Monday, 15 June 2015

Catalonia. An independent nation or just another part of Spain?

I must admit, as a means of beginning this piece, that before my departure and subsequent arrival in Catalonia, I was a touch ignorant upon the 'issue' of the Catalan/Spanish divide. Henceforth, it was  indeed Wikipedia and all things Google related that provided me with the basic grasp as to what constituted the Catalan peoples desire for Independence as well as the 'Spanish' desire for unity under the Castillian flag.
I arrived in Barcelona El Prat airport on February 21st 2015. I was due to start working in a semi private school as an English language conversation assistant. I was also due to be staying with a Catalan family whose two children attend the school itself. It has been the most wonderful time spent with this family. In what now seems to me as being the typical Catalan fashion, they have shown me nothing but the most affectionate warmth and hospitality whilst expecting absolutely nothing in return. For someone accustomed to the cold, closed and entirely standoffish English culture, it has been at times unfathomable as to the way such kindness was shown upon me.
'They will take you in as a complete stranger, treat you as one of theirs, show affection, kindness and complete trust...until you ever give them reason not to'. Let that be my quote on the Catalans of whom I haved lived amongst for these last five months.
From all over this region of North-East Spain, the Catalan flag hangs from the rooftops, terraces and balconies of pretty much every other building. Whether in Roses or Cadaques (two lovely coastal towns) or a main city like Figueres, Girona or Barcelona itself - you will see the red and yellow striped Catalan banner hung from the heights. They say it comes from a fallen Catalan King many centuries ago, who upon being near death on the battlefield, drew with his own blood three stripes of red upon a yellow banner. Girona and its inhabitants go far further though, a very, very political city, the residents hang massive banners of 'Catalonia is not Spain' drapped across historic buldings and  the cities walls. It is these kinds of things alongside the Independence marches that anger the rest of Spain, particularly Madrid.
The Catalan identifies himself as 'Catalan' and not 'Español'. All those that I spoken with during my time here, from children to the elderly, all say the exact same thing - 'I do not feel Spanish, I am Catalan...I am from Catalunya'. Some are far more political than others, some are ready to bite the heads of anyone that dismiss their history, heritage and culture as being 'Spanish'. Others are happy to just explain their opinions and even agree to disagree. There are many people of Spanish origin (i.e. those that were born in Catalonia whose parents migrated en masse in the 1960s and 70s from Andalusia, Extramadura and other parts of España) living here. Catalonia is the richest región in all of Spain, it has the most industry and even the highest rates of tourism, which is a major economical reason for the government in Madrid not to grant Independence. Historically, and still today, parts of Spain like Andalusia, have been very poor with little employment opportunities. Therefore many families migrated post 1960 to work in Barcelona and other Catalan cities. The Spanish here, have told me they were seen as untrustworthy, swarthy being a better word perhaps and treated with certain contempt. Especially the Andalusians form the south. Now however, there is a major change in immigration demographics. Immigrants hail en masse from North Africa, Asia and Latin America, meaning the tide has turned with these new visitors recieving the same 'treatment' as the Spanish migrants got back in the day. This is an argument used by many of Spanish origin, who debate that the Catalans are just a xenophobic people, ready to blame anyone non-Catalan of blighting their national/cultural soveriegnity.
Apart from the Moroccans though (who I must be honest and say are shown noticeable intolerance here) I have never heard any Catalan talking low of the Spanish, the Latinos, the Africans or any nationality outside of Catalan. However, throwaway remarks are made by children and young people at times. I recall debating with a young girl whether or not shorts above the knee are 'guay' or 'cool' for teenage boys and young men. She assured me that in Catalonia these shorts are 'mol guay' or 'very cool'. I asked:
'what about in the rest of Spain?'
She replied:
'Los Españoles? No se...son gilipollas!' or 'I don't know about the Spanish...they're dickheads!'
I have heard though that the Spaniards are perfectly adept at making the same kinds of comments about Catalans. I think for most it's almost akin to the English 'north-south divide'. There is that mutual understanding of clear differences between the two peoples and both sides will make occasional jest of each other. The northern English after all, are under the impression that down south we're all wet and a bunch of softies. The Spanish joke that in Catalonia everyone is a 'tightfist' and the people are miserly with their money. I certainly can't agree with that.
The biggest and most undebatable difference for me, was one pointed out by an English writer. I watched him in an interview before I arrived. He was being interviewed for a documentary on Catalan Independence, as he has written works upon the subject. He said quite simply that 'The Catalans are a linguistically differentiated people'. This is where the buck stops in my opinión. Catalan is the main language here in Catalonia, Castellano or Spanish, is the second. The Catalans have, and always will, speak in Catalan amongst their fellow people. It is their language! In Portugal, they speak Portuguese. The nationality is Portuguese and not Spanish as they are indeed not Spanish. They are Portuguese. Why is it not the same for Catalonia? The kingdom of Catalonia was in fact conquered by the Spanish Crown in the 18th century. This means it was 'Catalonia' before it was ever 'Spain'.  If the Catalans have a different language, history, culture and even lost their country to an invading force, then surely this is more than enough to hinder no further on the dismissal of Catalonia being just another part of Spain? Like all debates though, it is a matter of opinión, which will in turn only ever be influenced by the loudest of all opinions - the opinión of the masses...

A video of some drunken Catalan celebrations within the streets of Roses at night after Barcelona FC won the UEFA Cup, 2015.

A video of the truly amazing feats that Catalans have done for many years in the historic tradition of creating 'human towers'. Video recorded in Figueres city, 2015.

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