Friday, June 27, 2008

Catalonia is not Spain (Well, maybe a little right now …)

It’s been great fun watching Spain’s serene progress to the final of Euro 2008 in all senses of the word.

Great fun because they have played some exquisite football; last night’s demolition of Russia was sublime to watch. But great fun also because it has highlighted the bitter-sweet relationship between the Catalans and the nation as a whole.

You don’t need a Spanis civil war history lesson here to know that for a chunky minority of Catalans, Catalonia is not Spain (as the posters given away outside European games at the Camp Nou proclaim).

On top of the 10% or so who would like complete independence, many more here feel Catalonia should get considerably more autonomy, and keep a higher percentage of its economic revenues, from the central government. Culturally, many Catalans feel as close to Madrid as they do to Lisbon or Paris.

So when the tournament opened, just 45% of Catalans watched the opening game on TV versus around 55% nationally and 65% in the Madrid region. While thousands sang and danced in front of the big screen in Madrid’s Plaza Colon, Barcelona’s big squares were empty.

Even the dramatic quarter final penalty shootout over Italy, which I watched in a bar deep in the Catalan countryside, seemed to evoke only a smatter of amused indifference among the locals.

As one Catalan friend put it ‘What really pisses us off is all the ra-ra Spanish stuff that goes with it all.’ He means the Spanish fans dressed as matadors in Vienna or staging mock bull fights in Austrian squares – the whole sangria and senorita image of the country that should have died about 40 years ago. The TV coverage is becoming more nattily nationalistic by the day.

But there is a slight thawing going on. There was a widespread tooting of horns after the games last night; it was hardly akin to when Barca win a title, but it made a decent noise. And I suspect there will be more if they win on Sunday.

And, heck, why not? Spain are, by any measure, playing beautiful football, the like of which few international teams have aspired to in recent years. And it’s being inspired by a Barca/Catalan engine room of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas. Last night’s victory was made in Catalonia.

And, really, would you go the whole hog and back Germany on Sunday just to spite the national cause? We’re not talking plucky little Denmark here or pledging our troth to the beautiful game as played by Portugal. We’re talking big, bad unlovable Germany who win far too often and do so without the passion and beauty that the Spanish bring to the game.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, that thawing was fascinating to watch but also expected. The essential core of catalanismo is that catalans think they are 'better '(whatever that may mean-it's hard to see unless we are talking of rudeness and bigotry) than the 'Spanish," whoever they may be, "Spain" after all being the sum of different autonomous regions. Another characteristic is their opportunism (e.g they would have you believe they were anti Franco to a man when the truth is rather different). When Spain looked destined for big success in Euro 2008, they saw a bandwagon they had to jump onto- imagine the hated Spain having worldwide acclaim as fantastic footballers- the horror the horror!! We are the best of Spain we better get in there and grab some of the action!! There was talk in the press that Spain's victory may have the same effect as France's win, and particularly the part played in it by non white French players, had in France. In that country Le Penn's support evaporated virtually over night. Let's hope support of for the absurd, childish "I'm better-than-you" extremes of catalanismo, which is not so far from racism, evaporate also.