At first sight the Imaginary Kingdom of Tabarnia may be funny and subversive, (of course there’s less support for Independence on the industrial Catalan coast due to ”immigration” from other parts). But at second glance it’s another maneuver by the far right to sabotage the relatively progressive independence movement.
The December 21 election in Catalonia produced some striking results and accentuated the deepening polarisation in the region. In the middle of what the pro-independence camp called a “Spanish occupation”, with the region’s autonomy practically repealed, the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont forced into self-exile in Belgium and some Catalan legislators sent to prison, those who support Catalonia’s independence from Spain still managed to maintain a slim majority in the regional parliament after the snap election.
Also, anti-secessionist parties obtained an even higher percentage of the votes in both the province of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and in the neighbouring province of Tarragona. All this fuelled the unionists’ frustration and provided them with an opportunity to exploit the situation – they decided, it seems, to appeal to a not-so-funny joke in order to argue their case and delegitimise the opposition’s significant electoral victory. A not-so-funny joke
In June 2017, an obscure political “movement” called Platform for Barcelona’s Autonomy came up with the term “Tabarnia”, to define Tarragona and Barcelona, the two provinces of Catalonia in which the support for the independence movement is lower compared with the rest of the region, and started arguing that if Catalonia eventually declares independence from Spain, the fictitious region of Tabarnia should separate from the rest of Catalonia and remain Spanish.
The idea did not attract much attention initially, as everyone was focused on the ongoing political crisis. But after the election in December, “Tabarnia” became a prominent unionist talking point. Even some mainstream anti-secessionist politicians started referring to this fictional region in an attempt to belittle the independence movement they failed to defeat in the election.
“Tabarnia reflects the contradictions within the independence movement and demonstrates the fragility of their arguments,” Ines Arimadas, the leader of the Citizens Party, said in a tweet. “It is significant how it made some people very nervous.”
Unionists like Arimadas claim that this “joke” demonstrates the supposed fragility of the independence movement, because it forces proponents of Catalonia’s secession from Spain to contradict themselves.
If Catalonia secedes from Spain, they say, in line with the current secessionist discourse, Tabarnia should also be allowed to hold its own referendum and separate itself from the new state of Catalonia. After claiming they have a right to hold a referendum to separate from Spain, they ask, would Catalan secessionists dare deny the same right to “Tabarnians”?Tabarnia is clearly a provocation, and not even a very intelligent one at that. It trivialises the notion of identity, treating it as if it is something as pedestrian as changing clothes. The notion of the Catalan nation and the Catalan identity emerged as result of a complex historical, political and cultural process and the Catalan independence movement grew over decades (if not centuries) of debates, tensions and conflicts.
Therefore, the Catalan struggle for independence can not, under any circumstances, be equated to a satirical movement concocted by a small group of people with ties to far-right organisations.
The movement for Tabarnia’s independence, indeed, has some very controversial names among its supporters. For example, the movement’s spokesman, journalist Jaume Vives, is famous for posting on twitter phrases like “Islam and Gender Ideology are the main instruments of Satan in our times.”
Vives’ support for the movement should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the history of the Platform for Barcelona’s Autonomy. This movement was born out of the association Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), a unionist organisation with close ties to the Spanish far right, including parties claiming to be the heirs of General Francisco Franco, such as the Spanish Falange de las JONS. Demonstrations organised by the SCC are always crowded with illegal Francoist and Fascist symbols.
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