Who are Catalans

There were, in principle, several different criteria that were used to determine who was, or was not, Catalan

The Catalan people live in an area of northeast Spain called Catalonia. Historically, Catalonia also included Valencia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, and the French department (or province) called Pyrenees Orientales. Speakers of the Catalan language can still be found in these areas.

The Catalan autonomous community covers about 6.5 percent of Spain’s total peninsular land area. The region consists of the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lerida, and Tarragona. Elsewhere in Spain, there were also significant Catalan-speaking populations in the Balearic Islands, along the east coast to the south of Valencia, and as far west as the eastern part of the Aragonese province of Huesca. Outside Spain, the principal Catalan populations were found in France, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, and in Andorra.

Map of Catalonia
Map of Catalonia


People and language

The population of the Catalan region in 1986 was approximately 6.0 million, of which 4.6 million lived in densely populated Barcelona province. The other three provinces were more sparsely populated. As one of the richest areas of Spain and the first to industrialize, Catalonia attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily from Andalusia and other poor parts of the country. From 1900 to 1981, the net in-migration into Catalonia was about 2.4 million. In the 1980s, over half of Catalonia’s working class, and the vast majority of its unskilled or semi-skilled workers, were cultural outsiders.

Catalan is the official language of Catalonia. It is also spoken in Valencia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, and the French department (or province) of Pyrenees Orientales. Catalan is a Romance language like French, Italian, and Castilian Spanish. It is similar to the Provençal language spoken in the south of France. From the late 1930s to the mid-1970s, Catalan, like other regional languages in Spain, was suppressed by the Franco regime. Now the language can be heard on television and radio and is taught in the schools. Road signs in Catalonia are printed in both Catalan and the national language, Castilian. The most common Catalan names are Jordi (the equivalent of George) for men, and Montserrat and Núria for women

Catalan was one of five distinct Romance languages that emerged as the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula began to ebb. The others were Aragonese, Castilian, Leonese, and Galician. By the late Middle Ages, the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia had joined together in a federation, forging one of the most advanced constitutional systems of the time in Europe.

According to one estimate, the population (including those outside Spain) speaking Catalan or one of its variants (Valencian or Majorcan) numbered about 6.5 million in the late 1980s. Within the Catalan autonomous community, about 50 percent of the people spoke Catalan as a mother tongue, and another 30 percent could at least understand the language. In Valencia and the Balearic Islands, perhaps as many as 50 to 70 percent of the population spoke one of the variants of Catalan as a mother tongue, although a great majority used the language only in the home.


Brief History

Following centuries of foreign rule, Catalonia became an independent political entity in AD 988 and united with the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. Together, the two regions established an empire that eventually extended to Sardinia, Naples, Sicily, and Greece. After the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the fifteenth century, the kingdoms of Aragon and Catalonia were united with Castile and León. After this union, the Catalans struggled for centuries to preserve their political and cultural identity.

In 1479, the Spanish crown maintained a loose administrative hold over its component realms. Although it occasionally tried to assert more centralized control, in the case of Catalonia its efforts generally resulted in failure. Nonetheless, attempts by Catalans in the seventeenth century to declare their independence were likewise unsuccessful. In the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia sided with the English against the Spanish crown, and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 opened the way for the conquest of Catalonia by Spanish troops. In September 1714, after a long siege, Barcelona fell, and Catalonia’s formal constitutional independence came to an end.

By the nineteenth century, Catalonia had become a major economic power in Spain due to trade and industrialization. It has remained one of Spain’s wealthiest and most developed regions. It has attracted large numbers of immigrants from the south throughout the twentieth century. During the years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939–75), Catalan regionalism was suppressed and the local language outlawed. In 1979, Catalonia became an autonomous region with its capital at Barcelona. In 1992, it gained the international spotlight as host to the Summer Olympic Games.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced a dramatic resurgence as the focal point of Spain’s industrial revolution. There were also a cultural renaissance and a renewed emphasis on the Catalan language as the key to Catalan cultural distinctiveness. Catalan nationalism was put forward by the nascent Catalan bourgeoisie as a solution that coupled political and cultural autonomy with economic integration in the Spanish market. For a brief period during the 1930s, the freedom of the Second Republic gave the Catalans a taste of political autonomy, but the door was shut for forty years by the Franco dictatorship.

Monasterio de Santa María de Poblet
Monasterio de Santa María de Poblet in Catalonia –  Photo credit (www.planetware.com)

Who really are the Catalans?

There were, in principle, several different criteria that were used to determine who was, or was not, Catalan. One’s place of birth, or the place of birth of one’s parents, was often used by second-generation migrants to claim Catalan status, but relatively few whose families had been Catalan for generations agreed with these claims. Biological descent was seldom used among either natives or migrants, because Catalans, unlike Basques, did not usually define their ethnic identity in such terms. Sentimental allegiance to Catalonia was important in separating out from the category those native Catalans who no longer felt any identification with their homeland, but preferred to identify themselves as Spanish. Thus, the most significant and powerful indicator of Catalan identity, for both Catalans and migrants alike, was the ability to speak the Catalan language.


Catalan independence referendum

The Catalan independence referendum of 2017 was held on 1 October 2017 in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia. According to the Catalan regional office, 90 percent voted in favor of breaking away from the Spain. It was declared illegal on 7 September 2017 and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain after a request from the Spanish government, who declared it a breach of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Early September the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had issued orders to the police to try to prevent it, including the detention of various persons responsible for its preparation. The invited International observers declared that the referendum failed to meet the minimum international standards for elections.

Thawngno (Washingtonian Post)

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Who are Catalans
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Who are Catalans
People of Catalan, their language, politics and brief history
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Washingtonian Post
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