Calgary Herald - - WORLD - JILL LAWLESS in Girona, Spain

To sense the con­flict­ing iden­ti­ties that have led Spain to the edge of a con­sti­tu­tional cliff, look no fur­ther than Girona, some 100 kilo­me­tres north­east of Barcelona. Maps and world gov­ern­ments say it’s in Spain — but many res­i­dents con­sider it part of an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic of Cat­alo­nia.

Amid the party at­mos­phere of a fes­ti­val week­end, many in this se­ces­sion­ist strong­hold cheered the Cata­lan par­lia­ment’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Spain, a coun­try they don’t re­gard as their own.

“I’ve never felt Span­ish in my life,” said graphic de­signer Anna Faure as Girona cel­e­brated the an­nual fes­ti­val of its pa­tron saint with food, mu­sic, a car­ni­val and dis­plays of the grav­ity-de­fy­ing sport of hu­man tow­ers, known as castells.

Faure says castells is a true Cata­lan tra­di­tion, a view she doesn’t hold about Span­ish icons such as bull­fight­ing, which Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties have tried to ban, or Fla­menco, an im­port from An­dalu­cia in south­ern Spain.

Fla­menco is fine, she said, but “it’s not mine.”

Many peo­ple in this north­east­ern re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion be­lieve Cat­alo­nia’s lan­guage, his­tory and cul­tural tra­di­tions — even Cata­lans’ ironic sense of hu­mour — set it apart from the rest of Spain.

That feel­ing of sep­a­rate­ness has mixed with a volatile blend of wounded pride, eco­nomic pain and po­lit­i­cal an­i­mos­ity to cre­ate a cri­sis that could break up Spain.

The coun­try has been in con­sti­tu­tional tur­moil since Cata­lans backed in­de­pen­dence in an Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum that was dis­missed as il­le­gal by Spain. When the re­gional par­lia­ment voted Fri­day to de­clare in­de­pen­dence, Madrid fired the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment and called a new elec­tion.

On Mon­day, Spain’s state pros­e­cu­tor said he would seek charges of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment against mem­bers of Cat­alo­nia’s ousted se­ces­sion­ist gov­ern­ment, push­ing the cri­sis over the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion into an un­cer­tain new phase.

Chief pros­e­cu­tor Jose Manuel Maza said he would ask judges for pre­ven­tive mea­sures against the politicians and the gov­ern­ing body of the Cata­lan par­lia­ment that al­lowed a vote to de­clare in­de­pen­dence last week. He didn’t spec­ify if those would in­clude their im­me­di­ate ar­rest and de­ten­tion be­fore trial.

The re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment charges carry max­i­mum sen­tences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, re­spec­tively. Maza didn’t name any of those fac­ing charges, but they in­clude re­gional leader Car­les Puigde­mont, his No. 2 Oriol Jun­queras and Cata­lan par­lia­men­tary speaker Carme For­cadell.

Puigde­mont has now trav­elled to Brus­sels, ac­cord­ing to a Span­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial. The trip came af­ter Bel­gian Asy­lum State Sec­re­tary Theo Francken said over the week­end that it would be “not un­re­al­is­tic” for Puigde­mont to re­quest asy­lum.

No one knows how the cri­sis will end, but many Cata­lans feel it has been a long time com­ing.

“We wouldn’t have ar­rived at this point if they had treated us well for many years,” said il­lus­tra­tor Ju­dit Alguero, ex­press­ing a com­mon feel­ing that the au­thor­i­ties in Madrid are at best ne­glect­ful and at worst hos­tile to Cata­lan as­pi­ra­tions.

The seeds of that feel­ing, and of Cat­alo­nia’s mod­ern in­de­pen­dence move­ment, ger­mi­nated dur­ing the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime of Fran­cisco Franco be­tween 1939 and 1975. Franco banned the of­fi­cial use of the Cata­lan lan­guage and ex­e­cuted or im­pris­oned op­po­si­tion politicians and ac­tivists.

Sto­ries of that re­pres­sive era are part of the lore of many Cata­lan fam­i­lies.

Pri­mary school teacher Ari­adna Pi­fer­rer, whose grand­mother told of be­ing beaten for speak­ing Cata­lan at school, said that by declar­ing in­de­pen­dence, “we are liv­ing the dream of our grand­par­ents. And I think that’s so im­por­tant for us.”

Af­ter Franco’s death, Spain be­came a democ­racy, and Cat­alo­nia was granted a de­gree of au­ton­omy, with a re­gional gov­ern­ment, its own po­lice force and con­trol over ed­u­ca­tion. Pub­lic schools now teach pri­mar­ily in Cata­lan, and na­tional sym­bols are flown with pride.

While Cata­lan na­tion­al­ism has flour­ished, sup­port for out­right in­de­pen­dence was not wide­spread in the decades af­ter Franco’s death. In the early 2000s, polls sug­gested only about 15 per cent of Cata­lans wanted to break from Spain.

But in re­cent years eco­nomic cri­sis and po­lit­i­cal hos­til­ity be­tween Barcelona and Madrid have left many Cata­lans feel­ing wounded, fan­ning the flames of sep­a­ratism.

Many here trace their sup­port for in­de­pen­dence to the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal bat­tle over a 2006 au­ton­omy agree­ment grant­ing Cat­alo­nia the sta­tus of a na­tion within Spain, with tax-rais­ing pow­ers. Parts of the agree­ment were struck down by Spain’s con­sti­tu­tional court in 2010, trig­ger­ing an­gry protests and lead­ing some Cata­lans to be­lieve they would never get a fair deal from Spain.

That sense of griev­ance grew stronger af­ter the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis ham­mered Spain, spend­ing un­em­ploy­ment sky­rock­et­ing. Cat­alo­nia is one of the coun­try’s wealth­i­est re­gions, and many here feel they pay more into Span­ish cof­fers than they get back.

Andrew Dowl­ing, a spe­cial­ist in Cata­lan his­tory at Cardiff Univer­sity in Wales, said that 13,000 busi­nesses in Cat­alo­nia went un­der in 2009, push­ing many mod­er­ate Cata­lan na­tion­al­ists to­ward in­de­pen­dence.

“The fi­nan­cial cri­sis made Cata­lans an­gry, that as a rich area they were suf­fer­ing be­cause they had no con­trol over the eco­nomic levers,” Dowl­ing said.

Against that back­drop, Cat­alo­nia’s in­de­pen­dence move­ment has proved adept at har­ness­ing dis­con­tent to­ward Madrid. A pro-in­de­pen­dence coali­tion was elected in 2015 on a prom­ise to push for suc­ces­sion, and well-or­ga­nized groups have brought hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­test­ers into the streets.

In­de­pen­dence lead­ers re­gard the Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum as a man­date to sep­a­rate. But turnout was only 43 per cent as many pro-union vot­ers stayed away and Spain sent in po­lice to shut down polling sta­tions.

Although pro-in­de­pen­dence forces in Cat­alo­nia have shaken Spain to its foun­da­tions, it’s not clear how they can make their self­pro­claimed repub­lic a re­al­ity — or whether most Cata­lans even want them to.

Many pro-union Cata­lans be­lieve they are a silent ma­jor­ity, drowned out by noisy sup­port­ers of in­de­pen­dence. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of anti-in­de­pen­dence pro­test­ers ral­lied Sun­day in Barcelona, wav­ing Cata­lan, Span­ish and EU flags and chant­ing “Cat­alo­nia in Spain.”

In Barcelona on Mon­day res­i­dents ex­pressed con­fu­sion about who was ac­tu­ally in charge of Cat­alo­nia. “I don’t know — the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment says they are in charge, but the Span­ish gov­ern­ment says they are,” said Cristina Guillen, an em­ployee in a nearby bag shop. “So I have no idea, re­ally. What I re­ally think is that no­body is in charge right now,” she said.



Many peo­ple in the north­east­ern Span­ish re­gion of Cata­lan be­lieve its lan­guage, his­tory and cul­tural tra­di­tions — even Cata­lans’ ironic sense of hu­mour — set it apart from the rest of Spain, feel­ings that go back to the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime of...


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