Barcelona is one of the best-known cities in the world, yet visitors expecting to practice their Spanish can often be surprised when they hear Catalan spoken in the streets. The language has had a troubled history, but is a key marker of identity in Catalonia, a region where many hope for independence from Spain.
This will soon come to a head as Catalonia prepares for regional elections on September 27. Should a coalition united on the issue of Catalonian independence win a majority, its leader – the current Catalan president Artur Mas – has said he would declare independence.
Attempts to suppress the Catalan language and culture have deep historical roots but were intensified during the era of Francisco Franco. The dictator banned the Catalan language from public spaces and made Spanish the sole language of public life.
For 40 years under the dictatorship, Spain tried to present itself as an ethnically and politically homogeneous state. The execution of Franco’s opponents continued after the end of the Spanish Civil War. One prominent victim was the former Catalan president, Lluís Companys who was deported from Nazi-occupied France in 1940 and then executed in Barcelona.