Category Archives: Spain

The bright summery streets of Gràcia

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TAKING ADVANTAGE of the good weather and holidays, most neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities in Spain host their most important local festivity during summer: their Fiesta Mayor. One of the most peculiar Fiestas in Barcelona took place between last 15th and 20th of August in the bohemian neighbourhood of Gràcia. Around half a million of people, both locals and tourists, have visited this year the 18 streets and squares as well as the 36 portals decorated by the neighbours of Gràcia.

It was a warm festive night in mid-August in the Plaça del Diamant in Gràcia’s neighbourhood in Barcelona. Colometa could barely hold her excitement. The reason to celebrate: the district’s annual festivity, the Festa Major de Gràcia, was back once again. Under a large white tent in Plaça del Diamant, Colometa danced all night with the young man who would soon become her husband. That would precisely be her last memory of bliss before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Colometa is a fictional character in The Times of Doves, the most acclaimed Catalan novel written by Mercè Rodoreda. However, Colometa’s nostalgia when evoking those summer festivities in Gràcia is far from unreal. Every year hundreds of thousands of Catalans, especially the young ones, eagerly long for that time of the year when the Festa Major de Gràcia comes back to the city.

A long-awaited event: the Fiesta Mayor
Each neighbourhood, village, town or city in Spain hosts every year its own Fiesta Mayor, which is the year’s most important celebration.

The Fiesta Mayor normally commemorates a historical or traditional milestone or it is dedicated to a saint or virgin who is the patron of the municipality holding the festivity. Nowadays, this kind of Fiesta represents the annual meeting point of the whole local community to celebrate together around the squares and streets of the town. From young to old, from more to less wealthy – everyone is welcome to join.

All Fiestas Mayores have some common widespread traditions and events, such as musical performances, traditional meals open to the public or a welcome opening speech by an important public figure. At the same time though, all Fiestas also have their distinctive and exclusive celebrations that allow you to experience different local festivities and never get bored of them.

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Street decorations’ competition: a unique tradition
Gràcia is an area in Barcelona well-known for its bohemian atmosphere, its unique customised cafés and shops and its charming squares, such as Plaça del Sol, Plaça del Diamant or Plaça de la República. In spite of being part of a city which is a popular summer destination for tourists, Gràcia has managed to keep a certain local village essence. This spirit might be explained by the fact that Gràcia was an independent municipality until it was annexed to Barcelona, along with other neighbouring villages, in 1897.

Considering these particular traits, it is predictable to assume that an emblematic neighbourhood like Gràcia should also have its characteristic Fiesta Mayor. Gràcia hosts every year the district’s festivities a week on from the 15th of August. Traditional dances and meals, firework shows or concerts are some of the activities that spice up Gràcia’s day and night life. However, the reason why the locals of Gràcia -the Graciencs- spend almost one year preparing for its festivities in August is clear: street decorations.

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The Festa Major de Gràcia holds an annual traditional competition of street and squares decorations among the different zones of the neighbourhood. The Festa Major de Gràcia Foundation selects every year three main winners under General Category and gives several prices under Special Category for specific parts of the decoration, such as roofs, portals or the lighting.

The Jury is formed by at least 5 professionals from artistic fields such as scenography, photography, window dressing or painting.

High competition and demanding rules
Though it might seem not that problematical, ornamenting the streets is not an easy task for the Graciencs. The competition between streets is every year higher and higher, since the neighbours put great efforts in defining and elaborating the most original yet elegant decorations. Moreover, the contest’s regulations are also very strict. For instance, it is totally forbidden that the ornaments showcase any name, brand, company or personal interest as well as that no external enterprise or professional is allowed to contribute in the execution of the decorations.

As a consequence of these guidelines, the streets often display hand-made and recycled decorations locally elaborated, which prove that low-cost, traditional or eco-friendly can also be synonym of beautiful. As an example, one can observe these embellished plastic bottles of water turned into decoration.

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In line with these principles, innovation is a key factor in the decorations. From the 80s until the present days, the streets of Gràcia have been turned into a wide range of scenarios, from the North Pole to Abbey Road and from the underwater world to Peter Pan’s Neverland. This year the visitors have had the chance to travel from an Amazonian rainforest to a land of zombies without leaving Barcelona.

A historical celebration
The origin of the Festa Major de Gràcia dates back from the 19th century, but it was not until the early 1900s that the streets and squares started being ornamented. The first street decorations’ competition officially coordinated by the local organisations is said to have taken place in 1935. After this joyful endorsed commencement, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) halted any kind of celebration. Once the war was over, the festive activities in Gràcia were quickly restarted, fully supported by the new authorities, which took this kind of gatherings as a great opportunity to slowly normalise the civil society.

In view of the harsh repression in terms of freedom of expression by Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), the Graciencs initially found a valuable chance in decorating streets to implicitly speak their minds. 70 streets and 5 squares were ornamented in Gràcia in 1942. The Festa Major de Gràcia suffered a certain decadence from the late 50s until the late 70s, with only a few streets being decorated.

Finally, from the 80s until our days, with the restoration of the citizens’ democratic rights and the motivation of the neighbours associations, the locals reengaged in the original values of the Fiesta.

Now that the Festa Major de Gràcia 2014 is over, an outburst of melancholy will be back. Luckily enough, it will only take one year of preparation for the next celebration to return to the city.


Words by: Adriana Díaz Martín-Zamorano

Photo credit:
Cristian Meneghi, Flickr
Freddy Monteiro, Flickr
LluriPhoto, Flickr
Jaume Meneses, Flickr

 

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This is not another summer night

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ROMANS USED to vomit during banquets plenty of food to be able to eat for a long period of time; some unlucky men were trained to fight against each other – sometimes against lions – to entertain the people and please the Emperor of the time; even they used to ‘brush’ their teeth with pee. However, among this brutality the Roman civilization had a rich culture with very cultivated people. They created a lot of masterpieces in all branches of art and built magnificent buildings that we still enjoy today.

Festival-de-Merida-Logotipo-Fondo-BlancoThat is the case of Merida (Extremadura, Spain), the capital of what was once an important Roman province where if you dig with a shovel deep in the ground,  you will most likely find some Roman ruins. The Emperor Augustus founded it for the retirement of veterans of the legions – Gladiator was from Merida -, a time when, according to old stories, a monkey could cross from Seville to Galicia without getting off the trees.

Here the International Festival of Classical Theatre takes place every summer since 1933. The Roman theatre of Merida is extraordinarily well conserved; its decadency came with the spread of Christianity until it was completely buried revealing just seven peaks. After the Muslim occupation, these seven peaks were called ‘The seven chairs’ and the legends attributed for decades by mistake those imaginary chairs to the seven Muslim kings that reined over the country.

However, our civilization doesn’t differ that much from the past. We still vomit for several reasons, we still fight against each other and brush our teeth – fortunately the toothpaste has been invented-. But we also still enjoy those magic places that hold something special in it, located in a mystical position and surrounded by art, as it is this Roman theatre.

Miguel de Unamuno stated that “all that was done to last forever again be restored, in one or another way”. The main stage of this theatre has become a very prestigious scenic spot for Spanish players while retaining its original function. Because when you are there you don’t feel in a theatre, you pass to somewhere else. Many actors agree, as Concha Velasco declared, that is “an absolutely overwhelming experience”.

Mérida, 14/07/2014 60 festival de Mérida. Dido y Eneas. foto/ Jero Morales

 

Eunuch
A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. They used to be servants or slaves during the Roman Empire. Terence, a classic Roman author, wrote a comedy with this tittle in 161 BC. More than 2.000 years ago this play has made the grandstand of the biggest Roman theatre in Spain laugh out loud once again.

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A free Spanish version of this ancient Rom-Com – with a taste of Baroque style and some Shakespeare connotations – was up to an audience (around 3.000 people) that clapped incessantly, and was sold out everyday. No play starts until late at night. The moonlight is an important element for illuminating the stage, as it used to be. When everything is dark enough, the orchestra starts playing within a perfect acoustic and the actors come down through the people to the stage.

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Love and hate are intertwined in three stories, in which all the actors sing and dance. Homosexuality takes part in the story naturally and winks to the supremacy of women are made constantly. It would be considered a very modern play if it had not been written two millenniums ago.

 

Eunuch is one of the ten plays included in the programme of the Festival. An opera by Strauss, a flamenco ballet or plays by Homer, Aristophanes or Shakespeare have being represented during the summer. The ticket prices range between 12 and 39 euros. In addition, other buildings that are part of the archaeological set of Merida can be visited, such as the amphitheatre, the Roman circus, several aqueducts, temples, arches, bridges and much more. This is, moreover, seasoned with a delicious cuisine and exquisite wines from the region. For all this, a night at the Roman theatre in Merida is not another summer night.

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Words by Ana Escaso.
Photo credit: Festival Internacional Teatro Clasico de Merida.

As the ‘Indignant movement’ reaches its 3rd birthday — is Spain on the brink of an uprising?

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FROM CIBELES TO La Puerta del Sol, thousands of people demonstrated across the city of Madrid culminating in a general assembly to celebrate the third anniversary of the biggest Spanish activist movement.

Under the slogan “No borders, no debt, no fear”, thousands of people congregated at Puerta del Sol in Madrid last Saturday to celebrate the third anniversary of the civic movement 15M. The demonstration was part of the programme constructed by the collective in which, many other activities were included.

The 15-M movement was born in 2011 to protest against the system and the Spanish government — led by at the time the socialist President José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero. It began with a demonstration on the 15th of May of that year and was followed by an spontaneous campsite in Puerta del Sol — a famous square in the capital — which was broken up by the authorities a few weeks later.

The ‘silent scream’ was a symbol of the protests in 2011.

The ‘Indignant movement’ — the name they were given since their main claim was based on the manifesto “Indignez-vous” by Hessel — has grown considerably since that day. As a result of these spontaneous initiatives and due to the high participatory percentage of people, activism was turned on in Spain. Many new collectives and platforms have emerged since then with the aim of protesting and fighting against injustice. Consequently, just in 2013, more than 4.000 demonstrations took place in Madrid, some of them marked by police brutality and detentions.

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At the beginning of 2014, Human Rights Watch placed Spain among the eleven countries in the EU with serious problems in Human Rights due to: its high number of unemployed people, cuts on healthcare and other social budgets, as well as the increasing vulnerable situation of disable people and children. Furthermore, they made a call criticising the alarming number of evictions — 67,189 in 2013 — and highlighted the police brutality considered as a very problematic issue. In the same light, The Economist revealed in December 2013 that Spain was running a “high risk” of a citizen uprising due to a general malaise.

 

Music documentary 15M: “The clef is in Sol” in Portuguese and Spanish by the Action Committee -Scenic Arts- Music.

 

Text and photos by Victoria Medina.

Translated by Ana Escaso.

Spanish abortion law: step back in time

The Spanish conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy has recently decided to reform the national abortion law. In light of the permanently ongoing pro-life or pro-choice debate, Adriana Díaz Martín-Zamorano analyses the status quo of abortion in Spain as well as the possible consequences that could emerge from the controversial new legislation.

When a Spanish woman was pregnant in 1980 and wanted to have an abortion she would face two options: travel abroad to countries which allowed abortion, such as the United Kingdom, or have a secret abortion. Thirty years later, in 2010, the government passed legislation that allowed a woman to have an abortion in Spain with the Ley de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva e Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo (Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy). But the current ruling conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has recently decided to take a step back in time in terms of women’s rights and amend this legislation.

Abortion as a crime
In most European countries abortion is a right. 20 out of the 28 Member States of the EU, including Germany, France, The Netherlands, Greece or Italy, allow women to legally abort their pregnancy without providing any specific reason within a certain limited amount of time –usually between the 12th and the 14th  weeks of pregnancy. Since 2010, that has also been the case in Spain, but the national Council of Ministers approved on the 20th December of 2013 a new system. Ley para la Protección de la Vida del Concebido y de los Derechos de la Mujer Embarazada (Law for the Protection of Life of the Conceived and the Rights of the Pregnant Woman), criminalises abortion, excluding a couple of scenarios such as rape and risk to the woman’s health. In addition, this ‘severe risk’ for the woman’s health has to be recognised by a medical report signed by two different doctors –up until now only one signature was required. Furthermore, the signatory can’t perform the abortion or even work in the same clinic where the procedure would take place.

Right now, only five countries in the EU – Poland, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Poland – have similar legislation on abortion. In fact, in the UK and Cyprus the range measures are way wider than the new amended Spanish law and include significant criteria, such as fetal deformation, which is reflected in the current abortion legislation in Spain and would be eliminated by the changes. Nevertheless, in other Member States, like Malta or Ireland, abortion is even more restricted. For instance, in Malta abortion is banned and Ireland has only reformed its abortion law recently in order to include suicide risk as a factor. The conservative decision creates further distance between Spain and its neighbouring countries while turning it into the only state in the EU that has carried out a structural reform of its abortion law to harden its conditions in the recent years.

A step back in women’s rights that enhances social and economic inequality
The truth is that strict rules around abortion did not seem odd or outdated during the Spanish transition to democracy from Franco’s dictatorship, but these measures now seem reactionary in an established democracy: a trip back in a time machine and a clear step back in women’s rights. Furthermore, the draft law does not only represent a symbolic decrease in rights, it can also have highly negative social consequences and enhance inequality in economic terms. If the parliamentary procedure approves the reform, Spanish women who need or want to have an abortion will have to travel to countries where abortion is legal or have a secret abortion in Spain. While the first possibility is strictly related to personal income thus enhancing economic inequalities, since not everyone can afford travelling abroad to go through such process; the alternative choice is often performed under dangerous conditions and consequently threatens women’s lives.

Pro-life or pro-choice?
In light of the ongoing abortion debate –pro-life or pro-choice-, what is clear is that the focus of the abortion reform is on the foetus to be born ahead of the woman’s right to choose. The conservative Spanish Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who has launched the controversial law, claimed that ‘we can’t make the life of a foetus to be born depend on a woman’s will’. The Minister also understands that illegal abortions will have penal consequences for the doctor and not for the woman by justifying that woman is a ‘victim’ of abortion, an argument that has been labelled by some feminist groups as ‘paternalist’. Gallardón also defends that the main reason this new law has been carried out is mainly to fulfil ‘an electoral commitment’.

The public reaction towards the new legislation has been polarised. On the one hand, Christian institutions, such as the Spanish Episcopal Conference, presided by Madrid’s archbishop, Antonio María Rouco Varela, have expressed their satisfaction for the ‘improvement’ in the abortion law because it is important to ‘support both in theory and in practice the right to life’. On the other hand, several feminist associations have successfully organised demonstrations in the largest Spanish cities, like Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, as well as in European cities, such as London, Dublin and Lisbon, calling for the dropping of the abortion draft. Last week Madrid’s Feminist Movement hosted a demonstration attended by around 15,000 citizens holding rue and parsley branches up in their hands –two plants traditionally used to interrupt pregnancy. The spokesperson of Madrid’s Feminist Movement, Laura Montero, declared to the press agency Efe that the greatest problem is that ‘women who don’t have money are condemned to insecure abortion which can lead them to death’. The opposition to the reform has not only been heard in the streets, but also on a political level: critical voices from the main opposition party, Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), rejected motions presented from local governments –even some ruled by the conservative party- and fierce debates in the European Parliament (EP) have divided left-wing and liberal parties against right-wing and Eurosceptic parties.

The unpopularity of the abortion reform shows that it would be appropriate for the Spanish government to reconsider the viability of carrying out such restrictive measures in the 21st century. However, for the moment, the Minister of Justice has given ‘his word’ that protests will not prevent his commitment to fulfil the electoral programme in terms of regulating the rights of pregnant women and the child to be born.

Spanish exile: future beyond the borders

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The future for the youth of Spain is one of the darkest in Europe. As youth emigration hits record levels Aida Pelaez explains the current difficulties that young Spaniards have to go through on a day to day basis.

“In the current situation I think it would be a mistake to return to Spain”

“The chances of emancipation are almost nil, so you make up your mind and hop on a plane”

“When you leave because there is no other choice you feel a little exiled”

These are direct quotes from young Spanish emigrants who have told their stories on camera for the future documentary “Spanish Exile”.  Rubén Hornillo is a young Spanish filmmaker and is living and working in Los Angeles. His documentary “Spanish Exile” will show the first-hand testimonies of young Spanish people who have seen themselves been forced to emigrate because of the economic crisis; showing the reality of a country that is seeing its qualified and educated youth leaving the country because of the lack of possibilities.

Spain faces one of the highest rates of emigration in the recent decades of its history, but rather than focusing on the number of migrations, different movements were born in the country to express their preoccupation and outrage about the situation and reasons for the exodus of young Spaniards. Juventud sin futuro (youth without future), La Marea Granate (the maroon tide), No nos vamos nos echan (We are not leaving, they kick us out); are the names of these movements.

Youth without future was born in 2011. Their slogan: “without a house, without a job, without fear” summarizes the demands of this organization whose purpose is to demonstrate the precarious situation of youth in the labour, educational and social fields.

“We are not leaving, they kick us out” is another a movement who denounces the precarious situation of Spanish youth, but it is focused on emigration; they defined Spain as “No country for young men”. This initiative criticises the forced exile of the precarious Spanish youth; their calls have gone beyond the Spanish borders by demonstrations that have taken place in different cities of the world such as Rome or London. The young Spaniards who live there as immigrants have shown their dissatisfaction with their own country that has failed to provide them a future.

The most recent platform  is “The Maroon Tide”, named by the color of the passport as a symbol of forced migration it is a transnational movement formed by emigrants from Spain who struggle from outside the Spanish borders against the causes that have led to the economic and social crisis which in turn caused them to migrate.

All these platforms seek the reasons for the Spanish youth exodus, but they are mostly trying to give a voice to all the young people who have seen the need to emigrate from Spain to look for work possibilities. But, on the other side of the table, the authorities of the country have not shown much concern about youth emigration. The government has not presented a clear answer for the increasing rates of emigration of skilled labour among the youth. The Spanish General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration, Marina del Corral, explained last November the reasons for the emigration of the younger part of Spanish society; she mentioned the economic crisis, but she also emphasised the adventurous spirit of young people as a reason for their migration.

The different movements concerned about forced migration, the stories of Spanish emigrants in foreign countries narrated in first person, show a different reality that contradicts the adventurous spirit expressed by the Government as a cause for migration. They point at the search for an sustainable present and future which their own country has not been able to provide them with; the crisis has made them exiles.

Flight JK5022: Why has justice taken so long?

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It’s been nearly six years since the Spanair plane accident, where 154 people died. But why has the nightmare continued for those who survived?

Madrid airport is one of the most important in Europe and welcomes more than 100,000 passengers per day. On the 20th of August 2008, sixty-two of those daily passengers would board a Spanair plane to Gran Canaria. But what should have been a routine flight would turn into one of the worst plane accidents in Spanish history.

The catastrophe highlighted the airlines negligent behaviour and called attention upon the ineptitude of those involved in maintaining safety regulations. It also put into serious doubt the care and attendance of victims and their families after the catastrophe. 154 passengers — out of 172 people on board — died and 18 survived with serious physical and emotional scars.

A survivor vs a giant
Those affected by this tragedy have been living a nightmare, made even worse by Mapfre, one of Spain’s leading insurance companies, refusing to pay out compensations nearly six years after the accident. Rafael Vidal — one of the eighteen survivors — initiated on the 24th of February 2014 a petition on ‘Change.org’ to demand that the multinational company must settle compensation for survivors and victims’ relatives.

“For six years we’ve been trying to end this chapter of our lives and move on”, states Vidal in his petition. After undergoing fifteen surgical operations, all of them paid by himself with the aid of loans, the young telecommunications engineer is forced to wear a metal support frame permanently attached to his left leg. “What I want to claim is the right to a trial, and to have a judge decide whether I’m entitled to what I’m demanding or the unacceptable offer from Mapfre” said Vidal in March during a televised interview.

The victims association: searching for change
Two months after the tragedy, the first and only association of aircraft accidents was born in Spain: ‘La Asociación de Afectados del Vuelo JK5022‘ (The Association of those Affected by Flight JK5022). Currently it has more than one thousand members, eighty of them related directly with a victim or survivor of the accident. Together they claim for necessary changes in the Spanish system to ensure that similar tragedies never happen again.

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Some members of ‘The Association of those Affected by Flight JK5022’ in one of their meetings.

One of the people traumatised by that fateful day was Pilar Vera Palmés, now President of the Association and aunt of one of the deceased passengers. She accepted an interview request to discuss the conflict with Mapfre last March: “This battle is, firstly in name of the Association, but also in the name of all passengers that use air transportation” said Pilar, referring to Rafael Vidal’s initiative on ‘Change.org’. According to a statement released by Mapfre in its shareholders meeting on March 14th 2014, the company has paid compensation to 60% of all victims. However Pilar denies this, claiming she is only aware of thirty-eight cases of closed agreements.

No justice
Survivors and relatives of the victims continue to live a nightmare that is not only limited to the struggle with Mapfre but also goes back to the first reports of the investigation into the causes of the accident. On the 29th of July 2011 the Commission of Investigation of Accidents and Incidents of Civil Aviation (CIAIAC), under the supervision of the Spanish Ministry of Development, made public its final report naming the pilots as the main culprits. However, according to Spanish aviation professionals and the Association itself, this report only hides the truth. On the 20th of August the plane didn’t have all its permissions approved, they had been granted an extension of one month without a proper inspection.

The actual causes of the crash are much much more complicated and in order to explain them fully, the Association launched in 2012 the documentary: ‘JK5022; Una Cadena de Errores’ (JK5022; A Chain of Errors). Pilar claims that “Here in Spain the documentary has been silenced”.

This lack of justice has recently led them to seek help in Strasbourg, filing a lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights denouncing violations committed by Spanish jurisdiction. “We want to express our desolation as Spanish citizens having to go out of our country to seek the justice that has been denied to us”, the last sentence of the document reads.

“If Rafael wins, we all win”
Within two weeks Rafael Vidal had 150,000 signatures supporting his petition on ‘Change.org’. Now he has nearly 170,000 which again proves how outraged many Spanish citizens are with Mapfre.

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All the survivors, like Vidal, suffered serious physical injuries and emotional scars. One of the most dramatic cases was of a woman that is now in a wheelchair and, according to Pilar, “agreed a personal deal with Mapfre”. However, Rafael’s struggle is unique because of his involvement in all the Association’s activities and his active fight for justice. “This tragedy has taken away the best years of his life, and it is because not even the doctors have given him a solution. A few years ago, he was told that the only option he had was to lose his leg”.

But the nightmare that all the affected people have gone through has reunified them to fight and claim for rectifying the mistakes that were made. Their strength — as a result of the pain and injustice committed by the Spanish system — has made them a powerful community that seeks justice for the 172 people on board flight JK5022 and also an improvement of air transportation. In the words of the Association’s president: “If Rafael loses, he loses it alone, but if he wins he wins it for all of us “.

Words by Victoria Medina

Why do Catalans want to be independent?

Demonstration in Barcelona on the 11th of September 2012.

Demonstration in Barcelona on the 11th of September 2012.

While it is undeniable that the separatist fervour in Catalonia has been enhanced by the economic crisis, it is also true that Catalan independence claims are not a new movement in the region. Economic, historical and cultural reasons have always pushed a part of the Catalan society to fight for independence. However, Adriana Díaz Martín-Zamorano will try to explain where the secessionist demands come from and why they have significantly increased in the last two years, reaching a 59.7% of Catalan society in favour of an independent Catalonia.

The demonstration that marked the difference
A turning point in Catalonia’s struggle for independence was the 11th of September of 2012. According to Barcelona’s Municipal Police and Catalan Ministry of Home Affairs, 1,5 million people demonstrated during the National Day of Catalonia across the city of Barcelona demanding the independence for Catalonia and its consolidation as a sovereign state under the slogan ‘Catalonia, a new state in Europe’. Taken that Catalan’s population is around 7,5 million people, the event marked the Catalan, and consequently the Spanish, political agenda and the debate about the right to hold a referendum on the independence of the region was re-opened in both public and private spheres. After the protest march, the ruling liberal party in Catalonia, led by the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Artur Mas, officially started to push for independence, especially bearing in mind that a couple of months before he had failed to obtain a better financial pact for Catalonia in a meeting with the central government.

Since then, the struggle for Catalonia’s secession has been more recently observed on different levels. On a symbolic level, Catalan society organised on its National Day in September 2013 the Catalan Way towards Independence, inspired by 1989’s Baltic Way, which consisted in a 480 kilometre-long human chain crossing Catalonia in support of the region’s secession. On a political level, the next milestone took place on December 2013, when the Catalan government announced that Catalonia will host a referendum on independence on the 9 November 2014. It will contain a question divided in two sections: ‘Do you want Catalonia to become a State?’ and ‘In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?’. On January, 87 out of 135 Catalan members of the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of the referendum proposal and the request has been sent to the Spanish Congress of Representatives to debate about it.

As a response, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said that the referendum would be considered illegal because it is anti-constitutional since Spain’s 1978 Constitution doesn’t envision anything but a unified Spanish state and mandates that referendums affecting Spain must be held nationally and not regionally. Rajoy’s party has an absolute majority in Spanish parliament that ensures that his vote will prevail, but at the same time, the main opposition Socialist party also opposes the poll.

Considering the current political scenario, the main question that might emerge in outsiders’ minds is: why now and not before? What has always pushed Catalans to fight for independence, but especially what has moved them to struggle for it now more than ever before? The answer is indeed complex, but it can be drawn around two main reasons: economics and identity.

A region unfairly treated in financial terms
On the one hand, Catalonia is the main contributor to the Spanish economy nearly contributing 19% of the country’s GDP and it has always felt unfairly treated financially speaking. For instance, the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge of the Catalan government, Andreu Mas-Colell, estimated that in the past years the so-called ‘espoli fiscal’, fiscal plunder, has varied from 11,000 million to 16,500 million euros per year. Between 1986 and 2010 the Spanish administration has obliged Catalonia to give away an average of 8.1% of its annual GDP per year. Mas-Colell, also former Harvard and Berkeley Economics Professor, stated that with a fairer fiscal balance ‘we would not have to undertake budget cuts’ because the Catalan government would not have a budget deficit.

In addition, Catalonia is considered to be a very open economy, whose exports and imports are greater than 60% of the Catalan GDP. However, Catalan trades shows a high dependence on the Spanish market since about 50% of Catalan exports go to the rest of Spain while European countries similar to Catalonia in terms of size show greater trading diversification. A relevant factor that explains such dependence is the infrastructure policies followed by the Spanish government, which have refused several times to finance essential infrastructure projects that could facilitate trade between Catalonia and the rest of Europe, such as the reinforcement of the Mediterranean Corridor. All these numbers and data indeed seem even more sensitive to Catalan society while the country is going through a severe economic crisis and acclaimed economists, such as the Wilson Initiative, have proved that a sovereign Catalonia would be economically viable. Updated data claim that Catalonia would be ranked 10th in the European Union (EU) in terms of GDP per capita and 15th in terms of population.

Catalan identity
Yet taken this brief economic analysis, it seems reasonable that in Spanish eyes, Catalonia’s claims for sovereignty look like a greedy and egoistic approach when currently Europe needs solidarity instead of selfish economic nationalism. Nevertheless, this behaviour can be explained by the other core of motives that have pushed Catalan society to remarkably struggle for independence: identity. A distinct language and traditions have always played a crucial role in defining the Catalan identity. The fact that Catalan language is as equally used or even more used as Spanish in Catalonia in all societal, cultural and political arenas or unique regional traditions, such as Saint George’s Day or Saint Stephen’s Day, have always fostered the creation of a Catalan identity. At the same time, it is true that not all regions in Spain follow a homogenous cultural pattern at all; every community has its own exclusive traditions, but Catalans have never felt identified with what could be considered commonly widespread customs in the country. For instance, Catalonia is the only region in Spain that currently forbids bullfighting.

Historical background
However, it seems plausible to admit that this stubborn will to feel different from the rest of Spain wouldn’t have gone this far if it had not been historically prosecuted. The first time Catalan society and culture were significantly oppressed was at the time of the first Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V, who implemented what he called the Nueva Planta decrees (1707-1716) shortly after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. In order to establish a centralized Spanish state, Philip V suppressed the institutions, privileges and ancient charters of all the areas that were formerly part of the Crown of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands) and forbid the use of Catalan as a language.

The second relevant prosecution came with Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship (1923-1930) who applied a radical anti-Catalan policy. This willingness to dismember the backbone of Catalan culture was intensified more recently during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975). The dictatorship meant in Catalonia the same as in the other regions in Spain, the suppression of democratic freedom, but it also came together with a repression against Catalan culture. The totalitarian character of the dictatorship eliminated all Catalan rule-of-law and institutions, prohibited the use of Catalan in both public and private spheres and forced Catalan intellectuals and politicians to exile if they did not want to be criminally persecuted. Such repression has indeed shaped our grandparents and parents’ generation mind-set, who now feel proud to openly express themselves in the language that they could not be taught in school or freely use in public places.

Spanish government’s aim of unity
Considering this historical background, it seems natural to fight for every right you have been taken out, especially since the current Spanish conservative government seems to follow that old-fashioned trend and is constantly approving political measures trying to blur differences and imposing the unity in Spain. An example of that is the approval of the new educational law, Ley Orgánica para la Mejora de la Calidad Educativa (LOMCE), which has been controversial all over the country but significantly more in Catalonia for its anti-Catalan nature. Catalonia has had since mid-eighties an educational model of ‘immersió lingüística’, ‘language immersion’, which teaches all subjects in school in Catalan except Spanish language and literature and which has guaranteed the pupils’ excellent command of both languages. The educational model has been praised by UNESCO and the European Commission (EC) as a best practice example fostering a true bilingualism. Recently though the Spanish government has approved the LOMCE, only with the absolute majority of the ruling conservative party in the Spanish Parliament, which aims to guarantee that Spanish is the language of instruction in Catalonia, among other objectives. For instance, the law forces the Catalan government to pay for a privately-owned school for those families who would like their children to study in Spanish. According to the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture, José Ignacio Wert, the goal of the new law is to ‘Hispanicise Catalan students’.

In sum, nationalism and separatist regional movements are both a matter of the mind and the heart. While a pragmatic stand, such as focusing on the region’s economic viability, can be broadly logically understood, the emotional approach is purely subjective and debatable, a polyhedron that can be observed from several points of views. Currently, Catalonia is going through a remarkable time in its history since it is the first time in the democratic era that a majority of the population seems to be in favour of independence. The massive demonstration on the 11th of September of 2012 was the first proof of Catalan population standing together for the same cause, other than Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) winning titles. Pandora’s Box has now been opened, what the future holds for Catalonia only demands time, patience and a lot of political action.