Banging pots for independence

Catalan students advocating independence

Catalonia votes today on independence from Spain, that is to say, many Catalans will try to do so, although it appears there will be many roadblocks to voting created by the federal government, which has declared the vote illegal. It’s not clear what the outcome of the vote will be, but it’s likely it will not settle the question of Catalonian independence, just as the vote in Scotland in 2014 has not prevented a movement for a new vote for independence.

A recent story on NPR points to how vital the Catalan language is in the Catalan identity as being distinct from Spanish. Catalan is, in fact, not a dialect of Spanish, but a separate language derived from Vulgar Latin. It was suppressed in Franco’s time, but since then has seen a dramatic resurgence. In the NPR piece, Catalan specialist, Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, describes how Catalan identity differs from that of the Basques, another group which has sought independent status: “Basque nationalism is ethnicity…But this, it’s basically a language movement. We are Catalans because we speak Catalan.”

Young Catalans largely support secession. In fact, at the University of Barcelona students have occupied buildings in support of non-interference from Madrid. One student commented on NPR: “I think in Catalan and I dream in Catalan,” says Marta Rosique, 21. ” I think in Catalan and I dream in Catalan…And then there is a government that tries to do as much as possible so that Catalan doesn’t exist anymore! There is something that tells me to fight for my own identity, for my own language.” For that student, at least, identity and language are interchangeable.

An interesting aspect of the movement has been the non-verbal demonstration of support for independence through the nightly 10 p.m. banging of pots and pans on Barcelonan terraces and balconies. This began last month, after the Spanish government started sending in army troops to prevent the referendum. This is a form of social protest familiar in South America (known as cacerolazocacerolazo, or casserole). The pot banging may be low-tech, but it’s loud and coming at a time when Barcelonans are starting their evening eating and socializing, which gets going later in all of Spain than in other European countries.

Secession fever

Demonstrating for Catalan independenceThe current difficulties in the EU to pass a new budget highlight the very different perspectives of the givers and takers among EU members in the flow of EU funds.  There’s a sense of injustice on the part of the countries who are net contributors:  why is our hard-earned money going to folks who aren’t as responsible or hard-working?  In northern countries such as Germany one can easily hear this point of view in reference to Greece.  In southern countries there is resentment over criticism of their way of life and cultural practices; they are proud of the more balanced approach to work and life they have achieved. The 27 countries that make up the EU do not only speak different languages, they have in many cases dramatically different cultures.

It doesn’t seem likely that the EU will be splitting anytime in the near future or that some Euro countries will leave the currency – there is too much at stake for all the countries in the EU for them to allow that to happen. However, within several EU members there is an internal struggle going on that is some ways parallels what’s happening in the EU, culturally distinct and prosperous regions who are dissatisfied with their relationship with the rest of the country.  Today elections in Spain appear to be heading for victory by pro-independence parties for Catalonia, the area in northern Spain with Barcelona as its capital.  Catalonia is overall better-off than the rest of Spain and has a distinctive language (Catalan) and culture.  In fact, the Catalan culture overflows into parts of southern France and Catalan is the official language of the small independent country of Andorra, between Spain and France.  In addition to the Catalans, the Basques, also a group represented on both sides of the Pyrenees, have been agitating for independence, sometimes violently.

Spain is not alone.  There is also an active movement for independence in Scotland, with a referendum vote scheduled for 2014.  Welsh nationalists have not been as active lately; Wales also lacks the economic strength that North Sea oil brings to Scotland.  Separatist sentiments are strong among many in Belgian Flanders as well as in South Tyrol in Italy.  With the economic problems today across Europe, it will be interesting to see how the separatist movements progress.

It’s not just a north-south divide – sometimes its culture, language, and politics that can lead to separatist sentiments. Quebec’s French-speaking population continues to agitate for more ability to guide their own affairs.  With the re-election of Obama several U.S. states such as Texas are making noises about secession. Those efforts are not likely to succeed and they are mostly not all that serious, more of a way to let off steam.