Spain’s triumph in Euro 2008 has again raised issues of ‘national unity’, regional vs national identity, separatism and so on. I knew that the moment the final whistle went and Torres’ magic goal gave Spain the Holy Grail of European football, the issue of unity would be brought up by our better newspapers and the BBC, the same way it did when France won the 1998 World Cup. The Guardian today has published an article called Political fútbol from Spanish newspaper El Mundo, in which Victor de la Serna hopes that the country will not break up into separate states such as Catalunya, the Basque Country or Galicia, idiotically stating that they “have never been independent states before, and therefore cannot claim the same type of historic legitimacy that can be brandished by, say, Scotland or Bavaria”. I must admit that I have never seen such shallow and idiotic arguments against nation-states and their formation. I do not believe in nation states myself, as they promote nationalism and extreme right-wing ideals of ‘purity’ and ‘superiority’. However, the argument that they cannot achieve independent political status because of a lack of ‘pedigree’ does not hold any more water than a paper bag. With holes.
And I explain: modern nationalist movements in Europe appeared in the 19th century and became the base of what we understand today as national identity and nation. The way national identity works is that people rally behind a certain set of ideals, which frequently claim historical pedigree but very often are based on very thin argumentation. Not all modern nations have pedigree, basically because there are infinitely more self-perceived nations than there can be pedigrees, or political states for that matter. Bosnia was always in a Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman or Habsburg sphere of influence. And yet it is a new nation, with a flag, national anthem and all the trimmings. The same goes for a number of other modern nations, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Kosovo, the list is endless. In addition, if we were to demand a form of historical evidence to support the right to independence, then 4/5 of the modern world would have to revert to a colonial state of being. Because we have no evidence of historical pedigree for ancient Africa, Oceania and of course America. But then again, perhaps the readers of El Mundo would support a movement to include South America back into a Castillan-led empire, such as in the ‘golden days’ of Philip II.
When the main partners of the EU support Kosovo’s move for independence, it is hypocritical to deny Catalans, Basques and Galicians the right to choose their own fate. Western Europe does not like it when Balkan-like troubles manifest themselves at its doorstep, they cramp its style and make it look slightly untidy and not as problem-free as they like to appear. It makes no sense. If a people have chosen to believe that they are different and deserve self-determination, they then have to try it and see for themselves. It’s a circle that needs to become complete, before we can then start letting this ‘superiority’ nonsense die down and come back to living together as humans once again. When self-determination is denied, it leads to extreme phenomena, as Spanish people will agree. Nationalism is a thinly veiled version of racism, xenophobia, prejudice and hatred. But oppressing national sentiment only serves to exacerbate these sentiments and make it harder for people to go about their daily business without having to choose sides.
Calls for ‘unity’ on the back of sporting events smack of 1970’s Chile and Argentina, or Greece and Portugal, where dictatorships boosted sport in an attempt to consolidate ‘national ideals’ and distract the populace from the more sinister aspects of ‘detainee management’. The mothers of the disappeared, relatives of people who were kidnapped, tortured and executed in the Dirty War in Argentina, serve a reminder to what ‘national unity’ represents. Football is political, there is no doubt about it. Sport becomes the focus of national sentiment, a sentiment which regimes exploited since antiquity and continue to exploit in our days. But the Guardian would do well to steer away from such idiotic ‘patriotic’ fanfares.