It might have escaped your attention, given that in August most Europeans are miles from home, lying under canvass, sunshine or each other, that some very important elections are rapidly approaching. Next month we get to choose the next Catalan government. Ordinarily this would generate as much excitement, both home and abroad, as invite to your mother-in-law’s birthday party, but, in the words of current Premier Artur Mas, ‘these elections are different’.
In a bid by some political parties to force Catalan independence from Spain, they have declared we will not be voting on the normal raft of policies this time around, but just one, ‘In’ or ‘Out’. A referendum in General Election format if you like. A third, ‘In but differently’ option has also been proffered, just too muddy the waters a wee nodge and the ‘In’ proponents are arguing differing levels of ‘in-ness’, but by and large it is fairly clear choice for Joe voter. If you want an independent Catalonia vote for this lot and if you don’t, vote for that lot.
The reason I bring all this up, in the middle of your summer holiday, is because when the September election is held and it does hit the international headlines, you will be able to nod sagely, clear you throat and impart a pearl of wisdom to your sun-burnt colleagues. So take note of the following:
Catalonia has been independent before, in fact as a country, it has been around a lot longer than Spain and you may be surprised to learn, even had a European empire in the Middle Ages.
The birth of the nation is attributed to the fabulously flocculent ‘Wilfred the Hairy,’ born in the mid 9th century and lasting until just before 10th. He is the original Catalan hero, driving out the Saracens and unifying the fiefdoms on either side of the Eastern Pyrenees into one country, Catalonia.
Surprisingly, apart from his apparent inability to use a razor, we know very little about this Catalan icon, except he had a fetish for building monasteries, fought a dragon and most famously is the man behind the myth behind the Catalan flag.
The story goes a little like this, after claiming victory, fighting for Frankish king Louis the Pious, at the siege of Barcelona, ol’ Wil heads back to his tent, battered and bloody, for a bit of R and R. He has just settled down on his chaise-longue for a well earned siesta when, presumably to the sound of trumpets, Louis himself rocks up to check in with his piliferous ally. The French monarch spies Wilfred’s gold-leaf covered shield propped up by the door ‘sans emblem’ and decides to reward the Catalan’s battle heroics with some on-the-spot heraldry. Dipping his fingers into Wilfred’s own blood, Louis drew four vertical stripes down the shield, thus creating the Senyera, the Catalan flag that adorns government buildings, official papers and the FC Barcelona away shirt.
So when you are back at work in September and on the News you see the debate on Catalan independence heating up between the Separatists, pro-Republicans and the Leaveitaloneists, consider yourself now fully versed in the historical background of Catalonia, just in case the conversation gets hairy.