No Christmas in Catalonia

Spanish unionism has been on the Christmas sauce

On 23 December, two days after the imposed elections in Catalonia  Stephen Burgen’s piece for the Guardian addressed some of the ‘repression’ of recent months in Catalonia (always in inverted commas) he had so glaringly ignored throughout autumn – Catalonia’s hopes for peace stall as further wave of arrests feared. But it was not a sign of things to come.

With the 21 December election failing to produce a unionist victory despite the heavily sloping playing field, the heavy funding of Cs and the almost unanimous media support, the reaction of many in the media has been to promote a parody of Catalonia. Tabarnia is a portmanteau word derived from combining the words Tarragona and Barcelona. Unionists claim it to be a genuine reflection of the folly of Catalan independentism.

From the publishing of that promising, albeit tardy article until 29 December, eight of Stephen’s tweets were links to Tabarnia-related posts. That’s eight tweets out of nine. All of the posts were retweets but for a link to an ‘ironic’ piece written by Stephen himself for El Español in 2013 – Barcelona independiente. There were no links to any serious analysis of the results.

The parody comprises several accounts – Twitter @tabarnia (18,000 followers); Facebook (12,000 followers); Barcelona Is Not Catalonia. Among its Twitter followers are Stephen Burgen of The Guardian, David ‘fake news’ Alandete, El País managing director, Carlos Girauta of Cs, Marta García Aller of El Independiente, Toni Cantó of Cs, etc. It has been around since 2011, but was generally ignored until the election result. It was referenced on right-wing forum, Forocoches, moments after the results were announced then again in an unsigned ‘article’ in e-notícias at 10am after a Twitter storm the night before: Tabarnia existe/Tabàrnia existeix. On 23 December, the annual photo of fabulous foursome Arcadi Espada (El Mundo), Carlos Girauta (Cs), Salvador Sostres (COPE, ABC) and Carlos Herrera (COPE) was posted. I wonder if Tabarnia came up in the fug.

Then came the blogs, minor ‘newspapers’ and a lot of social media – e.g. ¡¡¡No todos los catalanes somos independentistas!!! The fictional region popped up in the media again on 23 December in El Magacín – Un nuevo movimiento apuesta por separar Barcelona y Tarragona de Cataluña – an ‘interview’ with Carla Arrufat, head of Plataforma per l’Autonomia de Barcelona, shared by the Tabarnia Twitter account and in turn by our beloved Stephen. The same day we had Carla’s petition and far-right website Dolça Catalunya – Tabarnia sí: és el moment de descomarcalitzar Catalunya.

On Christmas Eve, Dolça Catalunya was back with La gent ja firma pel dret a decidir de Tabàrnia and the parody begins to appear in ‘mainstream’ (far right) Spanish media: Agustín Benito, La Gaceta – Las elecciones catalanas confirman que ‘Tabarnia’ existe and whole host of right-wing Spanish blogs and low-level ‘newspapers’. More Forocoches and much more social media.

On Christmas day, Stephen shares a tweet from an obscure Twitter account, interestingly named Barcelonapolis @barcelonapolis – I would love to know who runs that one – where the name of new region is discussed. More right-wing Spanish blogs and low-level ‘newspapers’. More Forocoches, much more social media and large numbers of people taking the spoof seriously.

All the mainstream media picked up on it on 26 December and Boxing Day brought us a flood of articles in the big Spanish unionist newspapers:

And a long etc. among the minor newspapers and blogs. Most of the above reproduce the questionable statistics and graphs unquestioningly. Occasional pieces put the nonsense into some sort of perspective: Público: Todo sobre el Gobierno de Tabarnia, la nueva comunidad autónoma para votantes de Ciudadanos.

27 and 28 December brought a renewed avalanche of pieces. David ‘The Russians Are Coming but we don’t actually have any evidence’ Alandete, El País managing editor, has had the same fixation on Twitter and, unlike Stephen, actually comments. He even went as far as to make a contribution ‘of his own’, as you can see in the list above. He has been tweeting links to his and his newspaper’s pieces on Tabarnia, links to several other pieces on Tabarnia ironically side by side with a ‘evidence’ of Russian interference in the Catalan election that he had not dared present to the UK parliamentary select committee discussing the issue the week before. There were no links to any serious analysis of the results. Stephen shared the El Periódico piece above and a few other obscure pieces from blogs. The only post-election story was Tabarnia. Only the fantasy land exists. Get it? The trolling campaign ‘coordinated’ and written at post-election Christmas meals and parties serves to detract and distract from the big story; the election result and its implications.

Ciudadanos and their leaders are revelling in it. While expressing faux shock that the story has gone viral, at the same time they point out how very interesting it all is. However, the fact that it is the very same Ciudadanos who decided to use the parody, and who are pushing it as hard as they can, makes them look petty and silly as Spain’s government and Foment (CBI equivalent) urge them to perform the impossible; form the government.

The general response of the Spanish government and the mainstream Spanish media to the 21 December election result has been childish, unrealistic and churlish; Tabarnia is a stale fantasy, Inés Arrimadas cannot form or help to form a government, and imprisoning, arresting and investigating ever more people will only deepen the crisis. The situation deserves better.

The Tabarnia parody has been around since 2011 and is run by ultra-Catholic Spanish nationalist and homophobe, Jaume Vives. The idea is old too, and fascist. The same was mooted for Lleida back in the good old days when all of Spain was ruled by Franco.

Natural disasters, pandemics and bloody civil wars rarely get coverage like this. The clear non-unionist majority in Catalonia is not an irrelevant minority living in ‘Tractorland’. Determined to continue the punishment for Catalonia, the orange media pretends Catalonia does not exist and invents an alternative version. An orange version.

NB: None of the journalists used in the creation of this myth were harmed. All of them were paid and well-lubricated.

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