Tabarnia: The anti-independence group which wants to secede from Catalonia

This picture from the Tabarnia website shows the territory it wishes to claim

This picture from the Tabarnia website shows the territory it wishes to claim

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, although Catalonia's separatist faction will probably not see it that way.

Loyalists in the restive Spanish region have created their own group, demanding independence from Catalonia and the creation of a new region called Tabarnia. The group parodies the Catalan independence movement at every turn, while spreading a message of defiance which is sure to infuriate those who want to break from Madrid.

The movement spreads from a more established campaign group, Barcelona is not Catalonia, whose name was a play on the refrain "Catalonia is not Spain", regularly cited by separatists. Its proponents say they want to create a new region out of what is now Tarragona and Barcelona, to isolate themselves from "the separatist threat."

The choice of territories is deliberate: of the four provinces which make up Catalonia, the recent regional elections showed far more support for independence in Girona and Lleida than Barcelona and Tarragona. According to El Pais, the dfference is nearly 20 points between Lleida and Barcelona - the most international city in Catalonia, with a large percentage of migrants from other parts of Spain.

According to the Tabarnia website, the achievement of autonomy for Barcelona and its "area of influence" would allow the achievement of three key objectives. The new region would be able to more effectively manage the resources that Barcelona generates (an obvious challenge to the independence movement, which claims Spain is draining Catalonia's resources); to recover the historical sovereignty of the county of Barcelona (again, a deliberate inversion of the pro-independence message that Barcelona has its own unique history); and to remain in Spain.

The movement has been bubbling away since June, but it has really gained traction since Catalonia declared independence in October. Although the independence movement has now been repelled, tensions remain high, with pro-secession parties poised to form a new governing coalition in the regional Parliament.

Heavyweight politicians are now taking Tabarnia seriously. On December 26 Albert Rivera, national leader of the loyalist Ciudadanos party, tweeted the proposed map of the new region with the message: "If the nationalists cite the non-existent right to divide [the country] anyone can do it. I prefer diversity and union." Tabarnia soon became a trending topic, with its proponents claiming it had been the subject of 648,000 tweets.

Buoyed by this backing, the movement itself is now getting serious. This week it held a press conference to announce its new president, theatre director Albert Boadella, a leading opponent of Franco during the Falange era who is now fiercely critical of Catatalan separatism. The 74-year-old gave his victory speech via video link, projecting himself as a leader in exile just like independence figurehead Carles Puigdemont.

Boadella, who moved from Barcelona to Madrid in 2007 claiming separatists had boycotted his work, said he could not attend in person "because the usurpers of feelings, of money, of institutions, of clubs and of flags, have made this territory unbreathable for the lovers of the liberty and good humour."

Fellow figurehead Jaume Vives struck a bullish tone during his own speech at the event, saying: “We will go as far as the secessionists have gone. Tabarnia will become secessionism’s nightmare just as they have become ours.

"We are a side-effect of the process. We are multicultural, free, Spanish and European.”

Up until now, Tabarnia has been as much a pastiche as a movement in its own right, an ironic counter-argument rather than an actual, physical organisation. Satire and humour have informed the group's actions from day one. It's all been, well, a bit of a laugh.

But now the group's tone is hardening, channelling the energy of social media into determined physical form. Until now it's been a distraction for the main actors, the people demanding a break from Madrid. Now it wants to rip up the script and rewrite it, setting Catalonia on a very different course.