Nationalist Networks: How Civil Society Influences Nationalist Movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country

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Sainz Martinez, Bernardo
Nationalism , Civil Society , Political Parties , Spain , Catalonia , Basque Country , Social Movements , Contentious Politics , Secession , Autonomy , Federalism , Civil Society Organizations
Nationalist political parties in both Catalonia and the Basque Country challenge the state by seeking a higher degree of autonomy or independence, but they do not operate alone; they are embedded in social networks of organizations that often create and support social movements. This doctoral thesis explores the intricate relationship between civil society organizations (CSOs) and nationalist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country and seeks to uncover how these social networks influence whether nationalist parties adopt moderate or radical strategies and objectives. Employing a qualitative multi-method approach that encompasses interviews and documentary analysis, this research presents a process-tracing account of the role of CSOs inscribed in nationalist social movements, with particular emphasis on critical periods of tension with the state. For the Catalan case, this period spans from 2010 to 2022, with a focus on the 2017 independence referendum. In the Basque case, the analysis covers the period from 1988 to 2022, highlighting the 2005 “Ibarretxe plan.” Furthermore, this thesis provides in-depth descriptions of these nationalist networks and their countermovements through a social network analysis (SNA), which complements the process-tracing account. The primary contribution of this research is the finding that civil society can foster a bonding effect at the level of political elites and grassroots activists that gives unity to a nationalist movement across political ideologies. This bonding can lead to the radicalization of the nationalist movement. The Catalan case illustrates how the influence of CSOs can give organizational tools to political elites to challenge the state, and how the inclusion of activists into formal politics intensifies polarization and fosters countermovements. Catalan party elites formed a tight coalition with CSO leaders and drove Catalan leaders to pursue disobedience and escalation. Additionally, by contrasting the Catalan and Basque cases, the thesis highlights how the history of violence, and continued division over its acceptance and justification in Basque society, disrupted the bonding influence of Basque CSOs within the nationalist movement. Consequently, the Basque movement remained primarily political elite-driven, with limited involvement of civil society and more flexibility for politicians to strategize, and did not evolve towards unilateralism or disobedience.
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