No Bull: The Rain in Catalonia Doesn't Fall on Spain
But the new constitution was shot down by Spain’s Constitutional Court three months ago, which declared that the central government alone can legally rule, with no self-rule allowed. A huge demonstration, the biggest in 20 years, followed in Barcelona on July 6th. “Tension is growing daily,” says Guillem, the 22-year-old concierge at our hotel, who resembles a young Paul Newman.
Europe is becoming simultaneously more centralized and more fragmented in a process of devolution, with separatist movements extending from the UK to Belgium to Spain and over into Eastern Europe. “Under the EU, nations are weaker,” contends Diego, Guillem’s 32-year-old dark-eyed sidekick, originally from Brazil. “It’s a continuum that started with the colonies in the 20th century. Spain is tearing apart.”
September 11th takes on a far different meaning here in Catalonia. On that day -- known here as La Diega -- in 1714, Catalonia lost its independence following the War over the Succession of Spain. “It reminds us that we are oppressed,” explains Ferran. In 1980, the first act of the newly established Catalan legislature was to declare La Diega a national holiday.
Though it had a rich literary heritage, and at the height of Catalan political power in the 13th and 14th centuries was spoken as a commercial language as far away as Naples and Athens, the Catalan language was banned or repressed during most of the 18th and 19th centuries, though it was still spoken by Catalonians at home.
Catalonia’s oppression was exacerbated by the dictator, General Francisco Franco, who banned books in Catalan and also the public use of the language, forcing everyone to speak Spanish. “Now we speak Catalan,” states Guillem proudly. “People say, ‘What is that? You’re not speaking Spanish.’ We want them to understand that we are not Spanish.”
A key reason for Franco’s repression was that Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, were at the very heart of the battle for the Second Spanish Republic, a democratically elected government that had boldly challenged Spain’s conservative landed establishment, denying Church rights and promoting human ones, like divorce and women’s suffrage. The short-lived Republic also allowed the communitats the option of independence, an option which Catalonia took in 1932.
The utopian allure of the Spanish Republic is beautifully captured in Homage to Catalonia, published in 1938 by George Orwell, who joined the International Brigade and fought with the militia against Franco. Arriving in December, 1936, he wrote, “It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.” Orwell “recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.” And where else but Barcelona can you find a Calle de George Orwell, its residents proudly displaying the red-and yellow striped flag, the senyera, of Catalan from their apartment windows?