Saturday, 20 October 2012

Independence for Catalonia?

Such is the fervour for independence here in Catalonia, I feel that it's almost politically incorrect to express a view in the opposite direction. But that's what I'm going to do!

I have just been interviewed (by phone) by a reporter for Diari de Girona for an article to be published tomorrow (Sunday 21st October). She approached Girona Grapevine, which I run, looking for English and especially Scottish ex-pats who had an opinion about moves for independence for Catalonia and Scotland and how they compared. I suggested Moira who is Scottish and who has lived here so long that she considers herself Catalan but time was short and she didn't reply to my e-mail in time. So I became the subject. I had listened to Toni Strubell at the U3A so I had a very good idea of what he wanted to see. As an MP in the Catalan parliament, he is very strongly in favour of independence and he spoke for about an hour and there wasn't much time for questions. 

Catalans vote in a referendum next month and, judging by recent public displays of support, it looks as though the majority will be in favour of independence. Last time 51% were in favour. But, what happens next? That question was addressed to Toni Strubell (his father is English and his mother, Catalan, daughter of the famous Josep Trueta). He didn't really have an answer. Catalonia is tied to Spain by a constitution which appears to be unbreakable. But he replied "there is a moment when legitimacy shifts". He also quoted José Manuel Barosso, the current President of the European Commission, as saying "(independence) will be the result of negotiation in an international context". These are rather vague hopes though.

"What do Catalans Want?" It's the name of Sr. Strubell's book and something I think about a lot. I've lived here for 7 years but don't speak Catalan. In my own view, I only need one language to communicate but I'm aware of the painful history of Catalonia, especially during the Franco era when the language was prohibited and the culture suppressed. So, maybe people are offended by my use of Spanish due to its associations with this period. But, since everyone, Catalans and Spanish are unreservedly nice to me, I have to assume that I'm not creating too much bad feeling. This is not sufficient motivation for me to learn a new language, in other words for reasons of courtesy, not communication. I already have the latter.

There are only two people who don't speak to me in Spanish, everyone else speaks both Catalan and Spanish (and many of those are keen on learning English). One friend doesn't speak Spanish so has to talk to me in English. The town hall, the ajuntament, is very Catalan as one would expect. They fly the Estelada, the independence protest flag, outside the town hall. Jordi in reception always talks to me in Catalan and I speak to him in Spanish - no problem. I understand Catalan fairly well but I wouldn't know where to start putting together a sentence or speaking it. I get e-mails telling me from the ajuntament about free Catalan courses in Celrà as if the fact they are free makes them easier! So, there I have no doubt that people are expecting me to speak Catalan but that is an exception. Many of my friends are Spanish and many, of course, English-speaking.

So why am I not in favour of independence? Well, I don't fear it so, if it happens, I won't be emigrating or anything like that. Toni Strubell says that the language would not be imposed on anyone. By that I take him to mean that, if there was independence, the two languages of Catalan and Spanish would continue to co-exist as they do at present. Letters from my gas company come in both languages but, as one would expect, letters from the town hall come in Catalan. And I'm happy with that, of course!

One of my main motives is not to see the European Union being too top-heavy and for Spain not to be fragmented. By that I mean that the EU should be like a company with a kind of tree structure. The parliament comprises Euro MPs rather like the board in a company. Beneath the board are managers (the countries) and beneath them, the regions, the employees. If too many of the regions aspire to independence then the parliament would grow too large and unwieldy.

Catalans are angry with Madrid because the taxes they pay to the central government are not reflected back in benefits received (but they are also angry about the Franco era - represented by Madrid). In other words, Catalonia, being relatively wealthy, subsidises the poorer regions of Spain. If Catalonia left Spain then poorer regions would be poorer still.
But this is the way of the world and Catalans may find themselves in a similar situation in the European Union which, in addition, distributes money to poorer countries. In the case of Scotland, as I understand it, they want to hang onto oil revenue. But world resources are for the whole world and should be distributed more fairly. Actually my politics are to the right (life-long Conservative) and this seems a socialist theme but my politics apply inside countries rather than on a world scale where there is enormous injustice. Catalans are in a fortunate position despite the fiscal deficit with the central government of Spain. 

The big problem in my mind is not so much the fiscal deficit, it is to do with pride, history and a feeling of injustice going back centuries. But many country boundaries have been created as a result of war and one can't re-write history. I always find it strange that the Diada, the national day of Catalonia on 11th September, celebrates a famous defeat in 1714 which often I feel that Catalans want to reverse. Catalans refer to the Pyrenees Orientales in France as Catalunya Nord. Sr. Strubell talked about Catalonia as the "southern part of Catalonia". Actually I use the same term sometimes and there are many Catalan flags flying in Perpignan but it's France all the same!

To summarise: my main reason for being against independence is to do with the structure of Europe rather than the age-old animosity with Madrid which I don't feel qualified to comment on. There is a lot of buried pain left over from the Civil War and the ensuing period of repression and I don't even speak the language. But I still feel that I'm allowed to express a view. I'm still nervous about the article in Diari de Girona! It will have my cheery photo and me saying that I don't agree with what most people around me think. But it is allowed... isn't it?

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