Perpignan

We left Spain on Thursday, July 11th. After an unforgettable experience in South Catalonia my interpreter and I made our way into the foot of the Pyrenees to cross into France. Having traveled across European borders before, between France and Germany for instance, I noticed something shocking about our crossing. Our slick renfe high speed train took us first to a frontier station near the French border. At this small station, officials asked all passengers to leave, cross the platform, and board a French SNCF train. I had discovered a few days earlier that no train lines connect Barcelona with Perpignan, the Catalan region’s second largest city. This to me seemed off considering the European Union’s free travel area, drafted in the ¬†Schengen agreements, which includes these two notable European states and the high demand there must be for this line of travel.

The next day, I interviewed a prominent Catalan Professor from the Universit√© de Perpignan known for pushing for linguistic rights in France. He expressed to me his conviction that the reason that this long awaited “ligne TGV,” or high speed rail line, between the two cities had not been completed was a result of efforts by the Spanish and French governments to stall cross-boundary secessionist sentiment. The French and Spanish governments explain that the slowed construction is a result of standardization disagreements between the state rail companies, the Spanish renfe and French SNCF. The answer to this question remains, of course, open to interpretation.

I chose to note this example from my travel because it highlights in a case example the conditions felt by some French Catalans today. Although I only had the chance to run two in-depth elite interviews during my stay in North Catalonia,  both interviews expressed a loosely common view. They explained that today many North Catalans, lacking the massive political mobilization of the South, are regaining a sense of Catalan identity as the Southern movement grows stronger. As the possibility of South Catalan independence grows, the Catalan identity is becoming more attractive. With this, leaders of the small political movement hope to translate this into cultural and political autonomy from Paris and the regional capital of Montpellier, administrative units, they believe, do not correspond with French Catalonia. As the train ride from Barcelona to Perpignan hinted, the Northern neighbor, despite sharing the history of a another state, fights to maintain and express its Catalan identity in tandem with the secessionist movement to its south.