Spain Sees Nationalism as a Force for Economic and Cultural Vitality the Collapse of Communism in the East and the Move toward European Unity Has Strengthened Nationalism across Europe. but Regional Independence Campaigns in Spain Have Yet to Sink Deep Roots

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ON a warm fall weekend afternoon along La Rambla, Barcelona's central promenade, students from local universities hand out literature calling for the independence of Catalonia, the Spanish autonomous region of which this Mediterranean city is the capital.

The students prefer to speak Catalan, one of the region's two official languages, but will discuss the independence issue in Spanish with "foreigners."

Asked why he is so keen on seeing an independent Catalonia at a time when much of Europe is becoming more integrated, one student responds, "Because we are a nation, quite different from the rest of Spain."

Nationalism has flared across Europe as the old communist order has crumbled in the East, and as an evolution toward increasing economic and political unity has loosened the borders of the West's traditional nation-states.

The rise of nationalist struggles in the Soviet Union, the now independent Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, has sent ripples through Lombardy in Italy, and Scotland in Great Britain, and perhaps nowhere more strongly in Western Europe than in Spain.

Catalonia's national day in September was marked by the tumultuous visit of Lithuanian and Slovenian guests of honor; the Basque country has been rocked by a new round of separatist violence; and other Spanish regions are clamoring for a quicker decentralization of powers. Resulting jitters within the national government of President Felipe Gonzalez have colored Spain's approach to the the European Community and such issues as the civil war in Yugoslavia.

Wariness over any quick recognition of the Baltic states earlier this year turned to outright opposition to recognizing the breakaway Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia, for fear of fanning flames back home.

Yet most analysts across Spain say that while the summer's independence fervor was to be expected with the mushrooming of nationalist movements across Europe, there are few if any signs that independence campaigns are taking hold. One reason, they note, is that the euphoria of the Baltics' independence has been shattered by the horror of Yugoslavia's civil war.

Here in Catalonia, for example, pro-independence political parties steadily receive less than 5 percent of the vote - a figure analysts believe will change little in future elections.

As for the Basque country, its ruling Basque PNV party supports autonomy and rejects violent separation while militant separatists have dwindled to a small, but still deadly, minority. Many analysts now more frequently compare Basque separatists to Italy's Mafia than to a legitimate political movement.

After the latest in a string of Basque-separatist car bombs killed the toddler-son of a police officer in November, youths in the Basque capital of Bilbao organized a large anti-violence demonstration - a potent symbol of the region's rejection of violence and of the separatists' tactics.

Far from seeing Spanish regionalism as a drawback,political leaders and some analysts consider it a primary factor in the country's continuing dynamism, an essential ingredient in the high growth rates that made Spain Europe's economic miracle during the eighties.

As a relatively young democracy where regionalism stands as one of the very top domestic issues, Spain may serve as something of a model for Eastern Europe's nascent democracies con- fronting their own diverse populations, some analysts believe. …