Sunday, May 25, 2008

Homage to Catalonia

Picasso's Guernica

On a ride from Jerusalem to Hebron, I was able to tell my children about ethnic groups with distinct languages and cultures that did not have their own currency, stamps or independent government. Italy until 1861 was a collection of kingdoms and states, some of which had as their languages tongues separate and distinct from Italian. Piedmont in the North of Italy and Sicily in the south had their own languages , as did Sardinia, where a language very similar to Corsican is spoken. Corsica belongs to France. Some would say it's occupied by France. Sometimes the Corsicans will blow up a post office to let the French know that they are miffed, but attacks on civilians are almost unheard of.
One of the most aggrieved European regions with a claim to peoplehood is Catalonia. Located in the north of Spain, this region of approximately six million people sided against Franco in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. Even before this political faux pas, the relationship of Catalonia to the rest of Spain resembled the relationship of Kosovo to Serbia. The Franco government effectively banned any public use of Catalonian in government, the press or broadcast media. For almost forty years , the language went underground.
Francisco Franco groomed a hand picked successor, King Juan Carlos, who upon Franco's death promptly set in motion a transition to democracy. Two years after Franco's death, even Dolores Ibarurri the icon of the communist movement in Spain returned from exile to adoring followers. Juan Carlos also legalised the use and teaching of Catalonian. Today, the regional legislature in Barcelona, the Generalitat, conducts its business in Catalan as do government offices and schools. There is no demand today for independence and a people whose suffering in the Spanish Civil War was so hauntingly portrayed in Picasso's "Guernica" painting now functions peacefully within Spain. Picasso had vowed never to bring his painting back to Spain until democracy returned. Both democracy and "Guernica" are now back in Spain. Although the Basque region was far more violent in its opposition to Spanish hegemony, it too has been won over to regional autonomy . The strategy initiated by Franco's beloved student bore fruit. The north of Spain is now at peace.
The implications of Spain's bargain with its formerly restive north have implications in other parts of the world. It is possible to differ passionately, to recover from a bloody war and to arrive at a modus vivendi. Catalonia and the Basque regions, even when they shed Spanish blood in persuit of their aims did not resort to the means employed by the Arabs against Israeli children in the school in Maalot or the Sbarro restaraunt in Jerusalem. History has shown that trees watered with innocent blood grow crooked. The "Palestine Authority" is vivid testimony to this.
The Spanish, Catalonian and Basque peoples, now all part of a united country deserve the world's respect and emulation for the manner in which they have written a new and tranquil chapter in their history together. May their years of peace be many and may their example be contagious.

Copyright 2008 by

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Video above is from Sopa de Cabra, a Catalonian rock band that sings in the Catalan language. The video is compliments of You Tube

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