State of Independence XIII

Woman waving a face mask with Albert Boadella, parodying similar masks of Carles Puigdemont.

An update on the Catalan independence protest with a set of images taken on a March march against the independence movement, led by the Tabarnian movement.

Tabarnia is a fictional region, which is seeking independence from Catalunya. It is a satire of the Catalan independence movement which has gained substantial popular support.

Tabarnia is a portmanteau of Tarragona and Barcelona – the two large coastal towns in which the independence movement is a minority.  Its boundaries are chosen arbitrarily to support those who oppose Catalan independence, parodying the very concept of Catalunya itself that (unlike, for example Scotland) has never existed as a truely independent nation in the form that we see today. Catalunya’s boundaries are defined primarily by political and linguistic influences within Spain rather than by historical borders.

Welcome to Tabarnia

Tabarnia is led by its own president in exile, the playwright Albert Boadella, nicely parodying Carles Puigdemont in his self-imposed exile from the Spanish Justice system. It has its own flag design, combining local elements with an image of Sant Jordi slaying a nationalistic dragon.

It is a direct challenge to the secessionists, for whom Estelada flag waving is an integral part of their campaigning and identity.

Tabarnian campaign slogans typically take independence phrases such as “Espanya nos roba” (Spain robs us – a reference to Catalunya being a net creditor to the Spanish state due to its relatively successful economy) and invert them in to “Catalunya nos roba”. Like all good satire, there is an element of truth in this, because most of Catalunya’s economic wealth comes from the Tabarnian regions and Tabarnian taxes subsidise rural areas.

Campaigners speak standing on a van. Tabarnia is a popular reaction to the secessionists, and clearly lacks the substantial financial resources available to the secessionists from years of regional government “cultural” funding in support of independence.

Another example is the way that Tabarnia inverts the secessionist claim that there is no “democracy” in Spain (because under Spanish constitutional law Catalunya can not unilaterally decide for independence). Tabarnia mirrors this by pointing out that in fact Catalunya violates its democracy, thanks to electoral laws that grant a greater weighting of the vote in rural areas, which politically are more nationalistic than urban regions.

For example, a vote for the Catalan parliamentary elections in Lleida carries 2.3x as much weight as the same vote cast in Barcelona – with the result that the nationalist coalition has a majority of seats in the parliament despite being backed by only a minority of voters. Puigdemont’s unilateral declaration of Catalan independence was therefore the action of a political minority imposing its will on the majority – a very particular Catalan interpretation of the concept of “democracy”.

The secessionists are quick to dismiss the Tabarnian campaigners as fascists, a label that seems to be applied to anyone that disagrees with independence. While there are some far right-wing elements using the Tabarnian concept, there is little sign of them on the streets. Most of the people I have seen are good natured, and are campaigning against many of the same things that the secessionists protest – such as police violence and the continuing application of article 155, which has suspended autonomous rule in Catalunya pending formation of a legal regional government (currently blocked since December by internal Catalan politics, not by Spain).

Tabarnia at its core is a hugely successful satirical protest against the sectarian nationalism that is causing deep and lasting social, political and economic damage in Catalunya.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell if this is a symptom of deepening polarisation in the region – or if it too will become yet another cause.

7 Comments »

  1. I have been meaning to ask since your last post about this because I found it fascinating and troubling – but why has the uproar for Tabarnian occurred when Spain as a whole experienced and is experiencing such an atrocious economy? Maybe there has been uproar prior, but I was in Spain in 2008-2009 (Salamanca, Madrid, Avila, Segovia, Toledo) when there was 20% unemployment and economy was gradually getting worse by the minute and I don’t remember such hostile relations from its Tabarnian region. Enlighten me, please. BTW your blog has quickly become one of my favorites because it is even better than some “news”… but what is “news” anyway. In other words, good work and thank you!

    • Catalan independence has been brewing for a lot more time than since the economic crash. For many decades, politicians such as Jordi Pujol have worked to “catalanise” the people in the region, through language, education that portrays Spain as an oppressor, the distortion of history (for example, where the Spanish War of Succession is presented as a war against Catalunya) and mainstream media as propaganda (most notably TV3, where the heroes all speak Catalan, and the Villains always Spanish). Public funds were diverted to independence groups such as Assemblea and Omnium, and government funding for companies and in some cases jobs was often tied to support for the independence movement (for example, extremely pro-independence Villaweb).

      This was a long term political-power project, and it has failed mainly because it was forced in to acting on a unilateral declaration of independence many years too early, when there was no prospect of international support. The trigger was largely the emergence of back-pressure against “Catalanisation” from Madrid and the explosion of a number of financial scandals affecting prominent Catalan nationalist politicians (Pujol, but also numerous others including party wide scandals such as the 3% that the CIU were taking as a bribe in return for awarding construction contracts). Combined with public unrest at the economy, the politicians have been able to use the independence movement to deflect attention away from their own financial scandals.

      Talking to some people about this here can be very surreal. They understand the corruption, but all too often the response is that “well, at least it is our corruption”.

      That politicians can manipulate people in this way shows the power and extreme danger from the surging politics of identity that is afflicting the world at the moment. You can see other examples in Europe with Brexit (UK), the Movimiento 5 Stelle (Italy) and the rise of far right groups in Germany, Poland and Hungary. Trump is another example.

      Quite why this is happening now and why it is so widespread at the moment is an interesting question, and not one I think that I yet understand. Economic factors and inequality are certainly important, as is the emergence of social media with its inherent tendency to favour easy sound-bites over complex or awkward truths.

      • Mark, thank you so much for explaining this to me with such great detail but in layman’s way. This is exactly why I uphold blogs with some a regard, because quite often they cover a more “both sides of the fence” perspective with proper historical context than some news! I very much appreciate this!

        • I also want to add to the bit you mentioned about politicians manipulating people – That is the essence of the present office of the president in the USA. Press freedom is also slowly diminishing itself in the US, which is absolutely frightening. I spent four years in Ukraine before and during the Euromaidan and a lot of people don’t know it to be a period of grassroots media revolution, but it definitely was. Oligarchs and politicians mostly owned the media then (they still do), and thus they used it to sway public opinion. It took my time in Ukraine to see that in the USA, we aren’t too far from implementing this method. Rather than our magnates and politicians directly owning the media, we have lobbyists with their wealth that invest in the media to become as partisan as they want. It’s a mess and people need to wake up, but instead I open my social media accounts to my fellow US Americans posting something like “if you post anything about politics, I will unfriend you, sorry nothing personal.” It’s so sad that people are so exhausted with politics that they feel the need to remove folks who practice their first amendment right on the daily. It’s pathetic really and I consider people like that to be simpletons.

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