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Catalonia - Introduction

Catalonia FlagWith 7.5 million inhabitants and a surface area of 32,107 square kilometers, Catalonia is a diverse territory, with extensive mountains, inland depressions, and a coastline that stretches for 214 km. Catalonia is very rich in natural scenery, with 14 sites declared to be natural parks and protected areas. Barcelona is among the most visited cities in Europe. Catalan culture, architecture and history have developed its own unique and universal identity over the centuries.

Historically a trading nation, Catalonias economic activity had always depended on its ability to connect to the rest of the world. Its location in the Mediterranean and its transport infrastructures, as well as its trading, entrepreneurial and open economy have made it a top rank strategic position in the south of Europe and an unbeatable meeting point for international business.

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.

Since the approval of the 1978 Constitution, regional parties 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 advocated 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 threatened to take the case all the way to the European Court in Strasbourg.

In the face of Catalonias status as an independent and linguistically unique state within Spain, the central Spanish government followed various policies that 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 were 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 were 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 crossed 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.

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Page last modified: 19-12-2017 16:31:15 ZULU