diumenge, 15 de setembre de 2013

#ViaCatalana- The Importance of Twitter during La Diada 2013

This year I was fortunate enough to travel to Catalunya and witness the events of the Catalan National Day itself. Following the million strong march in Barcelona last 11th of September, the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) this year organised the 'Via Catalana', widely translated into English as the 'Catalan Way'- a 400 km Human chain that stretched over the northern border of Catalonia into the French territory of 'Catalunya Nord', down the length of the region to the southern border with Valencia. Inspired by the human chain that crossed the then soviet republics of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in 1989 in the name of independence, 400,000 people pre-registered their involvement in the chain, whilst official figures place the overall involvement for the day at 1.6 million. The days events passed without incidence of violence or disruption and were widely and rightly qualified as a successful, peaceful and respectful demonstration of the Catalan peoples desire for independence from Spain. 

The Catalan Way near Tarragona (Source: Wikipedia)

In this age of the tweet and the status update, an events success is invariably tied to its social media presence. The Via Catalana was no different, as hundreds and thousands of participants posted updates on the progress of the chain in their area to social networking sites. Instagram was flooded with pictures of estelades and yellow-shirt-clad Catalans, many changed Facebook profile pictures to the symbolic Catalan flag bearing the slogan 'jo vull ser llibre'- 'I want to be free', whilst several thousands took to twitter using the hashtag #viacatalana and, in the interests of creating international awareness, #CatalanWay. 

However, by the afternoon of the 11th, it was noticed that while the hashtag #viacatalana was not featured as one of the sites 'trending topics', a list of the most used phrases on the site at any given time, a hashtag started by those with Spanish nationalist sympathies, #somespanya - 'we are spain', was. This lead to a rumor spreading over various social networks that the tweets of Catalans involved in the chain were being censured, a charge that the creators of the site strenuously deny. There was however, an interesting if bizarre turn in the twitter-tale of this Diada. Listeners of Jordi Basté and Toni Clapé's show on Catalan radio station RAC1 were encouraged to post tweets with the hashtag #croquetes, the well known 'tapa' that Spaniards, Catalans and tourists alike will be familiar with. Within the hour, 'croquetes' had become a trending topic, the well-known snack becoming a by-word for independence; a bread-crumb covered, deep-fried expression of the will of the Catalan people.

Tram 95 near El Perelló

Twitter continues to be a powerful tool in the days following the Catalan Way. On the afternoon of September 15th, thousands of Catalan tweeters combined to make #volemvotar- 'we want to vote' a trending topic Europe-wide for over 15 minutes, in a display designed to send a strong message to Spanish President Mariano Rajoy over the desire to decide their own future.

Whatever your personal opinions on the validity of Twitter as a medium of popular opinion, or the place of social networking within the modern news cycle, the benefits of sites such as twitter in the organisation and diffusion of news regarding events such as those of the 'Via Catalana' are undeniable. In a situation where events are so fluid and public opinion at once so strong and so polarised, the 140 character tweet has the power to bring together thousands of voices into a common cause, be those of high brow debate and opinion or basest insult and demagoguery. Due wide reaching international user base, I have no doubts that the tweet will remain a powerful tool in the coming months as the push towards #independència continues.

Further Reading:

dimarts, 14 de maig de 2013

The case of LAPAO or, "If you can't destroy a language, cut it up."

The eastern fringe of Aragon is one of several areas, including the southern Rosellón area of France, to speak Catalan despite the language not having official recognition. Early last week the Aragonese Autonomous regional parliament voted to re-assign the Catalan language spoken in the eastern area of the region as LAPAO- 'Lengua Aragonesa Propia de la Parte Occidental'. In English this would roughly translate to 'The language belonging to the eastern part of Aragon', although TLBEPA doesn't score quite so highly on the catchy acronym chart. The bill does not stop there however, renaming the language spoken in the northern area of the region "Lengua Aragonesa Propia de las Areas Pirenaica y Preperinaica" or LAPAPYP. 

The law was passed with the help of votes from the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the Partido Aragonés (PAR). Both within Aragon and without, reaction to the new law has been damning. The opposition in Aragon, led by the Socialists called the move an 'insult to the intelligence', whereas others saw the new law as blatant 'Catalanophobia'.

Reactions on social media regarding the move were mainly of dismay, but mixed with a certain level of humour, not to mention ridicule. Many joked about adding an extra language to their CV, while the catchphrase appropriated by many Catalans in the defence of linguistic normalisation in the education system, "Keep calm and speak Catalan", was quickly modified. The risible acronyms LAPAO and LAPAPYP also gave rise to another, LAPOLLA, for the Castillian spoken in the rest of the region. (For non-Spanish speakers, the Castillian 'La Polla' translates to 'dick' or 'cock in English.')

Humour aside, there is a definite sense that legal recourse aiming to undermine the strength and unity of the Catalan language will become more frequent. Besides the Spanish Supreme Court's recent ruling that the Catalan parliaments declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional  attacks on the Catalan language by the PP governments of the Catalan speaking regions that surround Catalunya have gained momentum: the recent struggle over Catalan television station TV3 in Valencia, the Balearic provision of textbooks in 'Balearic' rather than Catalan, and now this latest confrontation in Aragon.

It seems as though while the ruling CiU and ERC coalition in Catalunya attempt to plot the uncertain path towards statehood, the PP and it's allies have chosen the Catalan language as the target for retaliatory attacks. In a country so deep in economic worry and suffering staggering unemployment, it is difficult for an outside observer not to see such attacks as cynical, not to mention a staggering waste of time and resources. By foregoing sensible dialogue and plumbing to new depths of linguistic secessionism such as in the case of LAPAO, the PP risks international ridicule whilst at the same time damaging its own position against Catalan independence.

Sources and Further reading:

http://www.catalannewsagency.com/news/politics/aragons-parliament-renames-catalan-language-spoken-its-territory-acronym-lapao (English language report of the events)

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20130506/54373853174/catalan-franja-denominara-lapao-aragon.html (News report in Spanish)

http://www.vilaweb.cat/noticia/4103498/20130410/bauza-passa-atacs-catala-lescola.html (Balearic Textbook Report- In Catalan)

https://twitter.com/rolo1714 (twitter user @rolo1714- inspiration for this posts title)

dimarts, 11 de setembre de 2012

Bona Diada: The National Day of Catalunya

The 11th of September is the national day of Catalunya, commonly reffered to as the diada. This year, perhaps more than ever the celebration has been transformed into a rallying point for pro-independence Catalans. Millions of people are expected to fill the streets of Barcelona for what is being called a 'March for Independence' under a banner declaring, in English as well as Catalan, "Catalonia; the next state of Europe". Estelades, the pro-independence variation of the Catalan flag, will be draped around shoulders, be waved aloft and hang proudly from town halls, civic buildings and homes across Catalunya.

Estelades in Barcelona

In the weeks leading up to the 11th of September, the political atmosphere within Catalunya has approached a boiling point. On the 3rd of this month the mayor and council of  Sant Pere de Torelló voted to declare  the small town a 'free Catalan territory'. This prompted veiled threats from an outspoken general of the Spanish army. Francisco Alamán has been quoted as saying "Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body", drawing worrying support from some Spaniards, and widespread Catalan condemnation and demands for an explanation from the Spanish Ministry of Defence. In the past week many more town councils have passed pro-independence motions, urging the ruling CiU party and president Artur Mas to take a stronger position on the future of an independent Catalunya.
General Francisco Alamán-Castro
These events have gone widely unreported in the UK, where the majority of media outlets normally see 'Catalonia' as synonymous with bylines of  'Spain', 'bailout' and 'euro-crisis'. While the Guardian features a story titled "Barcelona braces for million-strong march for Catalan independence" on its homepage, news of the march on other sites is conspicuous in its absence. Yet Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams has tabled a largely symbolic early day motion that "congratulates all the people of Catalonia on the occasion of their National Day" and "expresses concerns that the current Spanish constitution allows neither for the independence of part of its territory nor for the holding of a referendum on independence". While the motion will not recieve required signatures to force a debate on the issue, the EDM text will be placed on public record at Westminster as an expression of solidarity from the Pro-independence Welsh party. 

This September 11th could prove a definitive turning point in the future of Catalunya. Whatever the political ramifications that may follow, here's hoping that today will stand as an example of what peaceful demonstration can achieve, in direct opposition to the threats of violent oppression from General Alamán and his ilk.

Bona Diada a tothom.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/11/barcelona-march-catalan-independence- Guardian article
http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/491- Hywel Williams' Early Day Motion
http://www.elperiodico.com/es/videos/politica/sant-pere-torello-declara-independencia/2044527.shtml- (Video) Sant Pere de Torelló declares independece (in Spanish)
http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/diada-2012/coronel-ejercito-amenaza-intervencion-militar-catalunya-proclama-independencia-2195147- General Alamán's threats (in Spanish)

dimecres, 8 d’agost de 2012

The Road to Independence in Catalunya and Scotland- A Brief Overview

As Scotland moves towards a 2014 referendum on possible independence from the UK, many in Catalunya will be following the campaign with nervous excitement. A victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign could set a legal and constitutional precedent for gaining independence from within an EU member state, a precedent that would affect any Catalan attempt to become independent from Spain. The left-wing independence party, the Esquerra Republica Catalana have shown the importance of the Scottish vote as they launched a website earlier this year following the Scottish referendum campaign. But just how similar are the situations is these two would-be nations?

The ERC's website-  referendumescocia.cat
The histories of both countries are as colourful as they are complex and the individual intricacies of each deserve a much longer and closer analysis than I will offer here. But a simplified historical overview presents certain similarities. Both were independent nations in their own right until they were joined with their encompassing states through a unification of crowns, and both have fought bloody battles in the name of independence. Both retain their own flag, national anthem and a distinct cultural heritage whilst retaining a strong historical claim for independence.

Left The War of the Reapers (Catalunya, 1640-59) Right The Battle of Bannockburn (Scotland, 1314)

Modern Times
Such events may date back the best part of a millennia, yet historical facts have remained central to the progression of pro-independence movements in the modern era. The end of European imperialism completely changed the map of the world and returned the concepts of nation and independence to the front of peoples minds, especially in those places that had known and lost statehood. The return to democracy in Spain after the death of Franco in 1975 allowed Catalans to emerge from years of oppression and begin to dream of independence once again. The Catalan Parliament was re-instated in 1979 but Scotland had to wait until 1999 to elect a parliament of its own. Meanwhile international developments continued to bring the question of independence to the fore. When the dismantling of the USSR led to independence for several new eastern European states, it was questioned whether they could survive outside of the soviet bloc. However, the economical viability of these smaller nations without the support of imperial benefactors has been proven, especially within the framework of a modern European Union. In the current economic climate many Catalans and Scots are starting to believe independence would mean a more stable albeit smaller economy whilst the EU struggles through the worst recession since World War 2. As the possibility of independence has become a reality, public opinion in Catalunya has swerved dramatically in favour of independence. Opinion polls from several sources show that support for complete Catalan independence has risen from around 20 to almost 50 percent over the last decade. In Scotland, despite recent polls show support for Scottish independence has stalled, the fact that Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party achieved a majority in 2011 with a manifesto promise to call a referendum suggests that Scots share a desire for full independence.

Right The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh. Left The Parlament de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Yet for all these percieved similarities, the political atmosphere in Spain and the UK differs hugely. For one, events of the recent past have ingrained a subtle xenophobia towards Catalunya in the minds of many Spaniards. Catalunya was, along with the Basque Country, a main source of dissent against Francos ideal of a united, Castillian Spain throughout the years of dictatorship, a fact that has left many more patriotic Spaniards full of resentment. In turn, many Catalans protest the fact that the majority of the taxes from one of wealthiest regions of Spain are spent in other autonomous regions, while very little returns to the autonomous government in Barcelona. The fact that similar levels of historical and economical resentment can not be seen between Scots and the rest of the UK is perhaps the main reason why the Scottish referendum process has managed to get this far. The issue of language is a further key difference. Since the fall of Franco the Catalan language has become a vital political tool among a populace where 38% use Catalan habitually, and language is held up as evidence of  having a linguistically differentiated culture from the rest of Spain. Such a situation does not exist in Scotland, where native languages such as Gaelic and Scots have all but disappeared.

Needless to say, emotions surrounding this topic are incredibly strong, and I have only touched on several key ideological points here, perhaps to my discredit. Hopefully I can revisit these issues in future blog posts. But for now Spaniards and Catalans alike will watch the Scottish referendum unfold with bated breath,  as this simple overview provides once very possible conclusion; A victory for the Yes campaign will bring great encouragement to Catalan nationalists and set an important precedent within the EU while a vote for ‘No’ could mean the struggle for Catalan independence being pushed back another generation.

Links of Interest:

Sources: Institut d'Estadística de Catalunya,  Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió

dimarts, 3 de juliol de 2012

'Catalunya is not Spain'- The bitter taste of Spanish victory in Catalunya.

The celebrations that followed Spain’s 4-0 victory over Italy in Kiev took on a political subtext that sparked a heated debate on social networking sites. Moments after receiving their prize from UEFA President Michel Platini, Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fabregas posed for the waiting photographers, draping the Henri Delauny Trophy with the Senyera Catalana, the national flag of Catalunya. Their actions were rushed and awkward, as though they were aware of the response their actions would provoke. The offending flag was then draped around the neck of Xaví Hernandez, around whom the 8-man-strong FC Barcelona contingent grouped for a later photo-opportunity.

Almost instantly, comments criticising and insulting the players were posted on twitter.

A small selection of the offending tweets.

 Many took to the micro-blogging site to point  out the glaring hypocrisy of such comments, as many other players also wore the flags of their own respective autonomous regions; Sergio Ramos from Andalucia, David Silva from the Canary Isles and captain Iker Casillas with the flag of the Comunidad de Madrid. Yet it was the actions of the Catalan players alone that drew the vitriol of Twitter users.

This is not the first time that the Catalan flag has landed players in the centre of controversy. In 2011 Cesc Fabregas was forced to take to twitter and apologise to those offended by his display of the Estelada, a variation of the flag that carries communist and pro-independence connotations.

Yet this new victory for the Spanish national team has reinvigorated the debate surrounding the sporting representation of Catalunya. As with every success that the La Roja Furia achieves with its squad so full of Catalan talent, a new trophy and a new record will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many Catalan independentistes. Since the Catalan national selection is denied official status and  restricted to inconsequential and sporadic friendly fixtures, all hope for footballing pride and glory lies with the de facto Catalan national team, FC Barcelona. After a disappointing season which saw them fall at the semi-final stage of the Champions League and lose the Spanish league title to arch rivals Real Madrid, an international Spanish victory achieved with the collusion of Barcelona players is a bitter pill to swallow. For many in Catalunya, to be Catalan and play for Spain is nothing short of treason and this late lip-service paid to the Senyera did nothing absolve such a betrayal. Author Quim Monzó has said that he will renounce his membership of FC Barcelona next season in protest, while Barcelona ex-vicepresident Alfons Godall writes: “the fault is our own for not having our own state!”.

Barcelona's ex-vicepresident weighs in on the debate

In this instance, like countless others in the world of sport, it is impossible to enjoy the spectacle aside from its political connotations. For those proud Spaniards that exalt above all a single, united Spain, the sight of a national hero suggesting that their is not as unified as they believe is galling. Equally it sickens many a proud Catalan to see their own national heroes playing under the flag of a state that they oppose, when the glory should belong to a national team of Catalunya. Yet for all of the political complexities, one undeniable fact remains; without the Catalan players at the heart of its squad, Spain would be a shadow of the record-breaking team we see today.