Before I moved into my shitty flat in Poble Sec, I lived in an even shittier flat in Eixample. One of the reasons I moved into the latter in the first place was because the Catalan/Spanish guy who was to be my future housemate seemed like the kind of cool and sensible companero de piso one would want to live with. Ok he had a few scary tattoos, but he spoke fluent English, had lived in London and was willing to waive the small matter of a deposit which I didn’t have… Needless to say we soon became firm friends.
As is inevitable when you live in Barcelona one topic of conversation that would crop up during late night beer/smoking/DVD sessions would be Catalan national identity and how the region as a whole fit into Spain – sometimes not very comfortably. Albert (as my friend is called) always had something intelligent to say on the matter, which was a refreshing change from some of the blind fervour of a lot of the pro-Catalan/anti-Spain sentiments you often get when you are stupid enough to broach the subject.
A few months ago Albert forwarded me a short paper he wrote for an assignment he was set whilst polishing his English in California (no, he didn’t meet, or shag, Katy Perry, I already asked…). The subject of his paper was the ongoing Catalonia vs. Spain debate and – a few spelling mistakes aside – I definitely found it as insightful as anything I’ve read on the subject. So, with his permission, I’ve reproduced it, mildly proofread (I’m tired!) but unedited. It’s a work of personal reflection much more than rigid academia, but I for one found it very interesting and a worthy call for common sense…
The Senseless Dilemma
What you are going to read in the following pages of this final paper could be seen a social problem, catalogued by office-rat sociologists, encrypted by statistics and published in boring magazines for specialists that will never be read by the people who are actually affected by this issue.
I want to propose a different way to approach to this delicate matter.
I want to explain through my personal experience, and the experience of other people I know, what are the current relationships between young Catalan and Spanish people, what are the issues, and a brief explanation of the current situation. And I couldn’t have chosen a better day. In the following 48 hours (28-29th Nov), the two most important events of the year are taking place in Barcelona, the capital city of the Catalonia autonomous community within Spain: the elections for the Catalan parliament and `El Clasico´, the football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
For some people who don’t understand Spanish culture it could sound ridiculous that this soccer match is even mentioned, but for those of us who live in Spain it is definitely not and it is one of the topics I’ll try to explain for the best comprehension possible of this big lack that affects the freedom, peace and happiness of our society.
1. What is Catalonia? What is her status inside Spain?
Spain is divided in 17 ¨autonomous communities¨ (literal translation), each community has her own government and parliament and representatives in the Spanish Senate in Madrid. All of them have the same legal rights and status inside the country. But there are 3 regions that in terms of language and history have their own national feelings. Galicia (in the north-west corner of the country), the Basque Country (in the central north coast) and Catalonia (in the north-east corner). We are going to focus in this last region today.
Catalonia has aprox. 7.5 million inhabitants and her role inside Spanish
economy is crucial. In fact the two more economically developed regions in Spain are Catalonia and the Basque Country, which by chance are the two strongest separatist regions of the country. Did I say by chance? Well in fact there are a lot of people from Spain’s other regions (obviously not very happy with these desires towards secession) who state that the intentions of those states aiming for independence are based mostly on avarice.
To make a long story short, Spain’s economic system tries to get the money from the richest areas of the country to invest it on the poorest areas (similar to E.U. system). At first sight this system seems fair, but the reality is that is creating lot of social tension inside the country. Catalonia is treated like any other community and most of the money from her taxes is invested in poorest areas of the South. A lot of Catalan people are not happy with this system, but in order to make the matter more complex there’s a disturbing fact: nearly the 36% of Catalan population are (or descend from) people from these poor areas who moved to Barcelona and other Catalan important cities in the 1960s.
2. A hard new life. Personal opinion.
This fact obviously turns this situation into a very complex matter. All this Spanish people who came mainly from the southern regions of Spain and Galicia, were established in huge suburbs creating the current metropolitan area of Barcelona. They came to Catalonia looking for a job and an improvement in their standards of life. But it wasn’t that easy. This first generation (my grandparents’ generation) had to work extremely hard to provide the following generations a better life. They worked mainly in industrial sector (men) and as maids (women) for the rich Catalan bourgeoisie. Fortunately the second generation (my parents’ generation) had the chance of studying, getting better jobs and even some lucky ones create their own small business.
The life in these suburbs was not different from the life in their origin
regions; they had friends from the same hometowns and continued with their cultural expressions (flamenco, typical foods, etc). Most of the people in the first two generation didn’t even learn Catalan. But then the situation changed for the third one.
The third generation (my generation) grew up in the early 1990s. We learnt Catalan at school and we know how to use it at native level. Nevertheless, is not commonly used, especially in the relationship between the people at the suburbs. Our generation enjoys great standards of living thanks to the efforts of our past generations. We have the same opportunities and preparation that the traditional Catalan people. But what about the feelings?
Well, we could say there’s mainly three different ways of thinking:
• People who feel Spanish and rejects all kind of Catalan independence.
• People who feel as Spanish as Catalan (or in very similar levels)
• People who feel Catalan and rejects Spanish oppression.
At this point I think it is fair to reveal what is my personal opinion on this matter. Broadly speaking, I could consider myself on the second group. I always introduce myself as Spanish person from Barcelona. I’m proud of belonging to Spain, not in a patriotic way, but I love the people, the places, the foods and the way of living that makes our country a great place to live. And at the same time I love the culture, the language, the joy and the determination of the Catalan people. And I would never treat anyone different just for the community he is from, as I wouldn’t do it for the country he is from. I’m mostly a peaceful guy who doesn’t take too seriously politics and just want to meet interesting nice people. Unfortunately, seems this is a rareness these days.
3. Relationship between young people.
Spanish and Catalan politics are playing a very dangerous game these days. They like to place themselves in a clear position and radicalize it to attract as many voters as possible. The result is that they are increasing tension between the population of the country, which has reached dramaticl levels due the economical crisis that affects the country. This tension can lead you to very unpleasant situations. Like being introduced to another Spanish person and been instantly rejected when you reveal where are you from. Or being insulted by a stranger just because your name is Catalan. People that don’t even know what are your political feelings. Never mind. You’re Catalan, you’re out.
4. More than soccer.
This tension is well represented by undoubtedly the most important popular event in the country: El Clasico. The match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is definitely more than football. It’s seen by many people as a battle between Catalonia and the central evil power of Madrid. OK, it’s true that there’s lot of FCB supporters in Madrid and vice versa; and OK, it’s true that many of the players from both teams are not even Catalan or Spanish. But the people, the supporters see it on that way. It’s proved that all these mentioned tensions, usually hidden and politely covered, become wild and unleashed when this match is taking place twice a year, one in Barcelona and another one in Madrid.
All the political class and the hot shots attend the game, and they all make their statements before and after the game on the TV, egging the people to support their teams as they would defend their hometowns in a war!
Fortunately most of the people are smart enough to forget all this bullshit and simply spend a great time enjoying a beer with his friends watching probably the best two soccer teams in the planet. (Editor’s note, except Arsenal).
The tensions between Catalan people and Spanish people are not brand new; they have been taking place in the last few centuries. The reasons and interpretations have been smoothly adapting through the times. To the rejection suffered from Spanish population, in our case (my case and the closest people I know) we have to add the rejection of the traditional Catalan people, who contemptuously call us ¨charnegos¨, a slang term used to talk down about the descendants of all this people who one day came to Catalonia looking for a better life.
On one hand this makes me feel worse, because I feel alone, lost between two people. On the other hand it makes me keep balance, as I would never radicalize my opinions as I feel I don’t belong to any of these two factions.
And finally it makes me feel stronger. Strong and determined to not fall in this silly game created by interested politicians, who use the ancient nationalistic feelings to keep the common people conflicting in the benefit of a few. Because when they try to radicalize the people and they talk about secession `balkanization´ and civil war they are obviously not thinking for the benefit of us, the people.
But I’m confident and hopeful that in the 21st century people are smart enough to avoid all these kind of confrontations. I really hope so.
Albert Rodriguez, 29th November 2010