Writing this post goes against some vital life advice my Dad gave to me from a very young age.
No, it isn’t ‘don’t ride on a moped’ or ‘no more tattoos’
It was actually a phrase that has always served me well and kept me from destroying old friendships and from preventing new ones.
‘Never discuss religion, money or politics’ My Dad (ledge)
Seems pretty limiting for conversations right? Dad was right though, littering conversations with these social hand grenades has caused disasters and fall outs between many a loved one (Did someone say Brexit?)
However, the situation in my current home Catalonia is hitting the headlines globally and to be frank, there isn’t a lot of independent information out there about the facts.
We’ve been bombarded with images of brutality, doubts are held about the legality and cries of ‘Independencia’ are heard across the region.
Now I’m no political broadcaster, nor am I deluded enough to think that after a month of residency that I can begin to empathise with the Catalan people or stand with Madrid, but I am present. Present in a time that is a turning point in the history of Spain. Living amongst the sounds of pots and pans clanging at night as a voice for the people. I have watched the Kings speech (not the film) and have spoken to those for independence and to those against it.
So I might only have a Btec and I might still have to mentally repeat ‘righty tighty, leftie Lucy’, when opening a jar but that’s beside the point. The aim is not to make inflammatory comments or support a side but to post a balanced and unbiased account of what is happening and why it’s a pivotal moment in global history.
So sorry Dad, I’m about to throw that wise advice aside, here goes…
What is Catalonia?
Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 regions in the North East of Spain, resident to 7.5 million people. The regions capital, Barcelona, often referred to Spain’s second city was home to the 1992 Olympic Games, which with extreme regeneration has become the epicentre for Spanish tourism.
Catalonia brings in 20% of Spain’s income and this is often redistributed to the less successful areas, causing friction. Catalonia itself has an economy as thriving as that of Portugal. Catalonia has its own language, food and customs with Catalan being taught in schools alongside Castellano Spanish. Signage and documentation is written in Catalan and is often described as a mix of French and Spanish. One of the reasons behind the Spanish civil war was the push to again become independent from Spain, the infamous Franco crushed the liberties of the Catalan people and the language was forbidden from being taught or spoken until democracy took hold in Spain in 1975.
A new constitution was created in 1978 and Catalonia was given the right to self govern to a degree but the current Catalonian leaders do not believe it is sufficient.
In 2010 Catalonia was presented with the opportunity to increase its autonomy but this was rejected by the courts, increasing tension and divisions in the region.
The build up
I arrived in Barcelona on the 3rd of September and from the moment I arrived the buildings were adorned with ‘Si’ banners and people wearing the Catalan flag on their back.
The topic was on everyone’s lips and most had an emotive stance on independence.
The Catalan people had scheduled a vote for the 1st of October, to ask the people if they wanted independence or if they did not.
However, according to the constitution this is unlawful.
Here’s what it actually says
The constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.”
In layman’s terms, it’s unconstitutional to ‘divorce’ from Spain, therefore illegal.
So to simplify the very complex situation (so I can bloody understand it) it is an argument of ‘Democracy vs Constitution’
To add fuel to the fire, days before the vote, 14 political leaders were arrested and nearly 10 million ballot papers were seized. This was thought to be the total amount of vote papers.
Reports of this led to mass marches on the streets with cries of ‘fascists’ and the clanging of pots and pans to demonstrate the regions dismay.
The vote pushed ahead and took place on October the 1st. There is ambiguity of how these votes were cast and some have asked questions on how the vote can be credible if it is not independently adjudicated. The ballot boxes were held in schools and people camped overnight to protect them from being taken by Spanish authorities.
Videos were shared across the world of the national police preventing the vote which led to nearly 900 injuries.
90% of those who voted, voted yes to independence which equates to approximately 2 million votes.
“We have not seen such a brutal and disproportionate use of force since the death of the dicatator Franco” Puigdemont
The days that followed.
On the 2nd October a strike was declared and schools were closed. People once again took to the streets and chants of ‘Franco is back’ were shouted.
Subsequently King Felipe made a rare television appearance but this has only antagonised the situation further. The king was accusatory of the Catalan government and made no reference at all to the disturbing images of violence.
“attempting to break the unity of Spain and eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing unfortunately, to divide it.” King Felipe
As the broadcast went out, I could hear a strange noise. It engulfed the neighbourhood and is nothing like I had ever heard. After a few messages to friends, those who live with pro-independence families, I was told that was the sound of people jangling their keys to express their disdain.
What could happen next?
The Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy has refused to rule out invoking article 155. This is unprecedented and would mean that central Government would overthrow the regional government seizing control.
Puigdemont, The leader of Catalonia has said this would be the “ultimate mistake” and has said that each time the Spanish government tried to stop the vote that the cause had grown stronger.
With tensions still running extremely high and with “Spain supporters” arriving in Barcelona on the 8th October to stage their own protest, there are fears that the situation is becoming out of control. Many international leaders have condemned the violence displayed and there has been criticism of how Rajoy has handled the situation.
Piugdemont spoke to the BBC following the vote and stated he was waiting for the votes from overseas to be counted before declaring independence. This is thought to be either this weekend or the start of next week.
If the total tally is declared on the same day that “Spain supporters” arrive there is likely to be huge flash points in the street and disorder. Enric Millo, a Spanish government representative in Catalonia has on the 7th October apologised for the violence used against the voters on the 1st October but this has done little to rectify the situation.
Numerous cooperation’s including Banco de Sabadell (who own TSB) have announced they are moving operations to Alicante following the yes vote, CaixaBank, Spains 3rd biggest bank has also indicated it will move. This is a blow to those who support independence but the political landscape has appeared to have changed. It was never just about money or culture or freedom. It was about democracy and the people having a voice. The voice has been shouted over with the power of Madrid.
For fear of gaining splinters from sitting on the fence, it appears to boil down to an argument of legality vs democracy or law vs human rights.
What side you agree with is a personal matter, but indifference to the situation is not a choice.
The situation has been called a domestic issue, a matter for Spain and the EU has allowed the situation to snowball out of control.
For fear of belittling the issue, to me it appears to be like an estranged couple in the midst of a bitter divorce with their dinner party friends, turning a blind eye “not wanting to interfere”
Now is the time I will offer up my only opinion in this entire post. It is time someone interferes. I am aware the EU has made it clear that they are unlikely to do this as they want to respect the constitution of the country.
With respect, the safety of the country and its people are more important than the rules that are written about it. Mediation is required and without action quickly, there seems to be no happy ending for either side.
Love and Peace,