Catalonia Separatism Revives a Long-Dormant Spanish Nationalism

Catalan separatism has been fueled by economic complaints. But Catalan grievances also touch on Spain’s relative suppression of regional diversity, such as rules that prohibit lawmakers from speaking in their own languages in the Spanish Parliament.

The sense of rejection has helped fuel Catalonia’s independence drive, even as the rejection of Spain has, in turn, revived interest in a Spanish identity.

“When I saw that they wanted to leave, my identity started to feel more Spanish,” said María García, the 60-year-old caretaker of a Madrid apartment block festooned with several large flags. “I felt upset and hurt that they wanted to leave.”

While some are reveling in their Spanishness, others are searching for a singular national identity that nonetheless embraces regional differences.

“Spain is more than the interpretation of the right wing,” said Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, whose left-wing vision of a pluralistic Spain would also involve the abolition of the monarchy.

“Spain has different identities,” Mr. Iglesias said. “It’s more than the Spanish flag. Spain is the Spanish people, and the Spanish people are very plural and very diverse.”

On Sunday, the day of the Catalan referendum, a group of right-wingers waved Spanish flags in Puerta del Sol, a main square in Madrid. But they were outnumbered by a far larger group that sought to simultaneously condemn the assault on Catalan voters and express support for a unified Spain.


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Unlike the hard-line nationalists, this larger group carried flags from different regions. At one point, they even chanted in Catalan to show that they supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination, even as they hoped the Catalans would decide to remain.

In the process, some attendees said they were trying to break the right-wing monopoly on patriotism — building on ideas promoted by Podemos.

“Currently the idea of a patriot is someone who says that Spanish is the only language we can use,” said José Antonio Bautista, an editor at La Marea, a left-wing political magazine. He said that Spaniards needed to understand that “diversity is strength.”

Patrick Kingsley reported from Madrid, and Raphael Minder from Barcelona, Spain. Lourdes Jimenez Ramiro contributed reporting from Madrid.

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