Tuesday 17 October 2017

I've lived through Francisimo and so I know how these people operate' - Catalonia crisis is a 'bad omen' for Spain

Pro-union supporters walk past a home made appeal for help during a demonstration in a square in Sabadell, Calatonia, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina
Pro-union supporters walk past a home made appeal for help during a demonstration in a square in Sabadell, Calatonia, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina
People stand behind Spanish (L) and Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flags as Spanish National Police officers leave their hotel in Reus, south of Barcelona, Spain October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent West
A t-shirt depicting an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) is seen in a touristic shop in Barcelona, Spain October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A man drapes Spain´s flag accross the shoulders of a woman during a demonstration by pro-union supporters in a square in Sabadell, Calatonia, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Sean Duffy

"They need to shut up," Jose Maria Sanmartin, an otherwise softly-spoken retiree's eyes flair up when he is asked about the comments of King Felipe VI.

The king was attempting to reassure all of his subjects of the continued viabilty of the  Spanish state.  Sunday's vote by 2.2 million Catalans-in which 90pc supported independence  has thrown the country into the worst crisis since Spain returned to democracy in 1975. If the king's word were designed to de-escalate tensions, they had the opposite effect on this Catalan, and many like him.

Jose Maria's arguments become quite familiar once you speak to any Catalan interested in independence; a lack of spending on infrastructure, a tax burden that surpasses that of other Spanish regions, a continued attitude of contempt from the central government in Madrid. It has brought a simmering level of mutual mistrust to boiling point.

Jose Maria's wife is a Spaniard, yet she and their two sons turned out on Sunday to vote for independence. "They voted because of their experience here. I didn't put pressure on any of them. They voted because of how they feel."

People stand behind Spanish (L) and Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flags as Spanish National Police officers leave their hotel in Reus, south of Barcelona, Spain October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent West
People stand behind Spanish (L) and Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flags as Spanish National Police officers leave their hotel in Reus, south of Barcelona, Spain October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent West

Asked if he was surprised by the level of violence carried out by the police in last Sunday's illegal poll, he said simply "Surprised? Me? No. Maybe for the younger people here it was a surprise. I've lived through Francisimo and so I know how these people operate."

The images of brutal police behaviour has taken Catalans, Spaniards and collective outside observers by surprise. It has ensured  suspicion and contempt is everywhere. Catalan independentistas will tell you at every opportunity about the lack of motorways, rail services, or the price paid for a hospital visit, not to mention the amount they pay for school books compared to poorer regions like Badajoz in the south. Those supportive of the Spanish state insist such arguments are indicative of a tight-fisted attitude that lacks moral fibre.

There is a palpable sense of unease in Barcelona- a city that is ordinarily defined by its openness and acceptance of anyone of any creed. Politicians on all sides seem determined to ensure that things come to a head in the next week.

While there have been calls for dialogue from the European Union over the past number of days, the rhetoric internally from both sides of the debate has been incendiary.

The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colou, labelled Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy a coward in the aftermath of Sunday's vote. Rajoy's deputy, Soria Saenz de Santamaria, declared the vote as "a farce and a nonsense", insisting Catalonia would not be overrun by "mafiosas". Rajoy himself claimed that the Spanish authorities had acted with "serenity" and had been "an example to the world" when it came to the safeguarding of national sovereignty. For less emotionally involved observers elsewhere in the EU, the images of bludgeoned pensioners was anything but.

On Friday, the town hall in Tarragona released a statement outlining its take on matters: "After the serious, unjustified acts of violence from Spanish Police last October 1, we had to take down the Spanish and EU flags for cleaning. They were stained with blood."

However, late yesterday afternoon, a first nod towards conciliation was expressed by the Spanish authorities. The Partido Popular's Catalan representative, Enric Millo said "I can’t help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers that intervened."

Local sources are also intimating that the delaying of a planned address by the president of the regional parliament, Carles Puigdemont, until Tuesday signals the possible softening of the Catalan postion. Puigdemont had been expected to announce a unilateral declaration of independence before the parliament on Monday. Such an action would almost certainly ensure the suspension of Catalonia´s autonomy. Locals are already preparing themselves for the possibility of the Spanish army patrolling the streets.

A t-shirt depicting an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) is seen in a touristic shop in Barcelona, Spain October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A t-shirt depicting an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) is seen in a touristic shop in Barcelona, Spain October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

For a country with such a vivid memory of what authoritarianism looks like, such an outcome would surely represent an abject failure in Spain's attempt to remodel itself as an outward-looking, open democracy.

Yet the failure on all sides of the argument to defuse tensions has brought Catalonia to this point. Whether or not the gaze of international attention is enough to tone down entrenched beliefs is anyone's guess.

On Thursday evening in the gothic district of El Born, two friends were enjoying talking about anything but politics. When asked, one, Alberto (36), said he had voted for independence. His friend, Yago (33), said that although he was Catalan, what was occurring was not representative of him or his wishes for the future of the region. 

Both were agreed on one thing; there was a need for dialogue amongst those in charge to find a way out of what has become something of a tragedy for modern Spain. The coming days will reveal plenty about those they hope can address the problem. The omens to date do not bode well.

A man drapes Spain´s flag accross the shoulders of a woman during a demonstration by pro-union supporters in a square in Sabadell, Calatonia, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina
A man drapes Spain´s flag accross the shoulders of a woman during a demonstration by pro-union supporters in a square in Sabadell, Calatonia, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Online Editors

Independent.ie Comments Facility

INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.

We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie


Editors Choice

Also in World News