Pro-independence Catalans: ‘I’ve never felt Spanish’

GIRONA, Spain (AP) — To sense the conflicting currents of identity that have led Spain to the edge of a constitutional cliff, look no farther than Girona, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Barcelona. Maps and world governments say it’s in Spain — but many residents consider it part of an independent republic of Catalonia.

Amid the party atmosphere of a festival weekend, many in this secessionist stronghold cheered the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence from Spain, a country they don’t regard as their own.

“I’ve never felt Spanish in my life,” said graphic designer Anna Faure as Girona celebrated the annual festival of its patron saint with food, music, a carnival and displays of the gravity-defying sport of human towers, known as castells.

Faure says castells is a true Catalan tradition, a view she doesn’t hold about Spanish icons such as bullfighting, which Catalan authorities have tried to ban, or Flamenco, an import from Andalucia in southern Spain.

Flamenco is fine, she said, but “it’s not mine.”

Many people in this northeastern region of 7.5 million believe Catalonia’s language, history and cultural traditions — even Catalans’ ironic sense of humor — set it apart from the rest of Spain.

That feeling of separateness has mixed with a volatile blend of wounded pride, economic pain and political animosity to create a crisis that could break up Spain.

The country has been in constitutional turmoil since Catalans backed independence in an Oct. 1 referendum that was dismissed as illegal by Spain. When the regional parliament voted Friday to declare independence, Madrid fired the Catalan government and called a new election.

No one knows how the crisis will end, but many Catalans feel it has been a long time coming.

“We wouldn’t have arrived at this point if they had treated us well for many years,” said illustrator Judit Alguero, expressing a common feeling that the authorities in Madrid are at best neglectful and at worst hostile to Catalan aspirations.

The seeds of that feeling, and of Catalonia’s modern independence movement, germinated during the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco between 1939 and 1975. Franco banned the official use of the Catalan language and executed or imprisoned opposition politicians and activists.

Stories of that repressive era are part of the lore of many Catalan families.