“The Balkans showed us how these things end up: we don’t want to see that happening again”

This argument is based on the idea that any conflict that has to do with the national question will lead to a civil war and ethnic cleansing, but there are hardly any similarities between the Balkan conflict and that of Catalonia and Spain.

Historically the Balkans have been a crossroads between the Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. There are several religions — Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Islam… — and other minorities, such as the Roma people. And while there are areas with a greater presence of one nationality, culture or religion than others, all are mixed up. There are towns and cities with different majorities and minorities very close to each other. That is why the attempts to create more or less homogeneous nation-states in the Balkans have always involved war and ethnic cleansing.

The situation in Catalonia is very different. A recent survey reported in the newspaper El País —no friend of Catalan independence — showed that a mere 3% of the population of Catalonia felt only Spanish; another 5% felt “more Spanish than Catalan”; 90% felt equally or more Catalan than Spanish. In short, these figures show that in Catalonia there is a very strong sense of belonging to the country, blended with a quite widespread feeling of Spanish identity.

In recent years, Catalonia has become a much more diverse country, with many people from different parts of the world, both from other European countries and from all five continents. This has enriched the country culturally, but in no way has it brought social fragmentation.

In Catalonia today, the majority of people have plural identities —combining national feelings for Catalonia, Spain and a hundred or more other countries from around the world. But alongside that there is a broad consensus around the fact that the country we live in is Catalonia.

The Balkan tragedy was the product of a mosaic complex of national identities, driven into confrontation by unscrupulous politicians.

A similar violent outcome is not at all likely in Catalonia. To make it completely impossible, we must stop giving free reign to unscrupulous politicians and open a dialogue on how to respond to the democratic demands of the people of Catalonia.

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