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Differences In the Regions of Spain Through Football: Introduction

Editor's Note: This is Part I of a five part series about the differences in the three major Spanish regions, Catalonia, Castile and the Basque Country, and how football united the historically different cultures.

David Ramos

The country of Spain has long been divided, with different regions pushing for autonomy from the central government. With cultures that differ from the rest of Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country are two such regions working towards independent governments. These regions are the most prominent in Spain, and while Catalonia has decided to not use violence to send this message, the Basques have resorted to violence to help fuel their work for independence.

There are stark contrasts between the regions of Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Castile, the region where the capital city Madrid is situated. These contrasts arose during the Spanish Civil War in which Francisco Franco made many cultural changes to Spain. Resisting this forced change, the differences became more politically charged which eventually trickled down to the football teams of the three regions, resulting in FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao to each represent different cultural identities. Though these football clubs do not share the same values, all of the fans unite together when the national team of Spain plays, helping to mend the damage done during the Civil War.

On September 13th, 1923, the government went through a drastic change in command through Captain-General Miquel Primo de Rivera, though his military did not shed any blood to take control. His dream was to unite all of Spain under a dictatorship that eliminated all regional differences and removed Catalonia as the light for all nationalists. In 1930, after seven years as leader of Spain, Primo de Rivera left his post, leaving the government under control of officials aiming for a republican government.

This new government only lasted for three years before Francisco Franco, on July 18th, 1936, began his civil war for control of Spain. Though he did not have to work hard to gain some territory as the regions of Navarre and Aragon sided with his military command early during the uprising, while Andalusia and Galicia were two of the first to fall.

Hitting the regions promoting independence harder than others, an incident against the Basque people occurred in Gernika-Lumo, a small town in the countryside. Meetings between Basque officials had taken place at this location for centuries and on April 26, 1937, the first saturation-bombing raid in the world was conducted on this town. Carrying out this act were the Nazi's, helping Franco induce fear in the regions and destroy their hope of gaining autonomy. As many as one million Spaniards were killed throughout the war as Spain's main cities fell to Franco's surging militia and when the capital city fell, his military dictatorship began.

Franco's full dictatorship lasted from 1939 to November 20th, 1975, during which time many of his regime's enemies were executed for being a nationalist, which is someone who identifies a strong association with their nation, such as the autonomous seeking regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country. His death relinquished the tight grip on Spain's autonomous regions while a decision to bring back one of the royal family as the head of state saw Prince Juan Carlos named to the throne.

Radically different than his exiled grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos would not tolerate another military uprising like the one that condemned his grandfather. He too dreamed of uniting Spain, but under a government that accepted and considered all of the regions. The change in government would help all nationalists in the years to come but an underlying reality was born during Franco's rule; Catalans had supported the Spanish national team for the first time even if their support only extended to the few Catalans on the team.

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