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.