Spain, Catalonia, North and South — The North Star Reports – by Nick Lozinski. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[Photo 1: Roman ruins in the Spanish city Merida that was the regional capitol during the time of Roman rule.]
This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Spain for a month and live with a family. I stayed in a small town called Montijo in the western region of Extremadura, about twenty minutes from the Portuguese border. While there I was immersed in Spanish culture, from their seafood heavy diet to the daily siesta. Another prominent characteristic of Spain is the presence of varying regional cultures throughout the country. This has caused problems both historically and recently.
There has been and continues to be contention between the North and the South of Spain. Montijo is in the Southern part, home of flamenco and bullfighting. In the South, they are proud of their Spanish heritage and Spain as a country. In the North, most notably the region of Catalonia, they identify as Catalan instead of Spanish. They have a separate language and way of life. Since Catalonia’s integration into the Spanish kingdom in the 15th century, they’ve had a rocky relationship with the rest of Spain. During the 20th century, under the rule of Francisco Franco, the Catalan language was outlawed and the Catalan people, who fought against Franco during the civil war, faced persecution at the hands of the dictator. After his death, Spain became a democracy and Catalonia began to rebuild their regional identity. Their relationship with the central government of Spain, however, has remained tense.
One of the most noticeable cases of regional rivalry is in Spanish football (soccer) clubs. The largest rivalry is between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Real Madrid is based in the capital city and is seen to represent Spanish nationalists. FC Barcelona is based in the largest city in Catalonia and is supported by Catalans. The rivalry between the the teams is one of the largest rivalries in sports. Each year millions of Spaniards and people around the globe look forward to when these two teams face off during the season, referred to as El Clasico. Many people see the teams as representatives of the regions they come from and are a source of regional pride when they are performing well.
[Photo 2: A city square of a medieval city in the south of Spain.]
Recently, the region of Catalonia held a parliamentary election, which resulted in a win for a pro-Catalan independence party. This has led to speculation as to whether or not the Catalonia region will seek independence from Spain and to what extent the national government would be willing to work with them. One of their main reasons for wanting to leave is economic. Catalonia is economically more prosperous than the rest of Spain and many Catalans feel as if they don’t receive as much as they pay in. Paradoxically, one of the main reasons to remain with Spain for Catalonia is also economic. Being part of Spain, Catalonia uses the Euro. If they were to become their own country, they would need to be recognized by the EU to be able to use the Euro. If they leave without the central government of Spain being on board, it’s within reason to believe the EU would not recognize them as a country. This would lead to them needing to adopt a new currency, having immediate negative effects on their economy as the currency regulates itself.
[Photo 3: Santiago Bernabeu which is the stadium that Real Madrid plays in.]
While in Spain, the topic of contention between the North and the South came up quite frequently. There was even a successful Spanish rom-com I watched one of my first nights there about a couple overcoming their differences as a Sevillano (southern Spain) and a Basque (northern Spain) to end up together. The family I stayed with was also quite vocal about their distaste for the North. Often times they claimed that northern Spain is not real Spain, since they have a different language and different customs. This feeling is not a unique feature of the family I was staying with, but rather quite common throughout the region. Whether or not the Catalans decide to leave Spain, Catalonia will always be a region with a unique and distinct culture and history.
Nick Lozinski is a student at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
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