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Football And Politics In Catalunia

Jul 11, 2008
Perhaps it's the lack of a Catalan side to support that causes even the most nationalist of Catalans to put divisions aside. Was this an interesting glance at the mechanics of perceived division?

It's been said of the nationalist leaders of Catalunya and Spain's other regions armed with claims to autonomy, that they're out of touch with the woof and warp of mainstream society. Nationalist aspirations, some say, may have peaked.

Indeed the Catalan nationalist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) now holds only 21 seats in the Catalan Regional Parliament - far fewer than its counterparts in the current leftwing tripartite. But has football really united Spain? It never has the UK, which comes with its own deep-seated divisions. But then each of the UK regions with claims to self-government has their own football team.

Jane Elliot demonstrated irrational class systems based on arbitrary factors. Her bracing "blue-eyed/brown-eyed" exercise originated in the classroom, where first the brown-eyed children and then the blue-eyed children were made superior. As a result of this process of labelling, children of 'superior' eye-colour both outperformed children of 'inferior' eye-colour and their usual selves, while children of 'inferior' eye-colour underachieved. This would seem to demonstrate the power of, in this case, white-dominated constructions of reality.

While Jane Elliot's exercise has roots in tackling racism, there are other constructions of reality that cause irrational divisions and sometimes very real difference. Nation states are the latest entity of identity after tribes. Barcelona has long sought to exert Catalunya, which negotiated its autonomy alongside other regions following Franco's death in 1975, as a nation. Regional expression and the Catalan language, banned for 40 years under Franco, have flourished. And Catalunya is recognised as a historic nationality.

But Barcelona-based regional power, supported by a significant percentage of the population, want greater autonomy including, among other things, greater powers to collect on taxes.

The drive for greater autonomy has done little to endear Catalans, often labelled as thrifty, joyless souls by the rest of Spain. In 2005, cava lost some of its sparkle during a Spanish boycott of Catalan goods by critics of the drive for Catalan independence.

Perhaps the Catalan support for Spain in the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship is a turning point. Or perhaps allegiances are constructions that unite or untie us as quick as you like. In football as well as political terms, Real Madrid is normally the archrival. Big league Spanish clubs have powerful local identities, which have often been used to reinforce social cohesion politically, while the national side has lacked style and success over recent decades.

But now there is style and success, and there is local representation: The national side draws heavily from 'Barca'. And on Sunday 30 June 2008 at least, Barca crowds saw something of themselves in a Spanish national entity.
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