Throughout its history, Spain has been ravaged by the malicious arrogance of childish rivalries and civil unrest. This cultural stigma, the brand that’s been burned into our identity, created wonders in our architecture, literature, and art. But it also destroyed us. Our past is a conglomerate of people fueled by segregation and perverted patriotism, and, sadly, our future doesn’t look much better.
In just a few days, Barcelona will host Real Madrid in the season's second Clásico, and emotions will be running faster than a locomotive on a downhill track because on that day, Barcelona will not simply be fighting for the Spanish league title, but for Catalán independence.
The story behind the Barcelona-Madrid rivalry stretches past the creation of FIFA in the early twentieth century; it even goes beyond the blaugrana side's inauguration of 1899. The Spanish grudge match dates back 300 years to a time before the colonies had even pondered the idea of a revolt against their English monarch.
Well over three centuries ago, Catalonia was blessed with linguistic and cultural independence from Spain. The Catalán people resided in their own sovereign state and had even installed a functioning government. Unfortunately, a 15 year war between the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties resulted in Catalonia losing its sovereignty after a two year siege of Barcelona on September 11th, (a date synonymous with our own American tragedy) 1714. The war’s true ramifications, however, would not be felt for years to come.
As Catalonia’s desire for independence from the Spanish capital grew, so did Madrid’s opposition. Spain believed that it was their patriotic duty to keep them unified as one entity and allowed itself the privilege of doing what was necessary to keep the status quo. Eventually, the Castilian government imposed the Spanish language upon them by outlawing Catalán in all federal documents, schools, and the media. Catalonia, on the other hand, spent the next two hundred years unwillingly accepting Madrid's oppression and attempted exorcism of the Catalán culture. Sadly, the political schism that gripped the country would soon rear its ugly head once more in the form of one man, General Francisco Franco.
In July of 1936, Spain's military leaders ordered a coup d'état, thus igniting one of the darkest and most tragic moments in our history: the Spanish Civil War. The strife between Franco’s right-wing militia and the peninsula’s left-wing party was fought for three years before General Franco prevailed in 1939. Immediately after his war was won, the dictator banned the use of Catalán in every possible way. Using it, whether written or spoken, would be viewed as a direct threat to the Fascist government and was, therefore, quickly suppressed through torture and/or execution.
During the next 46 years, Real Madrid was pushed into the forefront of football as Franco’s preferred team and was recognized as a symbol of the regime’s power and desire for a unified Spain under Fascism. On the other hand, Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona and its band of culés represented the oppressed liberalists who simply wanted to be free from the generalísimo’s dictatorship and live under a democracy. It is for this reason, more than any other, that the clash between these two Spanish titans is a rivalry of unprecedented importance to the clubs, cities, political parties, and cultures involved.
Today, 45 years after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia is able to rejoice in its linguistic and cultural freedom, though their plea for independence from Spain still remains unanswered.
Unfortunately, a definitive "Yes" to their cries for an independent state could be disastrous for the over 1 billion viewers and lovers of el Clásico. Several months ago, La Liga president Javier Tebas told reporters, "if Catalonia became independent, taking into consideration the Sports Laws that would be enforced by the rest of Spain, Barcelona wouldn’t be allowed to play [in La Liga]". If the unimaginable were to come to fruition, the world would lose the greatest sports rivalry of all time. Could both Barça and Madrid fans bare the loss? I pray that we never have to find out.
Regardless of the political outcome, the Camp Nou will prepare the grounds and set the stage for a battle that spans more than 300 years.