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Catalonia: Culture as a Weapon of Mass Persuasion.

Freedom makers not peace makers

If you go for a walk in Barcelona, or in almost every city or village in Catalonia, Spain, you will notice a plethora of red and yellow stripped flags, with a white star and blue background. They are on the streets, coming out of people’s apartment windows, flying proudly on balconies…everywhere. That flag, which looks quite like Catalonia’s official flag, is the symbol of Catalonia’s “autonomous community” independents, something like what Scotland is for Great Britain, to compare.

How this happened, how things have become the reality is something most people and politicians seem to not know, or maybe ignore. Let’s take a quick look at the history of Catalonia, and see what it says. As an independent Catalonia is such a decisive issue it is a must to enter a neutral state of mind, in order to judge things as simple observers of time.

What we today call “Catalonia” is a region of the old Catalan-Aragonese crown, which in its best years, had expanded from what today is Valencia, Aragón, Catalonia, and the Balearic Islands to Italy, Greece, France, and Malta. This crown was abolished after the War of the Spanish Succession, and was subsumed into a central kingdom, the new “Kingdom of Spain”. The idea was to replicate the French model: one kingdom, one language, one culture. Jews were expelled, as well as Muslims and the “Moriscos” (Muslim people, not necessarily Arab, converted to Christianity in order to save their lives).

Then, years later, something like in 1830, romanticism had exploded in Europe. In the region of Catalonia – which has always been quite culturally active – writers became deeply interested in the nostalgia of what was once Catalonia, and they tried to bring back old Catalan culture. It is believed that it was then when Catalanism was born, as a cultural movement, not political (yet), or wanting to segregate of Spain.

This cultural movement was born between the bourgeoisie, the only people at the time capable of understanding culture. Soon, they came to the conclusion that the old Castilla stole the power and identity that the old “Catalonia” had. Spain was preventing Catalonia of being its own power source (at the time, Catalonia probably had the best and latest technology and industry in Spain).

They were capitalists. And as it is known, capital is way more important than culture for this economic system. So the bourgeoisie realised how they were so few, they were very far away from being a majority, due to the lack of education at that time, and started using the ancient Catalan culture as a weapon against Spain. And as a way to convince the general populous or proletarian of how things would have been better if Spain hadn’t messed around in 1714. Culture as a Weapon of Mass Persuasion.

And from that moment, many things happened. Economic and social crisis, wars, repression again after the Spanish Civil War against Catalan culture. After the dictatorship of General Franco, many organisations formed as independentists, some of them radicalised, as a reaction to the Spanish governments and dictatorships lack of respect to the language and traditions of Catalonia.

Today, the speech is pretty different from the ones in the 70’s. It’s seemingly all about power and money. They use culture as an excuse from time to time, but today it does not make sense since education, the most important pillar of culture, is conducted almost all in Catalan from kindergarten to University.

But, there’s something bigger inside. It’s psychology. Catalonians today have inherited a dogmatic vision from older generations, a dogma that says Spanish culture is a threat to them, to Catalonia, to its economy, culture and existence. Everything said in Spanish seem to be a threat. As someone that has been born into this dogma, I have seen how little kids who had problems at school learning Catalan, were ignored by teachers who wouldn’t even answer a question made in Spanish. At my school, there were about twenty teachers, three of them that spoke Spanish almost hiding from their peers, because there’s this sense of the obligation of teachers to speak Catalan in front of the children. This of course is only what I have personally lived, it’s not necessarily the same in all cases. But, the fact is that even if one wants to open a Bicycles shop, for example, the name of this shop must be in Catalan. Otherwise, there would be a “legal fee”, or in other words, a sanction to pay until the name is “corrected”. Shops that have their name in Spanish can be sometimes seen with their walls written “This shop hates Catalan”, “You are in Catalonia, speak Catalan”, “Spanish fascists own this shop” – All of this happening at the same time Barcelona is trying so hard to show the world that it is a open-minded, multicultural city.

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Outside of Catalonia, one can encounter some unfriendly faces or even being insulted by complete strangers if Catalan is spoken in other Spanish regions – these examples are only a few of the many possibilities there are. Hate is constantly strengthened in politicians speeches, and that leads to other Spanish citizens to say “You’re nice, being Catalan”.

It’s a dictatorship of pseudo-culture, in order to keep the masses convinced of the idea that if Catalonia was an independent state, economy and culture would be respected once and for all. But it’s the XXI century, and even though some political groups would be pleased of seeing Catalonia sink into the ocean, Catalan culture is almost over-respected. Every child speaks Catalan since the 70’s, and public education is conducted only in Catalan, except of the subject of Castilian and Spanish Literature. There are even some “embassies” of Catalonia around the globe, something no other Autonomous Community in Spain has.

When some politicians today yell “Freedom to Catalonia”, they are in fact saying “Spanish government, give us money, give us power, let us keep our money. Give us what we want, and we won’t flood the streets with demonstrations”. They are generating a very tense situation between citizens of different opinions.

Seemingly independentist Catalans have already been convinced that there’s no turning back and have a adopted a dogmatic vision of independence. No one would accept this movement is a lie, that they have been played with, they have used for a bunch of bills and coins. And that works also for people outside Catalonia. In Spain, there’s a sense of hate against Catalans, and in Catalonia there’s the same for the others.

“It’s for our freedom as people, it’s for culture, it’s democracy. We have the right to decide for ourselves.”

Well, this speech has two sides. One, it’s barely true as although there is some democracy to be defended in this fight, the problem is that what independentist politicians are selling, is not real democracy. It’s the very same form of control that every other capitalist country has, and they’re not exactly gentle with the principle of democracy, nor the citizens. The difference would be who is in charge. Proof of this could be that recently there have been some law modifications that affect the freedom of speech in Spain, the known “Ley Mordaza” (“Clamp Law”), and the Catalan government hasn’t even complained a bit about the lack of democracy principle in that law, apart from many cases of political corruption among the same members who are calling people out on streets, or the recent controversy when a documentary, “Ciutat morta” – (“Dead City”), about torture and police abuses was aired, but some parts were censored by the Catalan government. There is no democratic culture in Spain, there never was.

Imaginary borderlines and money are not going to bring peace and freedom to every individual. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we will also respect each other’s convictions and develop sustainable, respectful politics and economic systems for everyone. That’s the way to freedom.

Alex P.Q. is a passionate believer in freedom of information and expression concerning the societal fracture that the Independence debate is creating within Catalonia. 

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