Wednesday, September 18, 2013

To Secede or not to Secede - That is the Question

As some of you may know, similar to Texas and the US, the state (technically an autonomous community but for sake of simplicity, I'm calling it a state) of Catalunya has wanted to secede from Spain for some time now.  This has been a political issue for years but has come to a head in the last few given the state of Spain's economy.  Catalunya (the state in which Barcelona is located) is one of the wealthiest parts of Spain and they feel that the taxes they are contributing is not equal to what is being received in government aid and that they would be better off on their own.

There have been several votes, strikes and protests over the years that we have lived in Barcelona in response to this hot topic.  My understanding is that about 50% of Catalans want to be independent of Spain.  Spain, of course, is absolutely against the idea of Catalunya seceding.  I'm sure that this desire for independence stems from the fact that it's only been a mere 300 years since Catalunya was, in fact, it's own separate entity from Spain.  Independence Day, celebrated on Sept 11 each year, is actually the day where Catalunya celebrates (yes celebrates, don't ask my why) their defeat during the War of Spanish Succession.  This was also the date, in 1714 when Catalan was banned as a language.  It has only been resurrected in recent generations since the death of Franco in the 1970s.  

And so it comes as no surprise that on September 11th each year, there are groups that rally in the hope of someday having a "free" Catalunya that is it's own independent member of the EU, separate from Spain.  This year there was a rally larger than any other in the past, similar to one done in 1989 in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania when they were trying to free themselves from the then Soviet Union.  Like the event in 1989, the Catalans decided to create a 250 mile human chain across Catalunya which, of course, included Barcelona.

Because this was such a large event and normally these rallys are very peaceful, Aidan and I went down to the center of where everything was happening, Placa Catalunya, with my friend Ignasi, to have lunch and see exactly what was going on.  As the human chain wasn't to take place until 5:14 (1714 in military time which symbolizes the year of their defeat), we were still pretty early and the crowds weren't too bad.

And I learned some things while we were down in Placa Catalunya.  It's always nice going to things like this with people who are in the know.  For instance, I didn't realize that there were two different flags for Catalunya.  Like each state in the US, this autonomous community also has it's own flag.  But one version is the standard Catalan flag and the other is the one for independence.

The regular yellow/red striped flag is called the Quadibarrada.  As Aidan told me (and Ignasi confirmed) the four red stripes are representative of a king's fingers dragging blood down a wall upon his deathbed.  I looked this up and according to a 14th century legend, this version of the flag dates back to the 9th century.  The blood was from Wilifred I the Hairy who was wounded in the 897 seige of Barcelona.  He carried a golden shield and in an act of gratitude, King Charles the Bald (I see a theme here) took the blood and drew the bars on Wilifred's shield.  There are other legends related to this flag but as this one was the one that Aidan told me about, I thought it was a good one to put up on this entry.

The other flag is the one that stands for independence.  It is the Quadibarrada but with a star.  This flag is called the Estelada.  This is not an official flag but one used by people to show their desire for independence from Spain.  As you can imagine, everywhere we went we saw this Estelada flag.

Instead of selling little touristy trinkets, today the street vendors were selling flags.

Traditional Catalan flag along El Corte Ingles in Placa Catalunya 

Stage set up in Placa Catalunya

People were wearing their flags

Enjoying the festivities

We actually arrived right at the time the "flag" arrived which we had not intended.  At first we just thought it was a group from the Basque region but they just happened to be the ones that were at the front of the line.  But as we stood there we saw that the flag kept getting longer and longer and longer.  We assumed that this is what they meant by the human chain - with people standing along this huge Catalan flag for 250 miles.  Obviously you can't have one flag that is 250 miles long but these were huge long flags that were then attached at different segments.  We decided that since we were meeting a new friend near Sagrada Familia where there was going to be another huge segment of the chain, we would follow the flag to get us there.

The banner flag arrives in Placa Catalunya.  Also note the Catalan flag along with a the (hoped for) EU flag representing Catalunya.

Neither of these flags are official nor recognized by the Spanish or EU governments

A seriously long flag!

Ignasi and Aidan posing in front of a very cool Harley

As you can see the flag lined both sides of the street along Passeig de Gracia

Still going!

Even strollers were decked out in flags!

Gegantes during the festivities!

More of the gegantes

So let me sidetrack for just a moment.  While I know we have a great educational system in the US, there is something about the school here in Barcelona that I love.  It's how culture is a part of the curriculum - and not just Spanish culture, but Catalan and cultures from around the world.  Kids learn all about the countries in the world from different eras and learn about important figures as well.  One of those is Antoni Gaudi who is the famous architect responsible for Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo, La Pedrera, Parc Guell and many more famous buildings.

Anyways, we saw these gegantes (giants) pictured below as we were walking.  And not really thinking, I commented on how strange it was that they didn't have any faces.  All gegantes that I have seen have faces.  Aidan gave me a look (of disgust) and said, "but mom, that's because they represent Gaudi".  Damn that kid is smart.  And he's right.  And the fact that they were standing in front of his famous La Pedrera only reinforced that he was correct.  I don't know many 9 year olds that not only know about any famous architect, but can also identify their style so easily.  A future architect perhaps???  

Gaudi gegantes

We finally made it to Sagrada Familia only the crowds were much bigger here and we couldn't see as much.

Waving the flags

At 1714 (514PM), people began to hold hands as the bells of Sagrada Familia rang.  Thus the human chain. 

While the day was pretty cool and unexpected, it was also much more low key than I had anticipated.  Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't looking nor hoping for violence.  I just found that the rally itself was very quiet - not a lot of chanting, not a lot of singing, just very anti climatic.  But they made their point with approximately 1.6 million people participating in the event.  Only time will tell if this persistent group of Catalans will get their way or if they will have to just continue on being Spanish too!


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