Friday, July 25, 2003

The Basque Nationalist Party's frontman, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, has got himself a plan to reform the Basque statute of autonomy. Every single newspaper in Spain except maybe Avui and Egunkaria is just plain appalled--not only ABC, El Mundo, and La Razon but also La Vangua, El Periodico, and El Pais. Aznar called the plan "crazy" and "not viable" with "zero chance" of becoming reality; the Socialists and Communists are just as irritated.

Ibarretxe's plan would basically give complete independence to the Basque country, along with incorporating Navarra and the three Basque districts in France. Of course it ain't gonna happen. Most of the people in the Basque Country are against independence, and the Navarrese and French Basques are overwhelmingly against. So why do Ibarretxe and the Basque Nationalist Party boss, Xabier Arzalluz, keep banging on the drum with unrealistic proposals that can only come true in a dream world?

My guess is it's all they've got. What other reason is there to vote for the Basque nationalists, who remind me a lot of the far-out Christian Right in the United States--socially conservative, economically pro-redistribution, desirous of an intrusive State, fanatically nationalist, with a violent hardcore and youth fringe. This is about as dumb as a political movement can be. It's supported by people who want to turn back the clock on modernity because they don't like the changes that come with it, people who identify with the group rather than themselves as individuals, people who want to be able to depend on the State, people who only want to be around other people just like them.

Fortunately most Basques, like most Catalans, are not crazy. They understand that we live in a surprisingly libertarian and prosperous representative democracy with a Constitution and the rule of law. They know that people in Spain are generally happy, free citizens, and fairly well-off. Anyone who can count to eleven with his fly buttoned has to admit that things are better now in 2003 with Aznar as Prime Minister than they were in 1996 with Felipe as Prime Minister--just like anyone who knows his ass from a hole in the ground has to admit that things were better in 1996 with Felipe as PM than they were in 1982 when Calvo Sotelo was PM. And things in 1982 were immeasurably better than they'd been just ten years before under the Franco dictatorship.

It's obvious, at least to me, that the path toward an even better life for the citizens of Catalonia--and the Basque Country and Spain as a whole--is to stop wasting our energy on fruitless silly battles over whose flag ought to fly on the Manresa City Hall and get to work on innovation and research and improved technology--and good old production of your standard Catalan farm products and light industrial goods, development of the tourist market our economy is so dependent on, and continual development of the infrastructure, and an improvement of the educational system, which fortunately we're going to get now that Aznar has thrown away the goddamn "Reforma", and the maintenance of the welfare state, which may not be the smartest policy economically but which an overwhelming majority of Catalans want, so if we've got to have it--this is, after all, a democracy--we might as well manage it as effectively as we can.

What I'm saying isn't obvious to a lot of other people, though. Their minds are stuck in the 1850s and the Catalan Renaixement and the idea that any bunch of people with the same language have to have an independent state. Said idea of the nation-state first became widespread with the 1860s unification of Italy and the 1871 unification of Germany. If the Italians and the Germans are both a nation and a state, why not us too? They've been using the same argument for a hundred and fifty years. You can't appeal to fervent nationalists with reason--it will do no good reminding them that the late 1800s heyday of the nation-state, between the 1850s and 1914, largely contemporaneous with the reign of Queen Victoria, with its concurrent militarism, imperialism, xenophobia, centralization, regimentation, and conformity, is the source of both Communism and Fascism and both the First and Second World Wars. This is the twenty-first century and nation-statalism is a dead old doctrine, as rotten and decaying as phrenology, spiritualism, Esperanto, psychoanalysis, anarchosyndicalism, homeopathy, eugenics, the masturbation-blindness link, and other bits of nineteenth-century conventional wisdom.

Now, nationalism, under a truly repressive government, is an important psychological tool to use to organize a resistance. The Continental states in which nationalism grew up during the second half of the 19th century, the German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman dominions, were pretty damn repressive. You can understand why a group of people would get angry at their treatment--say if you're a Pole in Germany or a Czech in Austria and you see not only yourself, but everybody who talks like you or goes to your church or lives in your town, discriminated against in favor of Germans or Austrians. I'd sure get angry. This ain't Germany, though, and this ain't 1871. Comparing the semi-dictatorial and quite repressive German Empire with today's democratic Spain, and comparing the current lot of Catalans and Basques to the lot of the Poles 100 years ago, is like comparing me and John Holm--uh, never mind.

Just a note. I'm not glibly dissing the Victorian Era. The advances made during that time in science, technology, the arts, medicine, human understanding, and the individual standard of living, were enormous. I am rather a fan of the Victorian Era in many ways. But I'm not real fond of some of the ideas, most notably nation-statalism and Socialism, that sprang up largely in Central Europe (but also in other places) during that time.

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