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SPAIN: Catalonia



I have been moderating a debate about Spain and its regions. Surprisingly I have receive few from the Basque provinces, although the last posting was based on a long message, balanced and ccholarly, from Luis Sanzo Gonzбlez of Vitoria. The ones I receive from Catalans involve the use of the word "nation", just as "race" is the issue in the US. The problem extends to Puerto Rico, whose representative in Washingtlon says his nationality is Puerto Rican, just like all the Puerto Rican diaspora, but his citizenship is US. It sounds if that to him means little more than a passport.

A message from M. Estevez says that Catalonia is a nation. "The Catalans are not Spaniards. Catalonia has been a nation in another nation". There is a considerable nineteenth-century literature on the subject, notably Francisco Pi y Margall, Las nacionalidades. However, he was prime minister of the Spanish Republic in 1873 and always considered himself a Spaniard. He was a broad-gauge historical scholar and saw things in perspective.

I have received a long message from Lluis Bosch., I wonder if he is a relative of Pedro Bosch Gimpera, the distinguished president of the University of Barcelons, who was a friend of mine? A picture of him will appear in my forthcoming book on Spain. Lluis says ". I am an English-educated Catalan, BA in Journalism, BA in History, MA in Women's Studies and Criminology, and currently working for a Ph.D in Sociology". He does not say how old he is, but he tells of an experience with the police in 1984: "I myself was once savagely beaten by three Spanish policemen, requiring emergency ward attention , because I commited the apparently tremendous crime of speaking to them in Catalan --which is allegedly, and, according to Spaniards, "another one of the Spanish languages"- and because I calmly refused to speak in "Christian" - ie, Castilian Spanish. Why did I refuse? Well, in the first place, because of their bullying attitude, as they demanded to see my ID only because I was "looking too much" at them while they where arresting a Moroccan emigrй in a most spectacular way. Secondly, because the police happen to be a public service, they live on my taxes, not I on theirs, and therefore it is not my problem if they don't understand one of the official languages of my country. All they had to do was ask nicely, I then usually change language with no problem, but if instead I am bossed around and insulted (me and my culture), then I stand my ground. Wouldn't you? After the incident, when I tried to report the abuse, I was advised by the judge to "let bygones be bygones" and to forget the whole incident lest I "get into even more trouble". Now this happened in spring 1984! This was Felipe Gonzalez's "socialist" Spain --not in the dark sinister years of the fascist rйgime!"

My comment: Of course I know only what Lluis tells me. The problem is a common one. In the United States blacks accuse white police of violence. It is worse in the Basque provinces, where the Guardia Civil keeps a very low profile, while the Spanish government pays tribute to it. There was hostility to the Guardia Civil throughout Spain, but from my observation of it over many years I have in general a positive impression of it. Certainly the police should know the language of the area where they operate. In Catalonia recently there was anger because a Basque terrorist killed a Catalan policeman (mozo de escuadra). The anger of the Catalans does not lead to ETA type terrorism.

Lluis says the police told him to "speak Christian". An earlier posting said that was used by the Franco police. Possibly the police of whom Lluis speaks were hangovers from the Franco regime. The expression "speak Christian" was used in medieval Spain when telling the Moors not to speak Arabic. Because of the burning of church and the massacre of priests during the Civil War, the perpetrators, not Moors, were not viewed as Christian. I wonder if a distant memory of the Moors as enemies, or of the war in the Rif, kept alive a subconscious hostiliy?

All this confirms what I have said so often: although seldom mentioned publicly, memories of the Civil War infect the whole Spanish political dialog. All sides should be careful in their statements, lest they accidentally start another Civil War. The last one was a painful surprise.

Ronald Hilton - 5/1/01


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