The Catalan Statute

Well here in sunny Catalonia we don’t have a fooball team of our own right now, so maybe that’s why we chose this precise moment to hold a referendum about our future.

Now the first thing to get straight is that despite all the direst predictions, Spain is still here the morning after the big vote, and in one piece, I just touched the floor to prove it. Indeed 11 footballers (some of them Catalan) will also come to earth on German turf tonight just to graphically illustrate the point. So it does seem that some of the concerns raised in the coments to this post were well wide of the mark.

Some issues do, however, remain.
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Sparkling Spain

Spain’s economy is of course booming, (as it has been for the last ten years). The inflation rate is booming too. Some even go so far as to suggest that Spain should now become a member fo the G8. Spanish people are of course buying a lot more houses, indeed more housing units were built in Spain last year than in Germany, France and Italy combined, and since, as Brad Delong pointed out yesterday, as long as interest rates stay low, the housing sector can keep booming, and since in the short term interest rates in Spain will stay low, then the boom looks set to continue. Plenty of reasons then, at least for now, to break open the bubbly.

Which is what, of course, a lot of people having been doing. In Spain by bubbly people normally mean Cava, a Catalan beveridge which is really remarkably similar to French Champagne. This year, however, things may be a little different, at least in some parts of Spain, since in addition to having a smokeless celebration, many will also be having a cava-free one.

So what is this all about? Well funnily enough rather than being about Eve (whether New Year’s or Xmas), this topic is in fact much more about José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (the Spanish Prime Minister/President).
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Riding The Euromed

I used to think that Euromed was simply the name of a train which rides the Barcelona-Valencia run. I was wrong. It is also the name colloquially being given to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (aka the Barcelona Process) which was infact launched in Barcelona in 1995. As the blurb tells us, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership comprises 35 members: 25 EU Member States and 10 Mediterranean Partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey). In addition Libya has observer status since 1999.

Well, the parties are back in Barcelona this weekend, and of course the meet has been getting a fair amount of press coverage.
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Sheffield a la mar

I have to confess to having had a fairly sucky 2004. Most of the causes are personal, and frankly not very interesting. But, as an example, my plan to spend the holiday season in Tunisia was abruptly cancelled because my wife got chicken pox. So, needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to 2005.

The wife got over her pox just a few days before Christmas, leaving us scrambling to find a vacation that both fit our respective work calendars, didn’t cost too much, and wasn’t booked solid. Consequently, I found myself at Zaventem airport at four in the morning on Christmas day fighting a miserable crowd so I could spend a week at Benidorm, Valencia, Spain.

I can’t claim I wasn’t warned. I did know that Benidorm – and the rest of the Costa Blanca – is something of a joke in the Dutch speaking part of Europe. After a week there, I still haven’t been in Spain. As far as I can tell, thanks to daily discount charter service between Sheffield and Alicante, the Costa Blanca is simply a warm, low-tax part of Yorkshire.
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Nationalism, regionalism and Spanish football

The Independent has an interesting article today entitled ‘Why will a quarter of Spain be supporting England tonight?’ (for those of you who aren’t aware, there’s an international football friendly tonight between Spain and England in Madrid) which looks at how the Spanish national football team is not supported by many of the people of Spain because of the strong currents of regionalism and nationalism.

In so far as Catalans will be taking an interest in tonight’s Spain v England game in Madrid, they will be – most of them – supporting England. Should England score, the whole city will know about it. It happens every time, just as it does when Bar?a score a goal: in every neighbourhood there will be someone guaranteed to set off a celebratory firework or two.

Now, admittedly, things could get a little complicated this time around. What if Owen or Beckham score for England? The spontaneous reaction will be jubilation, but a moment’s reflection will yield the alarming truth that they play for the most detested enemy of them all, Real Madrid.

At which point the mental systems of Catalan football fans everywhere may dangerously short-circuit. Or not. Love for England may momentarily trump loathing for Spain. Whatever the case, it will yield an interesting new twist on the complex tribal impulses that animate the otherwise sane and impressively civilised Catalan people.

The Catalans are not alone. The Basques are at least as zealous in their desire that the Spanish football team be beaten. And as far as tonight’s game is concerned, because they haven’t got as much of a thing about Real Madrid as the Catalans do, they’ll be cheering on Beckham and Owen with as much abandon as the rest of the England team.

There are other, smaller nationalist enclaves in Spain where they’ll be rooting for England too. A number will in Galicia, in the Celtic-rooted north-west (they play the bagpipes out there, the fields are green and they look Irish); some diehards will in the Valencia region; and the Balearic islanders (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) will be happy for the most part to see perfidious Espa?a defeated.

Update: Unfortunately, the match was marred by some pretty despicable racist chanting from an element of the Spanish fans – see this discussion on Crooked Timber for more.

Visca la difer?ncia

Catalan, Basque, Valencian and Galician as EU official languages? That’s what Spanish foreign minister Moratinos proposes. You’d think the famously proud Catalans would be purring with cultural satisfaction.

You’d be wrong. Last week the Economist observed the astonishing reaction of some Catalans to this suggestion. They’re furious that Valencian might be given status equal with Catalan. One of them, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, is even willing to cut off Catalunya’s nose to spite Valencia’s face: if Valencian is granted official status, he says, Catalans should refuse it.1 The Economist thought the irate Catalans need to have a nice lie-down, and I agree.

In this week’s issue, though, a letter-writer from Barcelona takes up the cudgels once more. How dare those Valencians imagine they have a language of their own?

Experts unanimously recognise Valencian as a variety of Catalan (as many Valencians call their language).

Well, perhaps; though I daresay there will be some experts in Valencia who disagree.
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Eta And The Spanish Elections

As someone who lives and works in Barcelona (capital of Catalonia, and formal definition in the eyes of the local nationalists of being Catalan), it is really rather frustrating to find that about the only time we make it to the European headlines (apart, of course, from when Bar?a wants to buy some world famous footballer like Beckham) is when one of the players in the greater-Spanish political arena – in this case Eta – wants to exploit some situation or other here to its own advantage. Outside of this context (and with, of course, the honourable exception of George Orwell) Catalonia is little heard of, and even less understood.
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They’re Selling Postcards of……the Fiesta

It’s party time in Barcelona. There’s no circus in town, but there is just about everything else. In fact many of you may be surprised to learn that today is a public holiday here, and indeed it may surprise you even more to discover that the holiday is only Barcelona. This situation is strange for many outside Spain, and draws attention to the fact that decisions about public holidays (and of course, many other matters) are taken at three levels: national, autonomous community, and municipal. (Oh how well I remember the days of travelling round Europe, and needing to change money on just the day………that everything was unexpectedly closed). It also draws attention to the prevalence and social importance of public holidays and festivals here. Of note too is the way these holidays draw attention to that unique combination of the traditional and the modern which characterises contemporary Spain. (Actually, to be really pc here I should say ‘the modern Spanish State’ since this is the terminology adopted by those of its citizens who do not especially consider themselves to be Spanish, there is no equivalent of the British/Welsh/Scottish/English classification here, and Catalan, Basque, and Galician football teams are definitely not encouraged in the new ‘multicultural’ Spain).
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