Fernando Savater’s Contra el separatismo is like a breathe of fresh air in a Catalonia marked by years of frustration, hate, manipulation, falsehood, and a scary nationalism.

Savater is a Spanish philosopher and prolific writer, who examines ethical issues. His writing usually covers topics in an existential way; for instance, he explored what makes a life worth living.

Recently, he published a small pamphlet, Contra el separatismo (Eng. Against Separatism). This was a collection of articles that he had published over the last few months in El Pais, La Cronica and La Republica. Most of the articles could probably be found on the Internet, so the necessity of a book is debatable. However, its errand is undoubtedly needed.

The objective of the book is to describe separatism in Catalonia, which is thought to be an increasingly problematic region in Spain since October.

Savater opened his pamphlet with an essay clarifying the difference between nationalism, which he considers to be a “collective narcissism,” and separatism. Nationalism can be either kind or pathologically aggressive. Normally, when we refer to nationalism, we don’t think of special national dishes or sports but something more sinister and dangerous. The Catalan separatists are nationalistic much in the same way that Albert Camus once described a German friend “as someone who loved his country too much.”

Still, Savater stresses that Catalonia is not simply an example of nationalism. It’s even worse. It’s separatism, which is characterized by a hatred towards anything Spanish. This must sound rather harsh for outsiders to hear. However, based on my own experiences while living almost ten years in Barcelona, I must admit that Savater is precise in his diagnosis. Hatred does exist. Some of it comes was frustration, lack of recognition, and some of it is, unfortunately, deliberately passed on from one generation to the next.

Let me emphasize that this hatred exists among the Catalan separatists, but not among all Catalans. Many Catalans view themselves as Spanish. However, the separatists have dominated the public dialogue due to the depth of their hatred. Luckily this seems to be changing as more and more people are able to see a more accurate picture of Catalonia. Additionally, more people are finding the courage to speak out against the separatists’ hateful rhetoric.

Savater writes, “Separatism is not a political opinion or a romantic dream, like nationalism; rather it’s a deliberate aggression, calculated and coordinated against the democratic institutions.” They only focus on their own needs. For example, the former Catalan president Puigdemont implies that he is speaking on behalf of all Catalans even though his viewpoints do not align with more than half of the Catalan population based on the results of the election. Furthermore, the Catalan separatists characterize themselves as victims of the Spanish state. For example, when the Spanish government criticized the Catalan schools in regards to indoctrination practices and the improper use of some teachers’ power over students, the Catalans school spoke about being violated. Rather than critically investigating and reflecting on whether wrongdoings really had taken place, they chose instead to play the victim. I would say that the Catalan separatists are known for a complete inability or an unwillingness to self-reflect.

Savater continues saying, “The devil is, etymologically, the separator, dia-bolum, the one who disconnect and destroys the established bonds. The task of the devil is anti-humanism par excellence, separate those who live together by obeying them to detest one another … painfully discord their hearts.” Again, I believe he is right when I reflect on my experiences. Everything has been reduced to either black or white over the last few months. This is especially true if you’re among the separatists, who often have no decorum when sharing their opinions. It is as if they can’t imagine that anyone would disagree with them.

Furthermore, Savater mentions that the Catalan separatists seem to excel in post-truth. For example, the fact of having an emotion depends on what the persons’s beliefs are, not whether these beliefs are true or false. Puigdemont excels in playing with emotional statements in order to establish and control certain beliefs by awaking certain emotions, for example, hate and mistrust. In the eyes of Aristoteles, Puigdemont is an irresponsible leader because he doesn’t care about the truth, only his political objective. Some other emotional claims made by the Catalan separatist are that they have compared themselves with Kosovo or Tibet, and have suggested that Puigdemont is a martyr like Nelson Mandela. Of course, this only shows their total ignorance and a lack of respect. Mandela fought heroically and inspired others to fight against a racist-regime. He fought to heal his country and to bring black and white people together. I assume that the separatists’ hatred blinds them to notice the clear differences between Puigdemont and Mandela. At times, living in Catalonia is like being part of an absurd theater.

Savater touches upon many things even though the text is short. He mentions how the Catalan separatists have tried to use the Catalan language as a racial marker. He points out how the education system usually is the first priority for every democracy. Of course, at this point, he could emphasize that the only reason why the Catalan school has been able to indoctrinate its students is because the Spanish government has neglected Catalan schools for so long. The problem, however, is not that the Catalans want to protect and cultivate their language and culture; rather when this care becomes exclusive and mean toward what is Spanish.

Apropos the educational system, then it is scary to meet young people in Catalonia who are not aware that the Spanish Civil War was a war where all of Spain was fighting Franco, not just the Catalans. Many young people in Catalonia are not aware that the last city to fall to Franco was Madrid, for example. It is also scary to witness the hatred towards Spain and everything Spanish, from language to football jerseys and even a refusal to travel around in Spain. I have met grown-ups who claim that all Spanish people are fascist. Parents don’t want their children to speak Spanish even though many other parents elsewhere would love their children to master two languages.

Savater also addresses the Catalan media. He argues that EITB, TV3, Catalunya Ràdio are manipulative and indoctrinating. Even the children programs on TV3 try to manipulate the children. How it is that parents accept this is beyond my imagination.

Savater lists seven reasons why separatism should be fought and prevented in the future:

  1. It’s antidemocratic.
  2. It’s reactionary in its beliefs in one land, one ethnic identity, and one language.
  3. It’s antisocial.
  4. It’s ruining the economy.
  5. It’s destabilizing
  6. It creates bitterness and frustrations.
  7. It creates dangerous precedents.

In a modern democracy, all citizens should be equal regardless of their birthplace, language, gender, skin color, their religion or philosophy. All of these qualities or characteristics are relevant to your personal biography, Savater says, but they should not give you extra influence as a citizen. In a democracy, all people have the same rights. In a democratic state, there are no Catalans, Spanish, or Danish people just like there are no white, black or Hispanic people. There are no homosexual or lesbians either. In the eyes of a democratic government, these identities are not relevant. People are all just people. Unless, of course, you’re a Catalan separatist.

Against separatism is an important pamphlet despite its short length. Mainly because the intellectuals in Spain, including the artists, have been neglecting or ignorant about the Catalan and Spanish problem for too long. The politicians could look toward Nelson Mandela as a role model and help to initiate the reconciliation process. Heal the country with compassion.

Also, I believe that artists can change how we see things, can help us to better understand differences. Art can open up our minds. It is their responsibility to shake our old habits and to assist in our growth. Nurture empathy and compassion. This is needed in Spain where the wounds from the civil war are still present. There is an explicit hatred existing among some, not all, Catalans towards the rest of Spain. Savater has illustrated that he has the knowledge and the courage to address this. I would embrace his pamphlet even for this reason alone.

With this publication, Savater has made it possible for me to focus on more gratifying issues than the exhausting political situation in Catalonia. For that I’m grateful.

Contra el separatismo