I came to Barcelona because of George Orwell. His Homage to Catalonia was until then the only source of information I had and I admired the vision of republicanism and anarchism that so attracted him, even though he saw it all subverted by factionalism and larger geopolitical concerns. Last year the Irish government convened a large number of overseas Irish business executives for a two-day brain-storming session to come up with innovative ideas for getting the badly damaged Irish economy back on track. The word they repeated most often was “culture”. They said Ireland was known around the world for its writers, musicians, actors and film-makers, and that the image of Ireland as a home for creativity put us on the map. They insisted that the government put more money into promoting culture rather than seeing the arts as one of the areas most susceptible to budget cuts. Unfortunately, the government did not follow their advice.
The question of how to establish Catalonia as a brand name around the world comes up often. The English language distinguishes between “brand name” and “trademark”. A “brand” implies loyalty to a specific product rather than just a name that identifies a product. Different Catalan governments have used various strategies to promote Catalonia outside of Spain: casals catalans , unofficial embassies, foreign trade offices (COPCA), activities sponsored by the Ramon Llull Institute and participation in book fairs. Even so, Barcelona (rather than Catalonia) is best known around the world for the Olympic Games and F.C. Barcelona, as well as Antoni Gaudí and Ferran Adrià. Globalisation accelerates the movement of capital and goods around the world –and of peoples. Immigration --which could also be described as the importation of other countries’ unemployment-- has been seen as a threat to Catalan identity because immigrants might use Castilian Spanish rather than Catalan as their ordinary working language. The immigrants who come to Catalonia from around the world today are different from those who came from other parts of Spain in the past because very many new immigrants do not have Castilian as their mother tongue. The dominant paradigm for dealing with the threat to the Catalan language by immigration has been an “us versus them” mentality in which “we” speak Catalan and “they” speak Castilian. This paradigm is not so easily applicable to immigrants from South Asia or East Asia who speak Urdu or Chinese, nor to North Africans whose speak Amazigh first and then Arabic, before Spanish, or Andeans whose mother tongues are Amerindian languages, or Sub-Saharan Africans.
The “Castilian versus Catalan” paradigm exhibits some of the symptoms of “postcolonialism”, the process whereby peoples who were colonised culturally as well as militarily, politically and economically attempt to recover their plundered past by revealing the wrongs done to them by their colonisers and the glories of the past that was taken away from them, and by redefining themselves by contrast with their colonisers. The danger here is that as long as their new identity depends on comparison and contrast with their oppressors, they will never acquire an identity that is fully their own. Perhaps instead of trying to insulate Catalonia from cosmopolitan influences we should take advantage of that very cosmopolitanism to export Catalonia to the rest of the world. As Bernat Masferrer of Casa Asia has explained, the second most popular location for Indian tourism is Switzerland because a famous “Bollywood” film was made there. He has also suggested that the organisation of a cricket tournament between India and Pakistan in Barcelona, or between either one of them and England, would put Catalonia on the map definitively --for a combined market of much more than a thousand million people-- at a very modest cost. Josep Maria Samaranch of the Club d’Amics de la Unesco de Barcelona , among others, has proposed in the past that an effort be made to help the children of immigrants from Asia retain their mother tongues in return for their parents and grandparents learning Catalan. Since all children here are schooled in Catalan that would mean that in a decade or so there would be thousands of Catalans who also spoke Chinese or Urdu or other major world languages. Since they would also belong to transnational networks or Diasporas, they would also improve Catalan foreign trade and attract foreign direct investment as well as tourism.
Postcolonial studies are an important academic discipline today but it is difficult to find an example of a former colony that has become post-postcolonial, that has matured beyond the stage of defining itself by contrast to a former metropolis --a process that keeps it linked to that metropolis-- and become able to define itself freely among all of the nations of the earth. The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger did move from defining itself by constant reference to the United Kingdom to feeling itself to be independent and free among all the other nations. Sovereign debt and global financial problems have hemmed in that freedom and independence but Ireland no longer looks to Britain for the source of its problems or for the framework for its identity. I do not know what George Orwell might think of Catalonia today, but he might agree that the soft power of culture and sport puts places on the map.