Hostage Catalonia

IssueDecember 2017 - January 2018
Comment by Teresa Ecuador

I’m not finding it at all easy writing about what’s happening in Catalunya (Catalonia) right now. It feels very complex and complicated both at a social and a political level. And it’s also touching me emotionally in a very deep way.

The most worrying aspect is the fragmentation in the social fabric, this is a very exhausting and traumatic time for very many of us. Insults, threats, accusations in every direction. Catalan families divided over independence and families all over Spain divided over the right of Catalonians to decide versus the indivisibility of the state.

Before mid-September, though, there was nuance.

About half of the Catalans were not in favour of independence; some Catalans wanted independence but felt that the politicians behind the process did not represent them. These politicians are a coalition of right- and left-wing parties, including anarchists.

These strange or antinatura partnerships are the result of the immobility of the Spanish central government over the last decade, its refusal to allow a legally-binding referendum.

Some anarchists and other members of the left feel that for social change to happen in Catalonia, it must first separate from the Spanish state. This is only part of the picture.

A savage shock

Then, a couple of weeks before the due date, the referendum was declared illegal; thousands of police were sent to Catalonia; printers producing flyers, posters and ballot papers were raided; organisers were arrested; the Catalonian finances were taken over.... Catalonian people pro- and anti-independence came together to defend their civil rights.

There were student strikes and ‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’ were created at a neighbourhood level. People occupied schools and organised cultural activities to celebrate their identity and defend their right to vote.

The brutality of the national police and the civil guard on referendum day left many of us speechless, frightened and heartbroken.

There is a feeling of disaffection from many people in Catalan society towards Spain in general, and towards the Spanish state in particular, that comes from long ago and has been fed by violence, disrespect, and a disregard of Catalan culture and identity. An anti-Catalan feeling also exists in sectors of Spanish society.

The opposing forces of Catalan nationalism and Spanish centralism have been wrestling, fighting, going dormant, awakening... for centuries. We are witnessing a very sharp and sudden escalation of the conflict.

Divided and entwined

This escalation had as a result a polarisation at many levels, a movement towards the extremes, a ‘you are with me or against me’ phenomenon, and the death of nuance.

Words lost any real meaning, discussions became impossible in a sea of confusion and desperation to hold on to some certainty that could make a little sense.

This climate of chaos was very much fuelled by the presence of the far right – Spanish nationalists – on the streets. They had sided with the central government in their repression and were displaying hatred, singing old fascist hymns.

My support for the social movement of civil disobedience in defence of the referendum was clear, but I felt conflicted around the declaration of the republic of Catalonia, partly because I don’t understand it enough.

Defying the central government, its unwillingness to negotiate, its punishing and vindictive attitude, was important for many. There was a massive sense of release, celebration and enthusiasm to build a new Catalonia, but again the people celebrating have a pretty varied idea of what a ‘new Catalonia’ would look like. I fear it might have created further fragmentation amongst Catalans because of the lack of consensus. I fear the strengthening of, and the reaction of, Spanish nationalists.

Witnessing these events from Madrid, something shifted in me. I became a pacifist even more. I watched the chain of action-reaction and realised how intertwined the two nationalisms (Spanish and Catalan) are.

I also realised how the left-wing people, the anarchists pushing for the republic – no matter how noble the aims are, and I share them deep in my heart – are intertwined with the reaction of the far right.

I felt we can’t afford to open more wounds and it’s time for learning to bring peace and understanding now. Each step of the way, we are responsible for our tactics and if we lose our families and our societies we have lost our revolutions without even starting them.