5 Catalan Cities Step Away From Spain With New Jewish History Network

MADRID — Catalans may still be weighing whether to quit Spain, but Catalan cities with Jewish histories have already made up their minds. Quietly, last month, they decided to withdraw from a Spanish network of cities with historic Jewish medieval quarters.

The planned exit of five Catalan cities, which account for one-fifth of the network of Jewish quarters, will also force the network to appoint a new leadership, as both its president and secretary general were Catalans.

Marta Madrenas, the mayor of Girona, one of the Catalan cities that has decided to leave, said in an interview that she and her colleagues would instead create their own Catalan network soon because “we think we can do better in terms of showcasing our Jewish patrimony.”

“We want to do it in a more serious manner, with more cultural and scientific rigor,” she said.

Girona, she noted, has already set up a center of Jewish studies. A new Catalan network, she said, can put an emphasis on introducing “more conferences, debates, as well as developing student scholarships — it must be about culture and can’t be all about tourism and tour operators.”

The Spanish network said it was disappointed and surprised by the withdrawal, which was announced by some of the Catalan cities at an internal meeting of network officials in May. No date has been set for the creation of a new Catalan network.

The split comes amid a major secessionist tussle between Madrid and Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Catalan separatist parties, which have a majority of seats in the region’s Parliament, are pushing to divide Catalonia from the rest of Spain and have established a road map to create the structures of a new Catalan state within 18 months, despite fierce opposition from the acting government in Madrid of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“We believe we have a project that unifies cities and we don’t understand and share the reasons for leaving,” said Marta Puig Quixal, managing director of the network of Jewish quarters. Ms. Puig Quixal argued that “this breakup is another example of how Catalan institutions are looking to go their own way.”

Mayor Madrenas said, “This isn’t about promoting or recovering our Catalan identity, because we already have it, but about whether investing in this network gives us the kind of return that we would expect.” She noted that Seville, the capital of the southern region of Andalusia, had also left the network, in January.

The network was created in 1995 to safeguard Spain’s heritage and promote cultural, academic and tourism projects relating to its Sephardic past, as well as set up exchange projects to increase “knowledge and mutual respect for peoples, cultures and traditions,” according to the network’s website.

Beside Girona, the other Catalan cities in the Spanish network are Besalú, Castelló d’Empúries, Tortosa and Barcelona.

In 1492, the Catholic monarchs signed an edict to expel the Jews, forcing a mass exodus. Some Jews chose instead to convert to Catholicism and remain in Spain. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish culture and buildings were then hidden or wiped out.

In recent years, archaeologists have found more evidence of Spain’s once-thriving Jewish community, largely as a result of discoveries made during urban construction projects. Last year, the Spanish Parliament approved a long-awaited law to give Spanish citizenship to thousands of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled in 1492.


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