This weekend more than five million Spanish Catalans will be voting in parliamentary elections, and many are expected to favour pro-independence parties. The CDC party for example, wants Catalonia to determine its own future, away from Madrid, and with independent membership of the European Union. Where Catalan independence once seemed like a distant dream, it seems that it may now have become a serious possible reality. Supported by thousands of Catalans on the French side of the border, it is thought that the elections may see Catalonia return to a state of complete autonomy which it has not seen since 1714, when Spanish troops conquered its capital, Barcelona.
An important part of the Spanish rule of Catalonia over the last two hundred years has been its attempt at linguistic domination. In 1714, this took the form of attempting to introduce Spanish to Catalan society. The subtlety of this linguistic invasion is sinister; Philip V of Spain gave instructions that “the mayor must take the utmost care in introducing the Spanish language, using the most discreet and temperate measures, so that only the effects are felt, and not the measures.” Much later, after the Spanish civil war of 1939, Franco took a much more open approach whereby he banned the speaking of Catalan, and imposed harsh penalties for any breaches of this rule.
The language of Catalan, and the speaking of it, therefore became an act of resistance in itself. Catalan literature, dating as far back as Medieval times with the works of Joanot Martorell and Ramón Llull has become increasingly significant in the struggle for an independent Catalonia with its own unique identity. The language of Catalan, as used by contemporary authors such as Jaume Fuster and Maria Mercè Roca, is important in shaping a cultural identity whose difference is asserted by the very tongue in which that assertion is made. Since the days of the fascist regime, Catalan has been re-introduced as the only vehicular language used in state schools and is spoken by 9 million people (not only in Catalonia but in Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia as well). Although Castilian Spanish still has a prominent place in Catalan society – due to large-scale immigration from Latin America as well as the use of the language in the media – there are still some Catalans who do not speak Castilian Spanish fluently, either because of a conscious rejection of the language (8% do not want to have any official status Catalonia) or because they simply have not had sufficient exposure to it to know it well.
Whether Catalans will vote for political independence may depend on their views of the financial implications of such a move (Francesc de Carreras has argued that the economics of an independent Catalonia “don’t add up”) and the results will be seen in the days to come. But, whatever happens, the Catalan language, history and culture will always retain their unique independent identities.
Sources include: La Vanguardia, The Guardian, BBC News
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