Franco once famously said (in a meeting with foreign journalists towards the end of the Civil War) that ’Catalonia has been one of the fundamental causes of our uprising’. A ’cause’ he would deal with by turning its very existence into a state secret, through the execution of its most visible representative (1940); the banning of its national flag well into the post-war period; and by making the spoken - let alone written - use of Catalan inadvisable outside the home. In a nutshell, Catalonia qua Catalonia was rendered invisible, whereas Catalonia qua a-Spanish-region-like-any-other was successfully promoted. With the advent of democracy, the cover-up of Catalonia continued, it being made especially inconspicuous abroad (I still recall an ad from the 1980s, placed in English Sunday supplements by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture to promote Spanish wines: on a map of Spain, each producing region is correctly named, Galicia, La Rioja, etc. but the dreaded C-word is nowhere to be found, the area that corresponds to Catalonia having been labelled: ’North-East Spain’).
But the last seven years of massive peaceful pro-indy demonstrations, the October 1st referendum, the imprisonment of civic leaders and elected politicians and the exile of several others, have not just put Catalonia on the map, they’ve engraved it there: never since its medieval apogee has it been so easy to see. Yet as knowledge of Catalonia spreads, so does a considerable amount of international bafflement about one key question: given the seriousness of the conflict, why weren’t there any ongoing negotiations between MAD and BCN? The world, of course, still knew nothing of yet another well-kept secret: the Catalanophobia that has been successfully fed to important (but by no means all) sectors of the Spanish population by various Spanish regimes and which now makes it political suicide for a state-wide party to sit at a table with a Catalan government on equal terms. A Catalanophobia which has, sadly, led to many hate-filled spin-offs, such as the tweets following the 2015 Germanwings tragedy, in which all 144 passengers lost their lives shortly after taking off from Barcelona (one of the mildest went: ’So what? They weren’t people, they were Catalans’). In short, anti-Catalan aversion, be it extreme or mainstream, has not been reported abroad. Or at least not until last month, when German judges threw out the charges of violent rebellion against Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president-in-exile, and released him from the Neumünster jail where he’d been placed in temporary custody thanks to a Madrid-issued European Arrest Warrant. The official Spanish response was not fully adult: a cross letter was sent to each and every Euro MP, the Foreign Minister grumbled that the decision was ’unfortunate’, etc. Not only that, but in certain media outlets a visceral nastiness - comparable in its display of hatred to the Germanwings tweets - was also in evidence: on esRadio (audience: 400,000) a well-known Spanish journalist urged that the 200,000 German residents on Majorca be ’held hostage’ and that bombs should be placed in Munich breweries. On top of which, the day after Puigdemont was released, the far-right (but fully legal) online news site Alerta Digital headed its report on the recent truck attack in Munster (3 dead, dozens injured) with the words: ’Karma exists!’. For a brief instant, then, Germans have had a personal taste of what it means to be a pro-independence Catalan, in a state and a society (or rather, part of it) whose loathing seems to know no bounds.