The Occitans: a People in Search of a New Federal Democracy

Giampiero Bordino
Professor in Contemporary History and Political Analyst. President of the Einstein Center for International Studies

Gérard Tautil
Contretemps. Lettres sur l’Occitanie et l’occitanisme [in French] 
 Presse fédéraliste, Lyon, 2022

This essay, in a bilingual edition (French and Occitan, the first book printed in this language) explores the theme of Occitan identity, in cultural and linguistic terms, in the French, European and global context. The Author, philosopher and teacher of Occitan language and culture, poses from the beginning the fundamental question that always emerges in the relationship between different identities: how to make diversities coexist peacefully and profitably, how to think and build the complexity of plural identities and belongings? In modern and contemporary history, identity-based nationalism, “embodied” in the power system of centralized states, has repeatedly produced conflicts, repression, real human tragedies that have marked the lives of millions of people. A single identity, a single belonging, a single citizenship: nationalist “monism”, exclusive and excluding, also pursued through the use of the “legitimate force” of the State, has weighed on the lives of people and communities, often determining their destinies. All this occurred in the context of the triumph of market interests, of financial globalization, of the “victory of the forces of money”, of the crisis of social and environmental protection systems, of repressive policies against minorities, of the rejection of migratory processes.

“Macronism” in France, according to the Author, is essentially “the marriage of private interests and political calculations at the service of [the French] central power”. A process of “institutional metropolitanization” has occurred in the country, to the detriment of minorities, of peoples “transversal” to different territorial states (such as the Occitans, historically present with their cultural traditions and their language in France, Italy and Spain), of the suburbs, of marginal social groups. In France, in recent years, the recurrent and pervasive phenomenon of the “gilets jaunes” revolt has been and is at the same time an outcome and a sign of this phenomenon. The revolt derives from three fundamental fractures, intertwined with each other: social (growing differences in income, wealth, etc.), territorial (marginalization of peripheral and rural territories, etc.), political (decline of intermediate social bodies, crisis of representation, etc.). Millions of people, so to speak “misplaced”, no longer recognize themselves in the social and institutional contexts in which they live, have lost the feeling of belonging which has always contributed decisively to the legitimation of political power and increasingly perceive social revolt, pervasive and indistinct (“we rebel, therefore we are”, beyond any specific objective and problem), as the only possible form for building their identity and defending their interests.

What can be opposed to this reality and this perspective to avoid harmful outcomes? How can a new form of statehood, a new Europe of peoples, a new world be built? What is, as the Author writes, “the future form of democracy we are calling for”? This form is the Federal Republic in a federal Europe, and in a federal world, according to the perspective “from local to global”. The same perspective, essentially, that a great French and European intellectual, Albert Camus, had already outlined in his time, in reference to Algeria, where he was born, to France, of which he was a citizen, and to Europe, which, due most of all to his experience of the World War and the Resistance, had become for him a new “homeland”. Algeria federated to France, France federated to Europe, Europe federated to the world: Camus’ grand dream, made impossible once again by the prevalence of identity-based nationalism.

Along this path there is also the intention to prevent that the neo-liberist democracy of recent decades, born in the context of the economic and financial globalization process, transform itself into a form of “illiberal democracy”, following an authoritarian model that is increasingly widespread in the world. Federal democracy, and therefore recognition of the autonomy of different peoples and different territories, and liberal democracy, live and die together.


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