Who are the people in Barcelona? What topics interest them? What are their passions? How is life in Barcelona behind the tourist glitter? Under the headline: “BCN Faces” I will try to put a face to some of the people living in this amazing city. It is their lives, opinions, values, claims, etc., that appear under this headline, not necessarily mine or a general representation of all people living in Barcelona. These posts are theirs, completely. Sometimes with photos, other times without if they and I consider it the best solution.
Please meet Anna and Mariona. I met the two women in front of the Estación de Francia, the day Catalonia’s independence was declared but not legally implemented for fear of the Spanish army being sent in. They are two ordinary women of my age who live in a smaller town outside of Barcelona. They are well-educated, working, married, mothers, and live a life like most European women except that they are involved in Catalonia’s struggle for independence. Both are born and raised in Catalonia and they are first and foremost Catalans, but like all Catalans they have friends, acquaintances and family with Spanish roots.
Nevertheless, they are involved in the struggle for a Catalan republic and it is no longer just a political struggle, it has also become personal. Earlier, the dream of an independent Catalonia was perhaps a utopia, but now – in the light of recent actions taken by the central administration in Madrid – it has become a clear objective. As they say: “No hay vuelta atrás” – there is no way back.
The road ahead must be peaceful and democratic. Naturally, it’s the Catalan way. They – and all Catalan separatists – do not want independence with “blood”, but with peaceful means. Independence must be realized through dialogue, negotiation and peace, and it will be a continuous process. And as they say there is a thereafter, as in a divorce. The two countries will be living side by side, and they will have to work together. Besides, the two countries also have a lot in common.
The negative framing of Catalonia
Both the starting point and the driving force of their struggle is the indignation over the treatment of Catalonia and the Catalans from the government and the administration in Madrid. Part of the treatment is the constant negative framing of Catalonia and the Catalans, a framing with roots in the Franco dictatorship. A framing which means that many Spaniards have a negative and often untrue image of Catalonia.
Mariona experienced an example of this during a family holiday in Spain, where a Spaniard was very surprised that her son could understand Spanish. Many Spaniards have the perception that the Catalans do not understand Spanish and that the children do not learn the language at school. This from a negative framing that implies that the Catalans do not really want to speak Spanish or want their children to speak it. Catalan may be their mother tongue, but in reality, most Catalans are bilingual and can effortlessly speak the two languages, just as their children learn both Spanish and Catalan at school.
Recently, the negative framing and the pressure on Catalonia has increased. Helped by an uncritical press, the region and population are being framed in both media and by Spanish politicians, especially from the government, as radicals and extremists and the demonstrations are described as violent. But why are there children at the demonstrations if they are violent? According to the government the children is not a sign of peaceful demonstrations, and that they naturally come along with their parents. To the government it is a sign of Catalan indoctrination of the children. “How can they sink that low? Do they have no shame?”, Anna and Mariona ask themselves. It makes them both sad and angry: “How can they say such things and still wish us to stay in Spain? And why should we stay?”.
With deceptions and direct lies about what is going on in the region, such as the examples above, the Catalans are framed as the villains. Another recent example of this framing is the statement that the region “was not prepared for independence”. A statement originally from Catalan side which has been taken out of context by the government and “translated” into that the region was not prepared for independence because of lack of planning and management of the process of independence. In fact, the original statement reported that Catalonia was not prepared for the violence that arose with the intervention of the Spanish police in the elections on 1 October. The Catalans did not foresee the violent behavior of the police. They knew there would be obstacles and that the consequences might be fines etc., but they were unprepared for the violence. But stating that they were not prepared for the process towards independence, as the government states it, is another deception, another lie. This kind of framing is often not challenged, it remains as the truth. The press does not report everything and in truthfully manner.
The treatment of the Catalan autonomy
Besides the negative framing, Catalonia is also experiencing political obstruction according to Anna and Mariona. For several years, Catalonia has asked permission to hold elections, like the referendum in Scotland, to uncover the position of the Catalans towards independence. Also, because there is a large part of the Catalan population that wishes to remain a part of Spain. But the government have declined. The government does not want a referendum, or even to talk about it. Anna and Mariona wish that all Catalans would be voting, and not only the yes-voters, but also those who vote no. For the women it´s all about being allowed to express an opinion, it´s about democracy.
There have also been negotiations concerning the economic relations between Catalonia and the Spanish state, the so-called pacto fiscal. Catalonia pays taxes, which goes to the treasury, and later a smaller amount returns to Catalonia. It has been the region’s wish to renegotiate that part, but an agreement has not been possible. Catalonia is therefore suffering from a lack of investment in infrastructure, while investments in infrastructure are being made elsewhere in Spain, and not always in appropriate manner with examples of empty airport show. There is an air of corruption and favors surrounding the government’s financial dispositions and investments which doesn´t reduce Catalan dissatisfaction. In addition, Catalonia has experienced savings in the social, educational and cultural areas under the current government.
Since 2010, the Catalan autonomy has also experienced a loss of powers, and that obstacles have been placed for the legislative work in the region, especially in recent months. The laws that have been approved by the Catalan Parliament must also be approved by the administration in Madrid, which has resulted in many laws being declined. From the government in Madrid, this has been framed as the Catalan Parliament only working for independence, but in fact hundreds of laws have been approved that concern other matters than independence, but the Spanish state has not approved them. And that is laws, that elected Catalan politicians have voted for.
Again, according to Anna and Mariona, it is a part of the negative framing trying to create a bad image of Catalonia. And the framing, has increased lately. Following the referendum on October 1, a law was swiftly approved – in just two days – in the Spanish Parliament allowing Spanish companies to move headquarters quickly. A law that was then followed up with private phone calls to companies headquartered in Barcelona and Catalonia with requests to move, which many companies have chosen to do.
The king has also played a role on the government’s side. Perhaps because Catalonia wishes to become a republic. Anna and Mariona point out that the speeches of the king and the prime minister are very similar in both content and choice of words, so you might suspect them coming from the same place.
A modern witch hunt
Legally, there isn´t any help either. The legal system has put the pressure on and a large part of the Catalan politicians who have worked for independence have been imprisoned for revolt, etc. But not only politicians, but also leaders of various Catalan organizations, so-called cultural activists such as “los Jordis”.
And how the elected Catalan politicians and leading cultural figures have been treated, make Anna and Mariona angry and hurt. The various politicians have been taken away in handcuffs, under insults, thrown into the back of cars and driven away – still in handcuffs and without safety belts on – directly to each prison, where they have been detained. Some of them had to start their legal declarations without their lawyer present, and some of them were sent prison without the possibility to put down bail. A very hard treatment, according to Anna and Mariona, as if the Catalan politicians were terrorists. A treatment not worthy for politicians, who are elected by the people, and a treatment much harder the treatment experienced by the many corruption-induced politicians from the government party.
The treatment of the Catalan politicians reminds the women of a witch hunt. A feeling that does not diminish by the sensation that there isn´t a clear line between the legislative and judicial powers. “How can the government say that Catalan politicians are criminals when they themselves constantly have court cases?”, ask the women and emphasize that the Catalan politicians have a democratic mandate from the people to work for independence.
But the “witch hunt” is not only aimed at the top, at the big fish. There are also examples of the system investigating the smaller fish. As an example, Anna and Mariona refer to 8 teachers being notified to the police, where after they have been called into questioning and have received accusations. For what? For indoctrination, for talking to the children in school after the election on October 1st. They also mention that 200 mayors who have traveled to Belgium to show their support for the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont have been asked to justify their expenses to control whether public funds have been used for the journey.
It has affected the women very much what has happened to especially the political system in Catalonia. “If the politicians are going to prison, we can go there too?” But they are not afraid. Those politicians who have been released subsequently with bail, the bail has been gathered with private donations.
The inheritance after Franco
The recent events show Anna and Mariona that there is still a legacy left from the Franco era, the roots are still there as the treatment of Catalonia and the Catalan politicians proves. But there is also a system that does not seem completely democratic. Media, if not directly governed, are often influenced by the state apparatus as well as the monarchy and the judicial system.
But also, the use and choice of words and the way in which Spain is regarded as a unit. In reality, according to Anna and Mariona, Spain is composed of different countries and regions, each with their own language and culture. Thus, there is not only one Spain, but the Spanish state wants the different regions to be silent and submissive under the idea of “one Spain”, again a perception with roots dating back to the Franco era.
An idea that is also expressed in the Spanish constitution, that was written, while Franco was still warm, as the women express it. And, that is, under the supervision of the army and the former system. But, as women say, things have changed. “And what about human rights? Should they not stand above the Constitution?” The women feel that the rights have been neglected lately.
It also feels like democracy have been neglected. Now, the government has put Article 155 of the constitution in force, which means that the government has taken over the administration of the region until the elections on 21 December. In practice, according to Anna and Mariona, the smallest party in the Catalan Parliament is now ruling Catalonia. “And it goes against what the Catalans have voted, is that democratic?”
Article 155 affects the daily life in the administration of the region, as everything now must pass through the central administration in Madrid with subsequently delays, also in relation to finances, payments, etc.
And then the announced elections in December. Strange elections, but “we vote, for in Catalonia we love to vote”. But will it change anything? For the women, that is hard to see. Perhaps some Catalans are tired of it all or scared, on the other hand others might have moved position towards independence. So, all in all, it does not change anything and then, what’s next? A new application of article 155, and maybe new elections, and then a new application of article 155, etc. The government might think that they can stop the process by sending all the “heads” in prison, but as Anna and Mariona point out, it is the will of the people, so there is no way back.
What is the solution?
Well, that is hard for the women to imagine. They want a happy divorce, but right now they find it hard to picture a solution. But part of the solution must be a change of attitude to recognizing that there are differences in Spain and for to stop the oppression of them. In addition, it is necessary to uncover the position of the Catalan people, that is uncover if there is a majority for independence or not? In order to be able to find the right solution to what is called the “Catalan question” in the media.
But, as said, the struggle for independence has become more personal than political. For the women it has reach the point where they can´t take more. “When they come to my house to beat my people, then they do not love us,” and therefore the emotional attachment to Spain have ended for the two women. As they say: “Before you could live with Spain, now we had enough, they do not let us do anything”. But both women recognize and respect that Catalonia also has a large part of the population who wants to belong to Spain, so if there is no majority for independence, then Catalonia must live with it. “What happens in the ballot box must be respected”.
But a solution is high on the wish list. Many families are divided in the question, especially across generations. Generally, the younger generation is more political, and they are not afraid as the generations before who lived under the dictatorship. They plan and see the opportunity, for them it’s not a utopia. They get information, etc. from social media, and they act. The demonstrations have also grown in numbers and show a wide section of the Catalan population.
The best solution, according to women, would be that there would be international mediation, but it is rather difficult when the EU view Catalonia as an internal Spanish matter. So far, the government has not wanted mediation, even though Catalonia has suggested it. The women can´t understand why they do not want to mediate: “If the government really wants unity, why do not they want mediation?”. They hope and wish therefore that the countries and populations abroad will be listening and seek to understand the situation. For in the end, Catalonia and the Catalans only wishes to be recognized and respected for being who they are: Catalan.