Key Words: Sunday’s referendum on independence from Spain is not about ethnic nationalism: longtime Catalonian political leader

In a “Lunch With the FT” interview a half-decade ago, longtime Catalonian political leader Jordi Pujol revealed that the drive toward independence for his northeastern Spanish region, unlike similar pushes elsewhere in Europe and beyond, is not, in his mind, about ethnic nationalism.

Rather, the now-87-year-old native of Barcelona told the Financial Times during that 2012 sit-down, it’s about the region’s expression of its distinct language and culture:

‘One of the main advantages we have, and the raison d’être of our nationalism, is our language and our culture. That is to say that Catalan nationalism is not an ethnic nationalism, not at all … or religious either, as in the case of Ireland.’

Jordi Pujol

Pujol served for 23 years, ending in 2003, as the regional president of Catalunya, as the reqion is known in the Catalan language.

He said in the FT interview that, while he considered himself a “Catalan above all,” his approach traditionally had been one of cooperation with the Spanish state. But, he added at the time, ”if someone from Spain says, ‘You can’t be Catalan,’ attacks my language, my identity, or works against Catalan society, [then] I would no longer have the feeling of being Spanish.”

Voters in the region are set to head to the polls Sunday to cast ballots on breaking away from the Spanish central government in Madrid, which has called the referendum illegal and cracked down on its organizers.

Don’t miss: Five things investors need to know about the Catalan independence referendum

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