Is there really a difference between Catalonia vs Spain? What’s all the fuss about? Why does Catalonia want independence from Spain?
This is the subject of several books. Maybe what I write here will eventually turn into one of them…In fact I have already begun to answer the question of why Catalonia wants independence elsewhere on the site.
But this (part of the) blog is about my own experiences as an Englishman in Catalonia (vs Spain), a legal alien, as Sting used to sing, who, unlike in the song about New York, has felt so much at home here that I like to call myself an honorary Catalan. Well, actually, anyone can call themselves a Catalan if they accept their ways and are prepared to integrate – as an old saying goes “anyone who lives and works in Catalonia is a Catalan if they want to be”.
And this is one thing that makes Catalans different from many other peoples. Francesc Candel, a Valencian-born writer living in Barcelona who spent years studying the 20th century migration to the Barcelona metropolitan area from the rest of Spain, said that what counts more than blood is land – the place where you make your home. Hence many of those migrants and their children felt and feel just as Catalan as generations-old families (Els Altres Catalans – The Other Catalans – is Candel’s most famous work).
I can certainly identify with that after “just” ten years living here. (I should say, though, I first came here in 1992 for the Olympic Games and fell in love with Barcelona, though at the time I was not aware, like many, of the distinct Catalan language and culture. I returned on Erasmus and had a second stint living here in the 90s after graduation.)
So Catalan identity goes beyond language and ancestry – though these do, of course, exert a strong influence. It is a deep connection with the way of life that has remained intact for a millennia, despite (or, probably, thanks to) attempts to assimilate and “decatalanise” (especially, but not only the two dictatorships of the 20th century).
This way of life includes a number of progressive laws protecting the environment and the most vulnerable in society, a highly European outlook and a spirit of collaboration and community which at its best is a model for the world. Several of these laws were repealed by central government in Madrid, despite being democratically voted for in the regional parliament. One more reason for the feeling of Catalonia vs Spain – a desire for self-determination (a right enshrined in many international treaties), with its guarantee of an independent jurisprudence.
But returning to the more human side and my personal experiences, I have been lucky enough to have travelled to almost every corner of Spain and always had a warm reception. I also have friends from other parts of the country and indeed was married into a family with strong roots in Andalusia, not just Catalonia, and have experienced incredible hospitality down there.
This gives me an interesting perspective on Catalonia vs Spain and while there are many regions (17 autonomous communities plus two autonomous cities in North Africa), the fact that most still feel a strong part of that Spanish family contrasts with the feeling of difference (and sometimes victimisation) felt by many Catalans.
Now I fear I am walking on eggshells as I don’t wish to offend and have no axe to grind. I know I should fear not since I write based either on historical fact or personal experience, without trying to extrapolate beyond the obvious or reasonable. (I also feel that if I am offended by something, I should try to see it from the other perspective before criticising, something easier said than done, of course, but respectful debate is always fruitful.)
I could indeed dig far into the Greek origins of Catalan culture (the true Iberians) and the resulting seafaring and trading nature of its people, contrasting with the more insular Castilians. Or the fact that Catalonia formed part of the Carolingian empire, giving it a uniquely European outlook which contrasts with the rest of the peninsula.
But as I say, this is more about my daily experiences here which, I insist, I find regular instances of how different Catalonia vs Spain really is. This series will explore these further, no doubt.
It would be wonderful if all the peoples in Spain could see these differences as a gift, not a problem. And if a model of cohabitation could be found which could serve, as I first naively thought it did when I first discovered the difference almost 25 years ago, as a model for Europe and indeed the world.
See the History section of the site for more background and subscribe to our newsletter to receive a free ebook: Catalonia: understanding its history, present and desires for the future.