In English Voices From Spain

Is Catalonia still a single people?

Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. ‘¿Sigue Cataluña siendo «un sol poble»?’. Oriol Bartomeus. Agenda Pública.

3rd May 2018

Any society, any country, is a structure made up of different pieces, assembled in one way or another. They can be seen as a whole, but it is not homogeneous. History, the passing of time, has been knitting the pieces together, but seldom has it achieved to fuse them. Always a scar remains to testify the effort that it took to join them, sometimes out of a common will, and in most cases through fighting, wars and revolutions. Europe’s skin is full of such scars, which the Norwegian political scientist and sociologist Stein Rokkan studied better than anybody else.

Any society is a mixture of elements loosely assembled. During booms the scars and stitches can be almost unnoticeable; they are there, we know them, but we don’t pay attention to them. But when the times are harder and the society is strained, those are the points that suffer the most, up to the point of risking ripping the social fabric.

When there is tension in Belgium, the stitched between linguistic communities are strained; in Italy it is the fracture North-South; in Germany, the scar between East and West reappears; in the United States the racial division makes a comeback; in Israel emerges the religious tension between laypeople and Orthodox, or the ethnic between Jews of European and Slavic origin; in France the scar is both between classes and between origins (those from inside and those from outside). Every society has its own stitches that hurt when there is strain.

Spain has two big scars from its history. The first one comes from stitching the different territories that compose its current structure. The second is that between the citizens and those with political power. Both have been strained in recent years, due to the simultaneous blowup of the economic model during the crisis, of the political model and the territorial policy. In the period between 2008 and 2011, the threads that hold together the Spanish system are close to snap.

Catalonia is also a society made up of pieces, of patches from several origins stitched through the years to make up the Catalan fabric. The main one is that between those born in Catalonia and those arrived from other places, which has a defining element -although not the only one- in the language they speak. The language is not the scar in Catalonia, but its representation, the evidence of a difference that it has been tried to attenuate by stitching once and again. It is the work done during the last 50 years, since the end of the decade of the sixties, at the end of the dictatorship. The notion that there was only one Catalan people, the idea of a civil unity as a weapon against division, with the language immersion at the schools as unifying factor, promoted by the leftist parties (PSUC and PSC).

Catalonia has been stitched together in this last half-century with the idea that we all were Catalan (the adage from Jordi Pujol that «Catalan is that who lives and works in Catalonia») and that the Catalan language belonged to everyone, including -or even, specially- of those who didn’t speak it.

But as we were saying, the stitches might not be noticed, but they are there. In the moment that the political situation has tensed, those of Catalonia have popped up again. They are the same ones as always, no matter how old they are.

An example is the vote of Catalans depending on their language. If we consider the data from the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió after each Catalan parliament election it is possible to notice a continued trend: in each new election the groups of voters defined by their language (Catalan or Spanish) support with increased strength each of the blocks of political parties (those supporting or not the independence). In other words, the Catalan speakers tend to be more homogeneous in their support to pro-independence parties, whereas the Spanish speakers do the same supporting the parties that oppose it.

While in 2010 almost 22% of those who usually speak in Catalan voted a non-nationalist party (CiU was considered nationalist but not pro-independence at that time) in 2017 they were less than 10%. In the other side, eight years ago one third of those who usually speak in Spanish voted for a nationalist party, whereas in the elections last December they were less than half of that (15%).

In the middle between both extremes are the voters that identify both Catalan and Spanish as their own languages, close to 8% of the total, which split their vote evenly between independence supporters and opposers.

What is worrying in the data in not the actual percentage nor the methodological disquisitions (the results are almost identical whether the voters are grouped by the language they regularly use or the one they identify themselves with). The real concern is the tendency to homogenize the vote inside each group, that is, the gradual disappearance of the Spanish speakers that opted for CiU or ERC or the Catalan speakers that voted for PSC or ICV.

It is evident that the tension over the independence debate is strengthening the relation between language and vote, so that the correlation between them is increasing. The outliers are being replaced by uniformity, and inside it the more extreme positions prevail over the more moderate. Such is the case of Ciudadanos (Cs), by far the preferred option among the Spanish speakers, a party that since its origins has made the defence of the «Spaniards in Catalonia» its ideological basis.

It’s useless to argue on who is responsible of all this, since nobody is going to accept their share on it. The independence supporters will say that Cs and PP are the responsible, and they wouldn’t be wrong. And Cs will say that the secessionists started it all, and they would also be right. But it doesn’t matter. The important point by now, if we don’t want to end up even worse than we already are, if we intend to prevent that the stitches are blown up permanently, is to stop tensing the situation. And from there stitch again, and again, and yet again once more.


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