What’s Up with Catalonia?
First stop… Barcelona. From the point of view of many citizens in Barcelona, we are not really beginning our vacation in Spain, but in Catalonia. If you’ve followed international news at all in recent years or even recent days, you know that the Catalonians have been embroiled in a heated battle with the central Spanish government to gain their independence. It is a complicated topic to be sure and despite all I have read, I am not certain which side I would be on if I had to choose. I think you have to be a Catalonian to really understand the motivations and justification for the movement which, both economic and cultural, are deeply rooted in history.
Following the death of long-time dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975, a democracy was established in Spain. Unlike many democracies, Spain is not a federal country organized under one overriding body of government as we have in the United States. It is composed of seventeen autonomous communities, each one with its own parliament and some degree of legislative power. Historically, the concept of autonomy or self-rule has existed in the lands now known as Spain for hundreds of years so it is well-ingrained into its people. This autonomy gives each region great leeway to govern itself as it sees fit making unification on any particular issue for the entire country almost impossible. There are several fiercely independent groups the most notable of which are the Galicians, the Basques, and the Catalonians. They have all fought for complete separation from Spain at various times throughout the years with initiatives for such independence similar to those attempted in Scotland and Quebec.
The most recent referendum for Catalonian independence occurred in October 2017. The referendum passed but was flatly denied by the central Spanish government in Madrid who framed it as a coup and charged many of its leaders with rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds. Some of those leaders fled the country to avoid arrest. Others remained behind and have been jailed for two years. Just this past week, a trial for 12 of the defendants finally ended and they are awaiting sentencing. This is no rag-tag group. They are highly-educated politicians, professors, economists — experts in Catalonian independence and what it means for its people. In a closing statement Jordi Sánchez, one of the most prominent Catalonian leaders, told the court, “Catalonians are not sheep.” He reminded the judges that two million people came out to vote and they were not manipulated or coerced. Sánchez concluded by saying, “You have the job of not worsening the political situation. I would not like to be in your shoes.” The fate of the accused will not be decided until November. It will be very interesting to see how this situation plays out for the Catalonian people.
Why should we care about Catalonian independence? I spent my entire career as a bilingual teacher promoting multicultural and multilingual education; endeavoring to improve the appreciation and understanding of others. I believe it’s extremely important for people to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage which is what a majority of Catalonians seem to want for themselves. They have been denied this right for years. Once any group of people loses their unique, individual heritage, they lose their true identity. It is gone for good — extinct like so many species on this earth and the world is certainly no better for it.
Whenever we travel, we make every effort to communicate in the language of the country we are visiting even if only with a few words. So I’ve added some basic Catalán words to our vocabulary. Here they are with their Spanish equivalents for an interesting comparison.
Hello – Hola – Hola
Good morning – Buenos días – Bon dia
Please – Por favor – Si us plau
Pardon – Perdón – Perdó
Thank you – Gracias – Gracies
Goodbye – Adiós – Adéu
While Catalán may appear to be a mix of Spanish and French, it’s really not based in either one. In spelling, it is closer to Spanish making it somewhat visually recognizable to the fluent Spanish-speaker. However, with regard to grammar and pronunciation, it is more similar to French. With our skills in both of those languages, it is still quite a challenge for us to decipher but seems less intimidating than other languages. I’m hoping that keeping all these linguistic, cultural, and political aspects in mind as we visit this region over the next week will make our experience all the more rewarding.