'Catalanism' promotes differences from rest of Spain

Madrid (AFP) - Catalonia has promoted its language and popular culture since the 1980s, cultivating a sense that it is different from the rest of Spain which has now turned to separatism, analysts said.

Spain's steep economic downturn is often cited as one of the main drivers of separatism in the wealthy northeastern region, which holds a symbolic referendum on independence on Sunday in defiance of legal challenges by Madrid.

A 2010 decision by Spain's constitutional court to water down a 2006 statute giving the region more powers to the region has also added to the growing pressure for secession.

But analysts say "Catalanism", which like other European nationalisms emerged at the end of the 19th century, has been encouraged by successive Catalan leaders since Spain returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

"There was a desire to prevent the massive migration of workers from southern Spain in the 1960s and '70s from dividing Catalan society in two blocks, based on language or regional identity," said Ferran Requejo, political science professor at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University.

The Catalan language, which was banned in public during the Franco years but widely spoken at home, has been promoted by the regional government in cinema, music, courts and the economy.

The Catalan broadcaster set up in 1983 by the ruling nationalist CiU party, with its TV stations dedicated to sports, culture, children and news, also transmits political messages, said Gabriel Colome, political science lecturer at Barcelona's Autonomous University.

"Programmes for children are a way to socialise them in a culture. If you can at the same time develop them politically, it is even better," he said.

But this policy has turned against them because instead of "producing CiU voters, it has turned them into supporters for the left-wing separatist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party", he said.

The ERC, which props up Catalan leader Artur Mad’s CiU government, currently leads opinion polls and has kept up the pressure on the Catalan government to press ahead with the independence referendum in defiance of the central government.

- 'Public indoctrination' -

"The population has been subject to an indoctrination that has been extremely effective when we look at the results," said Catalan author Albert Boadella, a harsh critic of the region's successive CiU governments.

"The current independentist generation grew up under democracy and it has been imbued with this idea of nationhood," said Colome.

The Catalan language has been progressively reintroduced in public schools since the end of the 1970s and today all subjects, except the Spanish language, are taught in Catalan.

History is also taught differently in Catalonia.

The region has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.

But in Catalonia public schools stress that the crown of Aragon was in fact a Catalan-Aragon realm with its centre of gravity in Barcelona.

"The history that is taught in Spanish schools is much more unitary but it is wrong", said the nationalist Requejo.

Catalan public service announcements have also been used to reinforce the idea that the region is distinct from the rest of Spain, according to Colome.

Slogans such as "work well done has no borders, work poorly done has no future", play on Catalan pride in the region's industrial prowess in contrast to Spain's reputation as a land of "siestas and fiestas", he said.

Catalan cultural centres have sprouted up across the region which teach the sardana folk dance, where circles of people join their hands together and raise them in the air, or how to form a human tower called a "castell".

These traditions, originally from separate parts of Catalonia, were encouraged "as part of a national spirit which up until then did not correspond to reality," said Colome.