The Emperor's New Clothes: Catalan nationalism

10th November 2005, Comments 7 comments

No-one living in Spain can have missed the issue which is dividing the country: Catalonia's bid to become a 'nation' and gain greater independence from Madrid. But this nationalist mania is starting to become ridiculous, says Graham Ke

I was asked the other day by a Spaniard for my opinion of Catalonia's 'statute'.

(If you need any reminding, this is the bid drawn up by Catalan  politicians for 'nation' status and greater control of their taxes so this rich part of Spain pays less to poorer regions. To boot, they also want more control over the police, the judiciary, the prison service, ports and airports. If they get their way Catalonia, will administer European Union funds and Madrid would have to ask permission if international issues affected the region.)

The donkey is the Catalan national symbol

I was diplomatic and tried to explain that to most foreigners, even those who live in Catalonia and are more than aware of nationalist sensibilities, this region is just another part of Spain, not a nation in itself.

What I really wanted to say, however, was this was to me just the latest episode in a modern version of Hans Christian Anderson's classic The Emperor's New Clothes.

This is the tale of the vain emperor who is so obsessed with his appearance that he lets a couple of conmen make him a suit out of thin air.

But no-one has the courage to pipe up and say how stupid he looks parading through the streets naked in his 'suit'.

*quote1*It takes a child to point out the obvious.

It seems the same has happened in Catalonia; the nationalist mania has got such a hold on the political scene here, that some Catalans cannot see how ridiculous they appear to the outside world.

Just a few examples to back this up: the linguistic Thought Police of Catalonia's Generalitat or the regional government have banned star Catalan writers like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of The Shadow of the Wind  from appearing at the Frankfurt book fair – a major literary showcase – because he writes in Spanish. Yet Zafon's book is about Barcelona and he grew up in the city himself.

Major fashion designers, who for years have put the Barcelona Fashion Show on the map, like Lydia Delgado, will not be allowed to exhibit as – wait for it – they do not live in Catalonia.

Thousands upon thousands of Catalan books are produced each year but never bought, to keep the 'quota' of books up and the language supposedly alive.  Who pays? In many cases, the taxpayers.

Catalan nationalists make their point

Perhaps most importantly, many public sector jobs in Catalonia require applicants to have Level C in the Catalan language. It is a complex examination which does not have an obvious equivalent.

This seems perfectly sensible when applicants want jobs in areas where the day-to-day language is Catalan. But what about the Escuela Official de Idiomas, the excellent public language school in Barcelona? In one case, a Jordanian Arabic teacher lost out to another applicant from Tarragona, in Catalonia, because she did not have good enough Catalan – essential, of course, for teaching Arabic.  

Now before you protest, I am all for preserving a national identity, language and heritage.

*quote2*I should know – my family is from the West coast of Scotland, where Gaelic and many other traditions associated with it are fast dying out.

And I know very well that there are sound reasons why Catalan nationalism has been on the rise since Franco's death almost 30 years ago.

The dictator's ban on Catalan and the region's culture provided the seeds on which today's nationalism have thrived.

But things here have gone from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

Graham Keeley

[November 2005]

[Copyright Expatica]

Subject: Spain; Catalan nationalism

7 Comments To This Article

  • carles posted:

    on 29th May 2009, 12:58:45 - Reply

    Eli posted: 14-03-2008 | 8:36 PM

    "I have never thought that fighting for your beliefs could be ridiculous."

    Yes, that´s what Hitler thought.....

  • Hadrian G. posted:

    on 18th January 2009, 18:17:06 - Reply

    Well, Eli, Catalan nationalism is never imposed to other Spanish regions (but to the Valencian Community and the Balearic islands, oops), but it is imposed to the non-catalan speakers in Catalonia. Tradition and beliefs are, obviously, valuable, but the exploitation of culture and history (and what is worse, the invention of a nation's background) are harmful and ridiculous.
    Catalan has not been introduced in the EU as a working language because of practical reasons: it is absurd to pay translators and interpreters when the speakers are (or legally should be) bilingual. However, Catalan has already been recognized as a very important regional and unique language.
    And Catalans should not resign their country (their nation, their region, does it really mind?). No one is asking them to do so. But is it really possitie to impose a language, a "culture", with the threat of exclusion and misleading? Furthermore, with taxpayers' money? (most of them, by the way, do not agree). I don't think so.

  • Jim Cortada posted:

    on 5th May 2008, 00:30:11 - Reply

    Just finished writing up a history of the origins of Catalan Nationalism. Bottom line, this is a serious local issue dating back over 1000 years (Origins of Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula), check it out on or B
  • Ñ posted:

    on 21st April 2008, 21:42:47 - Reply

    Revise your historical backgrond first and then let people freedom to express in what language he wants.
  • elisenda posted:

    on 21st April 2008, 20:54:17 - Reply

    Catalan and French have their root in Latin but the first doesn´t come from the second.
  • J posted:

    on 21st April 2008, 16:13:59 - Reply

    Catalan is a french derived language, so... why to speak in catalonia -only- a foreign language?
  • Eli posted:

    on 14th March 2008, 20:36:48 - Reply

    I have never thought that fighting for your beliefs could be ridiculous. Nationalism exists everymwhere. Even in Spain. The difference between the Spaniards and the Catalans are that catalan nationalism is never imposed to the other Spanish regions. Could Spain say the same?
    Catalans are still asking for things which were already stablished before the Civil War. Among a lots of things,for example the respect for the language which was oppressed since 1939 and still has not the full-comprehesive status of language in UE, just because Spain doesn´t want.
    Would have the Spaniards resigned to the country in favour for the French in 1812 when they occupied Spain? Did they stop speaking Spanish?

    Why must the Catalans do what Spaniards didn´t?