Long before its international associations with events in New York, 11 September has marked Catalonia’s national day, the Diada. Originally celebrated to pay tribute to those involved in the defense – and eventual loss – of Barcelona in the Spanish War of Succession (1714), the day has become increasingly politicized since 2012. Last year´s Diada was celebrated with a multitudinous pro-independence demonstration, less than a month before the referendum on Catalan sovereignty. The seventh consecutive independentist march came in their numbers with 450,000 people registered for the event. In fact, pro-independence groups and the Barcelona police later tweeted that turnout was closer to 1 million.
The politicization of historical and cultural symbols and language remains inscribed in a long-lasting debate among Catalan language scholars. Much of the mainstream media compares the Catalan independentist movement to Brexit, Trumpism, or French nationalism. Such simplistic analogies, however, easily lead to misunderstandings. In an article earlier this year, language expert Kathryn Woolard points to the attitudes towards multilingualism in Catalonia as one of the distinctive factors of the Catalan national identity claims. She explains:
To the extent that Catalan identity is marked by the language, it’s not reserved for native speakers; it also includes the many second-language speakers of Catalan. The majority of the population is of immigrant descent, mostly from the south of Spain. (...) Support for sovereignty is strongest among native Catalan speakers but nonetheless cuts across these linguistic descent groups to a noteworthy degree. Only about 30% of eligible voters speak Catalan as their first language, but 47.5%, voted for a pro-independence party. Some 55% are first-language speakers of Spanish, but only 43.5% voted for the anti-independence parties that backed the suspension of the Catalan government.
Even the referendum itself conveyed its message in a multilingual form —with the ballot papers in Catalan, Spanish and Aranese— symbolically recognizing the plurilingual reality of the region.1
According to Woolard, since the institutionalization of Catalan, the debates have revolved around notions of social inclusivity, rather than ethnic factors such as the “native” speaker of Catalan or someone who lives in Catalonia with ancestral history in the territory throughout generations. This multilingual background of Catalonia was summed up and turned into a Twitter-trending slogan by Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Mossos d´Esquadra (Catalonia’s urban police). When at a press conference a journalists left the room to protest against some questions being responded to in Catalan and others in Castilian, Trapero´s answer was categorical and multilingual at the same time: “Bueno, pues molt bé, pues adiós” [Ok. That’s that then. Goodbye].
But the politicization of the Catalan symbols, dates, and language also entails interpreting the use of Catalan in art, education, or literature, as a clear statement on Catalan independence. The situation of conflict in Spain pushes to the margins those citizens of Catalonia or those Catalan speakers who endorse a plurilingual and plurinational value-system, who are willing to express their disagreement with a nationalist, monolithic Spanish State without advocating for a monolithic, monolingual Catalonia. As a result, Catalan cultural production is always already questioned and in need of justification. Before making any point, a Catalan-speaking intellectual is asked to justify why he or she speaks in a chosen language (be it Castilian or Catalan). At the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair – at which Catalonia was an invited guest – the writer Quim Monzó gave an ironic speech regarding getting caught up in so many apologetic disclaimers on the nature and status of Catalonia, every time she or he needs to comment on a cultural or historical event, that before the time is up, or the word limit exceeded, the author only has enough time left to look at the audience and say:
— Ok. That’s that then. Goodbye.
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