Catalonia – a new European state?

2014-12-25T14:13:39+00:0015 October 2012|Catalonia, Idle musings, People you meet, Seasonal, current|

Catalonia, a new European state

I’m no stranger to Catalonia. I’ve been here many times: in Barcelona, in Costa Brava and elsewhere. This time, however, something is different. I can’t help but notice a proliferation of Catalan flags – and freedom flags. Both the red-and-yellow striped national flag and l’estelada blava (the blue-starred flag of the independence movement), wave from windows and balconies across the region.

September 11 – in Catalonia

Turns out, the flags are up for 11 September. Isabel, a Girona native, explains.

Just like Chile and the USA have their horror stories of this date, so does Catalonia. On 11 September 1714, Catalan troops were defeated by the Spaniards after the 14-month-long Siege of Barcelona. Many of those who defended the city on that fateful day died and are buried at Barcelona’s Fossar de les Moreres, now a memorial plaza.

Nowadays 11 September is Catalonia’s national day, celebrated with flower offerings at Fossa de les Morenes and at other important monuments throughout the region, and with demonstrations and waving of the red-and-yellow striped flag.

This year is special

As I wander past one flag-draped balcony after another, we’re 11 days past the national day. One would expect the flags to have been taken down by now. Not so.

“This year is special,” I hear again and again. The sentiments seem to run especially deep this year. An age-old dream of Catalan independence seems within reach.

I chat with Antón from Vigo in northwest Spain. “I’m from the other side,” he laughs. Then, somberly: “If Catalonia wants independence, of course they should have it. This is something they have a right to choose for themselves.”

There was a time when it was not as straight-forward. Catalonia have had a strong independence campaign for centuries, but couldn’t always wave the flag. Some still found ways to express their political opinions, however. Josep Puig i Cadafalch, one of the major architects of the Modernisme movement built cleverly hidden messages in some of his buildings.

Building by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Barcelona Building by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Barcelona
The picture on top of the building above survived the Franco regime by being covered up. Under Franco, everything Catalan was banned.

Not just politics

So what will Spain do? Losing 7.5 million inhabitants will be noticeable, but even with ‘just’ 40 million, Spain will remain one of the major players in Europe.

“It’s not just a question of politics,” continues Antón, “but also of economics.”

With more than 25% unemployment (and an extremely worrying 52% among young people under 25), Spain has been hit hard by the current financial crisis. Catalonia is the wealthiest region in Spain, and many feel they will do better on their own. Everyone I spoke with complained about taxes, feeling that the region payed more than they got in return.

(All said ‘feel’. I don’t know if that’s significant – I’m not familiar enough with the language to know whether ‘feel’ is more commonly used in Spanish than it is in the northern European languages. Interesting, all the same.)

Balconies in Girona

Catalonia – a new state in the European Union?

I’m Norwegian, and my country has firmly (but, one hopes, politely) declined three invitations to join the European Union. I’m therefore interested to hear how the Catalans feel about the EU. Seems Catalonia wants to remain within the union. At least, none of the locals I spoke with voiced a different opinion. It’s just that they’d rather deal directly with the EU, as an independent member state. And with 7,5 million inhabitants, while it won’t be a huge member state, it won’t be insignificant. (More than half of EU’s member states have less than 10 million inhabitants).

Peaceful separatism

When I was in school, a girl in my year had a Spanish mother. At least, that’s what we called her. She, on the other hand, insisted she was Catalan. As kids, we didn’t really know the difference. And unlike Basque separatism, we simply didn’t hear much about the Catalan counterpart. But then, they never blew up cars or supermarkets. For most of my childhood, a trip to Spain meant a slight risk of becoming a victim of ETA terrorism. Not a great risk. But it was there. Somewhat ironically, ETA’s bloodiest attack took place in Barcelona.

I ask Gabriel, a student from Barcelona. “Catalans have never killed people,” he says. “That’s why I think we will win our freedom.” Then he adds, “maybe this year. This year is special.”

Disclosure: I was in Catalonia as a guest of Pirineu Girona Costa Brava Tourist Board. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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  1. Ana O 16 October 2012 at 0209 - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this post.

    “All said ‘feel’. I don’t know if that’s significant” Yes, it is. We Latins feel things rather than rationalise them 🙂

    The Catalan separatist movement, to the best of my knowledge, has never been violent. I have heard people say they were Catalans instead of Spanish when asked about their nationality. They talk about the Spanish in the third person, “them” as opposed to “us”. A bit like Texans! haha!

    As I was reading, I started to think about my maternal family (I know, I always have something to say… sorry) My great grandfather was a staunch separatist. He believed in a free Catalan state and my grandfather looks down on the rest of Spain, possibly with the exception of the Basques. Nothing much has changed.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 October 2012 at 1128 - Reply

      I love getting your thoughts, experiences and family stories on this, Ana. Super-interesting!

      • Ana O 16 October 2012 at 1531 - Reply

        Good! I didn’t want to bore you to tears 🙂

        • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2306 - Reply

          Not a chance 🙂

  2. ItalianNotes 16 October 2012 at 0909 - Reply

    I find it hard to understand those separatist movements, but I’ve hear the catalans argue their case very convincingly. Therefore I was surprise, when I red about an anti-independence demonstration in Barcelona a couple of days ago. Even in Catalonia there are conflicting views, it seems.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 October 2012 at 1133 - Reply

      Yes, there seems to be differing opinions and all kinds of political ramifications. Seems Catalan politicians are looking to Scotland, too.

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  4. Vera Marie Badertscher 16 October 2012 at 1654 - Reply

    I have read two books in the past year (and reviewed them at A Traveler’s Libray) that involve the Catalan independence movement. One is the fascinating Mother Tongues by Helena Drysdale which talks about many areas of Europe with their own language and varying thoughts of breaking away to become separate states. The second is Voices of the Old Sea by Norman Lewis. Another is Lying Crying Dying, by Dominic Martell set in Barcelona, and more about the Basques than the Catalans.

    And it just occurred to me that the two big independence movements in Spain, from people who don’t feel a part of the rest of the country, are both in the northern part that remained Christian and never was overtaken by the Moors. Hmmm, interesting.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2310 - Reply

      Helena Drysdale’s book has been on my to read-list for a bit. Popping over to A Travelers’ Library for your views on it.

  5. Olivia Watson 17 October 2012 at 1528 - Reply

    The economic situation is bad and one of the solutions to ending the crisis is secession. It would be complicated, but Catalonia has the capacity to reach full employment.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2311 - Reply

      Thanks for your input, Olivia.

      • Olivia Watson 19 October 2012 at 1306 - Reply

        You are most welcome Sophie 🙂

  6. Stefi 17 October 2012 at 1722 - Reply

    I hope that they will reach their goals on the way to the autonomy! I’ve been there in that part of Spain several times, they really deserve their individuality and independency!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2313 - Reply

      Interesting to get viewpoints from several countries on this.

  7. Michael Figueiredo 18 October 2012 at 0333 - Reply

    This is fascinating to me. I wonder if they’ll be successful in separating from the rest of Spain? I think that since the Basques have been unsuccessful that the Catalans won’t be either. Someday I hope to live in Barcelona, so it would be interesting if I move to the country of Cataluña.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2314 - Reply

      Only time will tell. Good luck with your Barcelona plans.

  8. Turkey's For Life 18 October 2012 at 1228 - Reply

    Really interesting post, Sophie, and İ’m so undecided about independence movements. (We have a lot of it in the UK as you are no doubt aware.) İnteresting that there are Catalan people against, as well as for, independence. We tend to clump everyone together in situations like this and assume everyone has the same belief. Whatever the outcome, let’s hope it remains a peaceful one.

    (Apologies for my upper case i. My keyboard is broken and İ have to use the Turkish upper case i. Hope you can read it okay.)


    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2318 - Reply

      Didn’t even notice the I’s 🙂

      And yes, I think it’s difficult to have a firm stand on independence movements myself. In the end, though, I think it must be up to the people concerned.

  9. Trekker 18 October 2012 at 1508 - Reply

    Interesting subplot 🙂 I wonder if they manage to get freedom by the end of next year.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2319 - Reply

      WIll be interesting to see what happens.

  10. Fanelli 18 October 2012 at 2252 - Reply

    I’m afraid there’s a little of mess regarding these Catalonian claims. Some people (not few) are saying now that Mas (current head in this region) is using independent push to mask bigger economic issues his Government is facing.
    Catalonia is, in fact, losing more inhabitants/week than other Spanish regions. It’s, probably, most indebted region in Spain (together with Madrid and Valencia) and it depends a lot from internal market (i.e., Spanish domestic market).
    I don’t doubt that they (Catalonians) have the right to ask for their “freedom”, as any other “cluster” of human beings. But I’m afraid many of their arguments are weak (from a legal standpoint) and a lot of legal battle will be on stage if they (CiU and partners) continue pushing this movement. Current world has other priorities, upon those of “land freedom”, and Catalonian SMEs could give a slap of reality, should the moment arrive.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 October 2012 at 2321 - Reply

      Thanks for weighing in. Very interesting to get viewpoints from the Spanish side as well 🙂

  11. Leigh 20 October 2012 at 0112 - Reply

    Interesting post Sophie and great first photo. I too had noticed a lot of flags in Barcelona last year but it took a day to clue in that they were Catalan flags. I always think a country is stronger together but perhaps the Spanish government will have to take a different approach with the Catalan population – perhaps be more accommodating. We have a Quebec separatist government in power in that province but I think most Quebecois realize they are stronger as a group of 30 million Canadians than 7 million Quebecois. The separatists are very vocal though.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 October 2012 at 1146 - Reply

      Yes, I’ve been following the Quebecois issue. A cessation of Quebec from Canada would have pretty serious implications for other provinces, too. Lots to consider.

  12. Andrea 21 October 2012 at 1533 - Reply

    So much going on in Europe right now… it will be very interesting to see what happens in Spain.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 October 2012 at 1146 - Reply

      Agreed 🙂

  13. D.J. - The World of Deej 21 October 2012 at 1714 - Reply

    Wow, I had no idea the dual history of September 11th. I know the Catalans have long had an independent streak. I hope they get their wish…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 October 2012 at 1147 - Reply

      Interesting to see how it all unfolds…

  14. Jarmo 22 October 2012 at 1526 - Reply

    It was quite interesting to see all those flags everywhere in Girona, I had to ask a local what they were about 🙂 There definitely seems to be strong sentiment for independence.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1030 - Reply

      You heard it, too 🙂

  15. Cathy Sweeney 24 October 2012 at 0903 - Reply

    Fascinating perspectives from someone who knows Catalonia well. I got a taste of the drive toward independence while I was there last month — seeing the flags, talking to people. It will be so interesting to see what happens.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1031 - Reply

      I really enjoy getting the local viewpoints.

  16. Andrew Graeme Gould 25 October 2012 at 0421 - Reply

    Very interesting post, and comments so far. Although I haven’t been the yet, I’m not surprised that a reasonable percentage of the population of Catalonia would want independence from Spain. They are, after all, culturally and linguistically unique, suffered under Franco, and their 11th of September (which I hadn’t heard about before) must still be a sore point, to at least some degree. It will be interesting to see what happens if they do get to have a referendum.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1032 - Reply

      I’ll be following the developments closely.

  17. Yeah Sure 26 October 2012 at 1546 - Reply

    I’m Catalan, and catalans who agree with independece, have killed a lot of people, only see this:

    Sorry for my bad English skills

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1037 - Reply

      Thanks for your input.

  18. Barcelona Charms 1 November 2012 at 2002 - Reply

    Very interestinting to see how foreigners see this situation. Yes indeed we are living incredibly interesting times. Even the most optimistic would have never dremaned the things that are happening these days in Catalonia!

    We ahve an active campaign supported by many citizens that says “Penja-la i no la despengis fins a la Independència” > something like “Hang it out (on your balcony) and don’t put it away till we are independent”

    Yes, there was a small terrorist movemente called Terre LLiure but thank God they never really succeeded.

    I tnink there’s agreta majority of Catalans who waht Independence… wel we jut have to waiy tikk November 25th to see the election results… it seems Independentists parties will be a huge majority.

    Here cute litttle video: “Let’s not tell him tales, Let’s build him a Country”

    Love from Bracelona!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1042 - Reply

      Thanks for elaborating on the story as it unfolds – and Bon Nadal!
      (The video wouldn’t open, btw)

  19. Abby 2 November 2012 at 1006 - Reply

    Fascinating. I lived in the south of Spain for awhile many years ago and used to go back every single year — to Barcelona. I’ve been reading the news religiously, but seeing it through your eyes, with the flags, and the September 11th date (I was living in NYC during OUR September 11th…) Basically, this blew my mind! I’ve also been reading a ton about Basque country, how they weirdly have a much lower unemployment rate. I was actually a political science major studying in Spain, so I really dug into it back then. Really, this is so fascinating!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1043 - Reply

      It’s a fascinating history, I think – a region ever in motion.

  20. Christian 8 November 2012 at 2336 - Reply

    Hi Sophie. I live in Barcelona, but I’m from Alicante, a southern town in Spain, so I’m not catalan. In fact, I’m a foreigner in my own country depending of the view of some people in here.

    I don’t feel catalan. But I don’t feel spaniard either. I’m feel european and I think that the EU is the most important milestone reached in our history, and the meaning of Union is just union, not independence. Europe speaks a lot of languages and have to manage a lot of different people and cultures. We’ve a very special situation and the EU is the best way to being powerful as time has demonstrated. We need less borders and Catalonia, Belgium, Scotland and a lot of regions across Europe should understand that we belong from a crude history formed by a lot of wars and today we need to stay together. No more borders.

    I’m glad with the idea of the joining of Spain and Portugal. I think we’ll win together in this situation. However, the idea of make a difference creating a new country I think becomes from a racist thinking: “I’m different and more powerful than you, so I prefer growing by myself without helping you”. That’s what independence means 🙁

    • Sachin 11 December 2012 at 1927 - Reply

      that some parts of a law in this case the Catalonian Statute were not in accordance with the Constitution and neeedd to be changed. Exactly what any Supreme Court would do in a Federal State in regard to a State law. Is that so surprising? I agree on one thing: Catalonia has the right to seek for its independence if a clear majority of its population wants to. I do not think, however, that this is the case today. Trying to manipulate history and the Law is not the right way to achieve any political goal.

    • Marc 12 December 2012 at 1027 - Reply

      I think this is not the point of view of most Catalans. We feel different as France or Germany feels different from Spain. We have our own traditions, language and way to do things.
      We don’t want to put borders, is there a true border between France and Spain right now? No. But every region tries to make the better rules/laws for their people, and we just don’t feel comfortable or represented by spanish ones.

      One of the latest law proposal is really rising catalan feelings:
      Education minister Wert wants to make catalan learning, completely optional (but spanish is a must of course), even behind english or french. We are proud in catalonia to be multilingual (spanish, catalan, english and some people, french). This is just a way to politicize our country in an unnecessary way. They argue that catalan kids don’t learn spanish, when statistics says that catalan kids have one of the highest punctuations of spain…

      Another point is the economic one of course. What will any EU state say if with the money given to help other states, this other states have better services and infrastructure then they have?
      This is what mostly happens to Catalunya, we have one of the best GDP of Spain so we give more as fees, that’s ok and we understand that. But, why if we generate 100, and give 40 (we finally have 60), there are other regions that generates 40 and finally have 70 to spend with the help of the others? That’s not fair from my point of view.

      Finally, is true that we still have dependency on spanish market, but this year we have exported more to the rest of the world (54%) than to spain (46%). But again, we don’t have to stop selling to Spain, as we don’t stop exporting to the rest of the world even if we are not the same state.

      And we feel ashamed of some politicians that say that we will change our kids surnames to a catalan one when we reach the independence, that’s insulting, and is what we face from spanish and anti-independence politicians every single day.

      For these and a lot more of reasons, we want to get out of Spain. Of course not everybody wants that inside of Catalunya, but that’s how democracy works.

      • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1019 - Reply

        Thanks very much for your input in this discussion, Marc, Sachin and Christian. I really appreciate you all taking the time to leave your thoughts on this.

  21. Victor Tribunsky 10 November 2012 at 1837 - Reply

    The keyword – “Peaceful” separatism

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1045 - Reply

      Important indeed.

  22. InsideJourneys 13 November 2012 at 2155 - Reply

    Both groups have wanted their own autonomy for a while now. In the 70s when we were there, we heard more about the Basques – they were more vocal and violent in their approach. The Catalonians talked — at least the family we stayed with did. It was often discussed at dinner, loudly and vociferously by the man of the house.

    Quebec has been talking about being autonomous since the 70s.

    The news today was about Texas and several states wanting to secede.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1047 - Reply

      I didn’t hear about Texas recently – although Texas, and Alaska, have had fairly vocal secession movements for a long time, no?

  23. Andy 16 November 2012 at 1834 - Reply

    Spain is a very interesting country. It is one of those countries that has people who think that they are from different ‘countries’. Catalonia is not the only place in Spain that feels this way. As much as we think our state system is perfect, it may not always be so.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 December 2012 at 1048 - Reply

      Spain is indeed an interesting country 🙂

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