A View from Without: An Outsider’s Perspective on Catalan Independence

by Tilly Brogan

The self-styled “Committees for the Defense of the Republic” (CDR), a pro-independence protest group, has called for a “battle” on Friday 21st December 2018, to stop the Spanish Prime Minister’s weekly Cabinet meeting [which on this day will be held in Barcelona] from going ahead. Via social networks and their internal communication channels, the CDR have called on supporters to be there “first thing in the morning” using the hashtag “let’s overturn the regime.” “On 21D we will be… ungovernable,” one of their messages reads…

This was also the day of my Christmas flight home, having not been back to England since starting my year abroad more than five months before. Good timing, I know. That day I left for the airport at 2pm, more than six hours before my flight. I told myself that I would not miss that plane, and nothing – not even protests and rallies setting off flare guns and burning images of the King – would get in the way of me seeing the people I had so dearly missed, this festive season. As I sat in Barcelona Airport I realised, just like when I couldn’t get on the metro due to street rallies on September 11th, or when I witnessed protestors throwing coca cola cans and other debris at officers guarding Police headquarters on October 1st, I realised that these ‘undisruptive’ and ‘peaceful’ demonstrations were actually really disrupting me and my daily life in Barcelona.

In my previous essay ‘Catalonian Independence: A Critically Misrepresented Struggle of Identity,’ I mentioned how I wanted to make up my own mind about where I stood regarding independence of the Catalonia region – something I would do by listening to the opinions of those that lived here. And I’ll happily admit that I have done this. But after realising that the city’s fragile political situation was actually affecting my experience on my year abroad, I became less inclined to listen to the views of those in favour of regional independence. I feel like my openness to make myself aware of what’s happening around me has only made my life here more of a struggle.

It seems ironic that protestors here justify their actions with freedom of speech, yet I feel that I am anything but free to express my own opinion since it is the opposite of what the majority of the region is fighting for. This sentiment echoes that of who I like to call my ‘Spanish mum’- Laura is the mother of the family I au paired for last summer and has been a huge influence in my life in Spain. Originally from Toledo but now living in Granada, her views on this subject are particularly important to me, after all, it is only fair that I hear from those outside of Catalonia, as well as those within. Laura expressed that she feels ostracised from Catalonia as a result of her reluctance for their regional independence. I remember her telling me that she feels she cannot share her views here since she is worried what might happen. She then likened this to the oppressive and censored pre-democratic era of Franco’s dictatorship, and what she said struck such a chord with me. I felt it appropriate to relay it in my writing here.

Laura told me about her mother – also the holder of the family’s incredible paella recipe – who lived through Franco’s dictatorship. After the country successfully transitioned to a democracy, Laura’s mother (and others that survived this era) value just how much Spain has changed. During the transition period, the Spanish Constitution – a democratic law that is supreme in the Kingdom of Spain – was enacted after its approval in a constitutional referendum. The Constitution is based on the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation’ and only functions if every part of the country works together (Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, Catalonia being one of them).

But there are flaws in the system. For example, the central government is in charge of levying and collecting taxes, distributing them in fiscal equalisation so that richer communities become net contributors and poorer communities net recipients. With more than 8.9 million tourists in Barcelona in 2017 alone, Catalonia is of course one of the former. But Laura fears that if the autonomous communities separate themselves from Spain – breaking the progressive and (in its time) monumental Constitution that the country created together in its new democratic state – Spain will go back to the dark and devastating era of the Franco regime. One that is divided, fractured, and broken.

And it seems that political division, particularly through a rise in global right-wing nationalism, has already started to hit Spain. Just last month, the regional elections in Andalusia saw far-right party Vox gain parliamentary representation in Spain for the first time since the country’s return to democracy. The day that the newspapers published the shocking election results, I sent Laura a message. Although the two autonomous communities are at opposite ends of the country, she could see how Catalonia’s desire to gain back their regional identity and their unwavering and steadfast nationalist pride, may have influenced voters to choose a party whose slogan ‘es la hora de hacer a España grande otra vez,’ translates to ‘it’s time to make Spain great again…’

It seems that those living outside Catalonia are suffering just as much as those living within, and another pertinent memory that stands out is when Laura’s daughter voiced her only preoccupation surrounding independence of Catalonia: that her favourite milkshake company Cola Cao is made in the region. This quip seems merely humorous on the surface, but why should this young girl be concerning herself with her country’s politics at just eight years old.

Catalonia’s hostile political situation is affecting everyone, from expats like me living abroad, to those that have lived in Spain all their lives. Earlier generations are worrying about the future of the country, worried that very soon, Spain will start to go back into the past.