The Catalan regional flag is red and yellow stripes, but add a blue triangle and a star, and it becomes an independence banner. More and more of them are appearing all across the city, sometimes right next to the regional flag. Spain’s worst economic crisis in a generation has sparked renewed interest in independence among people in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia. On the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a beautiful and prosperous city. Polls indicate its people are increasingly unhappy, however, about having their tax money go to support poorer parts of Spain, and a quick walk down a main street confirms the findings.
The Madrid government says it will fight on constitutional grounds any attempt to hold a referendum on secession from Spain. It is widely believed that if Catalonia holds a referendum, the Basque Country would follow, potentially breaking up Spain.
The Spanish region of Catalonia's Parliament on 28 September 2012 approved the holding of a referendum on independence from the rest of Spain during the forthcoming regional elections on November 25. The independence referendum was voted for by 84 deputies, with 45 voting against. The Socialist Party abstained. The call for an independence vote was announced at a Catalan government meeting by regional government head Artur Mas. He said he decided a vote on independence must be taken following a meeting with Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who turned down a Catalan proposal to set the amount of tax it pays to national coffers. Catalonia is Spain's richest region. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government would use any legal mechanism to prevent Catalonia seceding from Spain.
Exit polls from elections in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia showed the majority of local parliamentary seats will go to nationalist parties that favor independence from Spain. Early returns from Sunday's vote show the national alliance of incumbent regional president and pro-independence candidate Artur Mas has taken at least 48 seats in the 135-seat parliament, down from its current total of 62. The separatist Republican Left (ERC) doubled its share to around 20 seats. Both parties have pledged to hold a referendum asking Catalans if they wish to split from Spain, a move the central government says would be unconstitutional.
On January 23, 2013 Catalonia's parliament approved a declaration of sovereignty signalling a referendum to separate the northeastern region from Spain. The non-binding and largely symbolic resolution - which states that the people of Catalonia have a democratic right to decide on their sovereignty - was passed with 85 votes for, 41 against and two abstentions in the 135-seat legislature. Two deputies were absent and five refused to vote. The ruling Convergence and Union (CiU) political alliance and the leftist separatist Republican Left (ERC) party supported the declaration, which they had presented jointly. A few smaller parties also supported it, after the ERC and CiU softened some wording and eliminated a reference to a "new state". But it was opposed by the Catalan Socialist Party and the centre-right People's Party.
In the face of Catalonia’s status as an independent and linguistically unique state within Spain, the central Spanish government has followed various policies that have lowered the potential for ethnic conflict, even though language serves as the focal point for violent resistance elsewhere in the world. The 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, a potential opportunity for building collective pride for Spain as it opened to global scrutiny for the first time since Franco's death, instead became a visible embarrassment for Spain as the Catalans capitalized on the media attention to further their cause for separation. Catalan flags and symbols were ubiquitous, obscuring the fact that Catalonia was merely a region of Spain.
Relations with the central government in Madrid are being regulated by a separate charter. In 2005, the new version of the charter said that the Catalans are a separate nation. However, there are dozens of parties and public organizations in the region, mostly left-wing, which are advocating cessation from Spain.
From the point of view of centralists, areas like the Catalan provinces are regions of the Spanish nation, or to the maximum they are a nationality within the larger Spanish nation. The points of view of Catalan nationalists are quite different. For them the Spanish nation does not exist, only a Spanish state formed of a number of ethnic nations, of which Catalonia is one.
Every traveller who crosses the Pyrenees knows that Catalonia differs in many important respects from every other province in the kingdom. The natives speak of going into Spain as if they lived outside of it; they speak a tongue different from the Castilian; that their enterprise and activity distinguish them favorably among the King's subjects, and they kept well abreast of every other European community. All this is true, and it would be easy to enumerate many other peculiarities.
The tendency, however, is to exaggerate the points of difference between Spaniard and Catalan, and to lose sight of their fundamental affinity. The language of Catalonia, though not a mere dialect as some suppose, is as essentially Spanish as the Castilian. It was spoken by those Hispani who were driven out of Spain by the Saracens and returned in the ninth century to settle in the north-east corner of the country. Thus Catalan language and people were born in the very heart of the Peninsula and have since been confined to a portion of it only by political causes. There is no such essential difference between Catalans and Castilians as between Welsh and English, Bretons and French. Both are branches of the great Iberian family. If Catalonia were an independent State, it would be its affinity to Spain that would impress the most.
The four Spanish provinces in the northeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula constitute the principal homeland of the Catalans. The Catalan autonomous community covers about 6.5 percent of Spain's total peninsular land area. The region consists of the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lerida, and Tarragona. Elsewhere in Spain, there were also significant Catalan-speaking populations in the Balearic Islands, along the east coast to the south of Valencia, and as far west as the eastern part of the Aragonese province of Huesca. Outside Spain, the principal Catalan populations were found in France, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, and in Andorra.
The population of the Catalan region in 1986 was approximately 6.0 million, of which 4.6 million lived in densely populated Barcelona province. The other three provinces were more sparsely populated. As one of the richest areas of Spain and the first to industrialize, Catalonia attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily from Andalusia and other poor parts of the country. From 1900 to 1981, the net in-migration into Catalonia was about 2.4 million. In the 1980s, over half of Catalonia's working class, and the vast majority of its unskilled or semi-skilled workers, were cultural outsiders.
Catalan was one of five distinct Romance languages that emerged as the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula began to ebb). The others were Aragonese, Castilian, Leonese, and Galician. Catalan was employed by poets, philosophers and chroniclers in the middle ages; but 1t was abandoned by the educated and only restored to its position as a cultivated language when the old words and forms, as well as the old ballads and folksongs, were recovered from country-people in the 19th century. The revival of Catalan as a literary language, the effort to keep it pure and to teach people to speak it properly is one of the most interesting movements of modern Spain.
Since the approval of the 1978 Constitution, regional parties have actively sought to expand the scope of regional languages in Basque Country, Galicia, and most importantly in Catalonia. Article 3 of the 1978 Constitution clearly states that Castilian is the official language of Spain, and the other Spanish languages will also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities, according to their Statutes of Autonomy. Article 148 further indicates that the promotion and teaching of regional culture and language shall be an issue where the autonomous community can take action.
Language politics as a partisan issue is nothing new, as different parties in power have made numerous concessions to regional parties that were helping them form a coalition government. The 2006 New Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia led to a surge of political discussion on the issue of language politics in Spain. The collaboration of the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (PSOE) in achieving the New Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia also tainted this discussion with political partisanship. The Partido Popular (PP) actively criticizes PSOE regional policy.
The group Circulo Balear, which advocates for having Catalan and Castilian on equal footing in the Balearic Islands rather than accepting Catalonian linguistic dominance, voiced its indignation at there being reportedly not a single school in the Balearic Islands where Castilian is taught primarily. In 2008, members of the Guardia Civil in Catalonia protested that as functionaries of the Spanish national government, they should be able to enroll their children in a Castilian-first primary school, something all but impossible in Catalonia. There has also been great tension around the two hours of Castilian a week mandated by the Catalonian government, rather than the minimum three hours required by the Spanish national government. In April 2009, 30 doctors at the only hospital in Ibiza, Balearic Islands, announced their intention to leave the island after the autonomous community decreed physicians must pass an exam to prove they speak Catalan. About 2,500 people demonstrated in protest about the "Catalan language" requirement for doctors. Between 2003 and 2005, the Catalonian government issued fines totaling 169,500 euros for violations of Catalan language requirements for public signage. One businessperson fined 1,200 euros for having his commercial signage only in Castilian has threatened to take the case all the way to the European Court in Strasbourg.
Far removed from the scene of the secular struggle with the Moor, and dwelling on the marge of the sea which was the principal commercial arena of the ancient and mediaeval world, the people of Catalonia had from a very remote period opportunities for development denied to the inhabitants of every other part of Spain. The Moors were expelled from Barcelona at the beginning of the ninth century. Catalonia had thus a start of more than four centuries over Seville, and of six over Malaga—to say nothing further of the incontestable advantages of her geographical position.
By the late Middle Ages, the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia had joined together in a federation, forging one of the most advanced constitutional systems of the time in Europe. After the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in 1479, the Spanish crown maintained a loose administrative hold over its component realms. Although it occasionally tried to assert more centralized control, in the case of Catalonia its efforts generally resulted in failure. Nonetheless, attempts by Catalans in the seventeenth century to declare their independence were likewise unsuccessful. In the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia sided with the English against the Spanish crown, and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 opened the way for the conquest of Catalonia by Spanish troops. In September 1714, after a long siege, Barcelona fell, and Catalonia's formal constitutional independence came to an end.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced a dramatic resurgence as the focal point of Spain's industrial revolution. There were also a cultural renaissance and a renewed emphasis on the Catalan language as the key to Catalan cultural distinctiveness. Catalan nationalism was put forward by the nascent Catalan bourgeoisie as a solution that coupled political and cultural autonomy with economic integration in the Spanish market. For a brief period during the 1930s, the freedom of the Second Republic gave the Catalans a taste of political autonomy, but the door was shut for forty years by the Franco dictatorship.
In 1936 George Orwell went to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This famous account describes the war and Orwell’s experiences. When Orwell arrived in Barcelona, the Anarchists were still virtually in control of Catalonia. He joined a unit of the P.O.U.M. (Workers Party of Marxist Unification - a small group of anti-Stalinists). In Homage to Catalonia (1938), Orwell wrote that in late 1936 "I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of B arcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists... when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."
There were, in principle, several different criteria that were used to determine who was, or was not, Catalan. One's place of birth, or the place of birth of one's parents, was often used by second-generation migrants to claim Catalan status, but relatively few whose families had been Catalan for generations agreed with these claims. Biological descent was seldom used among either natives or migrants, because Catalans, unlike Basques, did not usually define their ethnic identity in such terms. Sentimental allegiance to Catalonia was important in separating out from the category those native Catalans who no longer felt any identification with their homeland, but preferred to identify themselves as Spanish. Thus, the most significant and powerful indicator of Catalan identity, for both Catalans and migrants alike, was the ability to speak the Catalan language.
According to one estimate, the population (including those outside Spain) speaking Catalan or one of its variants (Valencian or Majorcan) numbered about 6.5 million in the late 1980s. Within the Catalan autonomous community, about 50 percent of the people spoke Catalan as a mother tongue, and another 30 percent could at least understand the language. In Valencia and the Balearic Islands, perhaps as many as 50 to 70 percent of the population spoke one of the variants of Catalan as a mother tongue, although a great majority used the language only in the home.
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