22 Mai 2018

Ethnocentric Mambo in Catalonia

Catalonia is a fragile object. As in many other places, history has assembled fragments without completely fusing them, leaving behind scars that remind us of the effort required to join what is diverse. These scars demand special attention because, contrary to societies where the wounds that produced them are old and almost forgotten, in Catalonia many of the wounds were still suppurating just a few decades ago. As they do now. For months, we have been at risk of tearing them open.

Over the twentieth century, several migratory currents converged in Catalonia, attracting, in several waves, large human groups from other Spanish regions. Their arrival raised suspicion and fear in some local political circles and intellectual elites. Demographer Josep Antoni Vandellós was, in the thirties, one of the first to express concern about the dangers of immigration as an element of de-Catalanization and social instability. Heavily influenced by the ideas of eugenics and by the climate of social unrest that existed in Catalonia during the first third of the century, he proposed measures to foster natality and the use of urban policy to channel the unavoidable influx of people arriving to a region undergoing rapid industrialization and disperse them across the territory. He also advocated for the implementation of “cultural immersion” policies. Fear of immigration’s diluting effect shows up in different ways in more recent decades. Some analysts see it in Jordi Pujol’s obsession with setting up power structures that ensured the preeminence of Catalan culture. This influence is clearer in nationalist leaders who did not hide their xenophobic ideas, such as Heribert Barrera.

Nevertheless, the undeniable plurality of Catalan society, particularly its working class, traditionally convinced large swaths of the political elite of the need to devote energy and efforts to build a cohesive society, in which one’s place of birth (or that of their ancestors) wouldn’t be a relevant marker that could jeopardize welfare opportunities or upward mobility. Catalonia had to become „un sol poble“ (“one single people”), where old and new Catalans could eventually identify under a shared national ideal. As such, and going by Benedict Anderson’s definition of nation, the Catalonia of „un sol poble“ would be an „imagined community“ of individuals and groups, fraternally united under a fictional but beloved construct, despite pervading differences and inequalities in the population and the more or less explicit suspicion and fear that would persist in some minority sectors.

The problem lies with the national ideal that different groups intended that new Catalans embrace. The idea of „un sol poble“ has been brandished by well-meaning people trying to contribute to building a society where nobody would be left behind for lack of Catalan language skills; but also by those who used it for a nation-building project that could give way to the creation of a state of their own, thus depriving millions of Catalans of the chance to keep their citizenship ties with a country to which they still feel connected in many ways (ascribed and acquired rights, personal ties, emotional connections, etcetera).

It was hard to fathom that the project would end up led by a Molt Honorable President Quim Torra who proudly exhibited markedly ethnocentric and supremacist views in his written works both in social networks and traditional media. And I say hard to fathom because these views, although known to exist in the Catalan society, are fortunately quite marginal. Thus, according to the Political Environment Survey from the Center for Opinion Studies, only 13.5% of the population view being a Catalan native as something very important to be considered a true Catalan (although the percentage increases to 19% among the people whose mother tongue is Catalan). 21.9% consider „sharing Catalan customs and traditions” very important (30% among native Catalan speakers).

However, although Catalans holding ethnocentric views are a minority, the „procés“ has elevated several of them to positions of public preeminence, where they got a chance to publish their views, usually in the form of small bits or memes that express supremacist ideas and spread the notion that society is split between good and bad Catalans.

Memes are cultural units of minimal information that appear recurrently in an identifiable and widely known way. A very common one in Catalonia during these “procés” years is to show explicit contempt for everything Spanish in a disinhibited and lewd way, often accompanied by offenses and insults. It often appears in humoristic contexts, in the form of derisive and provocative gestures that invite laughter in a group that shares (partially at least) the subtext. Comedians and buffoons such as Pepe Rubianes, Albert Pla, Toni Albà or Toni Soler have used their role to mainstream this type of interventions – emulating figures that in other contexts, have also played the populist card as comedians, such as ‚Beppe‘ Grillo.

One notorious example, that achieved significant impact in media and social networks, was a tirade by the actor Pepe Rubianes in an afternoon TV program in TV3 [the regional public TV channel in Catalan -TN] in which he was interviewed: „Spain’s unity can suck my balls from the front and from behind; they can shove Spain up their fucking asses, and see if it explodes inside and leaves their balls hanging from a bell tower; they can go take a dump in the fucking beach with the fucking Spain, I have been putting up with fucking Spain since I was born, to hell with the country…“, Several versions of the video are posted in Youtube. They have over half a million views combined.

The key to the success of this kind of performances is that they leave no one indifferent. They manage to divide the viewers in two segments: those who consider them acceptable (as an expression protected by freedom of speech, for satire  is just a form of protected speech) and those who take offense. The reaction of this latter group (which in the case of Rubianes ended up in a lawsuit for insults against Spain, eventually dismissed) becomes a resonance mechanism that amplifies the effect of the message.

This type of memes can also be used to insert stereotypes and prejudices over everything related to Spain. In talk shows and social networks there are true specialists in mockery and offensive derision: Salvador Sostres (during his nationalist stint, interrupted by his recruitment by country-wide media), Enric Vila, Mark Serra or Quim Torra himself are some of the best known. Others merrily join the party. Joan Oliver, ex-director of TV3, stated in a debate in the radio program El Món in RAC1: „Spaniards are Spaniards and they are thieves just by being Spaniards“. In this sense, the assimilation of Spanish elements corrupts Catalonia, as suggested by sociologist Salvador Cardús on Twitter: „Corruption in Catalonia is a consequence of Spanish influence in the last decades“. Although these remarks appear only occasionally, they connect with less explicit cues about all things Spanish, which are featured more frequently in Catalan audiovisual production. It also connects with opinion trends that are more vigorously expressed in social networks and in the streets.

Contempt for everything Spanish is often accompanied by praise for everything Catalan. Northern Europe is Catalonia’s mirror. President Artur Mas, in an interview with Pilar Rahola in La Vanguardia, mentioned the existence of a Carolingian cultural DNA in Catalonia, originated from being part of the Marca Hispanica in the 9th century, „an umbilical cord that makes us more Germanic and less Roman“ (24-1-2012). According to this view, Catalonia would not be a land of intermixed peoples where an overwhelming majority of people were either born in another Spanish region or have ancestors or relatives from outside Catalonia, or where Spanish is the most widely spoken language. Catalonia would have millenary roots that shape a singular personality, a genuine and irreducible Geist.

The most ludicrous extolling of Catalan culture are the efforts of the Institut de Nova Historia (INH) to provide a new historical perspective that fully acknowledge the historical role of the Catalan nation and make possible to divulge the Catalan condition of universal figures. Thanks to its works, we now “know” that Columbus, Saint Teresa of Ávila or Michael Servetus were actually Catalan, and that La Celestina or El Lazarillo de Tormes were originally written in Catalan, then translated and the originals destroyed. Some may think I’m talking about a fringe group of freaks ignored by the intellectual and political Catalan mainstream, and it is true that its discoveries do not make headlines in the news in TV3. But in 2013, ERC awarded the National Lluís Companys Award to the INH, and many politicians and intellectuals have repeatedly mentioned their theses.

Not even the more seemingly serious academics miss a chance to assert Catalan superiority. An excellent example is an article published in El País on 4-11-2013 by Political Science professor Jordi Matas Dalmases, „Clash of political cultures“. In it he distills Catalan and Spanish cultural features, without any references or supporting literature, into essential traits that explain the conflict: „An exceedingly Manichean perception of politics is prevalent in Spain. It is perhaps the result of an influential socialization process based on different manifestations (social, religious, political or military) of two irreconcilable sides within Spain. Spanish political culture tends to assess political reality in dichotomic terms, it does not usually distinguish between differences of degree and it is configured as a simplifying two-party system with PP and PSOE taking the leading roles, both in Congress and in most regional Parliaments (…). In Catalonia there is an ancestral culture of agreement which is a consequence of historical, geographical, economic and social factors. Such culture envisages political dynamics as the management of a bargaining process, of integration, of pluralism and also pragmatism“. Others, such as lawyer and columnist Jordi Cabré Trias, head of the General Directorate of Law and Legal Entities of the Generalitat, prefer to not indulge in such long-windedness:„We are better“ (Avui, 5-3-2015). Enough said.

With varying degrees of caution, several world-class economists joined around the Col·lectiu Wilson give credence to the idea that, by means of independence, a great economic leap forward is within reach for Catalonia. In several texts, independence is presented as an opportunity to get rid of old and inefficient institutional and economical structures and to establish a new set of rules of the game that would allow Catalonia to become a more attractive country for wealth creation and enjoyment. Although the reasoning for this belief that Catalan leaders and society would establish more efficient and egalitarian structures is never provided, they do state that Catalonia’s preferences and interests, differing from those of the Spaniards, would be better addressed in the framework of an independent State.

This leap forward hypothesized by Col·lectiu Wilson economists stops being a mere hypothesis when retold by many nationalist politicians and agitators. They have no qualms about placing an independent Catalonia in the Olympus of small-sized economic powers in Europe, together with Denmark or the Netherlands, in case of remaining in the European Union, or Norway and Switzerland if it were not admitted in it. Some Col·lectiu Wilson members are infected with this enthusiasm. For instance, Economy professor Xavier Sala i Martín openly stated, in an interview in Vilaweb, that Catalonia meets the conditions to become a country as prosperous and competitive as Switzerland (5-1-2012).

Putting it a tawdrier way, writer Isabel Clara-Simó, stated the following prediction about independence in the journal Avui: „We will be the fourth European power, and Europe will be proud to finally have a civilized state in the South of the continent“ (30-11-2010).

Rivalry and competitive pluralism are inherent to democratic societies. This serves a common, shared purpose beyond conflict. The adversaries compete in the search for goals, this is what motivates their confrontation. Enemies clash because they view each other’s existence as an existential threat. Their ultimate goal is to destroy their opponent.

The tendency to split Catalans into good and bad has been entrenched in Catalan society for decades. It has repeatedly appeared in Pujol’s nationalist discourse, particularly when he felt cornered by the Spanish public prosecutor during the trial against Banca Catalana. But the „procés“ put the spotlight on new actors in the political scene who systematically deny to others the condition of mere political adversaries. Nationalist politicians refer to leaders of other political parties, representing hundreds of thousands of Catalans, as enemies in their statements. The People’s Party and Ciudadanos became the target of harsh rhetorical attacks from the main leaders of the independence movement. In a few years the People’s Party went from being an ally of Artur Mas’ government in its first two years, to being accused of trampling over the freedom of Catalans and suppressing their legitimate right to decide. Regarding Ciudadanos, they were accused in the regional parliament of making the destruction of Catalonia their political goal (Homs, 11-12-2013). Their leader, Inés Arrimadas, was told to go back to Cádiz (where she was born) by Nuria de Gispert, ex-president of the regional parliament. Later, attacks extended to PSC socialists, branding them as collaborationists, in particular after the invocation of article 155 [the article in the Spanish Constitution that lets the central government take control of regional institutions -TN].

This rhetoric represents a true qualitative change that destroys the minimum bases for common understanding and hinders of dialogue of any kind. Inés Arrimadas admitted in a parliamentary speech that members of the two blocks do not even greet each other in the corridors (24-3-2018). Catalan politics has entered a phase of gradual deterioration of communication between groups, without any respite in sight. Simply hinting at the possibility of discussing something with the enemy, of accepting minimal conditions to begin a dialogue or to explore potential points of agreement away from the antagonistic positions set by the most radical implies a severe risk of being discredited by your own group.

It takes two to tango. Pushing ethnocentrism and supremacist ideas carries the risk of feeding similar attitudes in the group that feels threatened or attacked. These processes are widely described in the literature about civil and religious conflicts. Some, on both sides, seem eager for the mambo to begin (the CUP explicitly demands so in an election campaign video). Let’s hope that a mature society such as the Catalan reminds them that a majority is not willing to break up.

A Spanish version of this article has been previously published by Agenda Pública.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Marí Klose, Pau: Ethnocentric Mambo in Catalonia, VerfBlog, 2018/5/22, https://verfassungsblog.de/ethnocentric-mambo-in-catalonia/, DOI: 10.17176/20180522-114209.


  1. Petrus Canisius SJ Di 22 Mai 2018 at 15:19 - Reply

    Why should Arrimadas greet somebody who refers to people like her as „carrion-eaters, scorpions, hyenas, wild beasts in human form“ (quote Quim Torra).

    It is not the duty of the opposition to make concessions to the government, but it is however the duty of the government to make concessions to a popular majority that didn´t vote for it.

    That is what I find most devistating:

    If you have to trample an allegedly „evil“ constitution, atleast do it with a popular majority backing your illegal activity.

    Ciutadans has every right to protest every action of the separatists. If they didn´t, and instead took a defensive and consensual position they would just get flushed into a populist spiral (just like EN COMU or PSOE).

    E.g. the german press has constantly been referred to as „Lügenpresse“ so they started to compromise and adapt to populist ideas (FAZ, WELT. SPIEGEL ONLINE etc.). An Oppsition shouldnt have to compromise – but unconditionaly stand for what they believe. Amen.

  2. Remotemaxxer Mi 23 Mai 2018 at 04:57 - Reply

    There’s actually no reliable and verifiable data available that you can use to back-up your last statement about a majority not willing to brake up thanks to the fact that spanish state decided to send riot police that brutally clashed with paceful voters instead of waitig for the October 1st referendum to finish so everybody could know the final results. So for now we can only look at updated surveys like this https://www.elperiodico.com/es/amp/noticias/politica/encuesta-ceo-elecciones-cataluna-mayo-2018-6812205 that tells us that independentist parties will get, at least, the same majority on Catalan Parliament that they have now.

    And regarding the long section of your article talking about comedians and „buffons“ you clearly missunderstood at least Pepe Rubiane’s meaning of his words. First of all you should note that when he insulted the unity of Spain and Spain itself he was referring to a specific context as he later clarified in an apology letter where he said: „I insulted the Spain that killed Lorca (the poet that was killed by Franco’s army) but not the constitutional and democratic Spain that deserves all my respects and the one whom I belong to.“
    In fact unionist also have their own comedians like Albert Boadella that curiously enough was prosecuted by Franco’s justice for the same reason now the actual spanish justice prosecuted 2 young catalans: Albert Boadella performed a theater play back in the 70 before spanish constitutional era where he appeared burning a spanish flag and after several times doing that he had to exile himself to France.
    The 2 young catalans I mentioned before burned a photo of Felipe VI the Spanish king in 2007 and were condemned to 2 years of imprisonment for a crime that only exist in Spain among all the European countries. This crime is called injurias a la corona (somewhat like injury to the crown) and eventhought they lost all the trials including the one of the spanish constitutional court, they finally won when the trial on the European Human Rights court that condemned Spain for violating the article 10 that defends the right of freedom of expression and decided that burning a photo of the spanish king cannot be considered a hate crime in a democratic society.

    Something similar happens with some of the articles written by Catalan president Torra that you miss to mention which context and reasons motivated him to write them. Anyone can disagree on the rude language he used but the one that compares some spaniards with animals was written after he withnessed himself how a woman flying on a plane of Swiss airlines on a flight from Barcelona to Switzerland shouted and complained during the flight because the onboard crew information messages were spoken in catalan (as well as spanish, german and french).
    The woman was so upset only for listening the crew speaking in catalan that she filled several formal complaints after the flight until she got the company to remove all their communications to the passangers in catalan.
    Also is worth to mention that the NGO against racism called SOS racismo officially stated that the articles and messages from catalan president Torra cannot be considered racism.

    I agree that catalan society is very diverse and multicultural and trying to scientifically prove that catalans are a distinct and unique ethnic group from the rest of the spaniards with features like the language is impossible because there’s not enough scientific base to do that.

    But this doesn’t means that independentists are just a minority that we have been brainwashed by politicians to claim for independence. In fact a very reasonable explanation about why independentism support is so high now and specially since October 1st referendum is because Spanish government, its judiciary system, some political parties and some biased press and news media outlets are behaving in a way that fuels independentist motivations even more as time goes by and events unfold: censorship, invented crimes, political prisoners, police brutality, fake news, criminalization of peacuful political dissidence… this is the perfect breeding ground to make the independentist grow in number and rightful reasons to be so.

  3. Marc Creus Mi 23 Mai 2018 at 14:34 - Reply

    I am honestly confused and disappointed by the decision of Verfassungsblog to publish the text of Prof. Pau Marí Klose. Firstly because the text is largely irrelevant and only very tenuously related to any matter “constitutional”, which is the claimed focus of the blog. Secondly, because this particular text amounts to little more than partisan, slandering propaganda against the recently, democratically-elected Catalan president, Quim Torra. I am particularly astonished that Verfassungsblog contributes to such uncritical “media-bashing” of a democratically-elected official and, by extension, to the denigration of the dynamic, socially diverse, welcoming, open-minded and impeccably peaceful, society that it represents: Catalonia.
    It is the duty of any serious scholar to balance opinions, to weigh and question evidence and to attempt to remain objective. Part of this process involves revealing possible conflicts of interest, using serious and balanced sources and acknowledging references and contributions. Sadly, Prof. Pau Marí Klose’s contribution to “Verfassungsblog” fails on many counts and cannot be considered by any stretch of the imagination as a serious contribution, but rather is a pitiful example of biased Spanish-nationalist propaganda. There are at least three good reasons why such a text does not belong to any serious scholarly discussion:
    First, the text appears to “ride” on the academic-credentials of the author to pretend that it is an academic and serious text, which it clearly is not. As a point of example, the author recently published in Político as a co-author together with a researcher funded by the notoriously well-connected, influential and politically-biased “Think Tank” Instituto Elcano. This Institute is a “private” foundation whose patrons include the king of Spain, ex-president of Spain Aznar and current minister Dastís, the latter infamous for his embarrassing and simply outrageous denial of any excessive police violence during a live interview on the BBC, with shocking images of police violence that occurred during the Catalan referendum of independence of 1-Oct. The mere existence of such biased, pseudo-academic think-tanks, which profit from excessive budgets and manage scandalously to abuse their tenuous links to academia, pose a real threat not only to academic integrity, but also to democracy in Europe. Prof. Marí Klose’s close collaboration and apparent agreement with so-called researchers in think-tanks that are dedicated to the interests of Madrid-centered Spanish nationalism should clearly be a warning of underlying ideological agenda. It is high-time to call for an open and honest debate on the moral of allowing interference in politics of such “influencers” through interested, opaque and pseudo-academic propaganda; Verfassungsblog could help in this debate by setting clear lines between scholarly research and propaganda.
    Second, the text of Prof Marí Klose contains inappropriate references to support his outrageous and unbalanced prejudice that President Torra is an “ethnocentric supremacist”. References include a newspaper article by a journalist based in Madrid notorious for his anti-independence stance, which reproduces much of the biased views repeated in Spanish-language and particularly in Madrid-centered media. Another link purposing to point to writings of President Torra instead directs to an opaque internet site that calls itself “Voices from Spain”, which CLAIMS not to belong to any institution or organism, but fails to provide any information of who is behind it nor how it is funded. Alarmingly, this platform cynically states that it “wishes to collect and share other views, which are different and plural but which defend the virtues of diversity and the rule of law”. However, not only is difficult to find who or how one gets to publish there, but despite its claim to “defend the virtues of diversity” it is very obviously and outrageously biased against supporters of independence. As a reminder, supporters of independence are currently a parliamentary majority in Catalonia and there are more people who voted parties clearly in favour of independence than clearly against, not once, but in three elections in a row. These voters come from diverse ideologies and voted several pro-independence parties, but none of their ideologies appears to be represented in “Voices of Spain”, perhaps illustrating that these voters are really not Spain, but already voices of the Republic of Catalonia. An additional outrage of the controversial “Voices from Spain” platform is that, despite its claims, the original articles and context of the allegedly “ethnocentric and supremacist views” of President Torra are not accessible through the site and, instead, only selected excerpts are placed out of context and framed in a bad light. In other words, once more, Prof Pau Marí-Klose points to unbalanced and clearly partisan “references” to support his own propaganda and pitiful pseudo-academic slandering. Such moral turpitude is frankly disappointing in any writer that claims to have any academic credibility.
    Third and last, the text was originally published in “Agenda Pública” of El Periódico, which belongs to Grupo Zeta. This editorial recently listened to the Spanish government’s call to transfer their headquarter away from Catalonia, effectively relocating to Madrid, following an express change in the law by the Spanish government designed to facilitate companies leaving Catalonia. Pressures of Spanish authorities to companies included, allegedly, personal calls from the king of Spain himself to CEOs of large companies. All in all, it is clear that Spanish government pressured and possibly threatened companies to act to the detriment of Catalan interests, i.e. encouraging them to move away from Catalonia. Prof Marí Klose’s text, therefore, was published and presumably PAID originally by one of the companies submitting to the controversial and ethically dubious anti-catalan pressure of the Spanish government. A clear statement that the text was financed by a markedly pro-Spanish newspaper is necessary to warn the objective reader; reciprocally, its absence can be considered not only bad-practice, but also possibly malicious. In conclusion, readers of the Verfassungsblog should know that this article was paid by a pro-Spanish nationalist private media group.
    Considering the points above, could Verfassungsblog clarify its own interests or those of the WZB in publishing this text and how this came to happen, as well as any links with Spanish political parties, think-tanks and lobby-groups that have stances against Catalan-independence?
    Finally, let me end with a couple of quotes by John Carlin, the anglo-spanish author recently dismissed from El País for not towing the anti-catalan party-line of its newspaper:
    “People have written to Spanish papers to voice their outrage and decry that writers such as myself and some foreign media have argued that Spain is not a modern democracy. They claim that it is. Well, sorry mate, but it is not. And the outrage and passion with which people insist that Spain is a modern, democratic country reveals a certain inferiority complex which I never thought they had. It is depressing, the inferiority complex of many Spaniards against other countries such as the UK. Uncovering the dark, revengeful, cruel, crass, absolutist side of Spain’s political establishment in general —and, in particular, of the PP government— has been a disappointment.”
    “Opposing Catalan separatism is not enough in Madrid: you must scorn it, too.”


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