The Val d’Aran: The Minority Within the Catalan Minority

The Aranese, separated from the rest of Catalonia by the Pyrenees, are less supportive of independence.

A pedestrian area in Vielha, the largest town in the Aran region of Catalonia, Spain, September 21, 2015
A pedestrian area in Vielha, the largest town in the Aran region of Catalonia, Spain, September 21, 2015 (Joan Grífols)

The one area of Catalonia where there is remarkably less enthusiasm for independence from Spain lies in its northwest: the Val d’Aran, the only comarca north of the Pyrenees.

Its population of less than 10,000 speaks Aranese, a form of Gascon, itself a variety grouped (though not without controversy) under the rubric of Occitan, a Romance language once spoken in the south of France.

In France, these “varieties” (a term I use for the sake of neutrality) of Occitan, such as Gascon, Provençal and Limousin, have been relegated to folkloric remnants harking back to the Troubadours. They are subject to token efforts, such as bilingual signage and partially subsidized school instructions, but are derisively considered patois dialects or, worse still, bastardized versions of French.

In Catalonia, however, Aranese enjoys co-official status alongside Catalan and Spanish.

The Val d’Aran also has more privileges than other comarcas of Catalonia, including its own administrative organization, part of which is the General Council of Aran. In 2015, the Catalan government formally recognized an “Occitan national reality”, including the region’s right to autonomy.

Obtaining autonomy from Catalonia for the Val d’Aran would be subject to a referendum. Which brings to mind a greater question: while it is laudable and logical that the Catalan government should extend such rights to a linguistic minority, and in doing so set an example of tolerance, should Catalonia achieve independence from Spain, would this not place the Val d’Aran in the same position that Catalonia currently finds itself in vis-à-vis Spain and sound the death knell of the special recognition accorded to the region?