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Coolabah  2009 

Constructing Catalonia

Keywords: Catalonia , constructing national identity , Spanish Civil War , George Orwell

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Catalonia, in common with other nations, has long been concerned with thequestion of identity and difference. Its problematic relationship with Spain has led to anemphasis on differentiating itself from its larger neighbour (if we are to accept, as mostSpaniards do not, that Catalonia is not Spain), a situation complicated by the loss of theSpanish colonies of Cuba and The Philippines in 1898, and the Spanish Civil War andsubsequent dictatorship from 1936 to 1976. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, theconstruction of a Catalan identity followed a similar route to that taken by otherEuropean nations such as England, Ireland and, indeed, Spain, including an emphasis onrural values, activities and the countryside, and the conversion of specifically localtraditions into national past times. It is only in the last ten years or so that this model ofCatalan identity has been recognised for what it is – a model constructed andencouraged for and by specific nationalist political interests. Ironically, Catalonia’sidentity abroad has also been constructed and manipulated for political purposes, butfrom quite a different perspective. Orwell’s /Homage to Catalonia/ (1938) narrates anextremely blinkered version of the Spanish Civil War which has achieved iconic statusas a result of cold war politics. Subsequent portrayals of the Spanish Civil War –Valentine Cunningham’s /The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse/ (ed.),Penguin, 1980, or Ken Loach’s 1995 film /Land and Freedom/ base their argumentsunquestioningly on /Homage to Catalonia/, perpetuating a view of the nation’s recenthistory that is both reductive and inaccurate.


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