Oxford University Press

g Oxford University Press
Spain: Catalonia and the Basque Country
AFTER 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship, the 1979 constitution offered
a new political framework within which Spaniards could organise their
lives. One of the major issues facing the new regime was the national
question, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque Country. The new
constitution radically transformed the centralist non-democratic regime
inherited from Francoism by creating the Autonomous Communities
System. The lack of violence in the transition to democracy, the almost
immediate acceptance of Spain by NATO and the European Community,
and the rapid expansion of the economy prompted a dynamism
that contrasted with the backwardness and conservatism of the Franco
years. What remains to be decided is whether the momentum for change
has reached a stop or whether there will be further reforms towards
The tension between centralisation and various forms of cantonalism or
federalism has been a constant problem faced by Spanish rulers. The
joint rule of Ferdinand and Isabella (Reyes Cato´ licos) from 1479 over
Castile and the Crown of Aragon (of which Catalonia was its main
element with Barcelona its capital), placed two very different areas
under a common crown. The gulf between the two regions was
enhanced by different political traditions and institutions. Although
both kingdoms possessed parliamentary institutions (Corts), the Castilian
Courts had never attained legislating power, emerging from the
middle ages both isolated and weak, whereas Catalonia, Valencia and
Aragon (forming the ‘Crown’ of Aragon) shared legislative power with
the Crown and were well buttressed by laws and institutions derived
from a long tradition of political liberty. Apart from sharing a common
sovereign, neither Castile nor Aragon experienced radical institutional
In the event, the so-called equality of status between Castile and
Aragon did not long survive the death of Ferdinand the Catholic. A
growing gulf emerged between Castile and the other territories, including
the state of Aragon. A radical shift in Castilian policy towards
Catalonia occurred when Philip IV appointed the Count Duke of
Olivares as chief minister in March 1621 with the object of creating a
powerful absolutist state. In order to do so, Olivares abandoned any
56 Parliamentary Affairs
commitment to recognising internal diversity within the Spanish state.
Rising tension between Castile and Catalonia climaxed with the Revolt
of the Reapers (Revolta dels Segadors) in 1640, uniting Catalans against
the harsh treatment of Castile. This event, often described as one of the
earlier expressions of incipient nationalism in Europe, undoubtedly
contributed to the rise of Catalan identity.
Catalonia maintained its rights and liberties until 1714 when after a
massive Franco-Spanish attack, Barcelona surrendered. Philip V ordered
the dissolution of the Catalan institutions and Catalonia was subject to
a regime of occupation. Catalan was forbidden and Castilian (Spanish)
was proclaimed as the official language. The industrialisation of Catalonia
in the nineteenth century was accompanied by major social
changes, similar to those occurring in other European countries. This
resulted, in turn, in the emergence of perceptible differences between
Catalonia and the other regions of the Iberian peninsula, though parallel
to the situation of the Basque Country. As the most economically
developed part of a country, Catalonia found itself governed by an
anachronistic and backward state in which political power resided with
Castile. These differences have diminished but Catalan nationalists
continue to make the case for residual differences.1 Indeed, contemporary
nationalism is merely the latest phase of a deep-rooted tradition of
cultural separatism.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the influence of Romanticism
inspired the Renaixenc¸a, a movement for national and cultural renaissance
which promoted Catalan language and culture, leading to
demands for Catalan autonomy, in the first instance as a region, then
as a federal state. Thereafter, its fortunes varied—autonomy under the
administration of the Mancomunitat (1913–23), suppressed in 1923
after the coup d’e´tat of Miguel Primo de Rivera, re-established during
the Generalitat (1931–38) when Catalonia had a Statute of Autonomy
but abolished by Franco’s decree of 5 April 1938. Catalonia did not
recover its autonomous government until 1977 after the demise of
Francoism. A new Statute of Autonomy was passed by the Spanish
Cortes in 1979. The president of the Catalan government, Josep Tarradellas,
returned from exile in France. Jordi Pujol, leader of the Convergence
and Union (Converge`ncia i Unio´ or CiU) became the first
president of the regional Catalan parliament after the first democratic
election held in the region.
The Basque Country
The Basques are the only surviving pre-Aryan race in Europe, and their
language (Euskera) is the only pre-indoeuropean language in use in
Europe. The Basques ruled themselves according to the Fueros (local
statutes and charters) first established between the Basque regions North
of the Pyrenees and the Foix of Occitany, and subsequently between
the kingdom of Castile and Basque regions south of the Pyrenees. The
Spain 57
Fueros, mostly codified during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
though some of them date back to the seventh century, exempted the
local population from both military service and taxation, and gave
provincial assemblies the right to veto royal edicts, a privilege they
rarely employed. These institutions embodied the ‘rights’ of the people,
rather than concessions granted to them. Throughout their history, the
Basques have defended the Fueros, ensuring their autonomous status
within the Spanish state.2 Attempts by Madrid to abolish the Fueros
were vigorously contested—Basque support for the Carlist movement
was directly connected to their opposition to centralism—until their
final abolition in 1876 after two long civil wars (Guerras Carlistas).
Thereafter the Basque country was rapidly industrialised. Modernisation
transformed every aspect of social life. The emergence of a
Basque working class, the displacement of population from the rural
areas to the countryside and the arrival of large numbers of immigrants
from other parts of Spain—widely regarded as representing the
oppressor contributed to the emergence of Basque nationalism, initially
as a cultural renaissance until Sabino Arana Goiri emerged as the
ideologist of Basque nationalism, founding the Basque Nationalist Party
in 1894.
A similar movement led by Arturo Campio´ n and Juan Hurralde y
Suit, took place in Navarra although without the dramatic changes
brought about by early industrialisation in the Basque provinces of
Bizkaia and Guipu´ zkoa. Navarra remained a primarily rural area whose
nationalists merely called for a recognition as a distinctive region. The
difference was seen in 1932 when a referendum on political autonomy
for the Basque country won overwhelming support in the provinces of
Alava, Guipu´ zkoa and Bizkaia but was defeated in Navarra.
The end of Francoism brought change to this region too, but in a
way that contrasts with the situation in Catalonia. Although the 1978
Spanish constitution was ratified by the majority of Spaniards, most
Basque nationalists were opposed. The argument was that the new
constitution was ambiguous about Basque rights. In the referendum on
the constitution the abstention rate was 56%in Guipu´ zkoa and Bizkaia.
The Basque Statute of Autonomy was, however, ratified by referendum
in 1979, with 61% turnout and 89% voting in favour. The president—
in exile—of the Basque government, Jesu´ s Mari´a de Leizaola returned
from France and elections to the new Parliament took place in 1980.
The leader of the Basque Nationalist Party, Carlos Garaikoetxea,
became the first lehendakari (head of the Basque government) of the
new democratic era.
National diversity within Francoist Spain
The meaning of both state and nation was contested during the Spanish
Civil War. General Franco’s supporters advocated a highly centralised,
uniform image of Spain which rejected the progressive government of
58 Parliamentary Affairs
the Second Republic (1931–38), and its decentralisation tendencies.
During the Republic, statutes of autonomy were sanctioned for Catalonia
(1932), the Basque Country (1933) and Galicia (1936), although
only the Catalan Statute had been implemented at the time of Franco’s
The impact of Franco’s victory was marked in both Catalonia and
the Basque Country, entailing not only the suppression of all autonomous
political institutions and laws but the prohibition of the Catalan
and Basque (Euskera) languages and cultures as well as all symbols of
sub-state identity such as flags and anthems. The Francoists imposed a
narrow ‘image’ of Spain emphasising national unity and condemned all
forms of cultural or political diversity. This variant of state nationalism
was a reaction to modern ideologies, especially socialism and anarchism,
which were held to threaten traditional socio-political structures.
As such, Francoism imposed a form of nationalism that was conservative,
Catholic, centralist and Castilian as a brake on the modernisation
begun in the early decades of the century by the Republic.
The Basque–Catalan contrast3
It can be argued that both communities, Catalonia and the Basque
Country, were equally discriminated against by an authoritarian regime
determined to crush intra-state differences but the response in the
respective communities differed. In Catalonia resistance was altogether
less violent than in the Basque Country. The reasons why violence
emerged in one community but not in the other can be explained by
differences not only between Catalan and Basque nationalism but in the
socio-political structures of these societies.
Catalan nationalism manifests a predominantly civic character with
a tradition of participating in Spanish politics, whereas Basque culture
is altogether more exclusive: there are, for instance, allusions to the
uniqueness of the Basque race and blood in the very early formulations
of the Basque nationalist doctrine. Sabino Arana promoted the idea of
Euskadi (the Basque Country) as a country occupied by a foreign
power. The Francoist regime, with its obsession to root out all symbols
of Basque culture, merely gave plausibility to Arana’s theory of alien
occupation. Ideological preferences were also rooted in broader cultural
differences. For example, though official language policy proscribed
both Catalan and Basque, the number of people who could understand
and speak Catalan greatly outnumbered those who could understand
and speak Euskera.4
The profound social and economic transformations which affected
the Basque Country in the 1950s brought an uncontrolled industrial
expansion around the main Basque cities and a large inflow of Castilianspeaking
immigrants from other parts of Spain. The Castilian language
is often referred to as Spanish, a fact that reflects the dominance of
Castile over the other peoples of Spain. Meanwhile, both the Basque
Spain 59
language and its culture suffered erosion, being confined to ever-smaller
circles of native Basques. In Ja´uregui’s view, this fact encouraged both
the rejection of Castilian culture and hostility to immigrants; the
presence of a strategic elite of Castilian origin, regarded as an agent
of linguistic and cultural oppression, increased native hostility to
Castilian-speaking migrants. Linked to this was an underlying fear of
wholesale assimilation into mainstream Castilian culture. In short,
there was a widespread sense of the Basque Country as a colonised
country, and a conviction that all available means should be used to
ensure freedom from foreign (Spanish) domination. It was in this
context that ETA emerged as a paramilitary organisation embracing a
radical nationalism with the clear aim of expelling colonial occupation
by the use of force, and replacing it with self-government. ETA
understood its role as waging a war of liberation akin to the revolutions
in Cuba, Algeria or Angola. According to this rationale, armed
struggle was the only available strategy since peaceful dialogue had
The Francoist state responded to ETA’s violence by increasing its
repressive measures in the Basque Country. This served to enhance
Basque national consciousness and to publicise ETA.
The Spanish transition to democracy
The transition to democracy after Franco’s death was an attempt by the
political class to synchronise Francoist institutions with the requirements
of a modern society. A profound dislocation occurred during the
1970s between the social and the political spheres, highlighting the
political system’s incapacity for resolving the problems of Spanish
society. Spain was now no longer a wholly rural country. There were
zones of heavy industry in Catalonia and the Basque Country, and a
demographic explosion occurred in the Sixties which, together with
great internal migrations, led to the growth of urbanisation. Illiteracy
substantially decreased from 50% in 1931 to 11% in 1981. Furthermore,
the entrenched Catholicism which had been one of the principal
pillars of the Francoist regime, began an irreversible decline which led,
in turn, to the onset of a new secular society. A new middle class
emerged, and even some sectors of the bourgeois who had supported
Franco demanded reforms. All these changes needed to be seen in the
context of a new international political scenario within which Spain
would only be fully accepted if it embraced democratic values. The
isolation of the Spanish economy persuaded these new sectors to press
for Spain’s integration into the then European Community. In this
context, reforming the political system along democratic lines became
the antidote to the country’s image as reactionary, underdeveloped and
Though Francoism had endorsed significant changes in order to
confront social change, it proved incapable of managing a society that
60 Parliamentary Affairs
had undergone far-reaching transformations since 1939. With unemployment
standing at some one million and inflation reaching 30% by
1975, the sheer limitations of Francoist policies had become patently
Dislocation or reform were the options facing Spain after Franco’s
death in 1975. The political establishment chose reform, but even this
option meant a fundamental break with the past. The transition to
democracy came from above, leading to an unusual situation: thought
the Francoist regime had disappeared, its public administration and
most of its institutions remained intact. In this context, it has been
argued that democratic transition could only succeed from a combination
of three distinct factors.5 First, from the institutional stability
provided by the leadership of King Juan Carlos I who unequivocally
backed the reforms. Second, a consensus reached between the various
political factions over the terms of democratic transition, once the
reform agenda had been sanctioned by the Spanish people in the first
democratic elections (1977). And finally, the active mobilisation of large
sectors of the population in favour of democratisation in stark contrast
to the altogether more cautious attitude of significant parts of both the
Catholic Church and the Army. A process of disentanglement of what,
according to Franco’s political last will, was ‘tied up and well tied
down’, reached a turning point in the 1978 referendum when Spaniards
ratified the new democratic constitution. It was at this moment that the
need to replace a ‘culture of resistance’ with a ‘culture of democracy’
The national question in the new democratic Spain
The most dangerous legacy of Francoism was the aggravation of the
national minorities question, an issue that had been accentuated by the
centralism of the regime. After almost forty years of mutual antagonism
between the two sides of the Civil War—between outright winners and
losers—there was growing pressure for what the Left and some progressive
Catholic groups called ‘national reconciliation’.
The 1978 Spanish constitution and the consensus between the main
political parties emerged from the first democratic elections. The need
to obtain support from both Francoist reformists and anti-Francoists
generated endless discussions about the constitution and persisting
ideological differences contributed to textual imprecision. Nevertheless,
the outcome was a constitution that, for the first time in Spanish
history, was not the consequence of the exclusive product of one
dominant political tendency. Regardless of some limitations, the political
model enshrined in the constitution was neither exclusive or divisive,
but a model for integration. The extreme conservatism of the Francoist
variant of Spanish nationalism was confronted in the 1978 constitution
and it led to a double consensus: the transformation of Spain into a
democratic state, and recognition of the existence of national minorities.
Spain 61
The Preamble acknowledges the ‘will’ of the ‘Spanish nation to
protect all Spaniards and all the peoples of Spain in the exercise of
human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages and institutions
(Constitucio´n Espan˜ola: edicio´n comentada, Centro de estudios constitucionales,
Madrid, 1979). Likewise Article 2, the most controversial in
the entire text, reflects an abiding tension between national unity and
the pressure to recognise the existence of historic nations such as
Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country: thus, ‘The constitution is
founded upon the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common
and indivisible patria of all Spaniards, and recognises and guarantees
the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions integrated in it
and the solidarity among them.’
The autonomous system
During the Francoist regime, the demand for recognition of national
identity and democracy had been central to Catalan and Basque calls
for the political transformation of the state. The makers of the constitution
devised a model of symmetric decentralisation widely referred to
as ‘cafe´ para todos’ (coffee for everyone). Rather than directly responding
to Catalan6 and Basque demands to be recognised as nations within
Spain, they preferred a system of seventeen autonomous communities
some of which—Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia—are historically
and culturally distinct, whereas others are artificially created,
without any sense of territorial identity, for instance, La Rioja and
Madrid. While the ‘historical nationalities’, Catalonia, the Basque
Country and Galicia, were immediately allowed to practice a degree of
‘full autonomy’, the other regions had to undergo a five-year period of
‘restricted autonomy’ before doing so. But, once full autonomy has
been achieved, the constitution makes no distinction between the
Allowing substantial powers to the historical nationalities, had two
particular consequences. On the one hand, it fulfilled the nationalist
aspirations of Catalans and Basques; on the others, it generated resentment
amongst those communities with a restricted devolution.
Regardless of these variations, all communities are similarly structured:
each has a regional legislative assembly consisting of a single
chamber; deputies are elected on the basis of proportional representation,
and the leader of the majority party or coalition usually assumes
the Community presidency. The President heads a regional executive—
ministers run administrative departments which, for the most part,
though not in every case, follow the pattern of central government,
depending on how much power is devolved to the respective autonomous
In many respects, the Autonomous Governments operate as states
with regard to their devolved competencies. The Catalan and Basque
governments, for example, provide wide-ranging public services—
62 Parliamentary Affairs
education, health, culture, housing, local transport, agriculture. They
even control their own autonomous police force which coexists with
the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil. The powers reserved to
the central government are as follows: exclusive jurisdiction over
defence, the administration of justice, international relations and general
economic planning. A Compensation Fund administered by central
government allocates special resources to poorer regions and is intended
to promote equilibrium and solidarity among all autonomous communities.
Catalan nationalism
These novel arrangements raise some critical questions about the nature
of democratic government in the post-Francoist state. How far does
regional nationalism pose a threat to the governance of Spain? To what
extent decentralisation makes for unstable central government? A brief
review of the role of the main Catalan nationalist coalition (CiU), in
government since 1980, sheds some light on these issues.
Tension between Catalonia’s current place in the Spanish state and
the aspiration for greater autonomy lies at the heart of the CiU’s
nationalist discourse. The coalition has been in power since 1980 with
its leader, Jordi Pujol, consecutively re-elected as president on six
occasions. The CiU defines Catalonia as a ‘nation’ in its own right but
does not challenge the overarching idea of Spanish unity. The CiU
supported the Socialist government (1993–95) in Madrid when it lost
its overall parliamentary majority, and is currently backing the Conservative
Popular Party which failed to obtain a majority at the 1996
general election, thereby illustrating Pujol’s claim that it is quite feasible
to be a Catalan nationalist as well as contributing to state governance.
The rewards of this policy have helped to sustain the twin-track
strategy: support for the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party), at a
time of widespread political corruption, brought a substantial development
of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy including the right to retain
15% of the taxes collected in Catalonia. Concessions have also followed
the CiU’s liaison with the Popular Party. After negotiations, the Catalan
Government (Generalitat) managed to increase the percentage of taxes
retained in Catalonia to 30%. Decentralisation in Catalonia, far from
fostering uncompromising or extreme nationalism, has in fact opened
channels for participation that have vastly improved both the Catalan
economy and the quality of life in the region.
After twenty years of political decentralisation
The fact remains, however, that after some 20 years of political and
administrative autonomy, the aspirations of Catalans and Basques for
self-determination are not satisfied. They still desire fully to express
their specificity, and to be recognised as nations within Spain. They
demand yet more special treatment and show increasing reluctance to
Spain 63
accept the ‘coffee for everyone’ option. A more asymmetrical arrangement,
they argue, would better reflect the present Spanish reality.
References are made to the recent decentralisation of power in Britain,
where Scotland and Wales are being given substantially different
degrees of political autonomy to reflect the intensity of their nationalist
claims and the resurgence of national identity. This variant of devolution
is now referred to as a model for Spain.
Both Catalans and Basques favour the asymmetrical decentralisation
of Spain. They want to be recognised as nations within a ‘multinational’
Spain. This contradicts the 1978 constitution under which
devolution to the nationalities and regions has been carried out at
different speed but with the intention that, at the end of the process,
there will be no distinction between historical and newly created
communities. It is in this sense that the Spanish decentralisation model
is defined as symmetrical, and this is precisely what Catalans and
Basques oppose. The 1998 Declaration of Barcelona raises this issue, as
In July 1998, the main nationalist parties in Galicia, the Basque
Country and Catalonia—the Galician Nationalist Bloc (Bloque Nacionalista
Galego or BNG), the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) and
the Convergence and Union Coalition (CiU)—signed a joined declaration
demanding that Spain be defined as a multi-lingual, multi-cultural
and multi-national state. After twenty years of democracy, Spain continues
(as they see it) to retain its essentially unitary character and has not
yet resolved the national question. In the words of the Declaration:
‘During this period we have endured a lack of juridical and political
recognition, and even social and cultural recognition of the specificity
of our national realities within the Spanish state. This recognition,
which if fair and democratic, is absolutely essential in the context of a
Europe enmeshed in the process of political and economic re-structuration
which in the medium term will involve the redistribution of
political power amongst its different layers of government. A Europe
whose union should be based upon respect for and the structuring of its
different peoples and cultures.’ (Declaracio´ de Barcelona, BNG, EAJPNV,
CiU, Barcelona, 1998.)
The principal demand of the nationalist parties who subscribed to
the Declaration is for the recognition of Catalonia, Galicia and the
Basque country as nations per se rather than merely as regions. We
should recall here that, according to the 1978 constitution (Article 2)
Spain consists of a single nation containing some ‘nationalities and
regions’, though these entities are never substantively defined. The
consequences of recognising the historical nationalities as free nations
would be two-fold. It would imply a substantial revision of the constitution
which presently acknowledges the existence of a unique Spanish
nation. And it involves acceptance of the idea of Spain as a multinational
state. The Declaration of Barcelona brought a negative
64 Parliamentary Affairs
response from the main Spanish political parties, the PP and the PSOE,
a rejection which underlined the differences between elites at the centre
and those in the regions.
Devolution to non-historical nationalities and regions. From the
perspective of the mainstream Spanish political parties, one can quite
understand the reluctance to concede too much autonomy from the
centre to some regions to the detriment of others. The historical
nationalities, however, see things altogether differently. How then
should we evaluate the trend to political decentralisation from the
perspective of the newly created autonomous communities, most of
whom have a limited, even non-existent, sense of common regional
identity? Three main aspects need to be considered here.
1. The creation of political autonomous institutions has added to the
dynamism of civil society, generating a sense of common regional
identity where it did not previously exist, and strengthening where
it was never more than a feeble idea. Devolution has contributed
to the generation of regional identity amongst the people of
various communities, with their own flags, anthems, and the
promotion of folklore, cultural traditions and regional art. But
while some of these elements originate in the local cultures now
integrated within the boundaries of the autonomous community,
others are the product of invention. Whether indigenous or
invented, cultural distinctiveness both generates and strengthens
the collective identities of each autonomous community. It is
possible then to claim that the devolution of power—and with it,
the creation of regional institutions corresponding to autonomous
communities without previous historical or cultural identities—is
likely to lead to the emergence and, thereafter, the strengthening
of separate regional identities. Nowhere more so for Spain’s
historical nationalities where there is a clear connection between
past and present experiences of autonomous institutions, law and
a separate political and cultural identity that accounts for the
sheer force of nationalist feelings. Max Weber reminds us that
shared political memories are elemental in the construction of a
common national or ethnic identity, which are more than likely to
persist for long periods after these communities have lost their
political independence.7
2. Political decentralisation tends to strengthen democracy in as
much as it brings decision-making closer to the people. Problems
are identified, analysed and resolved where they emerge. Regional
politicians usually have greater awareness of the needs, and aspirations
of their electorates, and the following table reflects the
high percentage of Spanish people in favour of decentralisation. It
also shows a greater number of people in Catalonia in favour of
transferring further powers to the communities when compared
Spain 65
Opinion Poll: What political structure for the Spanish state do you favour?
Spain (%) Catalan (%)
Centralised state without autonomous communities 16 10.2
Autonomous communities (present arrangement) 44 35.5
Further devolved powers to autonomous communities 21 29.0
Right of secession to autonomous communities 8 20.9
Source: Centro de Investigaciones Sociolo´ gicas (CIS), La Vanguardia, 16 February 1997, p. 21.
with the rest of Spain. It is also striking that while over a fifth of
Catalans favour granting the right to secession to Autonomous
Communities, less than a tenth favour it in the rest of Spain (see
3. The devolution of powers to regional institutions requires the reallocation
of resources to facilitate discrete policies and regional
budget planning. These processes, in turn, contribute to revitalise
civil society, encouraging local and regional initiatives including
cultural, economic and social projects. Among other endeavours,
autonomous communities are promoting regional businesses,
restoring ancient buildings and creating regional cultural networks
such as universities, museums and libraries. Some 20 years after
the creation of the Autonomous Communities System, the particular
national identities of Catalonia, Basque country and Galicia
have been considerably reinforced through the promotion of their
languages and culture together with the development of social and
economic policies to improve the quality of regional life. None of
this is necessarily inconsistent with sustaining an overall Spanish
political identity. In Galicia, for instance, the conservative Popular
Party has remained in government throughout the period of
regional autonomy. Ironically, the new regionalism has been
encouraged by Manual Fraga Iribarne, president of Galicia but
formerly a minister under Franco. Galician nationalism was virtually
non-existent when the autonomous government was established,
but it has registered a substantial increase in support, the
Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) becoming the main opposition to
the Popular Party. The nationalist parties which have ruled both
Catalonia (CiU) and the Basque region (EAJ-PNV) since the onset
of autonomous government, whilst defining themselves as nationalist,
do not pursue secession from Spain but a greater autonomy
within the current devolved framework.
After considering the likely impact of the Declaration of Barcelona
on the shape of the Spanish state and the temper of nationalist politics,
we may ask whether the nationalist discourse of these regional parties
fully meets the aspirations of Catalans and Basques. We might include,
too, Galicians in this political calculus. In short, are these newly
assertive regional identities likely to settle for the status quo; or are they
representatives of a transitional nationalism which will eventually seek
full independence? The experience of Belgium and Canada might be
66 Parliamentary Affairs
instructive in this regard: two federal and democratic states that have
been obliged to grant a substantial degree of autonomy to the provinces
of Flanders and Quebec, though this has not satisfied nationalist
demands for even greater self-determination. Does it mean that nationalist
claims can only be satisfied by achieving independence? Once the
Statutes of Autonomy of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia are
fully developed, will their citizens be satisfied or will they regard
autonomy as a step towards independence?
Notwithstanding current criticism of the autonomous system, it has
permitted the peaceful accommodation of substate nationalism during
the Spanish transition to democracy. Even so, decentralisation has not
been without residual conflict and continuing tension between the
regional and central governments. The demand, for instance, that
additional resources and more powers should be allocated to the
autonomous institutions has characterised most of the relations between
the Generalitat—the Catalan government—and the central government
in Madrid. Conflict has arisen particularly over the nature of taxes to
be collected in Catalonia—whether these revenues should be retained
as own resources by the Generalitat rather than having them reallocated
by Madrid.
Conflict has arisen, too, over the sensitive issue of language rights.
Laws concerning the use and promotion of the Catalan language issued
by the Generalitat were challenged by the central government and
examined by the Spanish Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitutional)
which subsequently ratified their constitutionality. Tension
arose, too, when some autonomous communities complained about
what they perceive to be better treatment by the state of the historical
A major consequence of Spanish decentralisation has been the redefinition
of Spanish identity as a result of the strengthening not only of
Catalan, Basque and Galician identities but also of other emergent
regional identities in the so-called non historical communities. In the
new democracy, the state has played a creative role in mediating
between regional and Spanish identities. The process is by no means
completed. The definition of Spain will continue to be examined and
reformulated in the light of current and future experience.
The power structure of the Francoist state imposed its own constructed
image of Spain, persuading local communities, if necessary by
force, to adjust to it, at least in their public life. This cultural hegemony
is now finally over and contemporary Spanish identity has to be
redefined in accordance with prevailing conditions; it has to reflect the
aspirations and new-found political confidence of its constituent
nations. At the same time, these nations are struggling to recover and
develop in accordance with their particular identities long suppressed
Spain 67
under the Franco regime. What is at stake here is the very definition of
Spain as a nation and as a culture. By redefining themselves as nations
per se, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia have challenged the
homogeneous image of Spain as this was expressed both by Francoism
and, indeed, by an influential tendency within Spanish socialism, heavily
induced by the universalist, cosmopolitan variant of state nationalism
championed by the French Jacobin tradition. As such, these radical
elements share with their conservative opponents much the same antagonism
to substate autonomy as conceded to Catalonia and the Basque
country and they remain critical of further demands to expand its scope.
The new democratic regime allows for multi-level government located
in central, regional and local institutions and devolution has contributed
more than institutional variety to Spain’s democratic culture. It has
encouraged the emergence and strengthening of different layers of
identity and, as such, has made it possible for many to hold multiple
identities: to define themselves as both Spanish and as Catalan or
Basque. This related outcome does not, of course, apply to those
separatists who still seek Catalan or Basque independence.8 The two
layers of identity are further complemented by an extra layer of identity
stemming from membership of the European Union.
In summary, decentralisation has indeed reinforced regional national
identity but, so far, it has not encouraged the emergence of large proindependence
movements in Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia.
At the same time, the ‘non historical’ autonomous communities have
benefitted from a decentralisation process which has generated a clear
separate sense of regional identity. That too has contributed to the
development of civil society and has brought decision making mechanisms
closer to the people.
1 For an analysis of the process of industrialisation in Catalonia, see P. Vilar, La Catalogne dans l’Espagne
Moderne, Flammarion, 1977. For an analysis of contemporary Catalonia see, S. Giner (ed), La Societat
Catalana, Institut d’Estadi´stica de Catalunya, 1998; and S. Giner, The Social Structure of Catalonia,
Anglo Catalan Society, 1984.
2 According to Conversi, ‘although the Fueros were slowly eroded, before their abolition the sen˜ ori´o
(“seigniory”) of Bizkaia was working as a state within the Spanish state, and was even expanding its
powers (Agirreazkuenaga, 1987)’. D. Conversi,. The Basques, the Catalans and Spain: Alternative
Routes to Nationalist Mobilization, Hurst & Company, 1997, p. 45.
3 For an analysis of nationalism in nations without state in the West which includes Catalonia and Basque
Country among others, see M. Guibernau, Nations Without States: Political Communities in the Global
Age, Polity Press, 1999.
4 See A. Gurrutxaga, El Co´digo Nacionalista vasco durante el Franquisom, Anthropos, 1985 and A.
Pe´rez-Agote, El Nacionalismo vasco a la Salida del Franquismo, C.I.S. Ediciones Siglo XXI, 1987.
5 J. Sole´ Tura, Nacionalidades y Nacionalismos en Espan˜ a: Autonomi´a, Federalismo, Autodeterminacio´n,
Alianza Editorial, 1985, p. 80.
6 For an analysis of Catalan nationalism during the Spanish transformation to democracy see, M.
Guibernau, ‘Images of Catalonia’ in Nations and Nationalism, 3, 1, 1997, pp. 89–111. See also T.
Lawlor and M. Rigby et al, Contemporary Spain, Longman, 1998.
7 M. Weber, Economy and Society, University of California Press, 1978 (1968), 1, p. 389.
8 In Catalonia, 11.5% of the population define themselves as more Spanish than Catalan; 36.5% as
Spanish as Catalan; 25.7% more Catalan than Spanish. Those who define themselves as only Catalan
68 Parliamentary Affairs
represent 11% and 12.9% define themselves as only Spanish. In the Basque country, 43.6% is in favour
of independence and 32.2% against it. About 25% do not answer. In Catalonia, 33.6% are in favour
of independence and 50% against it. See Centro de Investigaciones Sociolo´ gicas, La Vanguardia, 16
February 1997. See also ICPS, Sondeig d’opinio´ Catalunya, vols 1989–95.

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