Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catalan Nationalism

By now, if you've been reading my blog about my time in Barcelona, you'll see that I frequently talk about Catalunya, even more so than Spain. Catalunya (Catalonia in English) is a region of northern Spain and southern France that has its own language and, in many ways, its own culture. It wasn't until I visited southern France recently that I really understood how strong the Catalan traditions and culture are. While there, I was surprised that I saw the same Catalan flags on display and the people were speaking Catalan and French in the same proportions that people in Spainish part of Catalunya speak Catalan and Spanish. In other words, a lot of Catalan...

The term Catalunya started to be used to describe the region in the 12th century with Catalan culture developing during the middle ages. Starting with the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand (The Catholic Monarchs) in 1469, the power and influence of Catalunya seems to have started its gradual decline mostly losing out to the central Spainish government over time. There was an outright ban on using Catalan, including giving Catalan names to children at birth, during the rule of Franco. It wasn't until his death in 1975 that Catalunya regained a great deal of its political and cultural independence.

Today, the Generalitat of Catalunya is the local government agency responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the region, including education, health, policing, culture, and so on. In many ways, Catalunya is separate from the centralized Spanish government. Note the "in many ways". The ways in which it is not, including things like taxation, that are like a splinter for the Catalan residents.

One of the things that I am most interested in with all of this is the somewhat common desire to have some sort of Catalan nation. This "movement" ranges from being proud of the Catalan culture all the way up to desiring an independent Catalan nation that is separate from Spain and France. As with any movement, symbolism plays a big part in the identity of the group. What follows is a collection of photos showing the nationalist sentiment.

The first photo is a sculpture of Sant Jordi (Saint George in English) slaying a dragon that is on the front of Casa Amatller in Barcelona. Sant Jordi, the story goes, saved a town by slaying a dragon that had been terrorizing it. The imagery is particularly strong for the Catalan people because the dragon is seen by many as the central power in Madrid and Sant Jordi is freeing Catalunya.

Right next door to the Amatller house is the Casa Batllo. During the remodel of this house by Gaudi, he added what looks like the side of a dragon to its roof line. There is the belief that this is the same dragon image and the four-sided cross that is used in many Gaudi projects is actually the end Sant Jordi's sword sticking out from the slain dragon.

The next widely used symbol of an independent Catalunya is the Catalan Donkey. While in Spain, I've heard many stories of the donkey including that it was used by the United States during a war because of its strength and stamina. It seems that it has become such a strong symbol for Catalunya in response to the popularity of the image of the Osborne bull (Toro) in central Spain. This photo is of a T-shirt with the donkey in front of the Catalan flag:

This is a photo of another T-shirt showing the Catalan donkey kicking the Spanish bull:

The donkey image can also be found as a sticker on many cars in Catalunya much as the Toro sticker in other parts of Spain. (I never did figure out what the sheep image represents as it's also found on many cars.)

The next photo was taken at a rally/demonstration in Barcelona that was protesting a cut in pay for government employees. All the flags and other images on display were Catalan.

Finally, all over Catalunya, you can find graffiti and signs expressing the opinions of whoever placed them there. The first is one I found taped to a pole near the beach in Cadaques:

The next one is probably my favorite graffiti. I've seen in all over and this one is near the Formula1 track in Montmello outside of Barcelona. Note that in both cases that they are written in English.

Thanks to Pili for telling me what you know about St. Jordi and Casa Battlo in particular. Also, I'd like to apologize to my Catalan friends if I've written anything that is incorrect or even outright offensive. (Please let me know if I have and I will update this post.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! It was a great read, and very well put. (Also, it gave me a great deal of background info for the project on Catalunya I'm working on). Good luck with your travels.


All comments are reviewed prior to being posted.