Front Page: All Of Spain Behind La Roja?

Two of the leading newspapers in the Catalan region of Spain splash huge crowds with flags flying across their front page: but there is not a World Cup referencing Spanish-flag to be found on the day of the World Cup final. Instead, both El Punt (the leading newspaper only published in the Catalan language) and La Vanguardia (Spain’s fourth most-read newspaper, mainly sold in Catalonia) devote their covers to the mass political protests in Barcelona yesterday. El Punt’s headline: The cry of a people.

Those protests saw a million-strong crowd show reaffirming the desire of the Catalan people for greater regional autonomy within Spain for Catalonia, and protesting a recent Spanish high court ruling that threatens to end its right to call itself a nation.

El Punt – Barcelona Edition, published in Barcelona, Spain. 11 July 2010.

Catalonia, Spain, Newspaper, World Cup finalLa Vanguardia, published in Barcelona, Spain. 11 July 2010.

Catalonia, World Cup final, Barcelona

These front page images in a soccer-mad region on the day Spain plays in its first-ever World Cup final tell a different story to that of a Spain united by football. Spain’s success at the World Cup, it is being said, has brought unprecedented displays of Spanish national pride to Catalonia or the Basque Country, as this Guardian article today argued:

Catalans and the Basques have been flying the flag for the Reds

They call it “the red effect”. It has spread down Spanish streets on the torsos of hundreds of thousands of fans wearing the shirt of the national soccer team, La Roja or “The Red”, and threatens to over-run even the most obdurately separatist corners of the country. On nights when the team notches up another World Cup victory it turns into a musical chant: “I am Spanish! Spanish! Spanish!” they shout joyfully. “I am Spanish! Spanish! Spanish!” [ . . ]

Such an outpouring of national pride also raises challenging questions about Spain’s vision of itself. This is a “nation of nations” according to some, who see Catalonia and the Basque country as unrecognised nations which, like Scotland, deserve their own football teams. Spain oppresses other nations, according to separatists, including to the Basque terror group Eta – which exacts its revenge in blood. The country’s constitutional court disagrees. “Our constitution recognises no nation but Spain,” it affirmed on Friday in a stern rebuke to Catalans who hoped a new autonomy statute might formally allow them to be known as a nation within Spain.

Thousands of Catalans marched through Barcelona’s streets denouncing the court’s decision to strike out parts of the statute. The march was led by the socialist head of the regional government, José Montilla, and his two predecessors. A massive flag bearing the red and yellow stripes of Catalonia, supposedly originally drawn on by the bloodied fingers of a warring Catalan count, preceded the procession.

But the march could not have been worse timed, according to Josep-Lluis Carod-Rovira, deputy leader of the Catalan regional government and a leader of the separatist Catalan Republican Left party. “This is ridiculous,” he complained. “We will end up with more Spanish flags being waved for the Spain-Holland match on Sunday than Catalan flags on the Saturday demonstration.”

Barcelona did not experience the same wild celebrations that provoked gridlock in parts of Madrid after the semi-final win against Germany on Wednesday, but Carod-Rovira is right that growing support for La Roja overshadows attempts to assert Catalonia’s “different” identity.

The pictures above on the covers of El Punt and La Vanguardia from Saturday’s demonstration suggest the importance of Spain’s World Cup success is being overplayed in that account, as we see waves of Catalan flags and nary a Spanish one, despite Carod-Rovira’s concern that “We will end up with more Spanish flags being waved for the Spain-Holland match on Sunday than Catalan flags on the Saturday demonstration.”  It appears politics surpassed the World Cup.

Despite this, a Málaga daily portrays Spain as playing today “for an entire country”. Perhaps for 90 minutes. . .

Málaga Hoy, published in Málaga, Spain. 11 July 2010.

El Roja, Spain

Images courtesy newseum.org. Any better translations from native speakers gratefully accepted!

17 thoughts on “Front Page: All Of Spain Behind La Roja?

  1. Ryan Knapp

    Good points Tom. Having actually studied this in my honors thesis for Linguistics and my Masters project, the whole Catalan v Spain argument is getting more and more prevalent and actually more and more likely that at some point in our lifetime we may see a country known as Catalunya.

    There are plenty of Catalans who feel they are not part of Spain, and who identify themselves as being from Catalunya and not from Spain. Case and point is one of my good friends who just had a baby and will refuse to teach that baby Spanish, opting for teaching her Catalan instead. Common for those who move outside of the country but are fiercely Catalan.

    But today I just got a Facebook invite asking me to come over to watch the World Cup final at his house. Hence the juxtaposition.

    The loyalty begins during the Franco regime when Catalan and all other languages were outlawed by Franco’s saying ‘Si eres español, hablas español´ (if you’re spanish, speak spanish). People were jailed and some even killed speaking the language. The same for Basque in Pais Vasco, but ETA’s resorting to violence has overshadowed their want for an independent state.

    The editorial in El Punt above sums it up (translated from Catalan, not my native lg, but I’m not bad at it):

    The Catalan people went into the street in a massive protest to defend their dignity. We are going to show that we aren´t only a nation, but also this is an extrodinary exercise in autodetermination which we will decide that we we a nation, perfectly well and will decide our own future. A showing of unity because the massive match is not the end of a rebirth, but rather only the beginning.

    Notice the word dignity. Pretty strong.

  2. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Ryan, thanks very much for the insight and the translation and it’s fascinating to hear about the juxtapositions of identity at the personal level of your friend, as well. I suppose that brings up the possibility that, contrary to some common lines of thinking, sport and identity aren’t necessarily entirely correlated: Spanish games at the World Cup have achieved massive viewing figures in Catalonia (albeit, there’s obviously a massive Barcelona presence), and perhaps many in that region are cheering for Spain at a sporting level, but that doesn’t necessarily make those people feel any more Spanish than Catalan once the game ends.

  3. ursus arctos

    As Ryan notes, the language question is central to the debate, largely due to hisorical reasons, and it is not at all surprising that the protests were triggered by a court decision calling into question the gains the Catalans have made in that context.

    As far as football goes, I think that it is significant that roughly half the team that Spain will field in the final have turned out for the Catalan national side (Puyol, Capdevilla, Pique, Busquets, Xavi ; and Iniesta has played for them as a “guest”) and that some of them (particularly Busquets) are avowed nationalists.

    It thus isn’t difficult for football-mad Catalyunan nationalists to see a victory for “Spain” as a victory for “Catalunya”.

  4. Ryan Knapp

    Definitely Tom. And why at Christmas time you will still have the Catalan ‘National’ Team play some other country in a friendly.

    Identity is always a slippery slope when conducting research. When I would prepare questionnaires for participants in Catalonia, asking who they identify with, or what is their identity evokes strong feeling which often skews results.

    It should also be noted the minority who are radical often get the press (i.e. the front page of newspapers) while those who are lukewarm on the issue calmly sit by and wave their Spanish flags and support the country they are from, instead of the country they think they should be.

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  6. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Excellent point, ursus, hadn’t thought of it quite that way. The Catalan identity of so many in the Spanish team is bound to be perceived so differently around the country and from outside it (if observed at all), depending on the perspective one wants to have on it (it could equally be seen as unifying, of course). And that old trope about competing national identities being the root cause of Spanish World Cup failure might finally be put to rest today….

    Ryan, this is such an interesting subject which I obviously have neither the language skills nor the local knowledge to explore properly — but I didn’t think the Guardian article referenced above really explored the issue very well. If you or anyone else spots any other pieces on this in the English-language, please feel free to share the link here.

  7. ursus arctos

    [url-http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/fifaworldcup/blog/2010/07/basque-catalan-players-indispensable-for-spain.html]Pre-demonstration piece from Sid Lowe that reads truer to me than the Tremlett article.[/url]

  8. Stephen Lazar

    Thanks for this post. I was planning on spending my morning looking for the types of front pages you included on this and other posts so I could use them for a lesson on Nationalism in the World History class I teach. I was in Spain for the ’08 cup on my honeymoon and was looking forward to enjoying a raucous Spanish crowd for the games, but was totally unaware of all of this at the time. We ended up watching one of the games in an Irish pub full of Brits, Germans, and Americans because we couldn’t find a single place in Barcelona even showing the game.

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  10. ursus arctos

    Tom, I tried to post a Sid Lowe blog post from the CBC (Canada) website on this yesterday, but am guessing the url caused issues for your spam filter.

    It may be worth trying to find on your own. It’s the first result if you google “sid lowe cbc catalan”.

    I think that Lowe gets it basically right (as usual) and the piece is interesting because it demonstrates that the situation is rather more complicated than the Guardian piece would have one believe.

  11. FootballMS

    Would Catalynya have won the World cup instead of Spain? Quite possibly but the downside for them is that Barcelona woudl lose the quality of the league they play in week in week out

  12. ursus arctos

    Does Iniesta qualify on residence?

    If so, Catalunya have a shot to get into the last eight, but I’m not sure that they get further with Valdes instead of Iker and Bojan instead of Villa.

  13. Steve

    It’s a fascinating question. A good friend of mine and I came to support Spain through our Barcelona fandom. It was easy to overlook, for instance, Sergio Ramos’ place on the team because there were 6 starters from the blaugrana (including the newly naturalized David Villa).

    It makes you wonder if, too, Spain was successful because there were so many players not from Madrid on this team. This is a team that has always been fractured along club/tribal lines. But the lack of a Madrid core made it easier for other parts of the country to cheer for them, I believe.

    Catalunya certainly would have been competitive in European qualifying, if not very deep. Iniesta has played for Catalunya before (2004) as a guest player. Given that he has spent more of his life in Barcelona than anywhere else, he could certainly qualify but must have made the decision not to.

  14. avşa adası

    Love the funky colours of these! it’s always a problem trying to keep the sun of the little ones in the buggy – i bought a shade-a-babe which is like a raincover which fits over the buggy although it does make it pretty dark in there and the babies don’t much like it unless you are using it to help them get to sleep. but these are great!