In Portugal 1st December is a public holiday. On this day the return to national independence is celebrated. The same sovereign leaders governed Portugal and Spain for 60 years until 1640. Indeed some Portuguese people recall this as the second independence, given that the Count of Portucale (covering more or less all of northern Portugal down to the city of Coimbra) had claimed independence from the Kingdom of Leon in the 17th century. It’s also important to mention that Portugal and Spain still did not exist as such in the time of the first independence.
Links between Portugal and Spain have been woven and broken throughout history and yet at the same time and as a result of this very relationship a great inheritance has been gained.
Learning about Portugal has helped me gain awareness of the history it shares with Spain. Also, I have been able to sense a very important geographical proximity, because these two countries share 1200 km of frontier. Could these 1200 km of separation also represent 1200 km of union? These borders were built historically and, in fact, this very history along with all its times of struggle and making pacts have meant that the people living on either side of the border exist.
And yet I ask myself, how can we integrate this proximity into our every day lives, from both a geographical and historical point of view? In fact, we travel from one country to the other and sometimes it’s only from the road signs or the language people speak that we realise this… but the people are just the same.
Reality sometimes shows us that a border isn’t just a line drawn by history and the relevant geographical and political agreements. Perhaps it exists in administrative terms, but human reality is much bigger than a few bureaucratic processes.
One thing that makes me think about how blurred and undefined many borders are is the fact that it is very difficult to delimit them linguistically, because we find large areas where both frontier languages are spoken, or even an altogether different language belonging to the region. In the north east of Portugal Mirandese is spoken, a language that comes from the Asturian- Leonese family, not the Galician – Portuguese family that Portuguese belongs to. We may ask ourselves, why is a Leonese language spoken on Portuguese land? History shows that this Leonese influence came about in Portuguese territory because for many centuries this region maintained a privileged relationship with the old Leonese kingdom.
This is a clear example of how political borders do not coincide with natural borders or certain communities. Here it is even less the case, as the political borders don’t even coincide with linguistic borders. We could probably extrapolate this fact to other realities that are an integral part of human beings.
Going back to Mirandese, the Luso- Portuguese border divided this natural space, where, amongst other things they were united by linguistic origin. Subsequently this very division meant that the future of Mirandese and Leonese was to go in different directions.
Mirandese survived because it was so far away from the capital of Portugal and was quite a secluded and hard to reach area until quite recently. And yet the fact that it was not recognised as an official language in Portugal until 1998 is still quite alarming.
Geographical and political borders sometimes get stuck in time and do not always respond to our changing reality, whilst borders between human beings are more flexible and keep on transforming over time. We build them as we create and break the connections that unite us. Let us hope that the new structures that we create, be they on a small or large scale, coincide with the natural undefined frontiers that communities carve out in different geographical areas.
Gemma Manau Munsó (Chemistry)
Portugal - Oporto