Hostage to Catalonia
Oct 5th 2012, 18:02 by G.T. | MADRID
IF Spain has become a noisy place, with protest against austerity now a daily event in some cities, the soccer match on October 7th between arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid threatens to be noisier still. Both sides will be roaring for goals from the likes of Barcelona’s Leo Messi or Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. But many fans at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium will also holler for independence for their Catalan homeland. “It will be very, very loud,” warned one senior local businessman.
FC Barcelona is fanning the separatist flame. It will hand out red and gold coloured placards to the 98,000 fans at the match so they can ring the pitch in a giant Catalan national senyera flag. Shouts for independence will be timed to coincide with the seventeenth minute and fourteenth second of each half – symbolically matching the year, 1714, when Catalans lost key rights.
The match also presents football-loving separatists with a quandary that neatly sums up many of the obstacles to Catalan independence. Many view FC Barcelona as a national Catalan team manqué even if Mr Messi is from Argentina and many other players are not Catalan. But should an independent Catalonia have its own soccer league? If so, should Barcelona, used to playing mighty Real Madrid and other well-financed, talented teams, join that new league? That would force the club to play poorly-financed local tiddlers and, probably, lose its position as a world soccer power (it has won the all-important European Champions League competition three times in the last seven seasons). The bi-annual clásico against Real Madrid with its reported 400m strong global TV audience would become history.
Sandro Rosell, the club chairman, may have joined the September 11th march in Barcelona that shot Catalan independence to the forefront of national debate, but he is clear about the club’s future. It must continue to play in the Spanish league, he says, even if Catalonia becomes independent. But would the Spanish league allow it to stay? Barcelona’s football club is not the only business that would have to make tough decisions if independence came. Others would also have to choose their new “home” market. Would it be Catalonia’s relatively well-off 7.5m residents? Or would they rather make their home among the remaining, not-as-rich 40m in Spain?
Barcelona proudly declares itself to be the capital of the world’s Spanish-speaking publishing business. José Manuel Lara, chairman of the giant Planeta publishing house, which each year hands out one of the world’s wealthiest literary prize, worth €601,000 ($783,000), has already said his company would go. It would be absurd to be based in a country that had a different language, Catalan, as its official tongue. Foreign investors already face a similar dilemma. Should they invest in Catalonia?
They do not know either whether they should invest in Spain, if a Catalan break-off is a threat to the country’s stability. Spanish executives and bankers already report that Catalonia is the first thing they are asked about when they travel abroad. Regional premier Artur Mas has called a snap election on November 25th. Many see this as a plebiscite on independence, though Mr Mas may try to water that down. Either way, the election obliges Catalonia’s often ambiguous politicians, especially Mr Mas’s nationalist Convergence and Union coalition, to define themselves on the independence issue. Anything less than absolute clarity risks adding to the uncertainty and pushing investors even further away.