It’s almost October 1st, the day of the “illegal” vote in Catalunya!
Background, as far as I can see it
Catalunya has declared October 1st to be the day that the region of Catalunya will vote for independence from Spain. There has always been a push for independence in the region dating back decades even centuries. The catch this time with the vote is that Madrid (i.e. the Spanish federal government) has declared the vote “illegal” and not valid under the constitution. Catalunya is fighting to have the vote even when Madrid is putting up barriers and declaring it “illegal”
What’s happening now
Protests abound in the streets of Barcelona. It’s been great to see that they have been almost overwhelmingly peaceful and non-violent. In response, there has been fairly restrained police presence – I haven’t seen the throngs of riot police that I have seen in other European cities during protests. (To say nothing of the awful way that protests are handled by the police in the USA.)
On National Catalan Day about 3 weeks ago the streets were filled with almost a million people according to the Catalan officials (or 300,000 people according to Madrid). Most were wearing “Si” shirts, indicating their support for independence.
Last week, Madrid ordered the raid of a Catalan Government office, on the grounds that high ranking officials there had started a pro-independence web site. Instantly the streets around Plaça Catalunya (about 5 blocks from our apartment) filled with protesters. We tried to get through but couldn’t!
Every building in Barcelona has at least one apartment draped with the colors of the Catalan flag. That’s the red and yellow stripped ones you see in the pictures below.
Every night at 10pm the streets turn into a cacophony of protest noise, as people lean out their windows banging pots and pans as a protest against the government. This loud banging was copied from old South American protests and the Catalans have taken it on with zeal. Take a listen here:
Helicopters are a constant presence in the skies. For now it’s all news helicopters capturing the omnipresent protests on the streets, and not police or military.
But there’s a huge police (and possibly military) force being mounted. Madrid has filled a cruise ship with police down at the harbor waiting for October 1st. The crazy thing is they have rented a boat that has the entire side of it painted with the RoadRunner, Tweetie Bird, and Donald Duck! Hilarious! What a fail. The news and social media has been raking Madrid over the goals for this gaff! Check out some coverage at https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/09/22/inenglish/1506073837_902110.html
How this affects us
It doesn’t really. We are viewed as total outsiders. We are neither Catalan or Spaniards. We are truly just onlookers. The pitchforks won’t come for us! It’ll be amazing to see what happens on Monday!
We lived in Quebec during the last referendum for separation. It was a super tense time, especially as we had skin in the game. Voter turnout was super high (93% of registered voters) and the final vote was 50.6 for the No side and 49.4 for the Yes side. It was really really close. What happens if there is large turnout on Sunday, with a strong “Si” vote, and Madrid says the vote wasn’t valid? To me this is grounds for revolution. In my humble opinion, the right to self determination is a basic human right. If the people vote for independence and it’s denied by those they see as “overseers” in Madrid, then we could see some serious action over here.
Madrid has played this totally wrong, in my opinion. Police raids only further to strengthen the independence movement. When we were in Quebec, the federal government worked with the large business to impact the election. The day before the referendum, the president of our company of 600-700 people (mostly young francophones) sent out an all-company email that in effect said “Please vote your conscious and how you feel, I encourage that. But just so you know the consequences, if it’s a “Yes” vote then we will immediately make plans to move the entire company out of Quebec. Your future employment is not guaranteed.” That’s what Madrid needs to do if they want to affect this election. The economic crisis was very recent here in Spain, and still has a lasting palpable effect on the employment rate here. Telling people there won’t be as many jobs if it’s a “Si” vote is very powerful.
I won’t make a statement on whether or not Catalonia should separate from Spain or not. That’s not my business nor do I know enough about the history and details and consequences. But one thing has literally brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps on my skin on multiple occasions in the past weeks, and that’s the involvement and passion of the Catalan youth. They are loud and vocal and present!
One of the many youth protests, this one directly under our terrace:
Yesterday I was leaving the Metro station at Plaça de Catalunya and walked into a throng of about 50+ students, all around maybe 14-16 years old. They had probably skipped school, and had donned their Catalan flags and were marching on the Plaça singing Catalan songs and chanting their message. Super heartwarming to see youth getting involved in politics and determining the path forward for their people. Well done!