Lawrence community responds to Catalonia–Spain conflict

By Ollin Garcia Pliego

Catalonia comprises the northeastern part of Spain, and its capital is the city of Barcelona. In recent years, a significant part of its population has called for independence from Spain due to the economic crisis in the country. The New York Times reported that Catalonia accounts for 20 percent of Spain’s national output, making it one of the richest regions in the country.

However, there are several reasons why Catalans want independence. Associate Professor and Chair of Spanish Rosa Tapia maintains that “As a result of the country’s historical development—the unification of the Iberian kingdoms in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries –Catalonia has a distinct cultural and linguistic heritage.”

Raised in Ceuta, Lawrence’s former exchange student África Garcia thinks that “some Catalans do not feel that they are Spanish [because of] the language.” However, there are other provinces that speak other regional tongues and dialects, and Garcia does not see them as different because of that. One example is the Basque region, located in northern Spain.

Catalonia’s geographic location favored its socio-economic development, which created an extremely powerful industry in the region, an important factor that contributed to a strong Catalan identity among its inhabitants. According to Tapia, “the roots of today’s Catalan nationalism are in the nineteenth century movement called Renaixenca which focused on reviving the linguistic and cultural splendor of the area.

That movement led to the formation of a poli              tical movement, which sought to have some influence in the Spanish government. However, Francisco Franco’s dictatorship—which began in 1939 and lasted until 1975—impeded Catalonia in achieving its political goal; Franco’s government almost annihilated Catalan identity and its inhabitants even felt more foreign to Spain.

According to the Center for Opinion Studies (Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió CEO), in 2013 54.7 percent of Catalans favored independence whereas 22.1 percent opposed it. The Convergence and Union party—CiU—has been in power in Catalonia since 1978, and “they are now fighting for the referendum and endorsing the pro-independence vote,” Tapia said.

The New York Times and La Jornada report that on September 11, 2014, which is the National Day of Catalonia, 1.8 million people marched on the streets of Barcelona demanding a vote for freedom to be held on November 9, as Artur Mas, the President of the “Generalitat” of Catalonia, had promised. However, Mas recently announced that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rigidly refused to allow the vote, declaring it unconstitutional.

Garcia expressed concern for the secessionist movement in Catalonia because “its independence won’t benefit the economy of the country.” The independence would not only affect Spain, but also Catalonia because it “receives support—not only economic—from the government,” she said.

As a Spanish citizen, Tapia is concerned with Catalonia’s current situation, and although she respects “people’s right for self-determination,” she’s also worried that Catalonia would become independent in the middle of “national and global economic hardship,” when temporary decisions based on self-interest could undermine other “important considerations.”

If Catalonia’s secession from Spain occurs, there may be people who feel that they do not belong there, which has been the problem since the unification of Spain. The issue is “that those people who fight for independence are not taking into account the [ones] who want to be a part of Spain,” Garcia said.

Although Lawrence University does not presently offer an off-campus program in Barcelona, “students can inquire about credit transfer if they find one that is suitable for their academic interests,” said Tapia.

Every academic year, an enthusiastic group of Lawrentians study abroad in either Málaga or Granada, and from there they can witness the current socio-political situation in Catalonia if they visit Barcelona and the region. Tourists could feel in another country than Spain: “[the students] would notice Catalonia’s desire of independence,” Garcia expressed.

Garcia shared some of her personal experiences in Barcelona in relation to radical Catalan identity: “you can find stickers in Barcelona that say things like ‘Catalonia is for Catalan people’, ‘No more foreign people’, ‘we don’t like tourists’… But of course not all of them think the same.”