If you have been following recent events in Catalunya, you probably already know about the political climate that exists around Barça’s home region. If not, allow me to sum up a couple of events: on September 11th, Catalunya’s National Day, 1.5 million people went out onto the streets, displaying la senyera (the red-yellow striped Catalan flag), to demand Catalunya’s independence from Spain. Just a few days later, and after a disappointing meeting with Spain’s Prime Minister, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Artur Mas, brought together Parliament to call for anticipated elections. On November 25th, Catalans will make their voices heard loudly once more, as they will elect a new president and new representatives. This time, it seems the politicians have listened to the people, and it is almost certain that the new elected government will be calling for a referendum, the people’s chance to vote for independence.
Catalunya is experiencing a crucial moment, one that could become a key moment in its history. After years of submission to the Spanish kingdom, Catalunya’s willingness to build its own state from its established institutions, culture and personality, is more alive than ever. The Catalans don’t want to separate from Spain just for the sake of it: the Catalan people (and finally, their representatives too) understand that their needs as a community are very different and are not being covered by the Spanish state. They understand that they would be better off, not only for economical reasons, but also for social and cultural reasons. They are another country, and that’s not their fault. It’s just the way it is, the way history has molded them.
This article is not intended to defend the Catalan people’s right to rule their own destiny (click here to find a better insight on this issue from the opinion pages of the New York Times). Instead, this article aims to illustrate how Barça fits into this possible new reality, and to explain the importance of Barça for Catalans as a national institution. It also seeks to express that, considering the wider issues (which encompasses social and cultural change beyond just the political), there are much more transcendental issues than just worrying whether we will have a clásico every year.
There are few institutions in the world able to represent an entire country in the way that Barça does. When people think of Barça, most immediately also think about Catalunya. Barça seems to be, in many ways, an extension of Catalunya, especially for foreigners who know little about the region, but a lot about the club. Barça belongs to Catalunya in an indissoluble way, and the country is reflected and projected through the club due to its global reach.
In the early years of the club, Barça played a key role in helping Catalan society survive the cruel years of repression, during the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco. During this almost 40 year period, Catalans were forbidden to speak their own language, their typical cultural expressions were also banned, and their history was altered. There are generations of people in Catalunya that can speak Catalan very well, but they can’t write it, as it wasn’t taught in school when they were young. Besides this, there were severe restriction on people meeting under any circumstances. All of these restrictions made Barça’s stadium, first the old Les Corts field and then Camp Nou, the favourite place for Catalans to express their feelings. The stadium became a place where people could express themselves and their Catalan identities without fear, even if it was only for 90 minutes every two weeks or so. On these days, the stadium also became a place to plead for independence. The pleas continue to this day, as you might have noticed in both games played at the Camp Nou following the big demonstration in September. Here, a small video of that moment against Spartak Moscow:
(video by Pako Beer)
At those stadiums, Catalan would be spoken (carefully, but still) and people would make their feelings regarding Spain known. One example was the booing of the the national anthem in 1925, when dictator Primo de Rivera was in command of the whole country. This cost Barça a 6 month ban from Les Corts, and a lot of institutional problems. For many, supporting Barça has become a way of supporting Catalunya as well, even if in the guise of football. Years later, with Franco installed in Madrid, Barça suffered bombings, the assassination of president Sunyol, and many other difficult events, such as in 1943, when players were threatened by Franco’s forces in order to let Madrid win. But more than all of this, Barça represented, often symbolically but also by its very existence, the willingness of the Catalan people to say they were still there.
Eventually, after Franco’s death and with the restoration of Catalunya’s administrative institutions, the region began attracting a lot of people from the rest of Spain owing to the businesses being created and industrial activity taking off. Many others have come to make Catalunya their home: people from South America, Asia, Europe, etc. Barça has walked alongside Catalunya in enriching fans from all over the world. Success was a key factor in both the club and the region attracting more people, but these people have stayed on, once they have comprehended Barça and Catalunya’s principles and culture.
Catalunya has welcomed people from all over Spain and the world, and Barça has done pretty much the same. While a strong local cultural base is supporting them, diversity is also valued in both: Barça has welcomed players from all over the world, but still has its own identity, born through a mix of Dutch influence and La Masia’s unique model. Catalunya has welcomed people for centuries, integrating them and benefiting from their backgrounds, but maintaining its social and cultural roots that come from centuries of history.
There is another strong link between Barça and Catalunya, one of symbolism. Barça has adopted “la senyera” (the Catalan flag) into its seal, which was changed during Franco, but restored afterwards. Barça celebrates all the important dates in Catalunya, taking part in the Diada Nacional (Sept. 11), the Diada de Sant Jordi (similar to Saint Valentine’s Day for Catalans, on April 23rd) and other events. An important regional symbol will be on display this Sunday, when the Camp Nou will create a giant senyera made of red and yellow papers as the mosaic before the match:
So, after these recent events, as people come to realize that Catalunya’s bid for independence is becoming more serious, there is, naturally, a note of worry as to what would become of Barça as a football team. Would there still be clásicos? Would we continue to play in La Liga? Will our players stay? These are all valid questions, but the answers are difficult to know. What we do know is that today, Barça is an important asset for Spanish football. Money is made by our club that not only benefits us, but the entire system: television rights have a price, and that price includes the best players in the world, and many of them play for Barça. La Liga will certainly not be the same without us and, if you ask me, I’d say they can’t afford to lose Barça. From what we have seen from our players and those in the youth system, Catalunya has more material for a competitive national team than many other European countries. So that shouldn’t be a problem either. Barça’s greatness is not measured these days by what country’s league the club is affiliated with. It’s measured by its fanbase, the values the club shares, and the model of growth that is consolidating after more than 30 years of continuous work from the youth teams.
So, if anyone is worried about Barça in relation to the future of Catalunya, I would say there is no reason to worry. Instead, one should be in awe of this remarkable process of social change that is hopefully about to happen in Europe. With a strong Catalunya, there is no other limit for Barça than the sky.
Pictures by Alexandra Jonson, Sport, E-notìcies and Wikipedia.