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On Catalonia's changed situation and its non-ethnic sense of identity.
As soon as I got there I mean here – Catalonia - at the end of the 1970s, I felt I'd stumbled on a local atmosphere whose openness and positive tension was not to be found in any other corner of Europe. 30 years on, evidence to the effect that this was not a late-teen hallucination has been accumulating. Even if we sideline, for reasons of space, specific recent strides made in Catalan-language culture – fiction, theatre, popular music – the non-ethnic Catalan concept of cultural identity in itself has proven to be unique, at least within the EU. How would the British, for instance, have reacted if in the last ten years over ten million people from the five continents had turned up on their island? The proportional equivalent has happened here and despite the slight presence of a certain (pro-unionist) racist party and the intellectually-challenged electoralist blathering of some (pro-unionist) mainstream ones with regard to mosques and certain religious costumes, the most visible and popular Catalan reaction has been the exponential growth of the linguistic volunteer programmes, in which newcomers can learn Catalan – which in Catalonia means they partly become Catalan, as well as being what they already are - by meeting up with local people on equal terms and in normal places (not classrooms). At the same time, all newcomers are being encouraged (also by volunteers, not politicos) to take an active part in what has become a generalised grass-roots debate over independence, as shown by the more than 200 towns and villages which have organised unofficial ballots for (or, if you vote thus, against) secession, the 50-odd municipalities which have declared themselves morally divorced from the Spanish Constitution, and a partly pro-independence, partly pro-federalist demonstration in Barcelona (on 10/7/10) involving one and a half million people. The European media in general – and the English ones in particular - have excelled themselves in turning blind eyes to all this, mainly because, like Manuel in 'Fawlty Towers', they know nothing. As the historian Eric Hobsbawm pointed out years ago in his book 'The Age of Extremes' (1994), not a single major historical event of late 20th century Europe - not even the implosion of the Soviet Union - was anticipated by the journalists. Soon, I suspect, the hacks are about to be caught out yet again. Watch this corner.