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globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World
Number 7 December 2000

bulletFrom Readers
bulletVisit to Mallorca & Catalunya
 · "Tourists: you are the terrorists!"
 · "The fairest of the fair!"
 · Catalan cultural identity
 · Nova
 · Col·lectiu Ronda
bulletASSEMBLY 2000-2001
bulletInternational Youth Parliament
bulletThe Artist
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drawing of pillar of people lifting up a globe

Visit to Mallorca & Catalunya
Catalan cultural identity:
between historical memory and a projection into the future
Jesús Artiola i Ruhí* (Catalonia)

Some years ago, at a conference held during an official trip to Germany, Jordi Pujol1 showed his contentment upon seeing that at German universities, there were numerous departments of Catalan philology (many more than there were in non-Catalan Universities in Spain...). Some days later, a college professor pointed out to him the fact that the existence of these departments was not pure accident-they were a response to interest on behalf a number of German philosophers and historians who were scholars on the medieval Catalan figure, philosopher Raimon Llull.

This anecdote illustrates, in my opinion, the essence of the reflection I would like to share with the reader: the "Países Catalanes"2 are, as of several centuries ago, a cultural space which differentiates from that of the Spanish one. The first proof of this is the endurance, despite all manner of persecution, of the Catalan language. Now, is it only the language that gives this space its own differentiated culture? I don't believe so, as I shall now endeavour to explain.

Certainly, those of us who are members of the popular classes in Catalonia and the most conscientious sectors regarding the defence of a country's culture have perceived that the promotion and safeguarding of the Catalan language was a fundamental element in our nation's resistance in the face of the many oppressive forces we have suffered over the past centuries in the form of the Spanish and French States. Now, all of that being true, it is also true that the defence and promotion of a culture and a nation's own social projection cannot be expressed (today more so than ever before) exclusively by the defence of a language; not unless we wish to take the risk of trying to be just another space among others among a dominant (English-speaking) culture, which would be expressed (in our country) in Catalan. I believe, rather, that today we must consider that the presence and life of the Catalan language, in addition to expressing the social and community biodiversity of our world, is, above all, the medium through which a memory made over a thousand years of collective construction presents itself in the everyday life of a nation: the experience and the presence, during numerous processes, that have given way to today's Mediterranean Europe; generations of people with their own way of thinking, their own celebrations, rhythms, means of expression, and resistance to all sorts of oppression and homogenizing forces, etc.

The mere endurance of the language as a living medium in every aspect of individual and collective life guarantees the presence and the possibility for this millennial memory to act in the present day. Its loss (which, unfortunately, is still today a real possibility) would mean a serious amputation of a part of European and Mediterranean memory, and, therefore, a loss of information in the attempt to build an autonomous civilizing project in a multi-polar world; a project already underway.

From this perspective, we may identify within Catalan cultural identity different elements of resistance on one hand (whether in the face of the Spanish project of domination or in the face of the modern culture that homogenizes and disintegrates community realities), and, on the other, elements that show their creativity in the gestation of a Euro-Mediterranean civilizing framework. It is a constellation of language, culture, memory, and projection, which while reinforcing a national identity, still shows itself to be fertile in activating the capacity of the "Países Catalanes" to become open to the construction of new, shared spaces. Upon a first completely partial and provisional approach, I would like to point out the following elements:

  • The presence of a feeling of "Stateless" national identity, mostly all of the time in the presence of two States (the Spanish and the French) in complete opposition, has generated the need to build a dense social network of identities and associations of all kinds, guaranteeing the capacity to act as a people, all the while generating a popular and common associative dynamic, totally unconnected with the modern political dogmatism that centres on the notion of the individual citizen as the centre of political, social, economic relationships, etc... I believe that this has been expressed in the political traditions of the country, among which we may point out the uniqueness and power of Catalan anarchism (especially at the beginning of the century and during the revolutionary period from 1936 to 1939), or presently in the proliferation of "Casas de Cultura" (cultural centres), popular Athenaeums, and the promotion of community, civic, and regional associations,… in as much as they all form a part of the organization and expression characteristic of the "Movimiento Catalán de Liberación Nacional" (Catalan Movement for National Liberation).

  • The presence of a unique Christian tradition which, despite the institutional and hierarchical limitations of the past and the present, does not form a part of the tradition or being of the Spanish Church, nor of that of Roman, pro-Vatican Catholicism. Artistic, sociological and historical events all are a testament to that fact: from the unquestionable mark of Orient in the many manifestations of the Catalan Romanesque, to the Andalusian tint of the work of Raimon Llull; from the historic relationship of the "Países Catalanes" with the Cathars, to the presence of the "Dama Negra en Majestad" (Black Lady in Majesty)3 as a patron of our country; from Gaudí's "Sagrada Família", to the relatively autocephalic tradition represented by the symbol of the monastery at Montserrat; from the Tapestry of the Creation at the Council of Girona4, to the Council of Catalan Churches of 1995.

  • The endurance and recovery, over the past years, of numerous aspects of traditional and popular culture (dances, songs, celebrations, cuisine...) which serve as vehicles for popular creativity, reinforcing common bonds, and clearly situate our culture within the Mediterranean space, and offer effective resistance to large, "stupidifying" multinational companies: "pan amb tomaquet" (bread smeared with tomato), among other gastronomical traditions, is still a stiff competitor even in triumphant McDonald-land and Pizza-land). Within the enormous mosaic that this represents, I believe that it is important to point out two traditions: the festival of Sant Jordi (St. George), a festive and completely popular celebration of love, beauty, fragrance and wisdom, all embodied in the book and the rose- and the tradition of the "castells"5

I also believe it important to manifest the fact that, just as in any other reality, apart from creative powers, there are also destructive powers, which must be confronted if any project is to be successful. Among them, two must be pointed out:

  • The ability or inability of Catalan society to make the many popular segments of society coming from immigrant groups feel that they, too, are a part of our language and culture.

  • The ability or inability generate social and cultural dynamics that will break down the internal division and fragmentation imposed on the "Países Catalanes" by the French and Spanish States.

And so, I also believe that there exists a creative and resistant potential in the Catalan language and culture, which is expressed in the constellation of language, culture, memory and projection. The "seny" and the "rauxa"6 of the Catalans, man and women alike, must show us over the next few years if all of this will continue to be a sufficient base or not, be it in order to resist colonizing pressures of States and markets, or in order to generate creative social processes both nationally and on a civilizing scale, within the Mediterranean space.

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1 Since 1980, Jordi Pujol has been and continues to be the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, autonomous governmental organ of Catalonia.
2 The term "Países Catalanes" comprises Catalonia, País Valenciano, Balearic Islands, as well as the Principality of Andorra.
3 Reference to the Black Virgin, Our Lady of Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia.
4 Tapestry from the XIth century, on display at the Cathedral of Girona, and whose Christian iconography is clearly oriental in nature.
5 The "castells" (castles) are human towers that may reach up to 9 stories in height, and which require the collaboration of many individuals in order to be formed. The "castells" are built at popular celebrations in Catalonia, and there are many important contests.
6 "Seny" and "rauxa", tow notions used habitually in defining Catalan identity; they are terms difficult to translate. "Seny" must be interpreted as a balanced and tenacious attitude, while "Rauxa" is the exuberant creative impulse, not controlled rationally, but still not exactly irrational.

* Jesús Artiola is Coordinator of the Randa Fundation, dedicated to transdisciplinary and globalistic research in a Mediterranean perspective. Website:

© 2001 Alliance for a Responsible and United World. All rights reserved. Last updated March 2, 2001.