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Posted on on July 12th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

Spain’s World Cup win soothes separatist angst.


July 12, 2010, EUobserver.

Spain’s victory in the World Cup has put into the shade a huge pro-devolution rally in Catalonia, which took place a day earlier.

Newspapers report seeing the red and gold Spanish national flag – normally a hated symbol in the northeastern region – flying from balconies and car windows in the Catalan capital of Barcelona on Sunday (July 11, 2010), as revelers celebrated Spain’s 1-0 victory in the football championship.

World Cup revelers in Spain on Sunday night (Photo: kosmoseleevike)


Around 100,000 people gathered to watch the game on a giant screen in the city’s central Plaza Espana.
Viewing figures show that three out of four TV sets in the region showed the game.

Five out of the 11 players on Spain’s winning team were born in Catalonia. Another player was born in the country’s northwestern Basque territory, another region with a history of separatist problems.

The opportunity for making a political point was not lost on Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who told press that he toasted the result with Catalan sparkling wine: “We raised a glass of cava and a few tears came to my eyes, which is unusual for me, because I know how to control my emotions.”

In the pre-match press conference, the Spanish team coach, Vicente del Bosque, made a plea for national unity.

“There are players from all over Spain here in the squad. We are united and I hope the same feeling of unity occurs back in Spain,” he said. “I hope that we’ll look at things in a less radical way and, through football, create better relations among the regions in our country.”

The sentiment could not have been more different on the streets of Barcelona just one day earlier, where between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people marched down the central boulevard behind a 250 square metre Catalan flag which said: “We are a nation. We will decide.”

The rally was led by local left-wing politician Jose Montilla. It had been organised months ago but took place just one day after a Spanish Constitutional Court ruling struck down key aspects of Catalonia’s pro-autonomy charter.

The 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, approved in a regional referendum, granted Catalonia, Spain’s richest province, its own local government, parliament, language rights and educational system.

Friday’s court decision, which came after a legal challenge by the right-wing opposition party, the Popular Party, said that Catalonia’s claim to be a nation, with its own flag and anthem, has a symbolic value only but no legal weight because it is incompatible with the “unity and indivisibility of the Spanish nation.” It also said Spanish has to have equal status to Catalan in the region.

For his part, the Portuguese European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso stayed out of Spain’s internal debate, but could not let go unremarked the fact that all top three World Cup teams came from EU countries.

“In this championship, the European teams were ambassadors of Europe’s spirit, energy and openness,” he said in a statement emailed to press on Monday morning.

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