Wait … we’re not going to talk about it? An interesting link here, a provocative comment there … and then we’re not even going to talk about it?
Don’t pretend that you don’t know about what we’re not going to talk about! Doth not (dothn’t?) protest too much, that you donth’t want to talk about what we’re not going to talk about. Don’t be all separatist about your footy and your poli-sci.
Demur, if you must, because it’s dull. Because The Economist is nowhere near as sexy, or, as the Spaniards say, as sexy (or, as the Catalans say, as sexy), as The Enquirer. In that case, scroll on.
But it’s all over the news. It’s all about Barcelona. And far be it from a football blog as interesting, as provocative, an as all-out dull as BarcelonaFootballBlog to not talk about what everyone is talking about Barcelona.
I mean, everybody knows that Spain is going to miss its 6% national deficit reduction benchmark, even though President Mariano Rajoy has spent the past two years slicing bloated bottom lines faster than Princess Leticia slashes ceremonial ribbons. Unemployment hovers at 25% in the general population and almost 50% among young people, and when young people don’t have enough to do, you know what happens – someone sends a tweet and before you know it the Plaza Mayor is wall-to-wall with Indian-print tents, makeshift first-aid stands, and aging socialists reminding everyone to show up for the general strike on Tuesday.
Whose fault is it, then? Let’s point fingers so fast Angela doesn’t notice which digit Spain is flashing directly at the EU. Is it Andalusia, where no one really seems to know what happened to all those euros in the public trust (hint: check Isabel Pantoja’s recycling bin). Or Valencia, where it’s not what Camps knows, or even who knows Camps, but who hems Camps’ suit. Castile-La Mancha is in the financial relegation zone right now, keeping Extremadura company. And in May this year, Moody’s downgraded to “junk” status bonds from Murcia … and Catalonia.
That’s right, folks. Catalonia is in need of some cold, hard little coins that all look the same to me. Artur Mas and the CiU (who govern with the support of PSOE and the PP and a bowlful of alphabet noodles) failed to make all of the cuts they’d promised, and sell all of the bonds they’d offered, and found themselves in the soup. On September 10, Mas met Rajoy in hopes of re-arranging their tax arrangement: instead of Madrid collecting provincial taxes as due and then distributing them by need, Catalonia would collect its own taxes, divvy ‘em up and send Madrid a check in next week’s post. Rajoy, who is busy insisting he is not following Greece and Ireland even as he edges into the European soup line himself, gave a response that can perhaps best be summed up in two words: “Tu tía” (or, in Catalan, la teva tieta).
Well, 70% of Catalonians didn’t take kindly to Rajoy dissing their aunt. They suspect that Madrid vacuums up a good 8% of their GDP as it is. Artur, meanwhile, was faced with the question of how to save his own square-jawed face. And next thing you know, 8 million Catalans are waving ketchup-and-mustard flags in Las Ramblas (or maybe just more than usual), and King Juan Carlos climbs down from his Botswanian elephant to wag his finger at “chimera-chasers”. Come November, Mas promises an election that is more like a referendum to decide if Catalonia ought to be more like, well, Scotland. Or perhaps Quebec. Or (and I’m not making this up) Puerto Rico. With the Baleares Islands and the entire province of Valencia thrown in as “Catalan Country”.
Now, many outcomes are possible. But independence is the least possible among them. For one thing, Mas and Rajoy know that Spain’s economy will falter without Catalonia, but they also know that Catalonia, as is, will not survive without Spain. It would be devastating, all agree, to simply shut down the A-1, turn off the Spanish spigot and close up shop with the rest of the Peninsula. And if waiting in line with Galicia for tax revenue is a drag, what about queueing behind Kosovo for EU recognition?
But national tax policy won’t inflame the people’s passion. The promise of a shiny brass “Mas” nameplate at the next Brussels summit fails to draw families into the street. No one unfurls their senyera in hopes of one day, finally, restructuring the tariff system. It’s not about politics, or policies. It’s about a story. The kind of story that mothers tell their children.
It’s a beautiful story, too. It’s a story about a land whose roots were planted in a small outpost of the Roman Empire, which blossomed in the High Midde Ages to a flourishing
kingdom fiefdom county (well, there’s some dispute about that, but the dispute itself lends a warm burnish of historicity to the tale), and still awaits its full-flower as an independent nation. It’s a story about a proud people with their own culture, their own heroes, and their own Latinate language with just as much legitimacy as French, Italian, even Romanian. It’s a story of suffering, of a people who refused to relinquish their land, their heritage, their language, even as those more powerful overran their cities, erased their histories and outlawed the very phonics of their speech in a devastating civil war and subsequent Fascist dictatorship from which even the young have yet to fully recover. But today, my son, today … there is hope. We have a kick-ass football team, and a Clàssic on Sunday.
The last line is not frivolous. As Sandro Rosell affirmed on September 22:
“Som un club català i catalanista, i sempre defensarem el dret dels pobles a decidir el seu futur. Som catalans i volem que ens acceptin tal com som”*
… right before reminding everyone that a new stadium comes with a big price tag, and isn’t it wonderful that little children all around the world save their pocket money for a Messi jersey?
Don’t get me wrong; I love this club. I love that story. The fact that it’s the same story told in Bilbao as in Barcelona, that the Galicians now harbor the same dream as the Geronese, that the elements that make the Catalan story so powerful make it also typically, achingly, ironically, Spanish. And it’s the story that so frustrates those of us who want més que un club to really, only be about tiki-taka, or for Kansans to pay the same in soci fees as Catalans. It’s also the same story I heard when I was a little girl, when I learned that Irishmen dance with their arms at their sides so as to fool British soldiers peering in the pub windows. Or that “famine” is spelled with a capital-F. Or what “Pass the hat” means. And I did. Until Omagh.
I bet you heard that story, too. And when real-honest-to-goodness-grown-up life seems to manifest that very story, either by an occupation on Wall Street or a referendum in November or a little grean leaf on ancestry.com, well, then we murmur the words that all mothers
live (sorry) love to hear: “Mom, you were right.”
Now, no one – besides British reporters impersonating George Orwell – expects an Omagh in Catalonia come November. Even the Basques seem to have decided that the story is not worth violence (although it would appear that some mothers still end the story that way.) However the Catalans decide to structure their socio-economic system is, ultimately, is up to the Catalans. And, thank goodness, we’ve had no reports of Andrés tying Xavi’s cleats together at practice, or David pronouncing his coach’s name “Villanova” on purpose, or Pedro asking Sergio all the time “how the weather is up there.”
Because we have a kick-ass football team, and a Clàssic on Sunday. And there is hope.