Expatica news

Catalan nationalists get their skates on

31 March 2004

BARCELONA – Catalonia has won a small victory in its battle for recognition as a national entity separate from Spain.

A decision by the International Roller Skating Federation to allow a Catalan national team into the qualifying rounds of the roller-hockey world cup this summer has been greeted with jubilation by many Catalans,  UK newspaper The Guardian reports.

It introduces a new national anthem and a new flag to international sport.

But it has provoked an angry response from Spain’s outgoing conservative government of José María Aznar, a fierce opponent of further autonomy for the eastern region.

The government has said it will block the move because it represents a threat to a unified Spain.

The decision has to be ratified in November, but Catalan teams are expected to play in the meantime.

Leaders of Catalonia’s semi-autonomous government said that roller skating had opened the door to world recognition that their country, like Scotland or Wales, could be treated, on the sports field at least, as a nation in its own right.

“Obviously we don’t want to stop with skating,” said the regional government’s head of sports, Rafael Niubó: the ultimate aim was the Olympics.

The roller skating federation of the Basque country, another region demanding more autonomy from Madrid, has also requested that it be allowed to compete separately from Spain.

The row poses an unlikely dilemma for the future Spanish government of the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Since the 15th century, Catalonia has resisted incorporation into the Spanish state and its language and culture.

But under Franco dictatorship, use of the Catalan language was banned in public.

The rise of ETA, using terrorism to promote Basque separatism, has made the question of autonomy extremely fraught.

The regional government, headed by a Socialist, Pasqual Maragall, considers the roller-skating recognition “a valuable precedent”, while a Socialist party spokesman in Madrid said it was against it. Zapatero, who won elections this month, will not take power until late April.

Subject: Spanish news