Catalonia Center State of 1992 Olympics

Article excerpt

BARCELONA, Spain - Catalonia at its most prickly is once again at the leading edge of Spanish affairs.

For centuries, this defiant region, snuggled against southern France, has accentuated its differences from the rest of Spain and its closer links to Europe.

Now as Spain looks ahead to its part in a closer-knit ecnomy of Europe, Catalonia is in the forefront.

Not only is Catalonia the driving engine of Spain's triving economy. The proud Catalans will also be at center stage with the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Catalonia has its own language, culture and heritage that people here defend defiantly. On more than one occasion, Catalans tried to secede and set up their own country.

They flaunt an aggressiveness that much of the rest of Spain detests. Catalonia does feel it is a nation within a nation: central government officials in Madrid recently chastized Catalonia's regional government for pursuing a foreign policy all its own.

Apparently, the scolding had no great effect.

``Catalonia is a nation within Spain,'' said Jordi Pujol, president of the Catalonia regional government. ``We are making the effort to reach a European level and pull the rest of Spain along with us.''

Pujol is a leading advocate of the aggressive policy that seeks ties to other countries and has aroused such concern in Madrid.

Catalans distinguish hemselves by their industriousness, their business skills, their creativity and drive.

The combination has made the region an engine that powers Spain economically and culturally, but whose nationalism presents problems, such as scorning things not Catalan.

There is a businessman here who boasts that he has been to Paris, London and Bonn, but never to Madrid.

While Spain's economy is the fastest growing in the European Community, Catalonia accounts for a quarter of the country's industrial production, one-fifth of its goss national product, one-fifth of its exports, one-third of the foreign investment and nearly all the Japanese investment in the country.

The region attracts more than one-third of the tourists. It is regarded as having the best schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure in Spain.

People here are not shy about their achievements.

``Even visitors can immediately feel the difference, that something is happening here that's not evident in the rest of Spain,'' commented Leopoldo Rodes Castane, president of Banco Progresso and the leader of a business community campaign that lobbied successfully for the 1992 Olympic Games.

With such fierce pride, Catalans have been accused of promoting a local nationalism that discriminates against outsiders. …