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Review of Hargreaves (2000) Freedom for Catalonia?

August 8, 2010

HARGREAVES, John, Freedom for Catalonia? Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity, and the Barcelona Olympic Games, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Reviewed by Dr Montserrat Roser i Puig, University of Kent at Canterbury

John Hargreaves’ monograph on the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games offers a refreshing opportunity to look at the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, this time through the study of the role of sport in the resurgence of nationalism. As stated by the author in the foreword, his intention was to show how the Games ‘raised the tension that already existed between Catalonia and Spain, from the time they were awarded to Barcelona until they opened’ and the result does justice to this aim. It is a sociological study of the symbols of the nation and the state and of the ritual practices celebrating the different national identities -something which has always been at the very core of the Olympics. Hargreaves starts by studying the connection between sport and nationalism and reminding us of sport’s particular suitability in providing opportunities to display qualities such as courage, aggression, loyalty, etc. which are seen as representative of a nation and perceived as essential for its survival. He then proceeds to describe the historical relationship between Catalonia and Spain establishing a division between ethnic and civic nationalism and, after a very brief summary of the key stages of development of Catalan nationalism in the context of a virtually non-existent Spanish one, reaching the provocative conclusion that ‘Catalan nationalism incorporates strong elements of ethnic nationalism’ where ‘language is the primary ethnic marker’. This is followed by an analysis of the links between olympism and nationalism according to which the case of Barcelona becomes a clear example of how the political and economic power of olympism can actually stimulate nationalism rather than hamper it. […]

Hargreaves admits his surprise at the difference between the results obtained in his study and those he had originally expected. Contrary to globalisation theories, Catalan self-awareness was stimulated; no sacrifice of national identity was made for the sake of economic gain and, early on in the games, Spain accepted Barcelona and Catalonia as the real beneficiaries of the 1992 Olympics and took the blow without resentment.

See full review…

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