Living here over the past year, I’ve come to meet many people who wish to fight for Catalan independence and proclaim proudly they are Catalan, through and through. Quite understandable from a state with a rich history, and a background of oppression from the Spanish, whom many do not wish to consider themselves affiliated with any longer. Before coming here, I hadn’t quite realised how extensive the language and patriotism was – how there are genuinely people who struggle speaking Spanish, who don’t even like doing it, and who feel completely separated from a nation they are still part of.
Catalonia, specifically Barcelona, is interesting, as you seem to get a split down the middle between Catalans who want independence, and those who really don’t mind one bit and would rather stay part of Spain. Everybody agrees that the cuts and the taxes are extortionate, but that’s what richer parts of countries do – pay more tax. I can see it’s frustrating, but to me it seems the politicians have jumped on the public’s unrest and become deadly serious about Catalans becoming independent. I myself have no opinion on whether they should or shouldn’t – it’s not my place and I don’t wish to rock the boat with people by talking about it. It makes for awkward moments in class when it is brought up as in a lesson of around eight people, you’re likely to have them split down the middle in their opinion, and quite honestly they’re venting to the wrong crowd – I’m an English teacher: I’m there to teach them how to contract and pronounce properly, not to preside over a debate.
Artur Mas, the Catalan president, called a vote two years early, expecting that the public would once again vote him in, in a majority. Whilst they did vote for him again, he lost a number of seats, something I’m sure he wasn’t expecting. During his time as president, he’s brought in austerity measures, and asked for extra cash…something I think the public resents, naturally. La Vaga, held recently, meaning ‘strike’ in Catalan, was mostly down to lack of work and cuts, but I felt the undertone, as we all did in the city: the deep-down message for independence which is plastered all over the city walls at the moment. Bright yellow posters proclaiming now is the hour for the people to rise up and shout for their independence. Walking the streets on Vaga day was eerie. Most shops and banks were scrawled over with the words ‘tancat per la vaga’ (closed for the strike). Placa Catalunya, normally teeming, was unusually quiet, like the calm before the storm, when I walked into town around midday. At night, from our flat, we could hear the horns, the shouts of protest, and the whistles; a cacophony of disgruntled Catalans, and Spanish, alike.
Catalunya has a large economy, worth more combined than Portugal and Andorra, which for a region of 7.5 million people is pretty good going. This said, if they leave Spain, they’ll have to re-enter the EU, which sounds pretty difficult to me. What if they can’t? Do they go back to the peseta, which surely would be devastating? The region exports mostly to Spain and the EU, which means they must keep a good business relationship with their neighbour. I understand why they want independence, and part of me sees the appeal, too. A vibrant cultural history, very different from Spain, would be celebrated and recognised alone. I think sometimes we need to look at a much bigger picture, though, even bigger than just Spain, and just recognise we are all part of the same world. To me, I’d rather be part of something larger than separate myself and become smaller, but I haven’t grown up in a country like this, and don’t know what it feels like to want my own cultural identity, as I have a rather strong one myself.
We could all debate about this until the cows come home, but I wonder what’s in the future for this region. Watch this space, and until then, stop debating about it in English class…you’re making the poor foreigner uncomfortable.