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Separatism in Spain

Even today Spain is unified in name only. Dig below the surface and old rivalries are all too obvious. Spain is football (soccer) mad and everyone is glued to the TV for big matches. It’s normal here to celebrate a victory or a goal with fireworks – it’s a noisy exuberant country. If my local team Valencia score (or even Barcelona – 5 hours drive away) the sky is lit up with rockets.

Flag of ValenciaThe Flag of Valencia

Yet when the national team played in the World cup a Spanish goal was greeted by a few half hearted bangs – many people here feel Valencian rather than Spanish. Allegiances in Spain are very clearly defined – family first, village second, region third and Spain a distant fourth.

Why? Within Spain there are different languages and regions with claims to independence. Most of the world is aware that a fair proportion of Basques in northern Spain are seeking their own state – the ETA terrorist group have been fighting the authorities for years.
It’s possible to go a long way back into history and find examples of regional friction on the Iberian Peninsula but perhaps the biggest changes occurred during the Second Republic. The Popular Front achieved success because it managed to bring together many different points of view – if temporarily.  The enormously powerful Catalan & Basque interest groups pushed for independence and partially gained success. After 1936 many thought the politics and the map of Spain would never look the same. See The Politics of the Republic.

Franco and the Spanish ‘establishment’ were horrified – not only was there a ‘red’ government but Spain was to be split up. Of course Franco eventually won the war and dreams of independence vanished. It’s worth mentioning that the cruellest reprisals were carried out against the Basques and the Catalans. Franco hunted for separatists and stamped them out – including the leader of the Catalan government Lluís Companys, who escaped to France but was captured by the Gestapo, forcibly returned to Spain and executed by Franco in 1940.

Very strong emotions in the Basque country turned to a desire for revenge – hence the forming of the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) in 1959. Many have never forgiven the brutalities of the Franco years and will not settle for anything less than total independence.
Immediately post war Franco tried to eradicate any evidence of regionalism including banning languages – Basque, Catalan, Valenciano & Galician, local festivals, flags, restricting travel between villages and even banning giving certain names to new born babies.

In modern times Separatism has regained a strong foothold. The socialist government has allowed greater freedom of choice and some self government. In my area, Valencia, there is a fairly strong independence movement based around the local language which is close to Catalan - with elements of French & Castilian (official Spanish). Ironically the local language is now compulsory in schools.

As a postscript around two years ago elements of the Spanish Army were so horrified by the socialist governments regional reforms that one senior officer Lieutenant-General José Mena Aguado expressed the opinion that it was the army’s duty to  ‘guarantee the territorial integrity of Spain’ i.e. no talk of giving autonomy to Catalonia. This was taken to mean that in the event of regional reforms the army might need to use military intervention and would see it as their constitutional duty. The general was immediately sacked in disgrace. Everybody laughed it off as outdated ex Franco rubbish but many remember that it was as recent as 1981 that tanks rolled in Valencia in a failed coup d’état.