November 7 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, by which the Spanish king Phillip IV transferred the territories of the County of Rosselló/Roussillon and parts of the county of Cerdanya/Cerdagne to the French king Louis XIV, as exchange for keeping sovereignty in Spanish Flanders (later lost).
Since then, those territories are locally known as the Catalunya Nord (North Catalonia), and they are currently included in the administrative region of the Lengadòc-Rosselhon (Languedoc-Roussillon in French).
Every year on the closest Saturday to that historical date, several local minority organizations (grouped in the SEM collective), commemorate the event with different acts, including a popular demonstration that this year was attended by more than 2,500 people in Perpignan. This year’s focus was on the administrative reorganization of the different regions in the French Republic proposed by the government, which will change the French regional map substantially.
Minority groups in the region are asking that the proposed union of the current Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées be called Occitanie-Catalunya or Occitanie-Pays Catalan, after a popular poll favored those names. They are also asking for de-centralization measures that would, among other things, promote the bilingualization of the population in either Catalan or Occitan, which nowadays enjoys little governmental support, since the French Senate insists on its country not ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
The SEM collective represents a very interesting situation for a minority. On the one hand, its main interlocutor is the Parisian government, which holds one of the most centralizing political agendas in Europe; on the other hand, it is following very attentively the current push for independence of neighboring Spanish Catalonia, with whom it not only shares strong cultural and linguistic bonds inherited by a historical past, but also increasingly political ties –indeed, economic support for the few Catalan immersion schools in the territory comes exclusively from the Catalan government.
An independent Catalonia would mean that the Catalan minority in France would for the first time have a kin Nation State. And this could surely have consequences –hopefully, positive ones.