The Soapbox Scoop: Catalan Independence and People Being Nuts

Trouble in Spain as Crisis Continues

Trouble in Spain as Crisis Continues

By Regina Winkle-Bryan

Things are getting weird in Spain, but especially in Barcelona, where I live. I went to buy the newspaper on Thursday (Oct 11th) and saw on the cover a photo of the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture, José Ignacio Wert. Under his photo the he was quoted, “Es nuestro interés españolizar a los alumnos catalanes.” Or, “It’s in our interest to ‘Spaniardize’ Catalan students.” Can we all take a moments to note that this is the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture. Culture. And guess what? Spain has a rich culture, as does Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, Valencia, etc. I think it would be hard to argue that a culture doesn’t have something to do with a language, and in Catalonia students are mostly taught in Catalan in public schools. Later Wert backpedaled on his remark but it was a bit late.

As I was buying that same paper (La Vanguardia, in case you’re interested) bottle-blonde Paquita, who runs the newsstand (along with her aging mother), gave me a piece of her mind. It was early, but I listened to her tell me about her various customers that morning.

“One comes in. He’s looking at the foreign press,” she points to a shelf of papers from Germany, the US, the UK, France, etc, “he keeps looking for something. Finally he says to me, ‘Why are all your newspapers in Catalan?!’ I told him those papers were in English and gave him El Periodico in Spanish.”

I asked her if this person was a foreigner. She said he was Spanish. Surely, a Spaniard would know what Catalan looks like? Not according to Paquita.

“Another one comes, he says ‘Where’s La Razón?’ I tell him it’s right over there.” Paquita points to a spread of papers. “And then he says to me, ‘Well! You don’t have to hide it just because it’s not Catalan!’ Ha!”

I nod, amazed at the drama that can go down at a newsstand. Then Paquita launches into a ten-minute speech about the history of the Catalan culture, its parliament and its loss of independence. And I shake my head knowingly, because I’ve heard it before and am familiar with the history. Just as she is getting into the Civil War, an elderly man walks up and asks Paquita for some Galician paper (I don’t remember its name). She says she’s all out while I make an escape.

One of many protests in Barcelona recently

One of many protests in Barcelona recently

Later on, my husband and I are talking over dinner. He works in a company which has offices across Spain and often deals with people from Madrid, Zaragoza and beyond. Nowadays, he receives all sorts of abuse from callers outside Catalonia. This has to do with the recent talk about Catalonia separating from Spain, a result of the enormous 1.5 million-man Diada marches on September 11th (a holiday in Catalonia which marks its defeat, and loss of independence in the 1700s) and Catalonia’s President Artur Mas stirring the pot. I have no idea if Catalonia will become independent. I don’t get to vote on this matter, as I am not a citizen, and I feel this issue is for Catalans to decide upon.

But back to my husband’s experience. People call up and say the damnedest things to him. “Maybe all you Catalans should leave Spain if you hate it so much!” Comments to this effect. I find this disturbing. My husband is not speaking to them in Catalan, but in Spanish. Also, he does not work for a political party, but in technology and medicine. He does not bring up the independence issue with callers. It’s simply that he is Catalan, (although, how does the caller know this? By his accent?) and therefore they feel the need to share their thoughts with him.

Photo from a 2011 Protest in Barcelona

Photo from a 2011 Protest in Barcelona

Fine. A few idiots call and harass my husband and a few idiots irritate Paquita, and the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture appears to just be an idiot. This does not for total weirdness make. However, it was Friday when my husband called me from the metro in Barcelona that I decided that things are going a bit too far. Friday, Oct 12th, was the day of the Hispanidad, something like Columbus Day in the U.S., and a truly Spanish holiday. In the metro a group of men were singing patriotic Spanish hymns and my husband walked past them on his way to the door to exit the train. Apparently, his not joining in on the sing-along offended them. “What!? You must be a separatist!” they yelled and then pushed him in the back and belted out a forceful, “¡Viva España!”

Anyone else find all this a bit much? I certainly do. What’s next? If my husband, at 6’2 and 200 lbs, is getting pushed around on the metro, what chances do I, or some other shorter, weaker individual, have? And how far does this sort of nationalist fervor go? ‘Beat up on the Catalan who doesn’t sing’ can quickly turn to ‘out with the non-Spanish’*, which would include most of us who write here on The Spain Scoop.

Let us not forget those old history books and the kind of stupidity that is accepted in times of crisis. Ok, Spain’s unemployment is at 24%. Ok, there’s talk of separation, revolution and a big-ass bailout for Spain. None of this merits this sort of violent, aggressive bullshit. Meanwhile, while we all wonder if Catalonia will separate and how to ‘Spaniardize’ schoolchildren, the economy isn’t getting any better. Is all this a smokescreen to block out the larger issue here? Specifically, that there are no jobs, little hope, and best and brightest of the country’s young people are getting the hell out of Spain.

Weird times indeed.

Have you experienced something similar? If so, we’d like to hear about it on The Scoop! Leave us a comment.

**In 2010 I was harassed on the street by a car load of men who, among other things, told me to ‘go back to my own country’ after almost running me over. They were Catalan nationalists, not Spaniards.

12 Responses

  1. Leyla Giray says:

    Extremism in any shape or form is unacceptable to me. I remember living through the Quebec separatism period and while I was born in France, I lived in English-speaking society there and for the better part of a year had to apologize almost daily for that. It eventually turned ugly and violent and most people who weren’t Quebecois felt unwelcome. Many left, the Quebecois made plenty of gains, things died down – and now they seem to be awakening. Economics don’t help.

    I lived through something similarly unpleasant when I moved to Switzerland for university many years ago. I arrived on the day the Swiss were voting on an initiative to withdraw permits from foreigners. As I rode the bus to my first day of classes and listened to the talk around me I felt I’d made a terrible mistake in moving there. Foreigners are still (more or less) welcome but every so often, especially when jobs are tight, some bright star considers a new initiative to weed out the unwelcome.

    This brings out the internationalist in me – would getting rid of all borders make a difference? Many are political rather than cultural (look at most of Africa) and in my most idealistic moments they do far more harm than good.

    I grew up in Spain and I’m quite familiar with the Madrid-Barcelona divide. Is separatism the best way to bridge it? And must I worry that I speak only Spanish, not Catalan, each time I visit a region I love?

  2. beatriz uribe says:

    Im spaniard and lived in Barcelona four years. There are fantastic people and I loved the city. But whether they want or not the history of cataluña has never been as they showed right now, Cataluña never in its existence was independent. In my experience is a matter of money or let say “finantial problems”. Politicians need to extend the idea of independentism and national identity to avoid contribute with their money to the State. Spain is having finantial problems and they don’t want to give back money as an engine of the big machine that is Spain. About living there? my children and I came from the United States and for us the catalan was a problem. The boys attended an international school and I and my husband had to speak catalan, we could speak to them in spanish, but they did not want to answer in spanish, ridiculous, the language is a vehicle, not the goal. Our friends were international and to them catalan (not all of course, I have nice and polite catalan friends) talked in english and to me and my husband in catalan. Completely stupid. Many people that came to make business to Barcelona left Cataluña because of administrative and day to day problems with language and strategy problems. They prefered to work and bring money to Madrid or other city that was easier.

  3. admin says:

    I agree Leyla, ‘Extremism in any shape or form is unacceptable.’

  4. Simon Harris says:

    I also live in Barcelona and enjoyed reading the article very much indeed.

    I think what’s happening here in Catalonia has very little to do with extremism (inevtably, there are always a few!) but rather is a very broad populist movement that covers the whole (conventional) political spectrum and all age groups and social classes.

    I’d also like to correct the second commentator and remind her that Catalonia was independendent from the 10th century until 1469 when Fernando (Count of Barcelona and King of Aragón) married Isabel of Castile. From then on Catalonia was a semi-independent territory ruled by the same monarch as Castille. It was finally conquered by the troops of Felipe V on 11 September 1714.

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments Simon. Have you noticed anything different in the last few months being a BCN local? A different ‘vibe’ if I can use that adjective…

  6. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments Beatriz. I think we could have a whole blog dedicated to language issues in Spain and how people choose to communicate. It’s complex. Maybe there is a blog out there about it! If so, I’d like to read it.

  7. ah123 says:

    What’s stupid are people who go to places then complain about locals who want to speak their native language. And amidst this stupidity, Barcelona and Catalonia still manage to remain the industrial engine of Spain. Go figure. They must be doing something right.

  8. I came across a similar situation in Belgium some time ago. The person I was talking to said that Flanders should become a separate country, but remain under the sovereignty of the King of the Belgians.

    I said it would never work, and he said ‘Why not? It works for you in Britain!’

    At the moment, we have Scotland suggesting ‘independance’ … I suggest they’re using the wrong word here, and what they really want is ‘more autonomy’ But, at the moment, very few people are getting confrontational or abusive about it.

  9. Eye Gee says:

    In 1985 we spent a number of weeks in Barcelona. I attended a local punk rock show and was cornered by several drunk youngsters who insisted (in spanish) that I must understand Catalan. What a way to get a language lesson!

    We now have a place in Andalusia and I can say that people down there are very resentful and even angry about Catalunya’s current independent state of mind.

  10. admin says:

    Yes, I have experienced that anger towards Catalans. I wish we could all accept our differences with more cultural understanding.

  11. Jessica says:

    Good post, I think the anger goes both ways, as you pointed out.

    Interestingly, a lot of my staunch separatist friends are mad that they called elections early and say that Mas is just taking advantage of the political climate for his own gain, because by putting all the attention on separatism he’s taking it away from the crisis. Like you said, it could be a ‘smokescreen’ to cover up the larger issues Spain and Catalunya are facing.

    Well, either way they’re certainly trying to draw attention to it today with the big protest.

  12. admin says:

    Yes Jessica, anger on both sides. What’s your take on the strike? I missed it as I was in Portugal. R

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge