Mario Vargas Llosa Is the Perfect Poster Boy for Spanish Unionism

Last Sunday in Barcelona, the forces opposed to allowing any change in Catalonia’s political status within Spain staged a rally in Barcelona. Given the clear minority position of such hard-core unionists (defined here as people who neither want a vote on, nor a negotiation about, the matter of greater Catalan self-determination) within in the Catalan Autonomous Community, it was necessary to bus people in from all over Spain to bring the rally’s numbers – 350,000 according to the Catalan police – up to anything remotely approaching those achieved in recent weeks and months by the pro-independence forces.

Among the many unionists to arrive in Barcelona from the other parts of the state on Sunday was the Nobel-Prize winning Peruvian-Spanish novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, who stood before the crowd and issued yet another iteration of the critique of Basque and Catalan nationalism that he has been monotonously issuing over the past 25 years.

The stock script goes something like this.

Nationalism is a malign disease that appeals to our most primitive and basic instincts and that is akin, in many ways, to the worst and most oppressive forms of religion. It divides people and leads inexorably to violence. It therefore has no place in modern and developed society like Spain.

He almost always ends his perorations on the subject with a nostalgic look back to the happy years he spent living in Barcelona in the 1960s, writing and frolicking there with his fellow protagonists in the “Boom” of Latin American Literature (e.g. Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso and Gabriel García Márquez) as well as the city’s native-born Gauche Divine.

Back then, he suggests, there was none of the divisive nationalistic thinking we see today. People from all over the Spanish-speaking world lived and worked together in Catalonia within the same cultural coordinates, using the same world-striding Castilian tongue as their prime tool of communication and solidarity.

At first glance, the initial assertions of his well-rehearsed spiel make a lot of sense. Who can deny that nationalism often has a religious subtext? Or that it can often impel people to engage in terrible, divisive and violent actions? Having spent a half a lifetime studying precisely these things, certainly not me.

It is only when we remember that Vargas Llosa delivered his shopworn discourse to a flag-waving crowd that things begin to fall apart.

What flag were the overwhelming number of the assembled people waving on Sunday? It was the current Spanish national flag, which was re-imposed upon the nation in the wake of a brutal civil war (1936-39), a conflict provoked when the country’s oligarchy, working hand-in-glove with the church and key elements of the Spanish army’s officer core, staged a coup against the legally elected Republican government.

If there is any flag in the community of Western European “democracies” that is tied more closely to the irrationality and violence-unleashing…

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