Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is Spain a Unified Nation?

I feel like I need to dedicate a post to a brief introduction on a very important topic: Regional Nationalism/Politics in Spain.

Spain is made up 17 autonomous regions, which are somewhat to similar to states in the US. Some of these autonomous regions, principally the Basque Country and Catalonia, are historically different from Spain. For example, between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries Catalonia was an economically and politically powerful region that rivaled the Moorish and Castilian kingdoms. The Basque Country has traditionally ruled parts of Northern Spain and Southeastern France and their language is not a Romance language, unlike everything else on the Iberian Peninsula. So, both regions have their own language, their own cuisine, and their own culture, which is completely different from Spain; therefore, they are considered nationalities (just like Spanish/French/American ect.)

In my post about the festival in Bilbao, I told you about the tent with the flags of all the “oppressed nations.” I also observed some other nationalistic feelings during the festival. During the Marijaia parade, there was this guy walking in front of her with a Basque flag, with the word “independence” written on it. We were also walking in el Casco Viejo and this group of middle age guys were talking very loudly. One suddenly yells “español” (Spanish) to which another one replied “vasco” (Basque). I didn’t need to hear the rest of the conversation to know that they were talking about whether they considered themselves to be Spanish or Basque.

Now, this reminds me of something that came up a few days earlier in the apartment. I was watching the news with Arantza and something about Basque politics came up. After explaining the situation to me, Arantza stated that she doesn't consider herself to be Spanish; she’s Basque and Basque only. Think about that for a minute. She has stronger ties to her autonomous region than she does to the national state. She considers herself to be a citizen of her region but not a citizen of the country she lives in. That would be like me saying: “I live in the United States, but I am not an American. I'm Ohioan.”

Today, there are strong movements in both Catalonia and the Basque Country for the independence of their region from Spain. The Basque Country has it’s own nationalist terrorist group (The ETA) that uses violence to advance this cause while Catalonia keeps on trying to push for more autonomy and for more rights. A lot of people in both regions feel as if they are “a nation without a state."

(A sign in Plentzia, a fishing village in the Basque Country. It says "This is not Spain")

Now you may ask, “why is there so much animosity between Catalonia/Basque Country and Spain?” Long story short: Franco. General Franco’s side won the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and with that he installed himself as the fascist dictator of Spain. While in power, Franco ruled with an iron fist and tried to shove the idea of “national Spanish unity” down the throats of everyone in Spain. His view of an “ideal” Spain was absolute obedience to the Catholic Church and to the national State, women were to remain at home, and Spanish was to be the only language of the country. As a result, he outlawed the use of the Catalan and Basque languages. So, during Franco’s dictatorship the Catalonian and Basque people could not speak their native languages in public for fear of Franco’s henchmen; essentially, they were forced to speak Spanish. This is why, here in Spain, if you want to ask someone “do you speak Spanish?” you say “¿Hablas castellano?” and not¿Hablas español?Español implies that there is one, unified language here in Spain, while castellano (Castilian) makes it sound like it’s on more equal footing with the other languages of Spain.

So why do I feel like this is an important topic that you all should be aware of? Well, besides staying in the Basque Country for the two and a half weeks before my program starts, I’m going to be studying in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Most likely, I’m going to have stories about the tension between Spain and Catalonia when I finally get to Barcelona, whether it be a million man march for Catalonian independence in the streets of Barcelona or my host mom describing to me what it was like to live under Franco.

Also, I just find it fascinating.

P.S. If this topic is interesting to you, here’s a good article that talks about Catalonia: Barcelona: Leading a stateless nation

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