Catalan Identity Lessons From A Spanish Son In Switzerland

You shouldn't play with fire, with the deepest feelings of a people. That counts for Catalonia, but also for smaller battles of belonging, like those in Swiss cantons.

Taking another look at Catalonia
Taking another look at Catalonia
Antonio Rodriguez


It's a shame the parents of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy didn't emigrate from Galicia to Switzerland, as my own parents did. We could imagine that helping him better understand and manage the Catalan crisis.

In the 1960s, when my parents' generation moved to Switzerland, they got a taste of what had been for them a forbidden fruit in the Francoist Spain they'd left: democracy. They observed with surprise how the Swiss would go to the polls several times a year to express their opinion about issues as diverse as alcoholism or water pollution.

They soon became a political issue themselves, and they looked on, incredulous, as the Swiss were called to vote on the presence of immigrants in their country. I remember the anxiety of these two Sundays, in 1970 and 1974, as we waited for the result of these initiatives on capping immigration. Most of all, I remember our great relief when the news on TV told us we wouldn't have to pack our bags.

Thanks to their emigration, my parents' generation, the one that had grown up in post-civil war Spain, discovered that democracy wasn't the diabolical invention they'd been told about. In Switzerland, people were able to debate without breaking up with their families, to campaign without beating up the other side's flag bearer and to express their points of view without turning over the fondue pot in the middle of the table.

What a shame that Mariano Rajoy's parents didn't emigrate to the city of Delémont. There, their son would have experienced in full immersion the organization of a self-determination referendum. That was on June 23, 1974, when people from the Jura region voted to secede from the canton of Berne to create their own canton.

In the year that preceded this referendum, I remember how we'd follow the Jurassic People's Festival from our windows. Tens of thousands of people would demonstrate peacefully shouting "Free Jura!" Afterwards, they would meet under the great tent outside the Delémont castle to dance, just like Galicians used to do in their village festivals.

In such an environment, the young Mariano Rajoy would perhaps have identified with the Jurassic separatists, like I did. When I was 10, my teammates in the local junior soccer club destroyed a Bernese flag on the shores of Lake Biel as we headed to a tournament in Geneva. I joined them, thus disobeying my parents who didn't want anything to do with what they called "cosas de Suizos," matters for the Swiss that were none of our business.

My description of these years might start to sound romanticized. I know there also were excess and clashes, but the solution was ultimately reached through democracy. It would have been a lesson for Mariano Rajoy.

Suppression is an admission of weakness, a mistake.

It really is a shame that he didn't grow up in this newly created canton of Jura. In the early 1980s, he would have been able to see from his window, just like I did, dozens of people demonstrating with the senyera, the Catalan flag. The newborn canton of Jura was then paying tribute to the thirst for freedom its people shared with that of Catalonia. It even inaugurated a square dedicated to the "Catalan country" where my neighborhood's playground is. That day, perhaps Mariano Rajoy would have understood that the Spanish, just like the Swiss, don't all speak the same language and don't necessarily have the same flag.

Yes, what a shame that Rajoy didn't emigrate to the canton of Jura. He probably wouldn't have asked, as the then leader of the opposition did, for Spain's Constitutional Court to block the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, approved both by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalans in a referendum. He would have known that you shouldn't play with fire, with the deepest feelings of a people. He certainly would have decided against sending the police against the people who voted on Oct. 1. In the Jura, he would have learned that resorting to suppression is an admission of weakness, a mistake.

Alas, Rajoy didn't emigrate. It's too bad. Had he grown up in Switzerland, the current debate probably wouldn't be about Catalonia's independence but rather on how to make space for it within Spain. Just like the Swiss Confederation did with the Jura region where I was born.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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