Soñando Sunday: Let's Talk about Catalonia
Dani and I have been wanting to dive into some more cultural/political topics for Soñando Sundays. While these articles will go off the track of our traditional “how to visit” a certain place, we hope that they will give you insight into what is happening (or has happened) in different regions around the country. This may include things to eat, things to see, or political movements. One of the most current issues in Spain is the “Independentista” movement, or a movement that looks for the separation of the region of Catalunya* from the rest of Spain.
I have written this beginner’s introduction to what is going on in Catalunya with the intention of sharing insight into the situation from my point of view and personal experience. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, nor am I diving into the intimate depths of what is going on.
Looking at the Independentista movement in Catalunya from the perspective of Andalucía conditions me to understand the situation from a more Andalusian point of view. However, my perspective is also influenced by the eight months that I spent living in Catalunya and my experience there. Like all political movements, the Independentista one has many facets and can be construed as both wonderful and terrible at the same time, depending on who you ask.
A little Background
This movement is not new. In fact, even when I was living in Catalunya over seven years ago, small tensions between Catalans and Spanish people were obvious to me (and have been going on for much longer than that). Of course, you could ask, “Aren’t Catalans Spanish?” And my answer would be “Yes!” As far as I am concerned being Spanish and being Catalan are not mutually exclusive and people should not have to chose one or the other.
At the same time, I acknowledge the differences between some cultural and community norms. The most obvious, perhaps, would be the language. Catalan and Spanish have similar roots, however, they are not the same. After living in Catalunya for just under a year, I was able to understand a fair amount of Catalan although I was never able to speak it.
Perhaps more important than the actual language difference is the way people use it. When I was living in Catalunya people preferred to speak to me in English over Spanish, often telling me that I spoke better Spanish than they did. Catalans all learn Spanish at school, but there is a tendency to not want to recognise this. This rejection of the Spanish language could be tied to the suppression they felt under Franco (a topic I get into in this article about the Spanish Civil War), or it could be from even before. As a sociologist, I believe that language is essential for shaping your perspective and your community, therefore I cannot condemn the Catalans for wanting to speak their own language.
On the other hand, when interacting with other Spanish people, this can make things complicated. When living in Catalunya, I found that people might understand my Spanish, but they would only respond in Catalan and, if I didn’t understand, I had a hard time figuring out what I was supposed to do (especially when asking for directions or the like). Major universities in this region may only offer some lectures in Catalan and international conferences are sometimes held only in this language. From what I have seen, this creates a sense of alienation between the Catalans and people from other regions of Spain―from my perspective, both the Catalans and the non-Catalan-Spanish want the other group to acknowledge and speak their language.
There are also many other unique cultural aspects in this region of Spain (and in all regions really), creating distance between groups. Once again, I am all for cultural differences and support the idea that castells are super interesting, calçots are fun, and that the Tío de Nadal is an nice (yet interesting) way to celebrate Christmas. While living there, I truly enjoyed learning about these cultural differences and I appreciate that they continue to thrive within the community.
But, as I hope you already know, the Independentista movement is one that is not only built on cultural aspects, but on perspective of situation as well. As a region, Catalunya is fairly successful economically, especially in comparison to other regions in Spain. However, there has been backlash on both sides about this situation. There has been some talk about how the region is holding up the rest of the country and even that other regions are ‘lazy.’ In turn, this creates the feeling of being unfairly attacked, which provokes a negative response. And the more negative the response, the more intense the counter-response.
The regional Catalan government has a long history and this has created tension between this area and the rest of Spain over the last 30 years. In addition, the political movement is based on a bit of a power play between the central and regional governments. This means that policy and media manipulation is highly linked to the interpretation of the situation on all sides. Media representation, like most things in modern society, is strongly linked to the perception that we have of the situation. Therefore, reading international, national, and regional newspapers will give you different information on the topic. This is important because we never get the whole picture, only the part that the particular organisation wants us to see.
Recently there have been several incidents that have called even more attention to this situation. The ‘illegal’ Liberalista referendum on the first of October of this year and the reaction to it has caused a scandal and many people, from both sides of the situation, are quite unhappy with the results. In addition, the legal consequences of this referendum have been harsh and have gone against the beliefs of many people involved (again, both for those voting for and those voting against the separation).
While I eventually want to get more into political and cultural subjects, I can imagine that you are either bored by now (or hate my opinion); therefore, I will leave this introduction here. If you are interested in learning more about [my opinion] on the Catalunya situation or the political situation in general in Spain, please let us know and we will do our best to inform you as well as we can.
*For whatever reason, even in Spanish, I always write Catalonia (the English version) as Catalunya which is the Catalan equivalent to Cataluña. This region includes Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Lerida (which I tend to call Lleida, the Catalan version), etc.