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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Espanya ens Roba! The Origins of the Discourse of Fiscal Plundering in Catalonia

Ethnic Conflict
Social Welfare
Emmanuel Dalle Mulle
University of Geneva
Emmanuel Dalle Mulle
University of Geneva

In recent years, demands for independence in Catalonia have been strongly predicated upon the argument that Spanish redistribution imposes a disproportionate and unfair fiscal burden on the north-eastern Spanish region. This imbalance, often referred to by local actors as espoli fiscal (fiscal plundering), is deemed to be the result of a deliberate discrimination on the part of the Spanish state. It also potently draws on the representation of the Catalan nation as endowed with an extraordinary work-ethos, frugality, and entrepreneurship that is deemed to explain its higher prosperity and socio-economic development as compared to the rest of Spain. This narrative plays a key role in justifying the Catalan nationalist rejection of state solidarity on the basis of considerations of welfare deservingness and relating to the supposedly (in)efficient and (in)effective use of the resources extracted from the region—which are deemed to further dependency in poorer regions to the advantage of Spanish clientelist parties and to be squandered by the Spanish central administration and corrupt politicians. This paper thus inquires into the historical construction of the argument of the espoli fiscal and the cultural-determinist explanation of socio-economic development that has accompanied and legitimised it. While cultural stereotypes representing the Catalans as hard-workers—and other Spaniards, notably Castillians and Andalusians, as lazy—trace back to the onset of the industrial revolution in the region in the second half of the 19th century (Llobera, 2004), the current arguments of economic victimisation arose only between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s (Alimbau, 1995). Relying on a constructivist understanding of national identity (Greenfeld, 1992; Calhoun, 1997; Brubaker, 2004) and on social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978), the paper thus looks at how the Catalan collective Self was (re)-interpreted in the 1975-1990 period against the background of Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, the devolution of far-reaching cultural and economic powers to regional institutions, and the establishment of a modern welfare state. To avoid ‘ideational functionalism’, the paper will look at three specific sets of actors that are likely to have contributed to the re-formulation of the Catalan identity and the formation of the arguments of fiscal victimisation seen above: economists working on the economic relationship between Catalonia and the rest of the country; political parties (nationalist and non-nationalist), who contributed to the spread and politicisation of specific representations of the Flemish nation; and local newspapers, as proxies for more popular discourses about socio-economic development and cultural narratives.
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