Journal of Catalan Studies/Revista Internacional de Catalanisme

[Ressenyes / Reviews]

Freedom for Catalonia? Catalan Nationalism

HARGREAVES, John, Freedom for Catalonia? Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity, and the Barcelona Olympic Games, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-58615-1 PB, 14.95, ISBN 0-521-58426-4 HB, 40.00.
Dr Montserrat Roser i Puig
University of Kent at Canterbury

John Hargreaves' monograph on the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games offers a refreshing opportunity to look at the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, this time through the study of the role of sport in the resurgence of nationalism. As stated by the author in the foreword, his intention was to show how the Games 'raised the tension that already existed between Catalonia and Spain, from the time they were awarded to Barcelona until they opened' and the result does justice to this aim. It is a sociological study of the symbols of the nation and the state and of the ritual practices celebrating the different national identities -something which has always been at the very core of the Olympics. Hargreaves starts by studying the connection between sport and nationalism and reminding us of sport's particular suitability in providing opportunities to display qualities such as courage, aggression, loyalty, etc. which are seen as representative of a nation and perceived as essential for its survival. He then proceeds to describe the historical relationship between Catalonia and Spain establishing a division between ethnic and civic nationalism and, after a very brief summary of the key stages of development of Catalan nationalism in the context of a virtually non-existent Spanish one, reaching the provocative conclusion that 'Catalan nationalism incorporates strong elements of ethnic nationalism' where 'language is the primary ethnic marker'. This is followed by an analysis of the links between olympism and nationalism according to which the case of Barcelona becomes a clear example of how the political and economic power of olympism can actually stimulate nationalism rather than hamper it. Once the background is set there follows a detailed description of the two simultaneous campaigns - one to Catalanise and the other to Espaolise the games - which dominated the run up to the 1992 Olympics. In fact, Hargreaves argues that while both the Spanish state and the Catalan nation saw the games as a matter of national prestige, Catalonia also saw them as an opportunity to remedy its relationship with the centre, that is, as a chance of getting Catalan tax money back from central government. The deployment of nationalist symbols (flags, anthems, personalities, dances, cultural displays, language, etc.) during the 2-week proceedings, as witnessed by Hargreaves himself, is carefully documented prior to the identification and description of the key factors in the conflict between Catalonia and Spain's competing interests. The result, according to the author, was one of perfect balance. At this point the wider issue of how Catalanisation failed to be diminished by internationalism is addressed. In Hargreave's view, Catalonia's desire to legitimise itself externally beyond the confines of Spain was fulfilled by making use of the EEC as a counterweight to the host state. The final part of the book brings all these issues to the fore by analysing the outcomes and their relevance in the ongoing relationship between Spain and Catalonia. This is done in a typically comprehensive way including results and interpretations of several surveys. The author's ultimate aim is answering the question: what does the outcome reveal about the state of relations between Catalonia and Spain, the nature of Catalan nationalism and the state of Spain's democracy? In this context, the role of the security forces is described and evaluated as are the gains made by both Catalonia and Spain in terms of enhancement of international prestige, strengthening of Spanish national integration and economic growth. Hargreaves admits his surprise at the difference between the results obtained in his study and those he had originally expected. Contrary to globalisation theories, Catalan self-awareness was stimulated; no sacrifice of national identity was made for the sake of economic gain and, early on in the games, Spain accepted Barcelona and Catalonia as the real beneficiaries of the 1992 Olympics and took the blow without resentment. Freedom for Catalonia? gives plenty to discuss, especially if one wishes to compare its findings and conclusions with the autochthonous reports published at the time of the celebrations. It is a very stimulating piece of research and a good appraisal of a memorable event.