Independence without independence supporters
What would happen if we asked the Spanish whether they are in favour of their independence? Probably the same as if we asked the French or the Americans. That is, they would be baffled because nobody is likely to have asked them that question before and they have never given it any thought. To the extent that theirs is a sovereign, independent nation, it would seem absurd for them to be active supporters of independence. Their status is not threatened nor does it need to be defended. However, if we asked them if they would like to keep their independence, there is no doubt in my mind that a vast majority would strongly favour taking any steps necessary to preserve it. Need I mention, in Spain's case, how they reacted when the islet of Perejil was "invaded" in 2002? Or the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to keep their two African colonies (the cities of Melilla and Ceuta)? Or how heated Spanish politics gets every time the subject of Gibraltar comes up?
Naturally, if we asked the same people whether they are nationalist, we would get the same reply: no way. Catalan-born French prime minister Manuel Valls has just reminded us of this by resorting to the old French-style quip, one that is also very popular in Spain: Valls has recently said that, if anything, he is a patriot. Inevitably, when your nation has all the attributes of a fully recognised country, nationalism is seen as hatred of others, while patriotism is about loving your own kind. Of course, nationalism or wanting independence for your country are concepts that only make sense in situations where independence or international recognition are lacking. Since national liberation always questions some sort of dependence and lack of recognition, then it follows that the offended party can only see the aspects that work against its interests and make things unduly difficult for them. All they can see is the pursuit of what they regard as a tribal pulsation, a low-flying cultural claim or expressions of hatred towards those who -ironically- protect them from their own pathetic minuteness.
These initial considerations are necessary in order to better explain the tenet of this article: that the main strength of Catalonia's current independence process lies in the fact that a very notable majority of Catalans want their nation to be independent without actually ever having felt the need to regard themselves as supporters of independence. I mean that, in actual fact, they have already come to see themselves as not being subjected to Spain anymore and now defend Catalonia's independence like the French, the Spanish and the Americans I mentioned earlier. In other words, while they want an independent Catalonia, the question of whether they support independence would probably make them uncomfortable, too. Their hope for freedom and national dignity is not the result of ideological adherence to a system of doctrine; they haven't attended training courses and most of them have not read the pro-independence propaganda books -with all due respect- that many of us have written.
But the key issue, as I said earlier, is not just that they want independence without allegiance to any pro-independence doctrine, but that this is what strengthens the process rather than weaken it. Should anyone be tempted to call my argument opportunistic, I can say that back in the autumn of 1988 -that's 26 years ago- I argued in an interview for the journal Debat Nacionalista that the only consistent nationalisation of Catalans would come once their sense of belonging could be expressed without being the result of explicit consciousness-raising or indoctrination. My argument was that attitudes of resistance -except in a truly exceptional political context of repression- tend to keep their proponents in the minority. Rather, I argued for an "implicit nationalism", the kind you take for granted -as is the case with any normal nation- and the only one that is strong. Of course, the difficult part was getting there.
To sum up, I believe that the one miracle that will eventually require an explanation -how it happened and what we owe it to- is that many Catalans have come to regard themselves not as supporters of independence, but as having the right to live in an independent country, like any other free individual. And this aspiration has not come as a conversion but, rather, as if it had been dormant and now, at last, it had awoken from a long hibernation. Hence the feeling of contagious joy with which we live this project of national liberation.