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
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
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
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. …