Sub-state nationalism in Spain: primers and triggers of identity politics in Catalonia and the Basque Countryby Victor M. Olivieri

Ethnic and Racial Studies


Sociology and Political Science / Cultural Studies


Teaching by Closed-Circuit Television

The State University of Iowa

Support for state opting out and stateless national identity in the Basque Country

Joan Costa-Font, Ramon Tremosa-Balcells

Problems the market can't solve

The NGO Poverty and Affluence Worki

The border effect in Spain: The Basque Country case

Salvador Gil-Pareja, Rafael Llorca-Vivero, José A. Martínez-Serrano


This article was downloaded by: [Kainan University]

On: 27 April 2015, At: 03:12

Publisher: Routledge

Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954

Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,


Click for updates

Ethnic and Racial Studies

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

Sub-state nationalism in Spain: primers and triggers of identity politics in Catalonia and the

Basque Country

Victor M. Olivieri

Published online: 09 Feb 2015.

To cite this article: Victor M. Olivieri (2015): Sub-state nationalism in Spain: primers and triggers of identity politics in Catalonia and the Basque Country, Ethnic and Racial

Studies, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1009480

To link to this article:


Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform.

However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.

Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sublicensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://

D ow nl oa de d by [K ain an

U niv ers ity ] a t 0 3:1 2 2 7 A pr il 2 01 5

Sub-state nationalism in Spain: primers and triggers of identity politics in Catalonia and the

Basque Country

Victor M. Olivieri (Received 25 January 2014; accepted 18 December 2014)

This article builds on recent attempts to explain divergent uses of sub-state nationalism to push for policies of assimilation or multiculturalism and drive popular support for independence. It analyses the dynamics of discourses and policies in Spain before, during and after peak times of identity politics to provide a more nuanced understanding of the conditions leading to the activation of identity-driven policies. Substantive ethnographic evidence is presented to explain recent alterations to national discourses of identity, surprising reversals of immigration policies, and the modulation of Catalan and Basque independence movements. The main finding is that both identity discourses and resulting policies depend on the affinity for identity politics at the sub-state level, and this affinity is in large part primed by the popular perception of how secure sub-state national identity is against the ‘official’ state narrative.

Keywords: independence movements; immigration policy; social identity; citizenship; ethnography; flags


The Spanish national football team transformed an entire country with their 2010

FIFA World Cup victory. Images of the Spanish victory and subsequent celebrations rippled throughout the country, providing a perfect focal point for citizens to express their competing notions of identity, shared turbulent past and present constitutive moment, sparking a renewed sense of Spanish nationalism in many but reviving a desire for self-determination in many others. Contemporary sociopolitical events like this one provide the opportunity for identity discourses to come head to head and reveal much about the politics of sub-state nationalism. This article provides nuanced evidence of the different priming and subsequent triggering of identity politics in

Catalonia and the Basque Country in response to the renewed sense of Spanish nationalism.

Priming has been shown to be a significant determinant of public opinion and identity politics through experimental research in Western Europe, highlighting both the effects of the perception of national identity in exclusionary preferences (e.g. Sniderman, Hagendoorn, and Prior 2004) and the effects of symbols on identity salience over time (e.g. Bruter 2009). A trigger can galvanize those citizens already concerned with symbols of national identity, and these symbols might be successfully © 2015 Taylor & Francis

Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2015

D ow nl oa de d by [K ain an

U niv ers ity ] a t 0 3:1 2 2 7 A pr il 2 01 5 appropriated by sub-state nationalistic parties (SSNPs) to support exclusionary or inclusionary policies, but the success of the appropriation of symbols and triggering of identity politics both seem to depend on the priming of society. This article focuses on providing evidence of the underlying mechanism of priming at work, while not discounting the long-standing historical and political developments that primed

Catalan and Basque societies.1 The case study comparison between Catalonia and the

Basque Country confirms that the appropriation of symbols of national identity and a trigger is not enough to foster identity politics: society must be primed.

Core values, language and geographic position on the Iberian peninsula have been relatively successful in explaining sub-state nationalism differences in Catalonia and the Basque Country (e.g. Conversi 1997; Jáuregui 2006), but they are not very useful in explaining recent reversals in policy and drives towards independence. The Basque

Country used to be exclusionary of immigrants and violently seeking independence out of fear of cultural annihilation (Conversi 1997). By contrast, Catalonia was much more inclusivist, with language, not race, becoming the major factor in the integration of immigrants against opposition to Spain’s central government (Conversi 1997). The