What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong

What are the major factors in 90% voting YES in the referendum in October and a pro independence majority being returned in the last elections in December? What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong?

Within every movement there are a whole host of factors that give it strength or sap it’s power and the Catalan independence movement is no different.

I’ve decided to look at what I consider to be the ten most important and powerful factors which support the Catalan independence movement. My hope is that looking at Catalonia will provide independence minded Scots, not with a template, but at least a hazy picture, of what, in my view, is a better structured and more secure independence movement.

The Catalan independence movement is built on the following ten areas.

  1. Catalans act, feel and even look different from the majority of Spaniards

Most Catalans do not feel at all Spanish, and this disassociation with the Spanish state is at the heart of the independence movement in Catalonia. Your average Catalan can, and will outline exactly how and why they feel Catalan. We know the power of “feeling different” and in Catalonia this feeling gives a strong undercurrent to the Catalan independence movement.

2. The strength of the Catalan culture

By defining culture in the traditional sense of traditions passed down the generations, Catalonia has a culture which is very peculiar and particular. For example, in the Caganer, they have a figure who sits in the nativity and defecates in the corner. They also have a log that defecates your christmas present. They have human towers and gigantic paper mashy figures. They have a dragon that collects kids dummies when it’s time to give them up. In fact, fire breathing dragons light up the streets at various points across the year with the lack of ‘elf and safety  scaring the bejeebies out of  the tourists. They share their patron saint with England but their St. George’s day could not be more different, as lovers exchange roses and books.  The sense of cultural identity is incredible strong and powerful.

3. It is not a passive culture

A huge number of kids and adults take active part in the groups and clubs that propagate the Catalan culture. From Sardana dancing (they don’t do Flamenco up here), playing the Shawm or participating in the barrio festivals, taking part in cultural activities, is, well, part of the culture.

I remember being shocked to see the coolest barman in our barrio slipping into his Casteller outfit to build human castles with his friends and family. So, the “cool kids” here, do terribly uncool things. But culture is beyond cool. Or perhaps, culture is the epitome of cool. This physical connection to what makes Catalonia and Catalans different, supports the independence movement in a very visual sense.

4. They have their own language which everyone speaks

Catalan pride themselves in being bi-lingual. There are two official languages in Catalonia, Castilian and Catalan. However, Catalan is really the official language. You can get by in Catalonia knowing only Castilian, but you can’t really get on if you don’t know Catalan. During the recent clashes between Puigimont and Rajoy the sense of imperialism seemed stronger when a foreign tongue answered the Catalan President. Many Catalans vote for independence to ensure their language is fully protected.

5. Catalans and Catalonia were never integrated into Spain in the way that, for example, Scotland and Scots were integrated into the Union

It won’t take you long to find a Scottish Ambassador, or Editor of a London based newspaper or a High Court Judge, however if we look at Catalonia and Spain this just isn’t the case. Despite a large Judiciary and Foreign Office in Spain, there are only two Catalan ambassadors and only two senior judges.

The idea of a Catalan Prime Minster ruling Spain would have Catalans and Spaniards alike falling off their bar stools. Catalans have always felt that they have been kept at arms length from the “successes and spoils” of Imperial Spain.  This distance and lack of entanglement provides an easy get out of their particular union.

6. Teenagers have a grandparent who can tell them about the civil war when Spain ripped itself apart, with many Catalans on the losing side.

Many Catalans have a parent who can remember a dictatorship under Franco. They only have to go back a couple of generations to find real suppression of their culture, murder of relatives and dark secrets; unlikely to be unearthed until Catalonia is independent. The scars run deep and the pain is visceral. Spain crushed Catalonia for forty years, just over forty years ago. This alone, for many Catalans, is the key to their belief in the need for independence.

7. The participative nature of politics – the barrio culture: local democracy in action.

Barely a month goes by without one of the community groups in our neighbourhood organising a meeting, rally or march. In 2017 we saw local campaigns against the number of new hotels; the construction of new flats for off plan sales; the changing of the bus routes; the increasing number of BnB rental flats and opposition to the trail “superilla“, a huge traffic free block in the middle of the barrio.

In Catalonia politics is not something that happens to you, and it’s not just a job for politicians. Being engaged in neighbourhood affairs prepares the entire population for life of activism. It is also a training ground for future politicians like Ada Colau, the current left wing Mayor of Barcelona, who cut her teeth dressing up as a Super Hero at housing repossessions.

An interest and engagement in the largest political issues come easily to those brought up to campaign against the closure of nurseries and the cancelation of bin collections.

8. The role of the media

The quality and the quantity of media outlets – including their national broadcaster – which supports independence, is certainly a major factor in the strength of the Catalan movement.

Catalonia’s National Broadcaster providing truly balanced coverage of Catalan politics.

9. The role of the cultural organisations the ANC & Omnium

Nothing can demonstrate the power of these organisations more than the fact that both of their leaders were arrested by Spanish authorities a few days after the 1st October constitutional vote. If you go behind the scenes of the ANC you will see a professional organisation created to: win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence. Òmnium, the much older society, compared to the ANC, is a multi facetted civic society that seeks to support the Catalan language and culture. Both these organisations boast more than 50,000 individual members and can organise demonstrations of more than a million people.

The Leaders of the ANC and Ómnium are still detained without trial in a Spanish prison.

10. Taking politics to the street – successful massive demonstrations

The mass gatherings of pro independence supporters, which have taken place in Catalonia since 2012, have had a measurably large impact on the political process in Spain. La Diada celebrations, which take place in September each year, bring on average close to a million supporters on to the streets. These mass demonstrations, supported by every pro independence party and both Ómnium and the ANC are the largest events in the pro independence calendar. They show both the strength of the movement and a united front against the current constitutional process in Spain.

3 thoughts on “What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong”

  1. I think that you should inform yourself a little bit better before making such general statements that do not reflect the complexity of Catalonia. Here are some things that you should take into account regarding points 1-6 (points 7-10 are not bad):

    1) The self-identification of Catalans is mutifaceted, as all polls that have asked this questions over the years have shown. For example, see “La sociedad catalana ante el futuro. 2016”, which you can access at the Generalitat’s webpage (http://web.gencat.cat/es/actualitat/detall/La-societat-catalana-davant-el-futur-2016).

    2) You stated that “Catalonia has a culture which is very peculiar and particular”: it is as “peculiar and particular” as any other region in Spain, which have their own patron saints, dances, festivities, traditional gastronomy, etc. All regions are proud of their culture.

    3) All other regional cultures are active! Are you implying that they are “passive”? If you want folkloric costumes, see here: https://www.viajejet.com/traje-tipico-espana/. And hey, you should learn about the rich tradition of flamenco in Catalonia before repeating that flamenco doesn’t exist here (https://magnet.xataka.com/en-diez-minutos/el-flamenco-en-cataluna-flamencos-puros-cantaores-y-cantaoras-ii)

    4) Taking Catalonia as a whole, Spanish is spoken more frequently than Catalan (https://www.elperiodico.com/es/politica/20160401/estadisticas-uso-conocimiento-catalan-5019583). This depends a lot on the region within Catalonia, just like in other bilingual regions in Spain.

    5) Stating that “Catalans have always felt that they have been kept at arms length from the “successes and spoils” of Imperial Spain” is not knowing history (sorry for being so blunt!). Catalans participated in the economic and military colonialism of America sin the sixteenth century, and when Catalan economic interests swifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic in the eighteenth century, this participation in the “successes and spoils” of America only increased. Maybe when you come to Barcelona you can take this walking tour: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/apr/13/barcelona-slave-trade-history-new-walking-tour-catalonia-spain-ramblas. You might also want to know that 2 of the 7 “fathers of the Constitution” were Catalan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathers_of_the_Constitution): the same number as politicians born in Madrid, by the way.

    6) Sorry, but saying “Spain crushed Catalonia for forty years” is shameful and a terrible insult to the millions of non-Catalan Spaniards who died and suffered under Franco’s dictatorship. Please learn history because this statement is like saying that when James Stuart became lord of Ireland in 1603 “Scotland crushed Ireland for a hundred years”.

    1. Marc, thank you very much for your detailed reply. I am indeed in the process of informing myself as much as possible about Catalonia, so your comments are useful.

      1. My pleasure. Catalonia’s culture and history is a lot richer and complicated than what the propaganda from different political positions projects. That is why I am always weary of simplifications that leave out much more than what they try to condensate. Keep up learning as much as you can and remember that a society is a mix of conflicting views that try to simplify reality.

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