ON a warm fall weekend afternoon along La Rambla, Barcelona's central promenade, students from local universities hand out literature calling for the independence of Catalonia, the Spanish autonomous region of which this Mediterranean city is the capital.The students prefer to speak Catalan, one of the region's two official languages, but will discuss the independence issue in Spanish with "foreigners." Asked why he is so keen on seeing an independent Catalonia at a time when much of Europe is becoming more integrated, one student responds, "Because we are a nation, quite different from the rest of Spain." Nationalism has flared across Europe as the old communist order has crumbled in the East, and as an evolution toward increasing economic and political unity has loosened the borders of the West's traditional nation-states. The rise of nationalist struggles in the Soviet Union, the now independent Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, has sent ripples through Lombardy in Italy, and Scotland in Great Britain, and perhaps nowhere more strongly in Western Europe than in Spain. Catalonia's national day in September was marked by the tumultuous visit of Lithuanian and Slovenian guests of honor; the Basque country has been rocked by a new round of separatist violence; and other Spanish regions are clamoring for a quicker decentralization of powers. Resulting jitters within the national government of President Felipe Gonzalez have colored Spain's approach to the the European Community and such issues as the civil war in Yugoslavia. Wariness over any quick recognition of the Baltic states earlier this year turned to outright opposition to recognizing the breakaway Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia, for fear of fanning flames back home. Yet most analysts across Spain say that while the summer's independence fervor was to be expected with the mushrooming of nationalist movements across Europe, there are few if any signs that independence campaigns are taking hold. One reason, they note, is that the euphoria of the Baltics' independence has been shattered by the horror of Yugoslavia's civil war. Here in Catalonia, for example, pro-independence political parties steadily receive less than 5 percent of the vote - a figure analysts believe will change little in future elections. As for the Basque country, its ruling Basque PNV party supports autonomy and rejects violent separation while militant separatists have dwindled to a small, but still deadly, minority. Many analysts now more frequently compare Basque separatists to Italy's Mafia than to a legitimate political movement. After the latest in a string of Basque-separatist car bombs killed the toddler-son of a police officer in November, youths in the Basque capital of Bilbao organized a large anti-violence demonstration - a potent symbol of the region's rejection of violence and of the separatists' tactics. Far from seeing Spanish regionalism as a drawback,political leaders and some analysts consider it a primary factor in the country's continuing dynamism, an essential ingredient in the high growth rates that made Spain Europe's economic miracle during the eighties. As a relatively young democracy where regionalism stands as one of the very top domestic issues, Spain may serve as something of a model for Eastern Europe's nascent democracies con- fronting their own diverse populations, some analysts believe. "There is no independence fever here," says Jordi Pujol, president of the regional government of Catalonia. Seated in the palace that has housed Catalonian governments since the 14th century, he adds, "But what recent events have proven to us is that nations are stronger than ideologies. "Without putting into question the Spanish state," he adds, "we want to see the potential of ... Catalonia fully developed, its language and culture provided the means to prosper. If that suggests we are not content with the state of things as they are," says Mr. Pujol, "that is accurate." In a European Community where more macroeconomic decisions will be taken in Brussels (the EC executive headquarters), Pujol says the most centralized countries will become poorer, less dynamic, while regions will increasingly act as macroeconomic motors of development, innovation, and research. "The Spanish state," he says, "should recognize this" and contribute to regional development. Adds Antoni Subira, director of Catalonia's Department of Industry and Energy, "Catalonia was taken from the Arabs some 700 years ago by Charlemagne, and in our hearts we have been Europeans ever since. As a truly European region we can help show the rest of Spain the way into Europe," he says, "but Madrid must recognize the interest of encouraging the regions." Spain does recognize its 17 autonomous regions. But much of the clamor for devolution of more power boils down to calls from the regions for more money. Recent Catalan claims to a right to self-determination are a kind of budgetary bribe held over Madrid's head, some analysts say. Madrid pays handsomely for regional development - including billions to Catalonia to prepare for the 1992 Summer Olympics and to Andalucia in preparation for next year's Universal Exposition in Sevilla. But regional leaders, including Pujol, say more responsibilities are being laid at their feet without the means to pay for them. Spain's central government needs to keep its regions happy, particularly Catalonia and the Basque country in the northeast: They remain Spain's most industrialized regions, and control much of its wealth. With 15 percent of the country's population, says Mr. Subira, Catalonia claims 27 percent of Spain's exports, and 25 percent of its industrial production. More than one third of Spain's industrial investment over the last five or six years has been in Catalonia. One factor complicating Spain's regionalism is that no single policy applies to all regions: Four regions are on a fast track to autonomy and the remaining 13, including Catalonia and the Basque country which consider themselves nations within Spain, are on the "slow route." Yet that lack of definition has been one of the system's strengths, some analysts say. "The constitutional arrangement is very ambiguous, with no clear divisions of power between central and local authorities, but that flexibility has proved valuable," says Luis Moreno, a political scientist with the Institute for Advanced Social Studies in Madrid. "It has encouraged moderate forces in the regions, and thus been a source of stability." Spain's system and its regions will continue evolving for 10 to 15 years, Mr. Moreno believes, before settling into a federalist grouping. "Spain is polynational, and any course will have to continue recognizing that."