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SPAIN: Catalonia

Hank Levin has just returned from a visit to Catalonia, where his wife's family lives. He reports: "I have just returned from a month in Catalunya, which I realize is hardly a representative sample of Spain. In all of the time that we were there we saw only a single Spanish flag (at the national police headquarters). But, in every village we saw innumerable Catalan flags. The cafes and bars with television sets trained on the World Cup were half empty when Spain played, but overflowing for all of the Brazilian games.

In terms of politics, there were two dominant themes. First, is the issue of Catalan independence which was deeply felt among educated people whom we spoke with in Gerona, Barcelona and Mataro. The Catalans even have posters and stickers that show Catalunya as part of the EU rather than Spain. When we brought up the issue of size, their response was that with more than 10 million population they are comparable to or larger than Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Scandinavian countries, etc... The disdain for the central government in Madrid was expressed frequently as power-hungry and irrelevant to the needs of Catalunya.

Second was the issue of immigration, and especially that of the immigrants from the Mahgreb. These people are commonly referred to as Moros rather than as from countries of origin. In the town next to us, there was a major opposition to a proposal to build a Mosque, a "manifestacion" of major proportions among middle class citizens. The apparent outcry came because with a Mosque there would be the call to prayer that would be heard throughout the town five times a day, amplified thorough loud speakers on the towers. The protesters saw this as an attempt by the Moros to take over their town. There was fear that non-Moslems would sell their homes, and the town would become completely dominated by Moros. It reminded me of the concerns about racial segregation in the U.S. where some integration would lead ultimately to white flight and a deterioration in public schools and complete segregation of blacks. In the case of the immigrants from the Mahgreb, they have little education and their children do poorly in school. Also, there are cultural issues. On July 5, I believe, El Pais had an editorial on whether immigrants are obligated to adjust to Spanish law and tradition or whether Spain is obligated to adjust to the immigrants. The immediate concern is that it is common practice for Moroccan immigrants to refuse to send their daughters to school once they reach menstruation. Apparently, this is a relatively young age, in many cases where 9 and 10 year old girls are pulled from school. The result is that in many areas of high Moroccan concentration, the lower secondary levels (compulsory year) have few girls and the upper secondary levels are almost complete devoid of girls. A sociologist has written that even when some parents refuse to pull their daughters from school, there is social pressure on them including a derogatory term that is used to refer to their daughters (a vulgar word). Thus, even families who do not agree are under intense pressure to comply. Since this issue has been aired on TVE nationally and is in all of the national editions of El Pais, I assume that it is not limited to Catalunya.

My comment: I lived with a Catholic Catalan family in Barcelona in 1932 and later under Franco. In 1932 I studied Catalan with Pompeu Fabra and the family spoke Catalan. Politically there was regional autonomy, and the whole experience was very pleasant. During the Franco period Catalan was out and the family spoke Castilian. I have not been back to Catalonia for years, but the messages I receive suggest that Catalan nationalism is far more intransigeant than it was. In fact, one or two messages on the subject have been quite unpleasant. When I traveled in the Basque country before the Civil War, the spirit was quite pleasant and the attitude toward Spain generally favorable. The Civil War has left a bitterness in both Catalonia and the Basque provinces. The people of the rest of Spain, except Aragon, deeply resent the attitude of the Basques and of the Catalans, and the spirit of Franco is still alive, especially around Valladolid.The Spanish government will not allow the Basque provinces and Catalonia to vote on independence for fear that they would demand it. The European Union is encouraging regionalism, thereby threatening the national unity, so painfully achieved, of countries like Spain. The ultimate fate of the enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, is nebulous. The unity of Spain is in danger, but the present stalemate will probably continue.

Ronald Hilton - 7/18/02