A New Spin on Independence Day

Normally on the 4th of July we would be watching fireworks, cooking out with friends and celebrating our country’s Independence Day. This year was quite different, since we spent the morning walking the streets of Venice and the afternoon navigating our way through the borders of Italy and Slovenia to end the day in Croatia. While we won’t have fireworks and patriotic songs, it seems appropriate to reflect on our nation’s fight for autonomy and its own national identity. It brings to mind a similar struggle taking place at this very moment in the region that served as our temporary home for the past 6 weeks – Catalunya.

To understand Catalunya, one must first understand that Catalan is a language, not an accent or dialect. As old or possibly older than Spanish and English, Catalan is spoken in the small country of Andorra, the northeast region of Spain, and a few areas in southwestern France. This is the area referred to as Catalunya. Similar to our American culture, the Catalan people value hard work and fair business practices. Over the centuries, they have endured extremely difficult periods of drought, disease, and political persecution, leading Catalunya to be pragmatic, prepared, and somewhat pessimistic in its collective personality. While Andorra has become it’s own independent state and the French Catalunya area has assimilated into France’s central government, Spanish Catalunya continues to strive for independence of its own.

Catalan pride has endured in Spain over time amid significant controversy and setbacks. The region experienced varying degrees of autonomy as wars and ruling governments came and went over the centuries. This area of Catalunya came under permanent Spanish rule in the early 1700s after a bloody and hard fought battle for Barcelona. Despite being part of Spain, Catalunya worked to retain its local laws, culture and language. While this was tolerated by the central government in Madrid, a contemptuous relationship consistently existed between Catalunya and the rest of “Castillian” Spain. The Catalan culture stopped being tolerated when Francisco Franco rose to power in the 1930s. Catalunya resisted his forces for 3 years before finally falling to his regime in 1939. The Catalan language, customs and civil regulations were immediately outlawed, and the region suffered for decades under Franco’s power which lasted until 1975.

These historical events shape Catalunya today. Catalans don’t associate themselves with the rest Spain. The traditions of bull fighting and flamenco dancing many affiliate with Spain will not be found in Catalunya. Instead, you’ll find people climbing on top of each other to build human castles, celebrating holidays through widespread pyromania, and dancing the sardana, a folkdance where people stand in a circle holding hands and bouncing to and fro (probably the most boring folkdance you’ll ever see). Catalans might watch Spain in the World Cup, but they are really cheering for their own Barcelona players on the field, not the country as a whole. Economically, many Catalans see the government in Madrid to be leaning on the strong work ethic and thriving economy of Catalunya and spreading the Catalans’ own hard-earned money to those in other parts of Spain who would rather live off of government systems.

For these and a multitude of other political and economic reasons, Catalunya has organized itself to become its own independent state. While the government in Madrid has stated it will never recognize Catalan independence, this November the citizens in Spanish Catalunya will vote to determine if they as a people want to seek separation from Spain. This is a movement that is years in the making. During our family’s last visit there four years ago, independence was gaining momentum. Today, the early visions for galvanizing support for it have become a reality. Catalan independence flags can be found all over the region, publicly declaring support for separation. The United States and other counties with a struggle for independence in their histories can relate to this fight for autonomy and national identity. However, in this modern time, Catalans are using meetings instead of “minute men” and the battles between the two sides are harnessing the power of the media rather than the power of weapons.

Our family will be interested to see how this movement for independence creates history in our modern day. If Catalunya’s  November vote is in favor of independence, how will the government in Madrid respond? If they deny Catalon’s separation, how will the international community respond? Could a small new nation prosper on its own? What would the impacts be for the rest of the Spanish citizens? Time will tell and the Carisch family will be watching as this interesting story about people’s long held desire for a national identity unfolds.

About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

Author Archive Page


  1. LOVE your posts! Look for people with the last name of Durkot (usually spelled with one t in the “old country”- Slovakia Slovakia, Hungary and parts of Austria). They are probably John ‘s cousins. His grandfather, Michail came to the US in the early 1900s we think. He claimed to be “Austrian Slav..” Orsacz in Slovakia is listed as his birthplace. At that time the whole region was part of one big empire .

    1. Thanks for the info! We’ll also be in Hungary later this summer. We’ll have ample opportunity to look for the Durkot name. :-)

  2. Catalonia (I notice your Catalan version!) is watching the referendum on Scottish independence carefully. As always, people wanting independence are more vocal and visible than are the skeptics. Important differences exist between the Scottish and Catalan situations, with Scotland having fewer natural resources than when the movement first began (North Sea oil). And both are very different from the U.S. fighting against the small owner an ocean away. Many Americans, recently, have idealized the Irish strife, with romantic notions of revolution and extremely poor understanding of the nuances of the situation, especially for the inhabitants of both Eire and Northern Ireland. But that didn’t stop both Reagan and Clinton, ironically, from making gaffes. I know many Catalans who don’t want independence, even though they’re fiercely loyal to Catalonia and to their language and culture. Spain’s tottering economy, let alone their disastrous performance in the World Cup, hasn’t helped with national unity. The questions are: Can Catalonia thrive alone and will independence for them spell ruin for the remainder of Spain? Unfortunately, some Catalans couldn’t care less about the second question.

    1. I agree there are parallels and misunderstood nuances. The areas we were in were predominately pro-independence, but I understand that Barcelona has a more diverse range of opinions. From what I can gather, had the many promises made to Catalunya over the years been upheld, there wouldn’t be as much support behind the independence movement and perhaps it wouldn’t have become a movement at all. However, those pushing for independence see no other possible future. They don’t trust any negotiations Madrid would be willing to make to reach a middle ground because from their standpoint past agreements have not been upheld by the government, so why would it be any different this time? To me it resembles the story of the bully picking on the little guy and then coming to regret it later when the little guy ain’t so little anymore. It’s led to exactly what you’re talking about – Catalans supporting independence see no reason why they should care about the wellbeing of the rest of Spain. I’m not sure I would either if I had been in their position these past three hundred years.

      1. I agree with you Tracey! You’ve understood very well the situation. Of course there are Catalans that are not pro-independence, but why can´t we try and see if it works?


Post a Reply to Robin McWilliam Cancel Comment

Your email address will not be published.