Mira Jungerman is currently studying in Zaragoza, Spain with the School Year Abroad (SYA) program. She wrote this piece reporting from Spain.
Catalonia, a region on Spain’s north-eastern coast, is in the midst of major conflict with Spain over their desire for independence.
This Spanish autonomous community is in a position of power within Spain due to Catalonia’s large economic output and unique history. The headlining events from this past September and October revolved around an independence referendum and vote cast that resulted in 90% of Catalonians in support of obtaining independence.
The Catalonia “Generalist” government declared independence from Spain, and the Spanish federal government responded by imposing direct rule and threatening to revoke Catalonia’s title of autonomy.
Sole Gutierrez is an SYA professor who was born and raised in Catalonia but is no longer a resident.
Gutierrez’s perspective regarding Catalonia’s current and historical standing in the greater country of Spain is shared by many other Catalonia natives.
“Catalonia is unique in its language, character and culture. Its people have always felt ostracized and its liberal and modern attitude sets it apart from the rest of Spain,” Sole said.
When Spanish dictator Francisco Franco came into power following the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s, he discriminated against all minorities, including Catalans, and took drastic measures to enforce Castilian Spanish as the sole language of the country.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia acquired a new constitution that granted them autonomy with regard to the language of Catalan and their education system. This long and rich history is one of the main roots of Catalan nationalism and their separate identity.
Oriol Bastardes, another Catalonia native who has now been living in Aragon for 23 years, said there are two distinct groups of Catalonians with differing opinions on the conflict.
“Generally, those whose families have lived in Catalonia for several generations tend to be pro-independence because their family history has led them to believe that Catalonia is its own country or territory,” he said. “Those who are first generation immigrants to Catalonia tend be anti-independence because their family history has been scattered about other parts of Spain, causing them to see Catalonia as just another autonomous community.”
Bastardes’ entire family is from Barcelona, the biggest city in Catalonia, and still lives there today. Because he has spent so many years living in Aragon, he said he no longer feels as connected to the situation.
Bastardes said he is very upset and frustrated by the way Spanish politicians on both sides are dealing with the conflict.
“I think that the root of the problem stems from the way all politicians involved are handling the situation. The Catalonia Generalist and the Madrid central government are mishandling the situation and making the present-day conflict what it is,” Oriol said
Gutierrez shared a similar view despite the fact that her family falls in the category of being first-generation Catalonia immigrants.
“The sentiments of those from Catalonia are authentic, but the politicians from both parties are manipulating everything. The idea of the Madrid central government preventing the referendum is anti-democratic, but the Catalonia Generalitat is also handling the situation poorly.”
Carmen Blasco Viana, a multi-generation Aragon native, does not buy into the idea that Catalonia is different from the rest of the Spanish autonomous communities.
“Catalonia is not unique in comparison to other communities. País Vasco and Andalucía all have different languages too and they do not complain about the same things as Catalonia complains about,” Blasco Viana said.
Bastardes attributed much of the present-day conflict to events of the past.
“Catalonia has always had problems with the rest of Spain and the central government. There were similar sentiments and events when Catalonia lost a war during the 18th century, had other conflicts throughout the 19th century, and more recently during events of the 1930’s with Franco and his dictatorship,” Bastardes said.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared the entirety of Catalonia’s government removed from office after Catalonian President Carlos Puigdemont’s illegal declaration of independence following the referendum and vote. Puigdemont then fled to Brussels and has said he will not return until after the December 21 elections when an entirely new Parliament of Catalonia will be elected.
Bastardes said that he doesn’t believe that Catalonia will gain independence in the near future unless the two opposing governments can find a way to bridge their longstanding conflict.
“Today’s situation in Spain is the worst it has ever been. The events sadden me and everything is being handled illogically. It is a terrible reflection of the people of Spain and the people of Catalonia because both parties are being misrepresented by politicians,” Gutierrez said.
Story by Mira Jungerman
Photo by Margot Mackenzie
Originally published in the December 2017 issue