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Valencia and the Països Catalans Controversy

Submitted by on October 13, 2015 – 11:47 am 7 Comments |  
Valencian Community MapFive days before the recent regional elections in Catalonia, the Archbishop of Valencia, Antonio Cañizares, gained attention and generated controversy by urging Catholics to “pray for Spain and her unity” while also arguing that “Spain is bleeding out” and that “there is no moral justification for secession.” It is not surprising that such sentiments would be voiced by the Archbishop of Valencia. The region of Valencia (officially, the Valencian Community) is largely Catalan speaking by strictly linguistic criteria and many Catalan nationalists would like to include it in a future independent Catalonia, but most of the people of Valencia firmly reject Catalan national identity.

Catalan Countries mapThis rhetorical battle over identity and language extends beyond Valencia to include other Catalan-speaking areas outside of Catalonia proper, encompassing a broad transnational region often called Països catalans (Catalan Countries). As the election approached, the rhetoric heated up. As reported in El País:

A suggestion by a Catalonia government official that the region could offer Catalan citizenship to residents of Valencia, the Balearics, parts of Aragon and parts of southern France if it becomes independent has been met with widespread indignation. Javier Lambán and Ximo Puig, the regional heads of Aragon and Valencia, called the proposal to extend Catalan citizenship to all residents of the area nationalists regard as the Països catalans (Catalan countries), because of historical ties, “intolerable” and “senseless.”

“It’s an intolerable lack of respect,” said Lambán about the statements made on Saturday by Catalonia regional justice chief Germà Gordó. “It is a clumsy and irresponsible opinion that not only violates basic legal norms, but also toys with the dignity of an entire region and the feelings of its people, in a display of identity-based arrogance – if you can call it that – with highly disturbing historical overtones.”

Catalan Language Valencia MapBut as the El País article noted, no other members of the Catalan government voiced support for Gordó’s position. Still, his comments reveal some of the deep controversies that undergird questions of regional and national identity in Spain. Gordó made it clear that in his interpretation the Catalan nation is essentially coterminous with the Catalan-speaking region. As he was quoted in the same article:

“The construction of a state must not let us forget the entire nation,” he said, specifying that this greater Catalonia included “North Catalonia [the French areas of Roussillon and Haute-Cerdagne], the Valencian Country, the Strip [the border area with Aragón] and the Balearic Islands.”

Greater Catalonia MapThe only part of the Catalan-speaking realm excluded by Gordo is the city of Alghero in Sardinia. Perhaps this was an oversight on his part, or perhaps making potential claims to a portion of Italy was simply a step too far. A few Catalan nationalists, however, would perhaps include within their envisaged domain almost all of the territories ruled by the Crown of Aragon during its medieval height, at least as evidenced by the maps posted to the left. Interestingly, they do not include the lands in what is now Greece that were dominated by the Catalan Company in the 1300s.

2015 Spanish Municipal Elections MapThe people of Valencia, as would be expected, have mixed views on the Catalan controversy. Most support the unity of Spain regardless of linguistic considerations. As can be seen in the maps posted to the left, Valencia’s voting behavior tends to mirror that of Spain as a whole, and is such is unlike those of the more separatist regions of Catalonia and the Basque Spain 2011 Election Mapcountry. But quite a few people of the region do prioritize Valencian identity. According to the Wikipedia, this “Valencianist” group itself is “bitterly divided over the very nature of the Valencian identity, something which is best reflected in the debate over the philological affiliation Valencian Language MapCatalan Dialects Mapof Valencian.” Some Valencianists simultaneously embrace a larger sense of Catalan identity, although this seems to be a decidedly minority position, with its supporters receiving at best around half a percent of the vote in recent regional elections. Pejoratively called catalanistes by their opponents, members of this group tend to identify with the political left. More conservative or centrist champions of Valencian identity, on the other hand, more often reject the Catalan connection, regarding their Valencian tongue as a separate language (the linguistic position of Valencian is a significant controversy in its own right.) They also generally favor enhanced autonomy within Spain rather than outright independence. The main political group of this movement, the Valencian Nationalist Bloc, currently holds six out of 99 positions in the Valencian legislature (Corts Valencianes) and 384 out of 5,784 elected positions in local governments.

 The growth of Catalan nationalism has been associated with a countervailing “anti-Catalan” movement both in Valencia and elsewhere in Spain, as discussed in a Wikipedia article on “Anti-Catalanism.” As noted in the article:

[A]nti-Catalanism expresses itself as a xenophobic attitude towards the Catalan language, people, traditions or anything identified with Catalonia and the political implications of this attitude. In its most extreme circumstances, this may also be referred as Catalanophobia. Several political movements, known for organising boycotts of products from Catalonia, are also actively identified with anti-Catalanism. Anti-Catalanism in its most virulent form is mostly associated with far-right Spanish political parties.


In response to such sentiments, anti-anti-Catalanism statements have also been forwarded. One such view focuses on the arts and other forms of cultural production. As argued in an A*Desk article by Oriol Fontdevila, “Anti-anti-Catalanism is a stance with which to eradicate the ballast that nationalism has placed on certain aspects of Catalan culture, that if on the one hand naturalizes it as a culture of the state, on the other, makes it difficult to place them in correspondence with current challenges and articulate them within contemporary cultural production.”

In the end, all that I can say is that the situation is complicated indeed, and as a result is highly interesting.


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  • Ulises Calvo

    I fully understand why the Aragonese and Valencians show such disdain for the construction of something called the “Paisos Catalans.” After all, throughout much of recorded history Catalunya was nothing but a region within the Kingdom of Aragon. As you probably know, Catalunya itself has never existed as an independent political entity, unlike Valencia which existed as an independent kingdom for hundreds of years. Compare that to the Basques, who have a much greater claim to historical political autonomy though their old Kingdom of Navarre. What I will say is that the Catalans have been masterful at getting their talking points across through to the European mainstream media. The fact that Catalan separatists don’t get laughed at (or worse) over the mention of some sort of nebulous future political unity based on similar language ties is testament to that. I mean can you imagine what would happen if the Germans started talking about the “German Countries” and mentioning a future political union with German speaking parts of Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, etc…oh wait, they tried that during the last century without too much success.

  • Nakash Chit

    Mr Calvo bases his argument on an egregious anachronism.

    Both Aragon and Catalonia were ruled for three and a half centuries by a Catalan-speaking King of Aragon, King of Valencia, Prince of Catalonia, etc, etc, resident in Barcelona. In 1137, the County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon were united in a personal union when the heir to Barcelona married the heiress of Aragon, and assumed the title of King of Aragon, by which title he was thereafter generally known, just as Queen Elizabeth II is generally known as the Queen of England, though she has other titles.

    To say that Catalonia was thereafter a region of Aragon would be much the same as to say that England was a region of the Scottish Kingdom under the Stewart kings! Catalonia has five times the population of Aragon, and probably did in the 12th century as well. The King of Aragon resided in the most populous and prosperous city of his realms, Barcelona, the family seat, at the Palau Reial Major (see eponymous Wikipedia article); just as the King of Scotland chose to reside in London. But the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona retained each their own parliament until Phillip V, the first Bourbon monarch of united Spain abolished them, in the years 1707 and 1714 respectively. The language of the court was, of course, Catalan. The united crown was commonly known in Latin as Aragonum et Catalonie.

    This does not mean, however, that Barcelona actually ruled Aragon. In 1316, when King James II proclaimed the permanent indivisible union of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia – as distinct from the earlier, strictly personal union (see Wikipedia article “Corona d’Arago”) – he entrenched this by means of instituting an oath never to divide these lands, which his successors were required to swear before their assumption of the title to each of these realms; much like the “entails” or “fee tails” commonly imposed upon heirs to aristocratic titles and lands in a number of European countries. (Majorca was added in 1286.) The King clearly had no power to change the respective constitutions of his realms.

    A little history can be a dangerous thing. Though I must say that Mr Calvo’s error is one that is repeated in virtually every general book of European History, where political entities are usually assimilated to contemporary concepts.

  • Nakash Chit

    On another issue, Valencians do not generally claim any longer that their language is separate from Catalan. Quite to the contrary, according to the law which established the Academia Valenciana de la Llengua, the Valencian language “forms a part of the linguístic system which the corresponding statutes of autonomy of the Spanish territories of the ancient Crown of Aragon recognise as their own languages”. (Wikpedia article “Valencià”; my transation.)

    In other words,it would appear that the Catalans and Baleares islanders speak dialects of the language known (to Valencians) as Valencian; just as the English, Americans, Australians, etc, could be said to speak a dialect of the Scots language; notwithstanding the fact that the use of the name “Catalan” for the language goes back to 1395 IN VALENCIA, while the name “Valencian” is first attested in 1877. (Source: Wikipedia article: Denominacions de la Lluengua Catalana.) This formula is the rather tidy outcome of the “batallo de la lluengua” which was raging when I lived in Barcelona some decades back.

    Thank you for your article, Professor Lewis. I quite enjoyed doing the reading to clarify these issues.

  • Ulises Calvo

    Mr. Chit, I never said that Catalunya was simply a region of Aragon…if you look closely you’ll see that I said that Catalunya “was a region within the Kingdom of Aragon.” I’m quite aware of the past relationship within the two entities. Maybe I should have elaborated, but in my mind there’s a substantial differences within the two assertions. And I’m sorry, the fact remains that Catalunya has never been an independent political entity at any time within recorded history which is what many revisionists have been trying to foist on us in the recent past.

  • Nakash Chit

    Dear Mr Calvo,

    The contemporary convention was to refer to the “Crown of Aragon” as including all the realms of the Monarch. The “Kingdom of Aragon” covered more or less the area now included within the modern region of Aragon, as evidenced by the example that I earlier quoted regarding the union of the three realms. The distinction, which is generally lost in modern histories, is a major one: The “Crown” is the personification of the power of the monarch; while the Kingdom is an area of land with a legal identity. Catalonia has never formed part of the Kingdom of Aragon. Had you said that Catalonia was an appanage of the Crown of Aragon, you would have been correct. (All of this is in the relevant Wikipedia articles.)

    BUT, with respect, the whole idea of saying that Aragon ruled Barcelona, as some Spanish unionists would have it, or that Barcelona ruled Aragon, as some Catalan nationalists pretend, is nonsensical. The idea of modern nations did not exist in the Middle Ages.

    The princes identified themselves as Catholic Christians, and as members of houses of noble and ancient lineage. They saw their duty in these terms, and acted accordingly regardless of which language their subjects spoke.

    The parliaments of Aragon and Catalonia, meanwhile, acted in their own sphere of competence, meeting, enacting laws, raising taxes, and paying for public works, regardless of whom the sovereign might be.

  • Nakashchit

    Dear Professor Lewis,

    I offer you and your readers my apologies. I relied on the detailed Wikipedia article Denominacions de la Llengua Catalana regarding the usage of the term “Valencià”, i.e. Valencian. I shouldn’t have. The Valencian Academy provides numerous examples of the use of the term going back to 1395 (

    I am afraid that I have become another casualty in the Language war. The question now is: dare I edit the Wikipedia article?

  • Many thanks to the detailed and insightful comments of both Nakashchit and Ulises Calvo. I learned a lot from reading them! I hesitate to make more detailed comments, however, as your knowledge on this issue exceeds my own.