dimecres, 3 d’agost de 2011

Questions and Answers

Citizens' Voice Series

Tomàs Mallafré
Banking services at Catalunya Caixa
What is Catalonia?
Catalonia is a small nation of 7,000,000 people in southeastern Europe, currently under Spanish control. Northern Catalonia (Catalunya Nord) was separated from the rest in 1659 thanks to the Treaty of the Pyrenees and now belongs to France. The indigenous language is Catalan, even though Spanish is also co-official. Catalan is also spoken in the so-called “Catalan Countries” (Països Catalans): Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Andorra, La Franja in Aragon, the city of Alghero (L’Alguer) in Sardinia, Italy, and in the Carche (El Carxe), a small territory in the Spanish region of Murcia.

Catalonia has a strong tradition of democracy and boasts one of Europe’s first parliaments: the Catalan Courts or Corts catalanes (1283 – 1714), which many historians consider the model for medieval parliaments.

Catalonia’s tradition of industry and commerce is also noteworthy, which, along with the nation’s many businesses, allows for its strong economic vitality.

Aside from a 1,000 year-old language and a sophisticated civil society, Catalonia has also produced a wealth of brilliant artists, including Antoni Gaudí, Pau Casals (more commonly known by English speakers as Pablo Casals), Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.

Why do many Catalans want independence?

There are many reasons and each has his own, but in general, we can say that Catalan patriotism has developed a strong economic component while still maintaining a foundation of strong cultural and ethnic identity.

Historically, Spain has tended to disrespect Catalan national patrimony, its culture and language. In 1716, King Philip V signed the New Order Decrees, a group of laws that imposed an absolute monarchy and strong central government in Spain. It symbolized a kind of “Spanish occupation” in Catalonia—including laws that forbade Catalan language and imposed the Spanish language on all branches of Catalonia’s government.

In 1717, the Spanish government began a clandestine project of Hispanicization in Catalonia, ordering regional administrators to operate in such a way that the citizenry wouldn’t notice, (in Spanish: dando las providencias más templadas y disimuladas para que se consiga el efecto sin que se note el cuidado). Today, we have 500 laws and regulations that impose Spanish in all walks of life in Spain’s Catalan-speaking regions [Catalan][PDF].

Of course, many Catalans have no trouble writing or speaking their language correctly and well, but the reality of Spain’s historical tendency towards persecution has given birth to a potent and rapidly growing separatist movement.

Moreover, economically, Catalonia is becoming—if it hasn’t already—a unique example in the world of fiscal inequity, an euphemism for the constant theft to which many Catalan citizens feel subjected. Currently, € 22,000,000,000 in annual tax revenue are taken from Catalonia and given to other parts of Spain. This is roughly 10% of Catalonia’s GDP. It is worth noting that in Germany, federal law protects this kind of injustice by limiting state deficits to 4% of their GDPs. To get a better idea of this inequity’s magnitude, consider a recent scandal in the German government surrounding its intention to contribute € 8.7 billion to the € 110,000,000,000 second Greek bailout. Taking this into account, we can say that every five years, Catalonia “bails out” the rest of Spain to the extent that Europe has saved Greece. This continues while a bigoted anti-Catalan atmosphere, already documented in this blog, lingers in Spanish society. Moreover, Catalans are constantly labeled as selfish and unpatriotic when we point out this fiscal inequity that more and more funds useless infrastructure, such as high-speed trains with few passengers or airports with no planes, all built hurriedly and carelessly in Spain right before elections. This climate makes it easy for more and more people, even those suspicious of Catalan nationalism, to desire Catalonia’s independence, like in this example.

But isn’t Catalan separatism a minority ideology?

This is surely what Spanish nationalists would like you to believe, but if this was really true, and Spain was as democratic as it claims to be, wouldn’t the Spanish government allow a referendum on the matter so that Catalan voters could decide for themselves? [Read more about the violation of the right of self-determination in Spain] Either way, recent polls such as the ones by the Open University of Catalonia and the Center for the Study of Opinion show that the opposite is true.

Why should the rest of the world care about Catalonia’s right to decide?

Simply for humanitarian reasons and international solidarity. Nations help others that suffer catastrophe, and Catalonia exists in a state of constant disaster. One million Catalan citizens live below the poverty line, and the numbers have only gotten worse since the global financial crash of 2008. Without full sovereignty over its own resources, the Catalan government cannot effectively help its many citizens in need—and with full sovereignty, it could help those in other nations as well.

Also, for the sake of humanity’s heritage, it is imperative that Catalan culture be preserved just like any other in the world. Every time a language disappears, the world suffers an irreparable loss that no one should tolerate, and Catalonia’s language and culture can only survive if Catalonia enjoys full sovereignty.

What can I do to help?

You can do a lot. Share this blog with your friends and family and in social media networks—and, when the time comes, send a message of your support to the European government, the United Nations, or any organization that can help the idea of Catalan independence become a reality. It’s worth it. A nation’s survival is at stake.

Tomàs Mallafré
expert in banking services at Caixa Catalunya.

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