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Intellectuals warn Catalans separatism is dangerous

8 October 2007

FRANKFURT – DPA – Catalans, who are looking forward to an unprecedented celebration of their culture this week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, were told Sunday by German intellectuals that separatism is a dangerous idea.

In a move aimed at nourishing Catalan pride at home, the Spanish region has built its own special pavilion at the world’s biggest book fair and sent writers and theatre companies to perform in German cities.

But the move has upset some in Spain, who say it discriminates against Spanish-language Catalans. The separate Catalan language is spoken by 13 million people.

By inviting Catalan culture as a special guest – a slot that is normally reserved for an entire country – the October 10-14 Book Fair risks affronting national governments.

At a symposium ending Sunday in Frankfurt, the German intellectuals said they were uneasy at the move, suggesting it encouraged “provincialism” at the expense of the great nations of arts and letters.

The only similar exception in the past was in 2004, when the “Arab World” was the special guest, and multiple countries filled the slot with Arab League officials coordinating.

The regional government in Barcelona contends that Catalonia is a “nation,” as defined in a law of autonomy.

The region is the most go-ahead part of Spain economically.

“We’re a prosperous region and proud of ourselves,” an economics professor, Muriel Casals, told the conference.

She said she regarded Europe as like an orchestra, where every single instrument is essential.

Pasqual Maragall, former president of the region and former mayor of Barcelona, suggested at the meeting that regions like Catalonia should even have a bigger say in European Union affairs.

He said the EU was the answer to Catalonia’s needs, telling the symposium on “new identities:” “We Catalans are good Europeans. That is why we are in Frankfurt.”

The Catalans point out that Catalan-speakers form the eighth- largest language group in the whole EU. They speak a Romance language with a resemblance to Portuguese, Spanish and French.

The special-guest role is costing them 16 million euros, an unprecedented sum for the Book Fair status.

Among the critics who suggested regional minorities should pipe down and accept their place within the larger nation was Johano Strasser, president of the German section of the writers club PEN.

He warned against “an over-emphasis on separation,” saying, “Important as it is to bring the individual cultures into dialogue, the danger of provincialism is very great.

“Policies based on cultural identity are a two-edged sword.”

Gisela Mueller-Brandeck-Bocquet, a German political-science processor, said the European Union respects its regions, but those regions can only be “authentic” if part of a larger whole.

Helmut Stefan Milletich, secretary general of PEN Austria, warned the Catalans not to think in “linear” fashion, where one pole was good and the other bad.

The German-speakers took a dim view of what was apparently the original Barcelona plan, to only invite authors to Frankfurt who write in Catalan, not in Spanish.

The Spanish-speaking writers from the region were invited in the end, but Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Eduardo Mendoza, who are more eminent than any current writer in Catalan, were miffed and declined the invitation. dpa jbp sc

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Subject: Spanish news