Of all the nations that constituted Spain, the Catalans were the most forceful in asserting their identity...

Of all the nations that constituted Spain, the Catalans were the most forceful in asserting their identity. They persisted mainly because others (especially the Count Duke of Olivares in 1640) threatened their privileges and eventually, as a consequence of the War of the Spanish Succession, abolished them (in 1714). From that period, the Bourbon regime attempted to create a political unity that included both Castile and the provinces of the old crown of Aragon. After the 1700s, “Spain” began to be interpreted by its defenders as a political concept, not simply a cultural one. In reality, the changes imposed by the Bourbons were largely in the area of taxation, that is, they developed control and administration in those sectors which could produce an income to support public policy and warfare. Instead of contributing to a cultural nation, they were contributing to the growth of the “state”. As is normal, the absorbed territories resented this development. The reaction was strongest in Catalonia, which never gave up its claim to its own character. In the 1700s, when the Catalans were deprived of their regional privileges (the fueros , or, in Catalan, furs ), they did not give up. A century and a half later, a section of their social elite began the process of creating a new identity to replace the one they had lost. The movement, known as the Renaixença, was primarily cultural, not political; it had no regionalist or separatist aspirations. Half a century after the Renaixença, an openly political Catalanism took on a life of its own. This affected the definition of the word nation. In the earlier phase, the refrain among Catalanists had been “Catalonia is the patria , Spain is the nation”. In the later phase, the refrain was: “Catalonia is the nation, Spain is the state”.

Although both the Renaixença and the political movement were evolving new ideas that had their roots in the conditions of the time, they did not fail to rely heavily on the past in order to justify the present. The central question which has dominated debate in the year 2006, when the new Statute of autonomy (an agreement between the central and the regional governments over the sharing of responsibilities and income) was proposed for Catalonia, was whether Catalonia can be formally described as a nation. As we have seen from the comments of Seton-Watson noted above, the word “nation” lacks any precise meaning and is often a wholly subjective and fictional concept. Many young nations start out with the disadvantage that they have no past. They therefore have to manufacture it, or at least to establish respectable roots. This is a normal process of myth-making, and the Catalans managed remarkably well, because they had one of the most outstanding histories possessed by any small people in Europe. The course of European history was full of populations who has seen their autonomy destroyed, and the Catalans were not alone in trying to rebuild their identity after the 1700s. One hundred years before, the Spaniards themselves had helped to destroy the “Czech nation”; Catalans were therefore aware of precedents affecting their case. It is significant that after 1714 many of the refugees from Catalonia drifted to Central Europe and sought support there from the Habsburg monarchy.


Fuente: Imagining Spain. Henry Kamen. Yale University Press. London. 2008.


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