Tabarnia: A Separatist Parody That Gets Too Much Attention

A proposal to split Catalonia’s cities from its more separatist hinterland does little to heal divisions.

Barcelona flag
Flag of Barcelona, Spain, September 17, 2013 (Fredrik Rubensson)

Relatively low support for independence on Catalonia’s Mediterranean coast has caused some to wonder: why not split the cities of Barcelona and Tarragona from the rest of the region?

Spanish media like 20 minutos, El Confidencial, El Mundo, El País, Libertad Digital and La Razón — eager to belittle Catalan nationalism — have given the tongue-in-cheek proposal, dubbed Tabarnia, disproportionate attention.

So have Catalan unionists, including Inés Arrimadas, leader of the regional Citizens party, and Albert Rivera, her national party chief.

It is not entirely without merit. Rural Catalonia is more separatist than cosmopolitan Barcelona and its suburbs.

But a closer analysis of the most recent election results by the pro-independence outlet El Nacional reveals that the region is more evenly split than the unionists would care to admit.

Evenly split

In only three of the ten counties that would comprise an independent Tabarnia did unionists win more than half the votes. In another three did they best the separatists but fall short of a majority. Pro-independence parties won more votes in the remaining four.

Arrimadas’ Citizens did place first in the nine counties around Barcelona and Tarragona as well as the Aran Valley in the northwest.

But what matters is the balance between the blocs. That is unchanged: almost half the Catalans want independence, the other half do not.

The Citizens didn’t change any minds. They cannibalized other pro-Spanish parties whereas separatist voters split their support between a center-left and a center-right party.

A third way

The solution cannot be to carve up Catalonia in such a way that areas where 51 percent of the population want to break away from Spain end up in a new republic whereas counties with only 49 percent support for independence remain Spanish.

Catalonia is too evenly divided to change its borders in any way. What it needs is a third option: an alternative to secession and the status quo.

Mocking the aspirations of the millions of Catalans who want their own state does nothing to help bring about such a compromise. It only hardens attitudes.