Spain and Its Unruly Daughter, Catalonia

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Rafael JM HerreroRafael JM Herrero is a graduate student in the MFA writing program.

A wind of independence is blowing over Catalonia, a slice of Spain slightly larger than Hawaii. Along with Madrid and the Basque region, Catalonia is one of the three wealthiest parts of Spain. It boasts 7.5 million people (15 percent of Spain’s population), and 20 percent of Spain’s GDP.

This apparent desire for independence is surprising, being that Catalonia was never taken over by the Spanish state. Spain is the oldest nation in Europe as we understand nations today, and Catalonia was one of Spain’s founding members in 1469. Catalonia was a part of the territory that the Romans named Hispania, and since then has always been a cherished and integral part of Spanish history. The Catholic Kings, Isabel and Fernando, received Christopher Columbus on his momentous return from his first voyage to the New World with fastuous fanfare in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona. The most important work of Spain’s literature, “Don Quixote” by Cervantes, was first printed in Barcelona. The list goes on, but members of the society in Catalonia are trying to rewrite history.

The desire to be independent is a fairly new movement in Catalonia. According to most historians, Catalonian nationalism started with Enric Prat de la Riba (1870-1917). In the 21st century, it seemed that most people had understood the American maxim: “United we stand, divided we fall.” The EU was created with the understanding that only union can bring about peace as well as might; both needed to face the challenges of the present and the future. Nonetheless, an undeniable amount of people in Catalonia seem to want independence.

Spain is one of the most decentralized countries in Europe. Since the transition to democracy in 1975 and the Spanish Constitution of 1978, Spain (only 20 percent larger than the state of California) is divided into 17 Comunidades Autónomas, an astonishingly expensive political system that grants these territories large autonomous powers. As a result, Catalonia today has its own government (La Generalitat), its own parliament (El Parlament), its own police (Los Mossos d’Esquadra), its own health care system (Catsalut), and its own educational system. Catalonia is also the territory that receives the most money from the Spanish government.

So why do so many Catalonians seem to want to be independent?

The answer is probably found in the populisms that are currently sweeping over the world, where orators are using the democratic system to increase their personal power and wealth by telling the masses what they want to hear. Catalonia is rewriting history books for children in its own interest. Corruption is rife in Spain, and Catalonia has more than its share of it. The first president of La Generalitat (1980), Jordi Pujol, is up to his eyes in corruption. He has confessed to maintaining secret foreign bank accounts and is accused of influence trafficking, bribery, and money laundering. His dauphin, Artur Mas, the current president of the Generalitat, whose salary is higher than that of Mariano Rajoy, the current Prime Minister of Spain, is at the center of accusations of a decades-long habit in his party of charging a secret three percent commission fee on all attribution of public works. Declaring independence would free the corrupt from the Spanish judicial wheels that have started to turn.

Mas states that the elections held in Catalonia this past September back his drive towards independence. However the numbers do not agree. Only 47.5 percent of the votes were for parties in favor of independence, 52.5 percent of the votes went to parties against or indifferent to independence and 25 percent of the population did not even show up.

The politicians in Catalonia are lying to their people. They deny current EU legislation which states that the declaration of independence in a territory previously belonging to a member state is de facto no longer part of the EU and must exit all of its agreements, including the Euro.

Catalonia is bilingual: it speaks Catalan and Spanish (“Castilian”). Nonetheless, its linguistic policies intend to eliminate the use of Spanish. Spain was formed on the precept of union while respecting the integral differences of the territories involved. The Basques speak Basque, the Catalonians speak Catalan, the Galicians speak Galician… Spain, since its inception, also accepted that its different regions had the right to have different laws. This is in stark contrast with France (where at the time of the French Revolution half of its population did not speak French), an example of a centralized state, whose goal was to stamp out all differences so its citizens would be equal in language and law (its different languages are now vestigial).

Language does indeed give identity and unite people. But the European Union has shown the formidable will to go beyond differences in language and foster cooperation, understanding, and diversity.

What if a member of the United States decided today to declare itself independent? Does the local population of that state get to decide? Or do the rest of the Americans citizens have a say? What would Washington do if a state unilaterally declared itself independent? This is what the government of Spain is now facing with its daughter, Catalonia. Let us hope that the sanity of oneness and the peace that it conveys will prevail.

1 COMMENT

  1. A very partial article with some lies in it.

    Could be understandable, as Spaniards always tried to rewrite the history towards the light of a great imperio and nation. But this article doesn’t help understand how we get here.

  2. Most European institutions, and most european people, like us in England, would happily support an independent Catalan state (like we support Kosovo_ – as long as it can be demonstrated that independence is the democratic will of the people in a free and fair referendum.

    Arguing that Catalonia belongs to Spain is like saying america rightfully still belongs to England, and that the people who live there have no right to decide their own future.

    p.s. Catalonia’s nationalism started well before the 19th century – There have been numerious examples of Catalonia nationalism; Catalan Revolt of 1640, War of Succession in 1701 all the way through to the founding of the Revolutionary Catalonia in 1936 (before the Spanish under their fascist dictator crushed the new nation and occupied Catalona once again).

  3. Reads good … But something seems to be missing. In front of a complex issue, I question how much light can it offer a rather simplistic, even moralized view? The use of populism as explanation becomes suspicious––too quick an answer. Reality might be far from ‘ideal’ versus ‘unreasonable’, and might even include a nice amount of unpleasant ingredients that the author prefers to ignore. More than an opinion that forms further opinion, I read here an invitation to join the ‘sane’ view of oneness––quite a missionary catechism.

  4. This is so far off the mark, it can only be an opinion of a person pro Madrid and central government. Catalonia has always wanted independence from the powers of Spain. In 1714, under the treaty of Utrecht, Catalonia was divided between Spain and France. King Philip the 5 th barred the Catalan languages, had people burn their own homes so he could make a citadel to store weapons against them, now called Ciutadel Park in Barcelona. He made the castle up in Montjuic to face canons at the people of Barcelona along with other citadels. One of those citadels in the north was used by Franco to shoot by a firing squad thousands of men and women that Franco made political prisoners. Now called Camp de la Bota. Franco before that bombed the city of Barcelona with the help of his friends Mussolini and Hitler. For almost four decades people were under fascist rule and Catalan, its language and culture all illegal punishable by prison or death. The constitution diluted the north’s “autonomy” by making 16 other autonomies 11 of which never were autonomous before making way for politicians in those areas to be corrupt and steal money away for foolish projects, ie an airport never used, except for a movie or when the government paid airlines to use it and high speed trains also costing hundreds of millions one that only 28 people a day used costing 86,000 euros a day to run.
    The current government in Madrid, the PP, ran and won the last election four years ago using hate of the Catalans to win favor. The Catalans are called Polacks and the government has tried to take Catalan out of the schools to in the words of the ex head of education Wert, “spanglisize” the Catalans. Rajoy, refuses to speak to Mass and if he does meet with him it is only to tell him like a parent to child we will not discuss independence. Rajoy will not be interviewed by the Catalan TV or radio. Mass gave a list of actionable items years ago to Rajoy and none have been discussed.
    Rajoy was given money by the ex treasurer Barcenes for years along with his cohorts but he only apologized for corruption and ignored it. The tribunal has 7 of its 11 judges PP members. This is why they struck down the 2006 statute which was approved by Catalonia and Madrid but with 5 million anti Catalan signatures Rajoy garnered and sent to the tribunal, it was struck down. The very same statute word for word Valencia uses.
    Now the FLA is withholding money for schools and pharmacies, money that is Catalonia’s tax money. When it is given it is a loan, on their own money that the Catalans must pay interest. There are many examples of prejudice by the central government against the Catalans. For example, high speed trains from Madrid to everywhere but no Mediteranean corridor high speed train where more people live. The Prat airport in Barcelona has no hub nor will Madrid allow it. Funds for highways not delivered to Catalonia to connect it to Europe, pay roads exist in Catalonia while Andulicia has six lane empty highways which are free with a small population.
    If you want to talk about corruption, what about the ex King? How does he have billions of dollars from being poor in 1978 to now? His daughter being an accountant not knowing what documents she signed for embezzlement? The energy in Spain being the fourth highest in Europe and the new law created by the PP that if you use alternative energy sources one is penalized. Many Madrid politicians earn six figure salaries with energy companies once they are out of office. Other new laws, 2 year jail sentence for speaking or writing ill about the King, 34,000 euro fine if you take a photo of a police officer, 650,000 euro fine if you peacefully protest in front of a government building or government owned company. Spain is going back to Frnco times. Remember no one was punished for torturing or killing civilians or taking their babies and selling them up until the 1980’s. Those people are still in powerful positions.
    Pujol was never for independence during his time in government. Once he was in favor then the central government went after him to smear the party name. Pujol has no office and was never in favor of independence when he was in power, always telling the shell shocked Catalans after nearly 40 years of Franco he could negotiate with Spain.
    Madrid keeps trying to find something on Mas. They have found nothing, just sending in people during election times to cause doubt. Mas is following the people. If he is gone this movement is not going away. Mas did not start this latest movement of independence in Catalonia, he rode the wave. He saw millions take to the streets after they waited patiently for four years for their statute to be implemented. He saw citizens in mass protest their voted and approved statute was taken away by the TC, friends of the PP. Mas knew if he took up the Catalans’ cause he could win votes. That is democracy, politicians doing the people’s wishes. Spain speaks of unity but oppresses and disrespects the Catalans. Let them go if they are hated so much. One never speaks about how without Catalonia all that tax money would dry up in Madrid and the corrupt politicians would lose their cash cow and Spain would be the next bankrupt country. Catalans don’t hate Spain, they like it to visit just like they like France. They aren’t French either. People are listening to and reading Madrid’s propaganda. Why don’t you speak to the Catalan people to learn why millions of them want to be set free from their domineering master. If Spain were so great why do Mexico, Central America and half of South America celebrate independence from Spain? Spain has a history exploiting and taking the riches from their colonies. Catalans would like to celebrate the same holiday and live free again. They can’t even have a referendum. Everything from Spain is about the constitution being upheld but at the same time they hold a carrot out telling the Catalans they might be able to change the constitution. This Spanish catch 22 impossible game and rouse is over but the independence movement will never be until the Catalans have the right to decide and self govern. Only then can they live with respect and dignity they long for and deserve.

  5. Soooo, this is a joke, right? Or maybe a creative fiction writing assignment? Or “what might I write after 3 joints in 20 minutes?”

    OK, so I’ll pretend this was serious then and just ask a couple of questions:
    1. Does USF ask/train their MFA students to use facts when they write or are facts just inconvenient nuisances to artistic creative writing? I ask this b/c there is this new thing called the “internet” where it is actually pretty easy to find facts. And what used to be in big books called encyclopedias now is readily available on this thing called the “internet.” So, when you go on this “internet” to a pretty popular place called Wikipedia, you can look up (verify) facts. When you type in the words, “Catalan presidents,” low and behold, it asserts that something very different from Mr. Herrero’s assertions are true. Try it! or simply copy and paste this [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_Generalitat_de_Catalunya].
    2. To have a daughter, don’t you have to given birth to her or adopted her? Again, this funny place called the internet can help poor Rafa [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_of_Aragon]. However, Rafa does get 1 point for having copied a date correctly. {Let’s encourage him every way we can!}
    3. Competent authors do thorough work. Soooo, when you allege that something as well known as the European Union has said something, you might want to be sure it’s true! B/c if not, SOMEONE WILL POINT IT OUT AND YOU WILL LOOK LIKE A COMPLETE IDIOT!!! Poor Rafa! He just didn’t bother to do all his research [https://euobserver.com/institutional/130741].

    Better next time?

  6. Rafael M Herrero is biased. The same line of reasoning he employs for Catalonia would also have dictated the 13 colonies to stay with England and Ukraine to stay with Russia. He asks: “So why do so many Catalonians seem to want to be independent?” Answer: they do not “seem” to want it, 48% VOTED to be, in the latest elections. Not enough to secede, granted, but enough dfor the Catalan independetists to be taken seriously. Nobody, not even the Spanish Contistution, denies the Catalans are a nation. Nations possess the right to self-determination. Take notice Mr Herrero.

  7. What happened on 11 September 1714?,. Catalonia was invaded by Spain, never was it a willing Union . We are now treated as a colony of Spain..You have no idea what you are talking about …

  8. Are you kidding? You published a piece by someone with a non-Catalan Spanish name. (Catalan is a separate language, easy to tell apart.) What do you expect? It is indistinguishable from the propaganda emanating from the Spanish ruling party.

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