Pro unity demonstrators wave Spanish and Catalan flags during a protest after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain, October 2017.
Albert Gea / REUTERS

Until quite recently, Spain was believed to be blissfully immune to the West’s rising tide of nationalism. Often seen as patriotism’s insidious evil twin, nationalism stresses excessive devotion to the nation-state and its symbols, most notably the national flag, the sense of one’s own country as exceptional and even superior to any other, and the pursuit of the national interest to the exclusion and detriment of other nations. So far, resurgent nationalism across the West accounts for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit in political parlance; the rise of virulent anti-immigrant movements in France, Hungary, and the Netherlands; and U.S. President Donald Trump’s election on an “America first” agenda.

There is no mystery as to what explains Spain’s apparent aversion to nationalism: the political excesses of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. In Franco’s Spain, nationalism took center stage.

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