Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Els Segadors – a fortunate contrast between lyrics and national identity

During the summer, media has reported on the efforts currently being made to add words to sing to the Spanish national anthem. The aim is to create lyrics with a meaning to the people of Spain, something that is not easily accomplished in a state where big parts of the population prefer to present themselves as separate nationalites. One thing is sure – if they ever manage, the text will be very different from Els Segadors, Catalonia’s national anthem.

Today is September 11 and while the rest of the world will remember the appalling events on Manhattan in 2001, many Catalans will first and foremost look back at something which took place almost 300 years ago. Just before lunch today, I brought my two small sons to the Francesc Macià statue in Vilanova to let them take part in Catalonia's national holiday. Many national holidays serve to celebrate a victory or a major achievement, but here we commemorate a defeat which, on September 11 of 1714, resulted in that Catalonia lost its sovereignty.

Media usually focus on negative news so it is the nationalist struggles for a Basque Country independent from Spain which foreigners tend to know about. It is a sad fact that terrorist group ETA is again actively making use of bombs to reach their goals. For that reason, I want to point out that Catalan nationalism is peaceful and that the relatively high autonomy this region enjoys has been won through successive and democratic reforms. Interestingly enough, this stands in sharp contrast to the fight for freedom as described in Els Segadors, the national anthem.

Since the traditions of Catalonia receive a lot of attention in school here, I hope that teachers wait until children have reached a certain age before the start to analyse its lyrics. A modern interpretation can be that sickles are to be swung at any chain which restrict our freedom, but the text can easily be misinterpreted. Personally, I can not help it, but it makes me recall gruesome pictures of how the Hutus went about to allegedly liberate themselves from Tutsies in Rwanda in 1994. The lyrics of the Catalan national anthem should, as I see it, only be explained as a document of how people used to feel and act back in history. I hope that school will guide my sons to learn to solve conflicts without violence, and that teachers do not attempt to defend the ambiguities of Els Segadors only because it is one of the symbols of Catalonia.

Judging from the calm faces of our sensible fellow citizens while we were singing the anthem today, I have no doubt about the Catalan people’s non-violent approach in gaining further self-determination. As on earlier occasions, in his speach, local mayor Joan Ignasi Elena stressed this by encouraging people to make use of their Catalan identity to support the integration of newcomers and keep an open mind to the outside world. Having said that, I admit to be happy that my oldest son did not ask me any questions about Els Segadors. Already next year, when he will be five years old, I can expect him to be a lot less innocent. Before then I will have to find some good answers to what we are aiming at with the sickles.

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