I was watching the news tonight about the situation in Spain with the referendum on the independence of Cataluña. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would understand the importance of this referendum, the history linked to this call for independence and the reasons why it is so important to the Catalans.
I am particularly touched because my family on my father’s side are all proud Catalans. I was born and raised in France where many of them had immigrated to after the Spanish war. But early in my childhood, I had become well aware of the depths of pain and consequent resentment all Catalans carried within. They had gone through a soul destroying civil war. They had been beaten by the government forces, humiliated and were left stripped of their identity and their honour. Up until Franco took power, Cataluña had benefited from a special autonomous status. General Franco not only took away their autonomy but also their cultural heritage, their language and their literature. To the Catalans it was a direct attack on their very identity. Many of the men had to leave the country, for their safety and their families followed. This is how mine arrived in France.
Because of my background, I witnessed first hand the pain and hunger for recognition the Catalans have felt over the years about the loss of their identity. Historical background alone, namely laws and events, fail to give us the emotional component that affects this conflict. It’s a little bit like looking at an iceberg, we see the facts and figures at the top of the water, but it takes mediation skills to understand the vast mass underneath, and its important role in the conflict, the depth of this need the Catalans have for recognition and their voice being allowed to be heard. A voice that is saying: “I exist, I am different from you and I have a right to be recognised”.
I suppose this need for recognition of past wrongs and past pain is at the core of many international conflicts. In the Middle East, this is further complicated by the ancestral attachment to the land which is part and parcel of their identity, making conflicts even more difficult to understand and resolve.
In the case of Cataluña, I don’t personally have any political opinion as to whether they should be independent or not, as a nation. I deplore political parties playing on needs, fears and hopes of a population to gain popularity. Media outlets follow suit, only compounding the situation. They have rightly understood that emotions are a strong driver in these matters. Thankfully, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, wisely called last night for an international mediation team to come and help.
In my opinion it would be the best way forward. It would enable the Catalans to have a platform to express their need to regain their identity, their cultural independence, the acknowledgment of their roots.
The Spanish government would also have the opportunity to be forthcoming with its own worries. They suffered for years with a home-grown separatist group (Basque group ETA). That is a valid concern as well. Unfortunately, the “question of Cataluna” is not going to be solved by rubber bullets and force but by listening and building a bridge of communication where feelings can be validated and assurances brought forward so a peaceful future can be built.