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25 November 2012
The result of today’s election of members of the Parliament of the Spanish region of Catalonia will determine whether the region’s President Artur Mas has secured enough popular backing to go ahead with the referendum on independence from Spain that he has promised within the next four years.
Catalonia, the richest region of Spain, has recently fallen on hard times.
GDP has fallen by 1.1 per cent between the second quarters of 2011 and 2o12. Unemployment in the third quarter of 2012 was 22.6 per cent. The consumer price index rose by 4.2 per cent in the year to October 2012.
Popular and political sentiment in Catalonia put the blame for the region’s faltering economy on the huge tax-take that Spain’s central government in Madrid levies on Catalonia in order to finance subsidies for Spain’s poorer regions such as Andalusia and Extremadura.
A recent opinion poll found that 57 per cent of Catalans want to secede from Spain and join the European Union as an independent country.
However, Spain’s constitution contains no provision for a region to secede. Even holding a referendum is likely to be declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Moreover, the central government in Madrid will stop at nothing to prevent secession. The deployment of central government troops to reverse any unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia cannot be ruled out. Spain, after all, is a country where memories of the 1936-1939 Civil War – in which Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s rebels defeated the legitimate Spanish government based in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia – are still alive and bitter. Madrid is rightly afraid that the secession of Catalonia could well spark demands for independence from other Spanish regions, such as the restive Basque provinces, threatening a break-up of the whole country.
The Catalan Parliament has 135 seats and Mas’s conservative political party, Convergència i Unió, needs to win 68 of these to have an overall majority. If it fails to do this, Mas can still press ahead with his plan for a referendum provided he can assemble enough seats in coalition with the leftwing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party. Both parties favour independence. The Socialist Party and the Partit Popular de Catalunya (the latter the sister party of the party in power in Madrid) both oppose independence.
On 11 September this year, Catalonia’s national day, 1.5 million people demonstrated in the streets of Barcelona in support of independence. This was quite a turn-out as the total population of the region is only 7.5 million.
Catalonia has two potent symbols that incarnate the region’s separateness from Spain: its flag (la senyera) and the Catalan language.
The flag sports four horizontal red stripes on a yellow background.
The Catalan modernista poet Joan Maragall (1860-1911) wrote a famous patriotic ode to the flag:
EL CANT DE LA SENYERA
Oh, bandera catalana
nostre cor t’es ben fidel.
Volaràs com au galana
per damunt del nostre anhel.
Per mirar-te sobirana
alçarem els ulls al cel.
O flag of Catalonia
our hearts are loyal to you.
You will fly like a gallant bird
over and above our yearning.
To see you reigning sovereign
we shall raise our eyes to the heavens.
The other major symbol of Catalonia is the Catalan language. This is a Romance language (ie a language derived from Latin) related to both Castilian Spanish and the Occitan of southern France. Within Spain, Catalans can normally understand Castilian but the inverse is not true. The area in which Catalan is spoken is considerably larger than the administrative region of Catalonia proper. It includes Valencia, the Balearic Isles (Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera), the state of Andorra, parts of Aragon bordering Catalonia, the French department of Roussillon (known as “Catalunya nord” in Catalonia) and even the town of L’Algher (“Alghero” in Italian) in Sardinia. The famous Catalan poem “Oda a la Pàtria” by Carles Aribau, which we reproduced in our post “Homage to Catalonia”on 20 November 2012, contains a paean to the language.
Still awaiting the result of today’s parliamentary election in Catalonia, we shall conclude this post with a popular short poem by the “Prince of Catalan Poets” Mossèn Jacint Verdaguer i Santaló (1845-1902):
patria del meu cor,
quan de tu s’allunya,
d’enyorança es mor.
my heart’s native land,
to leave you
is to die of longing.
Okay, it sounds a bit schmaltzy to a contemporary ear, but remember, these guys were writing in the 19th century when this kind of stuff was real cool.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.