Spanish success raises nationalist hackles

Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:55pm EDT
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By Arantza Goyoaga

BILBAO, Spain (Reuters Life!) - Spain's success in the World Cup has highlighted the kind of deep political divisions which mean that some Spanish residents will be cheering on Netherlands in Sunday's final.

The team's unprecedented performance has prompted the unveiling of Spanish flags on balconies in areas where nationalist flags would be more typical, irritating separatists in the northern Basque and Catalan regions.

"If it were up to me, I'd have Netherlands beat Spain 30-0," said Inaki Atxutegi, a 40-year-old economist from the Basque port of Bilbao.

The Basque and Catalan regions have different languages and cultural identities and many of their residents want greater, if not full, autonomy from Madrid.

"(Madrid politicians) are using the success of the Spanish team, made up almost entirely of Catalans and Basques, to sell a concept of Spain that many Basques do not share," Atxutegi said.

Soccer achievement has also clashed with a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court on a statute setting out the limits of Catalan autonomy from Madrid.

The court concluded that Catalonia could not be recognized as a separate nation, and hundreds of thousands are expected to join a protest in Barcelona on Saturday.

"There will end up being more Spanish flags because of the Spain-Netherlands match on Sunday than Catalan flags because of Saturday's protest," complained the deputy head of Catalonia's regional government, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, in a blog.   Continued...