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.