Categorized | News, Opinion


In December, I asked for a guest column on the Catalonia independence issue.  I am pleased to post this from Saim Dušan Inayatullah (slightly edited; Saim’s English is excellent!) and I must say he brings impressive credentials to the issue.

I am not Catalan by origin, but I have been studying here for the past year and a half. I was born in Australia to a Yugoslav mother and a Punjabi father. I’m an avid language learner and nowadays the main language of my daily life is Catalan. I’m in the middle of a bachelors of linguistics (with Polish and Modern Hebrew) at the University of Barcelona, and I have a keen interest especially in sociolinguistics (the cultural and social aspects and perceptions of language) and the status of minority languages. When I first came here I was excited with the steps Spain had taken to recognise Catalan, Galician and Basque and give some of its regions autonomy, and was an adherent of the idea that Spain could be reorganised as a multilingual and multinational federation, along the model of Belgium, Canada or Switzerland. However, when I learned Catalan and followed Spanish politics I came to learn of Castilian (ethnic-Spanish) intransigence on the issue and the push for recentralisation and the attacks on the public presence of the languages other than Castilian-Spanish I became an independentist.

Saim certainly knows more langauges than I do (I had several years in Germany and was at one time somewhat conversant in German and took a year of high school Russian and also dabbled in Spanish.  Here is his essay on Catalonia:

Catalonia is a nation. At least, that’s what the majority consensus is within that territory. Outside of Catalonia, however, that viewpoint seems hardly known. Not few are the Catalans who complain that they when they travel abroad they get automatically identified as “Spaniards”. I’m thus very grateful to Virginia Right for the opportunity to raise awareness on the Catalan question overseas.

Catalonia’s history dates back the the Middle Ages, where it arose as a collection of Latin-speaking feudal realms. Eventually, it became the dominant territory of the Aragonese Crown, which controlled a large part of the Western Mediterranean. Then, as many who are savvy in Spanish history doubtless already know, it united with Castile through a dynastic union and became part of “the Spains” (as it was referred to at the time). However, each territory of this dynastic union maintained its own laws, identity and language, so Spain as a country didn’t really exist at the time.

The real assimilation occurred in 1716. In the Spanish War of Succession Catalonia and Castile mostly backed different pretenders to the Spanish throne. Castile won and Catalonia lost its institutions and laws, becoming fully annexed into Castile and having the Spanish language (also known as Castilian) imposed in administrative use. What was once “the Spains” became simply “Spain”. This lead to a period of decadence where not much was written in Catalan, the autochtonous language of the territory. Then in the Renaixença (Catalan rebirth) and the subsequent creation of Catalan nationalism in the 1800s and 1900s, the Catalan identity came back to the forefront and Catalonia was ruled by Catalan nationalist parties. Ultimately, a Catalan Republic was declared in 1934 by the President Companys, but this was crushed by the rule of the fascist dictator Franco. Companys was killed by Franco and Catalonia was reincorporated into Spain without any autonomy.

Then came several decades of Francoist dictatorship, where Catalan was banned in public use (in publishing, television, even on the telephone or when congregating in larger groups). Simultaneous to the removal of Catalan from the public sphere, there was a massive migration of ethnic Castilians (Spanish-speakers) who came from the south of Spain to work in Barcelona’s and Tarragona’s factories. This radically changed the small country’s demographics, as this was the first time in Catalan history where most people even knew Spanish, let alone spoke it as a mother tongue. To this day a majority of Catalans have some ancestry from this wave of migration, which is one of the principal difficulties in declaring the Catalan Republic again.

Then, the dictatorship opened up and allowed elections. This gave Catalans lots of hope, as they were given a Statute of Autonomy and Catalan was once again made an official language in Catalonia. For a couple of decades use of Catalan in the educational system and its new presence in television, along with the mixing of younger Catalan and Spanish speakers, Spanish-speakers began to integrate as Catalans and there was the beginning of a national recuperation. Most Catalans in this period didn’t want independence, but a federation where the four main ethnic groups in Spain (Spaniards/Castilians, Catalans, Basques and Galicians) had their respective sovereignties respected and were allowed to develop their own culture and language in peace.

However, this dream of a plurinational Spanish federation has proven to be futile. The Spanish president Zapatero promised to support any amendment to the Catalan statute of autonomy that came out of Catalonia’s parliament – in the end the new statute was crushed by Spain. Recently Spain’s Education Minister José Ignacio Wert has been rolling back the presence of Catalan, threatening Catalonia’s autonomy and its widely popular Catalan-medium education system. The presence of Catalan is also being rolled back in less powerful Catalan-speaking autonomies of Spain (Valencia and the Balearics), so Catalan-speakers in Catalonia fear they could be next. Insults against Catalans and Catalonia are widespread in Spanish media and in popular jokes.

For all those reasons, most federalists have now come to favour independence, because they realise Castile does not want a strong or sovereign Catalonia – nowadays the support for independence has reached around 60% according to recent statistics, when it hardly reached 20% a decade ago. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to the reestablishment of the Catalan Republic, or if this will once again be crushed by Spain through violence. I certainly hope that these things can be resolved democratically and through a referendum, at least in these days and age. However, it doesn’t seem the Madrid government is interested in dialogue. The next couple of years will be definitely be interesting ones for Catalonia and indeed all of Europe.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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