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Catalonia and Spain: a Case of State Internal Colonialism

Oscar Lozano Prejudice Essay 2 Word Count (including all footnotes): 1494 November 2011

Visca Catalunya, lliure! Visca Catalunya, lliure! The shouting surrounds you on the streets of Barcelona: Long live Catalonia, free! More than a million Catalan people shouting for the independence from Spain; in Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona, Lleida, Terrassa, Martorell In every city in Catalonia, the streets are filled with people, and speeches, and concerts: its the Catalan national day, the 11th of September, a celebration of the Catalan language and culture. However, at the same time, it reflects the political tension between Catalonia and the central government in Spain, with Catalans expressing their prejudices that Spanish people are mean, rightwinged, and just want to take advantage of Catalonia. On the other hand, this tension is not only one way, as Spanish people portray Catalans as mean, tight with money, and never wanting to contribute to the state. This situation of mutual prejudice between the groups is not, however, an egalitarian exchange. In fact, these prejudices are rooted, to some extent, in a colonialist situation between Catalonia and Spain, in which, even nowadays, Spain has an undemocratic political control over Catalonia and draws an economic benefit from it. The beginning of what we could call the colonialist situation in Spain goes back to 1714, after a Civil War between Catalonia and the other parts of Spain. Until then, although it was already a part of Spain, Catalonia had a total cultural, political and economic independence. However, when the last Catalan city not yet conquered by the Spanish, Barcelona, was defeated, Catalonia lost that autonomy and was forced to be part of Spain. Moreover, a famous law in 1716 ordered the repression of Catalan culture, even prohibiting the Catalan language: No books in Catalan are allowed in the schools, neither writing or speaking Catalan, and the Christian doctrine will be taught only in Spanish (Fullat i Genis, O. 2005). Paradoxically, the Catalan national day commemorates that final defeat, in 1714, that preceded the cultural repression.

Catalan people argue that, from that day on, they commemorate the loss of their freedom, and ask for it back. The same repression continued even more than two centuries later, when Francisco Franco established his fascist dictatorship after the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The Catalan language was then completely prohibited; people speaking it on the streets could be sent to prison. The Spanish culture was imposed over the Catalan one, repressing cultural movements that could have led Catalonia, one of the first industrialized and wealthiest regions in the South of Europe, to become independent. This suppression of a culture to assure the control of a territory for economic reasons brings us back to colonialism, which used any kinds of methods to ensure the continuity of an economic benefit. Moreover, in the 1960s, Franco, wisely for his objectives, invested in the Catalan industry and encouraged people from relatively poorer regions of Spain like Andalucia or Extremadura to migrate and work there. That way, Franco created a sufficiently large monolingual Spanish group inside Catalonia, and, just as the Roman Empire did with their conquests, Spain with Latin America and England with the US, the migration of a population to the conquered territory was a means of colonizing, not only conquering. When Franco died in 1975, however, democracy was established in Spain, also increasing the liberties of Catalan people and reducing the repression of their culture. Many people argue that after Francos death, the colonialist and oppressive situation ended. The most distinctive sign supporting this argument is that Catalan is not prohibited anymore; in fact, Spanish and Catalan are both the official languages of Catalonia. Moreover, some Spanish right-winged media, as the television channels Telemadrid or Intereconomia, argue that Catalan people are discriminating Spanishspeakers. However, in my personal experience, the situation is not at all as these

media depict it. I was raised in a Spanish-speaking family. All of my grandfathers are from other parts of Spain, and my parents couldnt learn Catalan during the Franco dictatorship. Today, I am completely bilingual, and I have groups of friends with whom I speak Catalan and groups of friends with whom I speak Spanish. Furthermore, in my senior year in high school, four of my courses were in Catalan, four others in Spanish, one in French and one in English. Therefore, we can say that the situation concerning languages is today a very healthy bilingualism including both Catalan and Spanish.

Nevertheless, even though the Catalan culture is not repressed anymore, the colonialist situation still remains alive in many aspects, the first of which is evidenced by the power structures in Spain. Catalans are underrepresented in the Spanish government, as being Catalan is still a drawback for many politicians who suffer prejudices against Catalonia. In fact, since the establishment of democracy in 1975, no Spanish president was born or raised in Catalonia. Moreover, although Catalan population represents a 16.6% of the total Spanish population1, only a 7% of the main members of the current government are Catalan 2 . The situation was even worse during the right-winged government between 1996 and 2004, where only one minister, a 2.9% of the total number of ministers, was Catalan. That is, political power is still in Spanish hands, which points out some kind of discrimination against Catalan people, and also suggests the existence of a political control, typical of colonialist situations.

Statistics computed from the official governmental statistics services: http://www.idescat.cat/dequavi/Dequavi?TC=444&V0=1&V1=1 (Catalan population) and http://www.ine.es/jaxiBD/tabla.do (Spanish population) 2 Official government page: http://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/Gobierno/index.htm

Another aspect related to colonialism is the undemocratic control of Catalonia by the Spanish government, who denies the right of Catalonia to determine its independence. The Spanish government prohibited peaceful non legally binding polls about Catalan independence from 2009 to 2011, to avoid the possibility of a future referendum. Unlike the region of Quebec in Canada, which has already been through several legally binding referendums, Catalonia wasnt even allowed to carry out a simple consultation among its population. In fact, this supposes a violation of one of the most fundamental rights, stated in the very first chapter of the Charter of the United Nations: the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples 3. The political control of Spain over Catalonia is, therefore, an oppressive and antidemocratic control, having many similarities with the independence processes of excolonial territories like the US or Algeria, thankfully lacking violent confrontations. A question that might arise at this point is why is Spain putting so much effort into conserving a territory that is not willing to be part of the country. Is it a question of simple national pride? Far from that, Spains interest could be mainly based in the economic benefit that Catalonia provides. Catalonia is the third territory with the biggest GDP in Spain, and as other wealthy territories in Europe, it has a fiscal deficit: it gives away part of its wealth for the development of other poorer regions in the country. However, we must point out that the Catalan fiscal deficit is of 9.76%, more than doubling the fiscal deficits of other wealthy regions of Europe inside their own countries, like the Paris region, with a 4.36%, or Baviera, in Germany, with a 4%4. This fiscal deficit is absorbed by the Spanish government, and never goes back to Catalonia. Therefore, we can state that Spain gets economic benefits from the

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Charter of the United Nations, UN website: http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml Statistics extracted from the documentary Spains Secret Conflict with Catalonia (2009)

presence of Catalonia inside its state, which seems to be one of the main reasons for its political control of the region.

This colonialist situation between Catalonia and Spain is surely not the same as the colonial situations from 1492 up to the 20th century or the neo-colonialism that the US and the USSR started during the Cold War, but rather what we could call a state internal colonialism. However, this situation, like all other colonialist situations, increases the prejudices both from the oppressor to the oppressed, having then justification for the discrimination, and from the oppressed to the oppressor, a natural and human reaction to oppression. Nowadays, right-winged parties and media in Spain are benefiting from the situation by expressing prejudices against Catalan people, even saying that they wont allow Catalonia to turn Spain into its economical colony5; assertions that scarily remind us of many xenophobic discourses in history. It is indispensable for the international community, Spain and Catalonia, to remember that denying the right for self-determination of a group implies a repression of the freedom of people based on their being part of a cultural entity; that is, a blatant prejudiced, anti-democratic and politically colonialist behavior. The economical and cultural oppression of a group, for whatever reasons, is an unacceptable obstacle in the fight for global equality.

Interview to Federico Jimenez Los Santos, radio speaker with more than 2 million listeners http://www.libertaddigital.com/opinion/chat-chat/del-7-de-diciembre-28579/

Works Cited
Fullat i Genis, O. (2005) Axiologia educativa de occidente Idescat. Dades demografiques i de qualitat de vida (2011) http://www.idescat.cat/dequavi/Dequavi?TC=444&V0=1&V1=1 Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (2011) http://www.ine.es/jaxiBD/tabla.do Gobierno de Espaa (2011) http://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/Gobierno/index.htm Charter of the United Nations. http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml V.A. (2009) Spains Secret Conflict with Catalonia. Retrieved from http://documentary.net/spains-secret-conflict-with-catalonia/ December 7th interview to Jimenez Los Santos http://www.libertaddigital.com/opinion/chat-chat/del-7-de-diciembre28579/