In South Africa, Catalans Lead Spain; In Spain, Catalans Want (More) Freedom

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Just an addendum to Tony’s excellent tableau of the kind of historic and political forces “at play” when Spain and Holland meet in the 2010 World Cup final tomorrow: On Saturday, on the eve of arguably the most important match in Spanish history, over one million people in Barcelona marched on the streets of the Catalan capital behind a large banner proclaiming “we are a nation, we decide ourselves.” The demonstration was a response to a recent ruling by a Spanish constitutional court that challenged parts of the statute that defines the current conditions of Catalonia’s autonomy — including the northeastern region’s right to call itself a “nation.” Catalonia, of course, has a long history of nationalism. It has just seven million of Spain’s 47 million people, but makes up a quarter of the country’s GDP. It also, in one form or the other, comprises almost the entire Spanish starting XI.

Much has already been said here (by Bobby) and elsewhere about the irony of Catalans — and non-Catalans — from FC Barcelona leading Spain to its greatest footballing triumph. Close one eye and the slick passing Spanish team could just as well be the blaugrana, a club that for decades stood as a beacon of Catalan nationalism as well as defiance to Franco’s dictatorship headquartered in Madrid. Catalans like Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and Xavi anchor the spine of the team, while Pedro, Iniesta, and David Villa — players raised in the Barcelona youth system or signed up by the club — spearhead Spain’s attack. (Xabi Alonso, another key midfielder in the current Spain set-up, is Basque.)

For the thousands of Catalans who marched on Saturday against the encroachments of the Spanish state, it must be somewhat strange to wake up the next day and watch their boys stand attention to the Spanish national anthem, ahead of the biggest match of their lifetimes. Then again, maybe it’s not much of a betrayal. In the post-Franco era, after all, the Spanish anthem doesn’t even have any words to sing along to and you can expect the likes of Xavi and Puyol to be tight-lipped as ever. And then take it to the Dutch, hammer and tongs.