Book Review: What’s Up With Catalonia?

What’s Up With Catalonia, edited by Liz Castro

In many ways, reading this book in 2023 is a bit of a disappointment. This book was written and published in a hurry, when Catalonia thought it had a moment where the time was right to strike a peaceful effort at gaining independence for their nation from Spain, and so it gathers essays from a wide variety of people in the region who are all in one way or another sympathetic or outright demanding towards Catalonian independence and who have a variety of grievances against Spain for their behavior. Unsurprisingly, we might expect that were such a volume to be updated in the present-day, there would be more grievances, but probably less hope that Catalan independence will proceed smoothly or peacefully, especially given the total lack of visible progress towards Catalan independence that we have seen since Spain refused to consider as legal the referendum that demonstrated a majority of Catalans desire to be independent from Spain, something that Spanish constitutional courts have always considered to be illegal and therefore not something that they need to address except through military force and acts of coercion.

This book is a short one at about 200 pages or so, and it is filled with a variety of essays from people who would be more familiar to those who are more familiar with Catalonia than I am, and so I have only heard of a few of the people. Included in the various essayists are the usual group of politicians, activists, academics, and the like. Most of the people writing have a rather notable leftist bias, which does not really do a good job at appealing to me since I have no fondness for leftist community agitators and socialist types of the kind that fill the pages of this book. Somewhat unfortunately, many of the essays of this book cover the same ground over and over again, discussing the importance of the Catalan language to feelings of nationhood in Catalonia and neighboring provinces as well as discussing the unfortunate nature of broken Spanish promises in the period after 1978 as well as the way that Spain’s centralized government has viewed Catalonia (and other peripheral provinces) as a cash cow to be milked without providing returns to pay for infrastructure or something else that would be of use. Even though I believe the authors to be correct in discussing the problems of Spain’s policies with regards to language, taxation, and a distinct lack of federalism, one does not need to read the same material restated in slightly different terms dozens of times as occurs in this book. It would have been nice to have seen more variety in the subject matter.

Even so, this is a book that I found to have at least considerable interest in terms of its discussion of the problems of the Catalan nation in making itself free in a peaceful fashion in the face of Spanish intransigence, as well as the importance that the Catalans placed on diplomatic efforts with the United States and the European Union in the hopes that these diplomatic relationships might allow Catalonia to avoid international isolation as an independent state. It is also interesting to note that several of the writers seem to think that in the Spanish context, right-wing opinion such as the kind that I have as an American, always comes with a view towards high degrees of centralism and a lack of freedom for minorities, while right-wing opinion in the United States is often very closely connected with ideals of liberty as well as federalism to avoid oppressive and corrupt state and federal governments. It is a shame, but perhaps unsurprising, that this book focuses so much of its attention on trying to appeal to left-wing audiences rather than trying to make an argument that would appeal to someone right of center, as it seems that the authors’ familiarity with Spanish politics blinds them to the distinctions that exist within the political culture of other nations that may be potential readers of a book like this one. Even so, with all of its tedious repetition, the problem of Catalan independence is a worthwhile one to read about and study, and this book is worth reading at least to get an idea of what Catalan thinkers themselves think about the desirability and even the necessity of independence for their small but worthy nation.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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