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Spain is more a subcontinent than a country, and its climate, geography, and history produced a state that was little more than a federation of regions until Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, brought the centralization of the Bourbon monarchy to the country in the eighteenth century. Modernday Spain contains a number of identifiable regions, each with its own set of cultural, economic, and political characteristics. In many instances, the loyalty of a population is still primarily to its town or region, and only secondarily to the abstract concept of "Spain." Administratively, Spain is organized into seventeen autonomous communities comprising fifty provinces. However, when an autonomous community is made up of only one province, provinccial institutions have been transferred to the autonomous community.

The three principal actors of regionalism in Spain today are the Catalonian, Basque and Galician provinces. The remainder of Spain, however, is not one great Castilian or Spanish entity; it is rather a conglomerate of regions divided by geography and historical tradition. Although Spanish is the common language, each of the regions has its distinct dialect and often several sub-dialects. The people declare themselves to be of a region before they are of the Spanish state. They are Castilian, Aragonese, Andalusian, or Valencian, among several others, and their language betrays their region and more often than not a specific area of that region.

On the map, the Iberian Peninsula resembles a slightly distorted square with the top bent toward the east and spread wide where it joins the rest of Europe. In the center lies the densely populated Spanish capital, Madrid, surrounded by the harsh, sparsely populated Meseta Central. King Philip II made Madrid the capital of Castile (Spanish, Castilla) in the sixteenth century, partly because its remoteness made it an uncontroversial choice. The city, surrounded by a demographic desert, in the late 1980s was still regarded by many Spaniards as an "artificial" capital even though it had long been established as the political center of the country.

Some argue that the term "Castilian" ["Castellano"] should replace "Spanish" ["Espanol"] to denote the Castilian form of the language. "Spanish" may then be a more inclusive term, enbracing all the dialects of the language. Around the periphery of the peninsula are the peoples that have competed with Castilians for centuries over control of Iberia: in the west, the Portuguese (the only group successful in establishing its own state in 1640); in the northwest, the Galicians; along the northern coast of the Bay of Biscay, the Asturians; and, as the coast nears France, the Basques; along the Pyrenees, the Navarrese and the Aragonese; in the northeast, the Catalans; in the east, the Valencians; and in the south, the Andalusians.

Although most of these peoples would decline to identify themselves first, foremost, and solely as "Spanish," few of them would choose to secede from Spain. Even among Basques, whose separatist sentiment ran deepest in the late 1980s, those advocating total independence from Spain probably comprised only one-fifth of the ethnic Basque population. Whereas culture provided the centrifugal force, economic ties linked the regions together more closely than an outsider might conclude from their rhetoric.

Throughout the centuries in Spain, the Castilians and Catalans have shared cultural, social, political, generational, and human experiences. This exchange was bound to have a linguistic influence of the Castilian on the Catalan language. (In Catalonia bilingualism is prevalent, and in Castile it is not.) While there have been lexical changes, the alterations are difficult to pinpoint.

The literary language {Romance castellano) began to be formed about the tenth century. It has a certain development in the Poem of the Cid (ca. 1140). In its Galician form it becomes a cultivated means of expression in the works of Alphonso the Wise (King of Castile from 1252 to 1284), increasing in beauty and power and range of expression through the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, purified under Philip II., and eventually became the harmonious and majestic Castilian tongue, or Spanish, which is still able to thrill a traveller from the north by its exquisite modulation and by the beautiful diction when spoken by cultivated men and women or by children in the province from which it takes its name.

Catalan, on the other hand, a language "which not even God can understand," as some one expressed it at Avila, is as different from Castilian as French is from Italian. Catalan, however, passes gradually into Castilian through the patois spoken in Aragon, and some philologists have held that although Catalan has affinities with Provencal, it really belongs to the Hispanic group of neo-Latin or romance languages, which includes Castilian and Portuguese. Catalan is like Portuguese in one respect; compared with Castilian it contains more words derived from French and fewer from Arabic.

Language policy is a continual rallying point for Spain's regional nationalists, at least in the media. During the Franco regime, the use of any language other than Castilian was severely restricted by the Spanish central government. As of July 2008, more than 130,000 Spaniards had signed the so-called "Manifesto for a Common Language" launched in June by philosopher and writer Fernando Savater (a founder of the new Union, Progress, and Democracy party that won a congressional seat in its first election in 2008) and supported by around 20 other Spanish intellectuals. The manifesto, also signed by a number of leading opposition Partido Popular (PP) politicians as well as some semi-prominent Socialist supporters, is a reaction to Basque and especially Catalan efforts to prioritize the use of their co-official languages in education and public services, which manifesto promoters assert discriminates against Spanish-speakers in those regions.

Spain's seventeen regions, defined by the 1978 Constitution as autonomous communities, vary greatly in size and population, as well as in economic and political weight (see table 4, Appendix). For example, Andalusia (Spanish, Andalucia), nearly the size of Portugal, encompasses 17 percent of Spain's land area. The two regions carved out of sparsely populated Castile--Castilla-La Mancha (larger than Ireland) and Castilla y Leon (larger than Austria)--account for 15.6 and 18.7 percent, respectively, of Spain's total area.

These three large regions combined account for about 52 percent of the country's total territory. No other autonomous region contains more than 10 percent of the total. The three richest, most densely populated and most heavily industrialized regions--Madrid, Catalonia (Spanish, Cataluna; Catalan, Catalunya), and the Basque Country (Spanish, Pais Vasco; Basque Euskadi)--together account for 9.3 percent of the total. The remaining 40 percent is made up of two medium-sized regions--Aragon (Spanish, Aragon) and Extremadura--each of which holds 8 to 9 percent, and seven much smaller regions that together account for about 20 percent of the national territory.

Regional economic disparities between "Rich Spain" and "Poor Spain" were also highly significant, and they continued to shape the country's political debate despite a century of efforts to redistribute the wealth of the country. Imagine a line drawn from about the middle of the north coast, in Asturias, southeastward to Madrid, and then to Valencia. To the north and east of the line lived the people of Rich Spain, sometimes referred to as "Bourgeois Spain," an area already substantially modernized, industrialized, and urbanized, where the transition to an information and services economy was already well under way in the 1980s. To the south and west of the line lay Poor Spain, or "Traditional Spain," where agriculture continued to dominate and where semi-feudal social conditions could still be found. To aggravate this cleavage still further, Rich Spain, with the exception of Madrid, tended to be made up disproportionately of people who felt culturally different from the Castilians and not really "Spanish" at all.

Indicators of economic disparity are stark reminders that not all Spaniards shared in the country's economic miracle. The autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Madrid accounted for half of Spain's gross national product (GNP) in the late 1980s. Income per capita was only 55 percent of the Catalan level in Extremadura, 64 percent in Andalusia, and 70 percent in Galicia. In Galicia, 46 percent of the population still worked on the land; in Extremadura and the two Castilian regions, 30 to 34 percent did so; but in Catalonia and the Basque Country, only 6 percent depended on the land for their livelihood.

In Andalusia, unemployment exceeded 30 percent; in Aragon and in Navarre (Spanish, Navarra) it ran between 15 and 20 percent. A 1987 report by Spain's National Statistics Institute revealed that the country's richest autonomous community, Madrid, exceeded its poorest, Extremadura, by wide margins in every economic category. With the national average equal to zero, Madrid's standard of living measured 1.7 while Extremadura scored -2.0; in family income, the values were Madrid 1.0, Extremadura, -2.1; in economic development, Madrid, 1.7, Extremadura, -2.0; and in endowment in physical and human resources, Madrid, 1.4, Extremadura, -1.7.

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Page last modified: 25-11-2012 19:39:04 ZULU