Austin Bay

The conflict had all of the historical, economic, cultural and ethnic elements found in the bloodbaths of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Long memories haunt these conflicts. Catalan activists also invoked ancient grievances.

While researching the book, I read an article in which a Madrid-despising Catalan nationalist damned modern Spain as a relic empire forged by Castile and Aragon. Elsewhere on the planet, suicide bombers blow up buses based on far flimsier historical interpretations. In Catalonia, however, democracy and the rule of law channeled grievance into rhetoric and politics. To the Catalans credit, no single party, and no single leader, even Jordi Pujol, managed to harness grievance as a vehicle to dominating power.

In 1985, Madrid sought to preserve Spanish central authority by meeting soft Catalan demands for economic development. Recognizing Catalan linguistic and historical uniqueness was a reasonable request. The Spanish civil war devastated Catalonia; union with Spain was preferable to renewed mass bloodletting.

In 2012, the ground has shifted a bit. Madrid believes legitimate soft demands have been met. One stripe of Catalan secessionist now claims Madrid's politicians plunder Catalan wealth to subsidize poorer regions. Cooler observers, noting that national governments have to pay for armies and embassies, ask if these Catalan wannabe nationalists are really prepared to shoulder genuine national costs.

How will it play out? In 1985, it was clear that Catalonia would stick with Spain. Utilitarian concerns and common sense were antidotes for secessionist enchantment. I speculated that there was a slight chance Catalans would ultimately press for "secession within union" -- the creation of a Catalan state militarily and economically tethered to Spain. This would be a federal Spain of a sort, but one arrived at by democratic means, by Catalans and the rest of Spanish electorate.

But based on this week's election, Catalans still haven't decided what kind of Catalonia they want. Separatist catatonia is, in effect, a vote for the status quo.

To find out more about Austin Bay, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


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).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate