain’s place in the world and of what Spain means for them. In any case, it has noting to do with hatred of Spaniards, and we strongly resent that inference in your article. One thing that you could ask yourselves, however, is why Spaniards do hate Catalans so. And, incidentally, Catalans have no quarrel with Europe, as your article seems to imply. On the contrary, one could hardly find more devoted supporters of a unified and borderless continent, except we’d rather cut out the middleman, a State that does not necessarily represent our interests.

We also think that the parallel you draw between Catalans in Barcelona and Israeli Arabs in Haifa is wide off the mark. “Comparisons between national struggles are tricky”, indeed, but if you still want to compare the Catalan issue with the goings-on in the Middle East, think of us as a small advanced, democratic and reasonably successful nation sitting next to a larger, more powerful and yet inadequate neighbor that simply won’t accept our existence and still hasn’t given up its ambition of wiping out our culture, our history and our way of life. Does that sound familiar?

Just a final note on the incident with the Israeli singer known to the world as Noa: it epitomizes the woolly thinking of the neo-communist party – now a junior partner in the Catalan government – when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, and also reflects the influence of the Palestinian lobby in those circles. In the end, those who put on their grotesque little routine during the singer’s performance only made fools of themselves. There is anti-semitism in Spain, but we’d venture to say that you’d need to look for it beyond Catalonia, where, outside the above-mentioned circles, Israel has always attracted more sympathies than in many other parts of Europe.

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalan professionals living in different countries who have made it their job to try and set the record straight on news items published in the international press relating to different aspects of the Catalan economy and society

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia