Catalonia and Spain: A View from the Future Past

I have started to write this article four times over the past two weeks, and each time I failed to complete it. The reason is, I think, fairly simple. I have been trying to write a dispassionate political analysis of the current situation in Catalonia and Spain, and have realized that I cannot do it, not right now at least. What you are reading, then, is a series of intuitions and reflections of somebody who studies multinational states professionally, but who has also lived through the dissolution of one such state – Yugoslavia.

I want to make this clear: I am not suggesting Spain and Catalonia are headed for the same result as Yugoslavia and its republics. The conditions necessary for such a confrontation are simply not present. At the same time, the similarities do suggest danger of further escalation, with the possibility of unrest that should be taken seriously.

In the beginning was the word

The first and most obvious parallel between the two situations, and one that gives me the most persistent sense of déjà vu, is the escalation of rhetoric that preceded institutional rupture and the use of force. In both cases, this escalation was a product of attempts at major institutional reform, and in both cases it took years to develop. It first took hold among political elites and activists, but then spread throughout the society. While it is tempting to see this process as a matter of elite manipulation, this is too simplistic a view of both the Spanish and Yugoslav dynamics. Anybody following pro-independence mobilization in Catalan civil society since 2009 (and before) knows this was not just a matter of Convergència’s use of nationalism in order to shift attention from its corruption scandals. Similarly, while many observers believe that nationalist mobilization in Yugoslavia was a largely top-down affair, the story was far more complex ...

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