Catalan Cultural Identity Essays


It's a shame the parents of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy didn't emigrate from Galicia to Switzerland, as my own parents did. We could imagine that helping him better understand and manage the Catalan crisis.

In the 1960s, when my parents' generation moved to Switzerland, they got a taste of what had been for them a forbidden fruit in the Francoist Spain they'd left: democracy. They observed with surprise how the Swiss would go to the polls several times a year to express their opinion about issues as diverse as alcoholism or water pollution.

They soon became a political issue themselves, and they looked on, incredulous, as the Swiss were called to vote on the presence of immigrants in their country. I remember the anxiety of these two Sundays, in 1970 and 1974, as we waited for the result of these initiatives on capping immigration. Most of all, I remember our great relief when the news on TV told us we wouldn't have to pack our bags.

Thanks to their emigration, my parents' generation, the one that had grown up in post-civil war Spain, discovered that democracy wasn't the diabolical invention they'd been told about. In Switzerland, people were able to debate without breaking up with their families, to campaign without beating up the other side's flag bearer and to express their points of view without turning over the fondue pot in the middle of the table.

What a shame that Mariano Rajoy's parents didn't emigrate to the city of Delémont. There, their son would have experienced in full immersion the organization of a self-determination referendum. That was on June 23, 1974, when people from the Jura region voted to secede from the canton of Berne to create their own canton.

In the year that preceded this referendum, I remember how we'd follow the Jurassic People's Festival from our windows. Tens of thousands of people would demonstrate peacefully shouting "Free Jura!" Afterwards, they would meet under the great tent outside the Delémont castle to dance, just like Galicians used to do in their village festivals.

In such an environment, the young Mariano Rajoy would perhaps have identified with the Jurassic separatists, like I did. When I was 10, my teammates in the local junior soccer club destroyed a Bernese flag on the shores of Lake Biel as we headed to a tournament in Geneva. I joined them, thus disobeying my parents who didn't want anything to do with what they called "cosas de Suizos," matters for the Swiss that were none of our business.

My description of these years might start to sound romanticized. I know there also were excess and clashes, but the solution was ultimately reached through democracy. It would have been a lesson for Mariano Rajoy.

Suppression is an admission of weakness, a mistake.

It really is a shame that he didn't grow up in this newly created canton of Jura. In the early 1980s, he would have been able to see from his window, just like I did, dozens of people demonstrating with the senyera, the Catalan flag. The newborn canton of Jura was then paying tribute to the thirst for freedom its people shared with that of Catalonia. It even inaugurated a square dedicated to the "Catalan country" where my neighborhood's playground is. That day, perhaps Mariano Rajoy would have understood that the Spanish, just like the Swiss, don’t all speak the same language and don’t necessarily have the same flag.

Yes, what a shame that Rajoy didn't emigrate to the canton of Jura. He probably wouldn't have asked, as the then leader of the opposition did, for Spain's Constitutional Court to block the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, approved both by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalans in a referendum. He would have known that you shouldn't play with fire, with the deepest feelings of a people. He certainly would have decided against sending the police against the people who voted on Oct. 1. In the Jura, he would have learned that resorting to suppression is an admission of weakness, a mistake.

Alas, Rajoy didn't emigrate. It's too bad. Had he grown up in Switzerland, the current debate probably wouldn't be about Catalonia's independence but rather on how to make space for it within Spain. Just like the Swiss Confederation did with the Jura region where I was born.

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Spanish attitudes to Catalan cultural identity

Written by CVadmin. Posted in Institutional News

CATALONIA VOTES – Madrid sees diversity as annoying rather than enriching

The latest news in the conflict on Catalonia’s educational model for its schools is that the Spanish Government wants to charge the Catalan Government more than 6000 euros for every student who wants to be taught only in Spanish but can’t find an option in the public school system. The Catalan Education Minister has promptly reacted and recalled that the Catalan model is different and that “we don’t separate pupils for language reasons”.

This is only another chapter in a long story of disagreements.  Catalonia is rich in culture and globally renowned for its artists and architecture, flag and language. From Miró, Dalí and Tàpies to Gaudí and Josep Carreras, from sardanes and castells to tiki-taka football and FC Barcelona, Catalonia’s cultural influence has for centuries spread beyond its borders.

However, during this time, Catalan culture has often been stifled by the Spanish state’s desire for cultural and Castilian homogeneity. In the last century, for example, under Franco‘s dictatorship, the use of the Catalan language was prohibited. The same had happened under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1924. Despite this, the strength of feeling ensured that Catalonia’s unique identity survived and indeed prospered.

Multilingual society

Figures released by the Catalan Ministry of Culture and the Catalan Institute of Statistics show 36.3% of citizens use Catalan as their second language, higher than the 31% who consider it their mother tongue. Underlying the image of a multi-lingual Catalonia, 50.7% use Spanish as their main language.  As the Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, said, “Catalonia consolidates a diverse and multilingual linguistic model”. In  the north-western corner of Catalonia, the Val d’Aran, the official language is Aranese (Occitan dialect) and Catalan and Spanish are co-official.

That being said, despite the recognition as an official language of Spain, the Catalan language is still undervalued today. Spain has moved into a democracy, but not yet into a cultural democracy. Plataforma per la Llengua, an NGO defending the Catalan language, documents the abuse those speaking Catalan are subjected to. Since 2007, there have been a disconcerting number of examples of Catalan speakers being denied basic services for speaking the “wrong” language.

Yet more worryingly, Madrid’s government has talked of “Hispanicising” children in Catalonia. These are not the words of someone representing a multi-cultural and multi-lingual Spain, as envisaged by the Constitution. It is one in a series of acts seeking to strengthen Madrid by quashing diversity.

Catalan culture has survived thus far, but Catalans wonder whether it can continue to prosper under pressure inside the Spanish State. This is one of the reasons why Catalans increasingly look to an independent Catalonia in order to safeguard their cultural identity.


Picture:  “L’esperit català” (1971), by Antoni Tàpies.

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