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The Catalonia-Spain conflict and the resurgence of nationalism in Europe. The manipulation of history underlying the crisis.

While the tug of war between Madrid and Barcelona continues, we are facing a growing tendency towards closed societies and particularism. Not always does the past help us avoid early mistakes. The prophetic words of the Church calling for solidarity between peoples and nations. The urgent need to recover open and constructive dialogue.  

(Foto: AFP/SIR)


Given the latest developments in Catalonia, it is useful to recall the teaching of the Church. In his address of December 24, 1930 Pope Pius XI described “hard, egoistic nationalism” as “hatred and envy in the place of mutual desire for the good, diffidence and suspicion in the place of fraternal confidence, competition and antagonism in the place of willing cooperation, ambition for hegemony and mastery in the place of respect for all rights, including those of the small and weak.” Sadly, these words are of great topical relevance. Those same words have been reiterated by all the successors of Pope Ratti. After World War II European peoples had understood the price of nationalism that for the second time in less than thirty years had caused the outbreak of war. 
Nation-states thus pledged to contribute to an unprecedented project that consisted in the unity of the continent based on the reconciliation of former belligerent nations. This edifice was equally founded on democracy.

Later on, Europe helped Spain overcome dictatorship and develop a true democratic system

that acknowledges regional identities. Similarly, Europe furthered the advance of democracy in Portugal and Greece and it welcomed Countries of central and Eastern Europe, finally free from the Communist yoke. The construction of Europe was the result of reason that saw unity as the most beneficial option, whereby all peoples are stronger when they are united not when they are divided, acknowledging that the common good requires trust, friendship and solidarity. Today, in a context of  “Pax europea”, we are witnessing the outbreak of a crisis that is hard to understand for a European citizen seeking a national vision. Catalonia is a prosperous region with a quasi-total administrative, political and cultural autonomy within the Spanish nation, in the framework of a democratic system that fully respects human rights and promotes Europe’s integration. Catalonia is thus in the position of developing direct cooperation with the great European regions such as Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Lombardy and Baden-Wurttemberg; Europe’s so-called “four engines.”

However, the “hard, egoistic” nationalism of today’s Europe doesn’t only concern the States (see the results of the election in Austria). It also involves a number of regions.

Catalonia well-illustrates the words of Pius XI; the ongoing crisis is the result of centuries-old feelings of hatred that fuel diffidence and mistrust, marked by the inability to live in contemporary societies and overcome a past that some still want to keep thriving. Barcelona is speaking about the capture of the city by King Philip V in 1713 as if it had happened last year. The crisis is the result of a manipulation of history. And it is also the result of egoism that rejects cooperation with other less prosperous Spanish regions, that rejects economic and fiscal solidarity with weak brackets. It’s the result of a cultural and political sentiment that makes Catalans feel superior: it deludes them into believing that they need nobody’s help… To the extent of renouncing the Spanish language. In Catalan public schools Spanish is taught only two hours a week. This signals the yearning to keep their language – Catalan – alive, a rich language indeed. But is it fair to prevent an entire generation from speaking a language such as Spanish that enables movement and employment throughout a large part of the world? We are witnessing the temptation to be closed-in in an impregnable fortress. But the Catalan question is also a Spanish question.

Catalan nationalism, just as Basque nationalism, are opposed by Castilian nationalism,

waging a veritable “war” of national flags where the European flag with its stars is markedly absent. The problem Europe is called to face today is linked to the fact that Catalonia is not an isolated case. Populists are calling upon other provinces and regions among the richest of the Old Continent to follow their same closure and/or isolation in order to “protect themselves” from Europe and from the principle of solidarity between regions, by erecting borders, and, if that shouldn’t be enough, to build new walls. The whole history of humanity shows that nationalism leads to hate and to war. Even in the recent past: the dissolution of Yugoslavia should prompt due reflection. Passion can win over reason. The Spanish and Catalan people should remember the Spanish civil war that broke out eighty years ago. 
In 1995, John Paul II presented the UN with the proposal of a Charter of the Nations, and called upon every nation to welcome “the identity of your neighbour.” The Holy Father considered it a duty, in compliance with natural law and with the common good, a necessary condition “to avoid those pathological manifestations which occur when the sense of belonging turns into self-exaltation, the rejection of diversity, and forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia.” (Message for the World Day of Peace, January 1st 2001)

The situation has become extremely dangerous. The fabric of dialogue needs to be urgently repaired.  

Political parties seem to be incapable to do so. The Catholic Church, that is very close to the people in Spain and in Catalonia, could take on this responsibility of dialogue, as proposed by Jordi Savall, renowned Spanish musician. There is an urgent need to stop the rancour, the misunderstanding, the blinding passion, and resume the path of reason.



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