Thursday, 15 July 2010

Soccer and Autonomy

This week, I was getting quite a few emails from friends from all over the world, talking about soccer. The idea that a German in Barcelona isn't THAAAAT much into soccer takes some by surprise... Of course, not everyone in Catalunya identifies with the Spanish national soccer team, even when they are winning. Last time Germany played against Spain in the Eurocup finals, some of my Catalan colleagues said "We are counting on you guys tonight." This time, when asked if he was looking forward to the cup, one colleague born and bred in Barcelona said "My country is not competing." So I wonder who the press has been talking to that claims that issues of national identity and regional autonomy have been put on a back burner by the country winning the cup. As a matter of fact, and by strange coincidence, last Saturday saw a tremendously large demonstration in Barcelona. People were protesting against the Spanish supreme court decision that denies Catalunya many of the basic rights enshrined in its "Estatut", passed by referendum here and approved by the Spanish parliament. Gone is Catalan as the official language, a right to minimum expenditure of the Spanish state here, etc.

Oddly, the decision by the supreme court may actually be good news for those who favor Catalan independence. It is a miserly and narrow-minded decision, denying a people with a different language and culture even minimal symbolic recognition. This is the kind of ungenerous, stupid reaction to small requests for autonomy that has often led to independence in the long run. Britain's treatment of "Home Rule" in Ireland is a case in point. For many years before World War I, Parliament denied the most basic forms of autonomy to its conquered province. When it finally passed some minimal delegation of powers, implementation was delayed by World War I. When the British hugely overreacted to a minor armed rebellion (by shelling Dublin from warships, etc.), the political mood completely changed. Five years later, Britain ceded control over Southern Ireland. Now, the Supreme Court decision isn't quite the same as the bloody suppression of the Easter Rising in Dublin, but it has a similar, bloody-minded feel to it. What I don't get is why there isn't more of a systematic attempt to organize civil disobedience, withholding of taxes, etc.

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