The concept of the Catalan Countries includes territories of the following regions:
Aragon (for Western Strip or La Franja)
Murcia (for Carche)
|France||Roussillon in the Pyrénées-Orientales department|
|Andorra||Where Catalan is the sole official language|
|Italy||Alghero ( Sardinia)|
The Catalan Countries (Catalan: Països Catalans, Eastern Catalan: [pəˈizus kətəˈɫans], Western Catalan: [paˈizos kataˈlans]), is a controversial umbrella term used to designate both the territories associated with the different varieties of the Catalan language as well as a pan-nationalist project to create an independent state out of them. The exact geographical delimitation is somewhat ambiguous, because while originally the term was applied strictly to the Catalan-speaking areas, nowadays most often the parts of the Valencian Community where Catalan is not spoken are also included.
Among the diverse territories covered by the term, Andorra corresponds to a country in the sense of sovereign state whereas the rest of the territories covered are linguistic areas or regional subdivisions located primarily in Spain, but also including Roussillon in France and the city of Alghero in Sardinia (Italy). Out of the territories included, the concept only enjoys majority support in Catalonia. Elsewhere, particularly in the Valencian Community, it is widely viewed with hostility as an expression of Catalan cultural and political expansionism, to the point that a majority of its population considers Valencian to be a different language to Catalan.
The Països Catalans do not correspond to any present or past political or administrative unit, though most of the area belonged to the Crown of Aragon in the Middle Ages.
The first mentions of the term date back to the late 19th century, but it never gained currency outside a small circle of Catalan authors until its strictly cultural dimension became increasingly politically charged by the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Francoism began to die out in Spain. Thus, what had remained to date as a cultural term restricted to connoisseurs of Catalan philology rose to prominence and became highly controversial during the Spanish Transition period, most acrimoniously in Valencia during the 1980s.
Països Catalans has different meanings depending on the context. These can be roughly classified in two groups: linguistic or political, the political definition of the concept being the widest, since it also encompasses the linguistic side of it.
As a linguistic term, Països Catalans is used in a similar fashion to the English Anglosphere, the French Francophonie, the Portuguese Lusofonia or the Spanish Hispanophone territories. However, it is not universally accepted, even as a linguistic concept, in the territories it purports to unite.
As a political term, it refers to a number of political projects as advocated by supporters of Catalan independence. These, based on the linguistic fact, argue for the existence of a common national identity that would surpass the limits of each territory covered by this concept and would apply also to the remaining ones. These movements advocate for "political collaboration" amongst these territories. This often stands for their union and political independence. As a consequence of the opposition these political projects have received –notably in some of the territories described by this concept – some cultural institutions avoid the usage of Països Catalans in some contexts, as a means to prevent any political interpretation; in these cases, equivalent expressions (such as Catalan-speaking countries) or others (such as the linguistic domain of Catalan language) are used instead.
|The Catalan / Valencian cultural domain|
Map of Catalan language domain
Catalan and its variants is spoken in:
- the Spanish Autonomous Communities of
- Catalonia – even though in the comarca of Val d'Aran, Occitan is considered the language proper to that territory;
- Aragon, in a Catalan-speaking area named "La Franja" ("The Strip");
- the Balearic Islands and
- as Valencian, in the Valencian Community, with the exception of some western and southern comarques where Spanish is the only language spoken;
- Andorra, a European sovereign state where Catalan is the national and only official language.
- most of the French department of the Pyrénées-Orientales, also called Le Pays Catalan (The Catalan Country) in French or Catalunya (del) Nord (Northern Catalonia) in Catalan;
- the Italian city of Alghero, in the island of Sardinia, where a variant of Catalan is spoken.
Catalan is the official language of Andorra, co-official with Spanish and Occitan in Catalonia, co-official with Spanish in the Balearic Islands and the Valencian Community—with the denomination of Valencian in the latter—and co-official with Italian in the city of Alghero. It is also part of the recognized minority languages of Italy along with Sardinian, also spoken in Alghero.
It is not official in Aragon, Murcia or the Pyrénées-Orientales, even though on 10 December 2007 the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales officially recognized Catalan, along with French, as a language of the department. In 2009, the Catalan language was declarated llengua pròpia (with Aragonese language) of Aragon.
Trans-regional cultural collaboration
There are several endeavors and collaborations amongst some of the diverse government and cultural institutions involved. One such case is the Ramon Llull Institute (IRL), founded in 2002 by the government of the Balearic Islands and the government of Catalonia. Its main objective is to promote the Catalan language and culture abroad in all its variants, as well as the works of writers, artists, scientists and researchers of the regions which are part of it. In 2008, in order to extend the collaboration to institutions from all across the Catalan Countries, the IRL and the government of Andorra (which formerly had enjoyed occasional collaboration, most notably in the Frankfurt Book Fair of 2007) created the Ramon Llull Foundation (FRL), an international cultural institution with the same goals as the IRL. In 2009, the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales, the city council of Alghero and the Network of Valencian Cities (an association of a few Valencian city councils) joined the FRL as well.
In December 2012 the Balearic islands representatives, now members of the conservative Partido Popular, PP announced that the Balearic islands abandoned the Llull institute thus leaving the institution mostly as a Catalan only one.
Another relevant example is the Joan Lluís Vives Institute, a collaborative network consisting of universities in the Catalan linguistic domain.
The term is controversial because many non-Catalans see the concept of the Països Catalans as regional exceptionalism, counterpoised to a centralizing Spanish and French national identity. Others see it as an attempt by a Catalonia-proper-centered nationalism to lay a hegemonic claim to the historically Catalan regions in southern France or in Spain, to Valencia or to the Balearic Islands, where the prevailing feeling is that they have their own respective historical personalities, not necessarily related to Catalonia's, as the Països Catalans term would suggest. Some authors, also within the Catalan literature, have dubbed the term as "inconvenient", while attesting that the concept has generated more reactions against it than actual positive adhesions.
Thus, in extensive areas included in the territories designated by some as Països Catalans, Catalan nationalist sentiment is uncommon or nonexistent. For example, in the Valencian Community case, the Esquerra Repúblicana del País Valencià (ERPV) is the most relevant party explicitly supportive of the idea but its representation is limited to a total of four local councilors elected in three municipalities (out of a total of 5,622 local councilors elected in the 542 Valencian municipalities). At the regional level, it has run twice (2003 and 2007) to the regional Parliament election, receiving less than 0.50% of the total votes. In all, its role in Valencian politics is currently marginal.
There are other parties which consider this term only in its cultural or linguistical fact, not believing in national-political unity, as in the case of the Bloc Nacionalista Valencià. The Valencian Nationalist Bloc (Valencian: Bloc Nacionalista Valencià, Bloc or BNV; IPA: [ˈblɔɡ nasionaˈlista valensiˈa]) is the largest Valencian nationalist party in the Valencian Country, Spain.
The Bloc's main aim is, as stated in their guidelines, "to achieve full national sovereignty for the Valencian people, and make it legally declared by a Valencian sovereign Constitution allowing the possibility of association with the countries which share the same language, history and culture". For the 2011 Valencian regional elections, they stood in a new electoral coalition called Coalició Compromís and won six seats (out of ninety nine) in the regional parliament.
The subject became very controversial during the politically agitated Spanish Transition in what was to become the Valencian Community, especially in and around the city of Valencia. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Spanish Autonomous Communities system was taking shape, the controversy reached its height. Various Valencian right-wing politicians (originally from Unión de Centro Democrático) fearing what was seen as an annexation attempt from Catalonia, fueled a violent Anti-Catalanist campaign against local supporters of the concept of the Països Catalans, which even included a handful of unsuccessful attacks with explosives against authors perceived as flagships of the concept, such as Joan Fuster or Manuel Sanchis i Guarner. The concept's revival during this period was behind the formation of the fiercely opposed and staunch anti-Catalan blaverist movement, led by Unió Valenciana, which, in turn, significantly diminished during the 1990s and the 2000s as the Països Catalans controversy slowly disappeared from the Valencian political arena.
This confrontation between politicians from Catalonia and Valencia very much diminished in severity during the course of the late 1980s and, especially, the 1990s as the Valencian Community's regional government became consolidated. Since then, the topic has lost most of its controversial potential, even though occasional clashes may appear from time to time, such as controversies regarding the broadcasting of Catalan television in Valencia —and vice versa— or the usage by Catalan official institutions of terms which are perceived in Valencia as Catalan nationalistic, such as Països Catalans or País Valencià (Valencian Country).
As for the other territories, there are no political parties even mentioning the Països Catalans as a public issue neither in Andorra, nor in la Franja, Carche or Alghero. In the Balearic islands, support for parties related to Catalan nationalism is around 10% of the total votes. Reversely, the Popular Party –which is a staunch opponent of whatever political implications for the Països Catalans concept– is the majority party in Valencia and the Balearic islands.
Even though the topic has been largely absent from the political agenda as of late, in December 2013 the regional Parliament of the Balearic islands passed an official declaration  in defence of its autonomy and in response to a prior declaration by the Catalan regional Parliament which included reference to the term in question. In the declaration of the Balearic islands parliament, it was stated that the so-called "Països Catalans do not exist and the Balearic islands do not take part in any 'Catalan country' whatsoever".
In July 2014, the ex-mayor of Alghero, Carlo Sechi, dubbed the official delegations of the Catalan Generalitat and Omnium Cultural in that city as colonialist and as an attempt of interfering with Algherese matters.
The Spanish Constitution of 1978 contains a clause forbidding the formation of federations amongst autonomous communities. Therefore, if it were the case that the Països Catalans idea gained a majority democratic support in future elections, a constitutional amendment would still be needed for those parts of the Països Catalans lying in Spain to create a common legal representative body, even though in the addenda to the Constitution there is a clause allowing an exception to this rule in the case of Navarre, which can join the Basque Country should the people choose to do so.
The term Països Catalans was first documented in "Historia del Derecho en Cataluña, Mallorca y Valencia. Código de las Costumbres de Tortosa, I" (History of the Law in Catalonia, Majorca and Valencia. Code of the Customs of Tortosa, I) written by the Valencian Law historian Benvingut Oliver i Esteller.
The term was both challenged and reinforced by the use of the term "Occitan Countries" from the Oficina de Relacions Meridionals (Office of Southern Relations) in Barcelona by 1933. Another proposal which enjoyed some popularity during the Renaixença was "Pàtria llemosina" (Llemosine Motherland), proposed by Victor Balaguer as a federation of Catalan-speaking provinces; both these coinages were based on the theory that Catalan is a dialect of Occitan.
None of these names reached widespread cultural usage and the term nearly vanished until it was rediscovered, redefined and put in the center of the identity cultural debate by Valencian writer Joan Fuster. In his book Nosaltres els valencians (We, the Valencians, published in 1962) a new political interpretation of the concept was introduced; from the original, meaning roughly Catalan-speaking territories, Fuster developed a political inference closely associated to Catalan nationalism. This new approach would refer to the Catalan Countries as a more or less unitary nation with a shared culture which had been divided by the course of history, but which should logically be politically reunited. Fuster's preference for Països Catalans gained popularity, and previous unsuccessful proposals such as Comunitat Catalànica (Catalanic Community) or Bacàvia (after Balearics-Catalonia-Valencia) diminished in use.
Today, the term is politically charged, and tends to be closely associated with Catalan nationalism and supporters of Catalan independence. The idea of uniting these territories in an independent state is supported by a number of political parties, ERC being the most important in terms of representation (21 members in the Parliament of Catalonia) and CUP (3 members). ERPV, PSAN (currently integrated in SI), Estat Català also support this idea to a greater or lesser extent.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Catalan Countries.|
- Catalan Countries in the English version of the Catalan Hiperencyclopedia.
- Lletra. Catalan Literature Online
- The Spirit of Catalonia. 1946 book by Oxford Professor Dr. Josep Trueta
- Catalan Countries