All 16 entries tagged Defining Catalans

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April 23, 2007

Dia internacional del libro – Festa de Sant Jordi

...pretty intellectual girls...Maybe Spain has no more festive days than any other country, but they surely make the most of each one of them.

The day´s coming was being announced weeks in advance in all metro stations and it was hard for me not to notice: a photo of a pretty, blond girl tranquilly reading a book followed me wherever I went. (Why is it anyway that the campaign´s designers chose to advertise a blond, and not, like the vast majority of Spain´s population, a dark-haired girl? I think I know the answer.) Today, all around Barcelona´s city centre as well as all over the university´s campus, book stalls sell second-hand books for 50 cents or a euro.

Wholly unplanned the International Day of the Book coincides with Sant Jordi, the Catalan equivalent of Valentine´s Day. The 14th of February is not known here. Today however, happy couples parade around with lipstick-red roses or (slightly more nationalistic) yellow roses with red edges, adorned with a little Catalan banner on the wrapper.

I realised the pretty blond model on the poster, probably without realising it herself, advertises both of today´s reasons for festivity. At least I would give her a rose if I bumped into her.

March 03, 2007


Daniel and SalvadorThe other day I saw the Catalan film Salvador, set in the afterdays of Spanish Francoism.

This historical film (2006) shows us how the Catalan young man Salvador Puig Antich slowly gets involved in activism of a Catalan-nationalist, anti-Francoist brand, soon after which he gets caught by the police. The half-German, half-Catalan actor Daniel Brühl (Goodbye Lenin!) takes the role of quite normal Salvador, whom however hides one of his activities from his friends: he carries a gun with him and together with comrades robs Francoist money from the banks in order to finance a clandestine Catalan publication.

Once he gets caught by the police, his situation is pretty bad. As he shot an agent out of self-defense during his arrest, his punishment is certain: death sentence. The second half of the film works towards this slow but certain end of Salvador: death by choking. A very impressive but horrible film. In the last scene, riot police violently keeps people away from his funeral.

And but a few days later I found myself visiting myself that same cemetery, the largest of Barcelona, the cementiri de Montjuïc. A friend had passed me a map of this impressive city of the dead, with names and places of famous people buried there. Among them politician Francesc Macià, painter and sculptor Joan Miró, and also… Salvador.

We went to look for his grave. We found it all the way uphill, away from the downhill entrance. Among a flat block of graves, five high and some twenty-five graves from left to right, there it was, inconspicuous: Salvador Puig Antich.

An impressive moment: among all these people, names of unknown lives, a young man with his story: murdered by a bloody regime for an unjust cause.

January 10, 2007

Jesus Loves You?

JesusI should really stop falling from one Catalan surprise into another. I ought to have learned to look at things with a Catalan eye by now, and not to generalise. But then, I can’t help coming across things every now and then, and think to myself: “how Catalan!” There are particular traits of behaviour and ways of thinking which I believe are certainly culturally determined, indeed, Volkseigen.

A sticker was pasted on this rubbish container in my street, which I noticed as I made my way to the metrostation. It said: “Jesus era antisistema”, “Jesus was anti-system”. Even though I don’t believe it’s Catalan, but Spanish, I couldn’t help thinking to myself… well, you know.

Jesus loves you? Pfah, perhaps in another country. Here Jesus is Catalan, and against the system.

December 19, 2006

Catalanism: The Language

Catalan nationalism“Utilitza la llengua”, “this university discriminates the language”, “en Català”. They are but a few signs of fierce militance around my university´s campus which to me come across as grossly exaggerated.

After three months and a half here I feel I can speak with at least some expertise on matters of society here in Catalunya. After all, it´s a matter that we, Erasmus students, come across with all the time, and discuss even more.

Militant Catalanism seems to express itself mostly in constantly claiming and reclaiming language-rights for the Catalan-speaking majority. Not such a bad thing, I hear you say, and in principle I agree. The point, however, is that bilinguality rights are continually marginalised, not such a great thing for those who speak really only one of the two official languages, Spanish.

My Argentinean housemates don´t have a single good word for the language. They find it ugly and go around speaking only Spanish, managing to do so with a little force here and there. I chose to take a semester of (freely offered) language classes, nonetheless making only small progress.

Despite my good-will and attempts, however, I encounter fairly little understanding. When I do group work in my class, there are still students who send me (and only me) emails in Catalan, which I just can´t understand completely. My housemate Mario, who has a Catalan girlfriend, complains that his girlfriend´s social circle doesn´t make the least effort to accommodate his lack of Catalan by changing the language. This contrary to us, he argues, who all spoke English when a friend of mine came to visit. Fair enough to me, even more so because Spanish is not nearly as drastic a language change for Catalan speakers.

Classes at the university are taught in two languages, some in Catalan, others in Castellano. Still, at times a Castellano-speaking teacher, in the heat of a debate, turns to Catalan. Meanwhile, students, as a standard rule, address their professors in Catalan.

So, in this context: why all this unnecessary militance? Why this great hatred of biligualism? One voice in my head says that locals are just not very interested in foreigners here, another says that can´t be generally true. Then, do they all hate speaking Spanish? After all the time I´ve spent here, the Catalans still owe me the answer.

Photo: Catalan nationalist marches in February of this year.

November 15, 2006

We Are Against Bologna

Writing about web page

Marches against Bologna!Tomorrow, students from all of Barcelona´s universities against the pending Bologna university reforms are gathering in the city centre.

So. It turns out Catalans are fond of a good portion of activism every now and then. In the last few weeks all of my faculty was spammed with “En Català” stickers to promote the use of Catalan and defy Castillian encroachments, as well as “Utilitza la llengua” stickers (a Catalan word play, it means both “use the language” and “use your tongue” which is why the stickers pictures two Catalans kids kissing). A bit threatening, all this Catalanist stuff, especially if you know hardly more than “Excuse me, I don´t speak Catalan very well”.

And then anti-Bologna. I should have seen the big march coming. Signs were around. “Passivitat és complicitat. Anti-Bolonya sempre” could be read on lecture room tables. Posters and stands full of brave and activist students. But this Monday morning, the campaign attacked full-swing. Those who had never heard of the Italian city before, could now read on every building´s wall that students here were against it, in any case.

This afternoon, as I was preparing for my first economics exam to be held in Catalan, some leader dude and a following came along with a megaphone, and as I am writing a really badly-sung punk song performed on the Placa Civica is once again emphasising that we are contra Bolonya. And, as if they thought me stupid and slow-witted, they also molested the only mobile phone top-up machine on campus with graffiti to announce to the world that they are against.

Probably too late with their protests, as the Bologna committee has been discussing this matter for a long time already, and is set to present the new legislation early in 2007. But we don´t care. We don´t care if anyone listens, we don´t care what method we use, all we know is that we are against something.

November 10, 2006

La Festa Major de l'UAB

Festa Major de lImagine a great location, twenty-five degrees and sun. Music, film, dance. Beer for one euro, a blanket of marijuana smoke covering campus. A taste of forbidden fruit.

So yesterday it was finally time for the day I heard so much about, and not a word of it was exaggerated. Ten thousands of people came along to La Festa Major, the university’s annual feast, and it was quite epic.

In the morning a friend and me participated in a race, running 6 km, and your blog reporter is proud to announce he did the 6km just below 30 mins, despite very little training. And enviously confides that the winner actually took only 16 (!) minutes.

And then the amboracharse (getting drunk) part came quickly. As soon as my head’s colour had changed back from “tomato” to “peachy normal”, we had lunch with lots of beer. After which we left my campus flat and drank some more, in the meanwhile bumping into friends everywhere and struggling to maintain not smoking (see also earlier entries). Tasted some aigua de Valencia though, which is a nice mix of fruits and alcohol which is damn hard to discover among the sweet flavour.

And in the evening, we drank some more. Went to a birthday party where we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by girls drinking lots and lots of sangria and singing Spanish drinking songs! I didn’t know they organised parties like this in universities!

November 08, 2006

Girl attacked for voicing her political opinion

Partit de la CiutadaniaOnly days before it’s annual grand feasts, the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona is struck by antidemocratic violence perpetrated against one of her students.

Last Thursday, as a girl walked out of a politics lecture room, she was commented upon and thereafter hit and threatened by fellow students. All of this happened to her because she happened to be wearing a t-shirt in support of a young Catalan party, the “Ciutadans -Partit de la Ciutandania”.

This party has recently gained a few seats in the Catalan Generalitat, and is known to be “a little less Catalanist, a bit more pro-Spain”. For as far as I’m aware, it displays no fascist agenda, but apparently for these intolerant Catalanist morrons it was not leftist-nationalist enough. From another source I have now heard the earlier-mentioned girl is considering switching universities.

Luckily, the faculty was quick to react by sending around an email condemning the violence and assuring the perpetrators would be suitably punished.

Apart from the fact that I have never understood the incredible stupidity of people who feel they need threats and fists to practice politcs, I was even more struck dumb to find out that the module the people involved were taking was called political participation. A cliche, sure, but shouldn’t every self-respecting democratic preach and practice Voltaire famous words to his rival Rousseau: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?

November 02, 2006

Elections in Catalunya (continued)

Writing about web page

Elections results Catalan GeneralitatYesterday, on the first of November, Cataláns voted for their semi-autonomous parliament.

In the statistic posted here, you can see the results. The PSC (Catalan Socialist Party, directly affiliated with the current Madrid government of Zapatero), this time lost its comfortable position of guaranteed leadership in the government, whereas CiU (Convergencia i Unió, right-of-centre moderate Catalanists) gains a small majority with 31.52%. (Which, incidentally, in the UK is enough for Labour to rule alone.)

Interesting to note is that CiU, before the elections, made a firm promise never to go into coalition with the Partido Popular, a right-wing party which is much-hated by the leftist bloc here in Catalunya. In fact, evidence points in the direction that a coalition with the PSC is more likely and more supported by CiU-voters. However, PP only comes 4th of the six parties that will sit in the Generalitat for the coming four years. Another prove that centrist-moderate and leftist parties really don’t know how to deal with popular right-wing parties?

As usual, a poll in my Spanish Politics class confirmed that students generally vote differently from the masses. First came ERC, closely followed CiU and then PSC. As opposed to the actual order CiU, ERC, PSC. But even more strangely, it turns out a good few of the Catalans I spoke to didn’t even vote at all. Unsurprisingly, voting participation was at a historical low of only 56.77% yesterday, a low only surpassed once before, in 1992. Out of such weak material, an independent Catalan state is not likely to materialise in the foreseeable future.

October 29, 2006

Elections in Catalunya

Convergencia i Unio bannerElections time all around. Belgium recently voted for their municipalities, the US are to elect their senate later this year, as are the Netherlands. And in Catalunya, people are proceeding to the voting urns this coming Wednesday, to elect their Generalitat.

Partida Socialista de Catalunya bannerIt’s interesting to see elections happen in other countries, and notice how much a concept of democracy can differ from place to place. In 2004, when I was in India, what I noticed most were the tons of posters, in the most abandoned places, apart from which the process was notably quiet. In the UK in 2005, I was struck by the ugly mud fight Laborites and Tories can fight when it comes to numbers of constituent seats. And in Catalunya anno 2006, what I notice most is the soft and peaceful mixture of Catalanism and a rather widespread kind of socialism.
Convergencia i Unio, the most Catalanist party, wants to “govern well and love Catalunya”. The Partido Popular (said to be post-Francoists in disguise) doesn’t get much further than claiming that “these are also your elections” (not mine, I couldn’t help to think). And: “the socialist party made a mess of this last term”. While Montillo, the Catalan Socialist Party’s candidate for presidency and direct affiliate of Spain’s president Zapatero, smiles superiorily, promising that “metros will be open all night during weekends”.

All over metro stations and billboards we see the five or so most important candidates smiling, shaving, adjusting a drill (“normal people, like you“). Every day, the news readers confide us in detail where they have been campaigning today, and what more they have been claiming.

And here is the best part, a touch of pragmatic politics. The government decided to hold elections on All Saints (Tots Sants), in Spain a free day. Now, nobody has an excuse not to vote.

October 26, 2006

Excuse me, YOU´RE IN MY WAY!

Was he Catalan?Maybe it´s just a cold northern, efficient, doesn´t-know-how-to-take-it-easy kind of trait of mine, but ever since I got back from London and Kiev, I started to notice just how many times people stand in my way in Catalunya.

Example one. I just walked out of the train and now want to leave the platform. I´m late because I had to meet my friends 15 mins ago so I´d like to get out as quickly as possible. On the escalators, everybody is all over the place. Unlike other cities, where people stand to the side to let people like me pass.

Example two. I´m walking through a university corridor, in what seems to me a normal speed, and suddenly, right in front of me, a girl just stands still. I nearly bump into her. (Repeat about 10 times a day and you´ll start to get the idea.)

Example three. Walking out of the library, I nearly blast into a worker who carries a big pipe of some kind. He walks in a kind of curve, so I want to pass him. (Ok, fair enough, I´m always in a hurry.) But just when I try to pass, the guy, who doesn´t seem to be looking left, right, or at all, turns to the right again, straight into my space, so that I have to stand still for a moment not to bump into him.

Example four. A mass of people in the centre of the city, it´s busiest street, blocking an entire sidewalk.

Example five. I´m walking on a sidewalk, alone. From the other direction come three people, in a row. I get pushed off the sidewalk because none of them steps aside.

And on goes the list… And this is just the score of a week. Aargh! I don´t want to be the stereotype of a northerner at all. But can´t people just look around them to see what´s happening?!

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