Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Waiting for Woody

It seems that there is a serious failure in marketing the case for Catalan independence. As I peruse the news sections of the gazettes, printed and online, I find many commentators who seem to say that the Catalans are simply a group of rich Spaniards who are tired of paying for the rest of the country. A currency strategist (!) at a London bank was quoted (via WSJ marketwatch) as saying
In view of the movements towards fiscal union within the euro zone it is perhaps ironic that Catalonia is calling for more autonomy from Spain. The region currently transfers EUR15 bln [about 19 billion] of its economic output to the rest of Spain each year, a situation that over a million protesters in Barcelona last week clearly view as undesirable. One question that inevitably arises from Catalonia’s protests is that if richer Spaniards are becoming more reluctant to support their less economically well off countrymen, who else do they expect will rise to the challenge?
This is, of course, breathtaking in its ignorance. The 11-S demonstrations were about much more than the injustice of current transfers. There was a very good case for Kosovo to separate from Serbia, and for Southern Sudan to break free. Nobody framed the issue of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia in terms of solidarity. And that's where the failure of the Catalan political elites lies. They have completely failed to market their case -- a country that is linguistically, culturally, economically distinct and largely ruled as a conquered province since 1714 by its bigger neighbor. If Catalonia was in another continent, everyone would agree that this is colonialism; within Europe, it is somehow ok. Everywhere else in Europe, smaller regions with a sense of independence are effectively paid to stay ... see Scotland, or Southern Tirol. Not so in Spain; the fiscal transfers from Catalonia to the rest of Spain are huge, and most "autonomy" until now has been a sham.

What's missing? In two words: George Clooney. The handsome actor lent his voice to the case for independence in Southern Sudan, and quite effectively. Before you can hope for the world to recognize you as a separate entity, you need someone to communicate what makes you distinct. Perhaps the Generalitat should ask Woody Allen to act as ambassador for the Catalan case.

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