An inauguration and a Forrest Gump moment
Last Monday, while walking through the Barri Gotic neighborhood in Barcelona, we stumbled upon what was obviously a big event; tons of people, media, security, ceremonial guards — and this red carpet. A car pulled up, a great cheer arose from the waiting crowd and a well-dressed fellow acknowledged the people as he headed into the building, which was the Generalitat de Catalunya. Asking a nearby shopkeeper, we learned we had accidentally shown up for the arrival of Artur Mas to his inauguration. Mas is the newly re-elected President of Catalonia, an autonomous region in the northeast of Spain where they don’t like bullfighting and a lot of other things.
This is a place that most of us probably haven’t thought much about, but we may be hearing more going forward. Mas has promised to press the issue of Catalan independence with Madrid, which would be a very big deal. As Brad Plumer wrote for the Washington Post prior to the November election in Catalonia:
“Catalan nationalism isn’t exactly a new force. The region, which borders France, has its own language and has long seen itself as distinct from the rest of the country. But calls for independence have been growing louder during the euro zone debt crisis. Back in September, 1.5 million Catalans took to the streets for a pro-independence rally.
One big recent issue is taxes. As my colleague Edward Cody recently reported, Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain, and many Catalans feel that their taxes are being used to subsidize other, poorer states. When the Spanish economy was booming, that was an annoyance. Now that Spain is locked in a never-ending recession, with unemployment at 25 percent, Catalans want a greater say in their own finances.”
Over the years, the Basque separatist movement has simmered and occasionally boiled over in the northwest of Spain, too. It will be interesting to see if a referendum on independence is forthcoming in Catalonia, how it might turn out — and whether the current economic problems will combine with a long-standing desire for complete autonomy to change the face of Spain. But if it does, I suppose I would be even more grateful for having accidentally walked into a little piece of history that forced me to learn something about what was going on around us.