Javier Sánchez García
With the case of Junts Pel Sí (an electoral coalition based on the prioritary goal of achiving Catalonia’s independence) showing that many unusual political characteristics, we come back to our near past to check out a similar experience (and one quite different, too) in the south of Europe: Lega Nord trying Padania’s independence from Italy in the 1990s. Our thesis is based on two pairs of similarities and differences between both cases -related to three schools of voting interpretation.
Growth of a distinguished political identity in Catalonia and in Padania.
In Catalonia, it has mostly consisted of a traditional nationalist feeling (supported by an own language).
In Padania, it was artificially created during the rising of the regional feeling of the north, following a logic of “catch-it-all” party.
Michigan school (psychological)
Denounce of inefficient policies in Spain and Italy stoping socioeconomic progress in Catalonia and Padania.
In Catalonia, an authoritarian state perpetuates unfair inequalities from the past, working as an impediment to social autonomy.
In Padania, a centralist state, heir of the Italian unification, perpetuates an unfair taxation system and the corrupt culture of the south.
Rational choice theory (political economy) and Columbia school (sociological)1
We can settle a common background for the two cases. Both are located in the traditionally poor south of Europe, where industralization was spreaded by focuses, led from above by the richest classes and the richest regions.
In Italy, this process produced “localist and even parochial values of small-scale capitalism” (A. Bull, M. Gilbert, 2001) and, after a period of intense economic expansion in the 1980s, the mood of people in these areas was fed up by a “mixture of nostalgia for a rural and idealized past and fear for what the future might bring”: skepticism about EU dependence and need of something else after industrial prosperity can explain the attitude of Lega Nord and the party’s speech (íd.).
On the other hand, Junts Pel Sí is the product of a reborn Catalonian nationalism brought back after the 2008 economic crisis and the 2010 TC judgment denying Catalonia’s status as a “nation”. It’s conformed of former pro-1978 Spanish Constitution parties PDeCat and ERC, that lost faith in the Spanish state model around 2012 and stopped colaborating with “centralist” parties.
Both Lega Nord and Junts Pel Sí have gotten as far as declaring Padania’s and Catalonia’s independences (in 1996 and in 2017, respectively), but we know their ends might be very different. Lega Nord became allies with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia for the 1994 elections and, except for a brief period of time, has defended an Italian nationalist ideology that nowadays is as xenophobic as it can get. It’s seems impossible to imagine neather PDeCat nor ERC allying themselves with Partido Popular for government bussiness, but future will tell.
We can find evidence of the similarities and the differences of Lega Nord and Junts Pel Sí.
As we have established before, the first process of industrialization in Italy and Spain already defined current conflicts within these countries’ bourgeoisie. The agrarian north in Italy led industrialization and was followed by the “latifundista” south in the project of acummulating commercial and financial capital (Vázquez Baquero, 1980). In Spain, Catalonian and Basque bourgeoisie confronted national-traditional bourgeoisie about how the right industrialization should take place (íd.). Since then, when thinking about nationalist movements led by middle-class parties, socioeconomic factors have always been a reason. Lega Nord and Junts Pel Sí voters have shared a common feeling of disaffection about globalization and new ways of distributing money, justice and power in society -and this might be their most evident relationship. The hope of a more prosper, closer-to-them state has dinamited the rising of these feelings, in both cases.
However, their identities were created differently. Junts Pel Sí usually refer to old values in their interventions, as ERC keeping the traditional speech and symbology of a progressive party (Welfare State, social justice, equality of opportunities…) (E. Juliana, 10-23-2008). Same can be said about former CiU, that changed its measures but not quiet its values. Therefore, its Catalonian nationalism is one of a long trajectory, that has been reanimated with political and social events ocurring during the last decade -and, mainly, during the 2011-2017 PP government. When Lega Nord bloomed during the 1990s, his success was caused by its “catch-it-all” techniques: votes from left and right electorate, Catholics, autonomous, comercials, entrepeneurs, were captured by Lega Nord, and were used in the building of the Padania’s identity. It’s important to underline that, by the time Lega Nord appeared, there wasn’t a closed feeling of community in the north of Italy opposite to the south. Reivindications about an own language didn’t exist (and they were never really a key point about Padania). The extraordinary maleability of identitary phenomena was shown when a distinguished bag of voters reivindicated the regional sentiments that Lega Nord was claiming (Thual, 1997). Before that, Padania wasn’t even a bourgeois concept, and was not defined at all: nowadays, we can tell that it consists of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, Emilia, Liguria, Marche, Romagna, Umbria, Friuli, Trentino, the South Tyrol, Venezia Giulia and the Aosta Valley.
Catalonian and Padanian nationalisms also share a common demand of fiscal justice. According to Hacienda’s data from 2014, Catalonia (9892 million of euros) was second to Madrid in fiscal deficit. The fiscal system argument has been a key one during the spreading of the secessionist speech.
Junts Pel Sí’s alternative to this “disloyalty by the state to Catalonia”, founded on its “hostility” to Catalonian people (according to JxSí’s electoral program), has been reinforced by events on September 20th 2017 and the 1-O referendum: the seccesionist way seems the only one available for many people now, and own resources in Catalonia are asked to be controlled by the very people in Catalonia.
The same fiscal arguments work for 1990s Lega Nord’s speech. Behind the slogan of “Roma ladrona”, they related the state’s malaise and misgovernment with the southern, corrupted culture that was imposed to them after the Italian unification and that remain still (A. Bull, M, Gilbert, 2001). However, Lega Nord’s solution wasn’t always the independence of Padania; a very strong federation, that in fact could make them independent from the south, would be enough. Fiscal federalism has been -since- a major topic in their interventions.
To conclude, we need to adress the effects of both nationalist movements in the long term. In Italy, Lega Nord was an important part in the promotion of a federalist culture since the 1990s. Recently, a referendum took place in Veneto and Lombardy, with a popular claim of more autonomy (especially fiscal). We should wait for a similar move in many regions whether Catalonia is constituted as a recognized independent state or is reincorporated as a whole to the Spanish system. This could cause a severe damaging (or the end) to our centralized culture.
Bibliography and references:
- 2015 Junts Pel Sí electoral program, available at: http://juntspelsi.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/150905_Programa_electoral_v1.pdf
- Bull, A.; Gilbert, M. (2001), The Lega Nord and the Politics of Secession in Italy (Palgrave Macmillan UK).
- Juliana, E., <<La Lega Nord y Esquerra Republicana>> (La Vanguardia, 10-23-2008, available at: http://www.lavanguardia.com/editorial/20080523/54058906797/la-lega-nord-y-esquerra-republicana.html
- Thual, F. (1997), Els conflictes identitaries (Editorial Afers).
- Vázquez Baquero, A. (1980), Industrialización y acumulación de capital en las penínsulas del sur de Europa (UAM, 1980).
 We joined both schools of thinking after concluding that political economy and sociological reasons for voting are extremely related in nationalist emancipatory arguments: if a voter believes that he is a part of a community consisting of a delimitated nation -and not a bigger state including some other regions-, it’s logical for him to also believe that taxation and retributions are meant to be changed, in order for his nation’s sovereign to decide his economic well-being.
 It was first used by Communist leader Guido Fanti, in 1975 available at: https://www.miglioverde.eu/la-padania-ecco-cosa-e-e-cosa-non-e/
 Data found at http://www.elperiodico.com/es/economia/20170907/hacienda-eleva-deficit-fiscal-catalunya-9900-millones-6270308 and https://www.datosmacro.com/pib/espana-comunidades-autonomas?anio=2014
 Forty-one high posts of the Govern were arrested by the police, and social marches has asked since then to the Spanish authorities for their liberation information available at: http://www.expansion.com/catalunya/2017/09/20/59c262b3268e3ee0058b459d.html