Austin Bay
Catalonia, with the city of Barcelona as its Mediterranean hub, occupies modern Spain's northeastern corner. "Occupies" does double duty in the Spain-Catalonia political conflict. Catalonia's more extreme nationalists swear their region has been "occupied" by various Madrid-based governments for four to five centuries. Time to secede from Spain and create an independent Catalonia!

However, Spain's national government -- located in dreaded Madrid -- says secession is unconstitutional. It opposes Catalan secession.

Ignoring Madrid's warnings, in an election held last Sunday, Catalans demonstrated overwhelming support for self-determination as a common desire.

Or is it a bewitched itch? Since 1985, I've argued that a tantalizing mass enchantment with the forbidden (and perhaps fatal) fruit is a more apt description of the Catalan case.

I'll revisit 1985 in a moment. Sunday's 2012 election also demonstrated that a definitive, common political program that will satisfy the common desire continues to elude the Catalan electorate. Pro-self-determination Catalans split their votes among a hodgepodge of parties with an assortment of political programs. The two largest pro-independence parties, the center-right Convergence and Union and the far left Republican Left Party, have drastically different economic and political visions of a sovereign Catalonia.

The common Catalan desire fractures, radically, into mutually exclusive futures.

In Catalonia, however, the common desire fractures democratically, because "occupying" Spain is a democracy.

In the early 1980s the Convergence and Union won decisive victories in Catalan regional elections. Spain's government had ended the Franco dictatorship's ludicrous anti-Catalan restrictions, but Convergence and Union demanded more autonomy. However, unlike Spain's Basques, or Northern Ireland's Irish Republican Army, or 10 dozen other ethnic separatist movements on the planet, the Catalans chose peaceful politics, not violence.

For that against-the-grain reason, peaceful politics in lieu of armed revolt, in the 1985 edition of "A Quick and Dirty Guide to War," James F. Dunnigan and I chose to devote a chapter to Catalonia as "an example of unresolved ethnic and historical rivalries" that simmered beneath the Cold War and still afflicted many European states.

The Catalans had a few could-be killers. "Anarcho-syndicalists" in the near-defunct National Confederation of Labor Party occasionally extorted "revolutionary taxes" from Catalan businesses afraid of being bombed, but when these thugs were caught, Catalan courts sent them to jail.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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